I always take [it] to the next level. If that works out, I take it to the next level after that. Til I reach the level where it becomes absolutely necessary for me to leave.Dave Chappelle as Kevin Jackson in ‘You’ve Got Mail’
In my classroom, we have a saying. “We’re bumping it up to the next level.” My students know that things are going to get fun after that.
I’ve had to bump myself up to the next level in 2019. I faced some hard realities about my life, my purpose, my role, and my beliefs. I was challenged in many ways about my #OneWord2019, which was #Share. I was challenged about the ways in which to share, what to share, whether people were actually listening to what I shared. But I kept doing it, and here’s some things I learned about sharing.
When To Share
One of the biggest lessons I learned this year, and that I’ve had to learn in my life, is when to share and when to keep things to myself.
I’ve always been a big talker. I’ve gotten myself in trouble many times with talking too much, talking at the wrong times, talking too loud, and saying the wrong things. It’s my coping mechanism. When I’m in new situations, when I’m nervous, when I’m not sure of myself, or trying to establish my relationship with people, I talk. This year I had to learn how and when to stop talking.
I live with constant white privilege. This means that I inherently believe that the world is my platform. It is not. There are people for whom the world is not a platform. People who are not even given the chance to share. Sometimes, I need to step down from the platform that life gave me because of my white skin, and give my space to others. And sometimes, I have to use my platform responsibly to advocate for those who have been silenced.
‘When’ to share also means learning when to stop sharing, stop talking and listen instead. Listen to what others are saying, and what they’re not saying. Listen to the message behind their words and what it means for what they need and are trying to communicate.
What to Share
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous author and creator of Sherlock Holmes, hated his main character. He began writing the most famous detective in an effort to make money. His stories sold so well, he kept writing. But he was only writing Sherlock in order to publish what he really wanted to write: spiritualism.
In the late 19th century, there wasn’t a huge market for spiritualism. There was a huge market for serialized books, like the ones being written by Charles Dickens, and Doyle. Sherlock Holmes paid the bills while Doyle could pursue his ‘real’ writing. Doyle constantly thought that the detective stories were ‘beneath’ his actual writing abilities, and he soon tired of the beloved character. So, that’s why Holmes died in “The Final Problem.”
But then, Doyle had a problem. He thought he could use his success from the stories to launch his nonfiction writing career. He thought that his success in what he didn’t want to write would propel him into success with what he really wanted to write. But it didn’t happen that way. No one liked his nonfiction writing. They weren’t interested in that. They wanted more Holmes. The fan response to the death of Holmes was so overwhelming that Doyle caved and wrote a miraculous resurrection in “The Empty House.” Doyle went to his death unsatisfied about his work and his writing.
This story is constantly in the back of my mind when I’m writing. Do I write the stuff that ‘pays the bills’ or do I write the stuff that I really want to write? Do I give in to the click bait titles, and the quick-fix lesson ideas? Do I pander to the social media rules of content and produce things that will have maximum SEO? Or do I stay true to myself and write from my conscious, no matter how many clicks I get?
I’ve learned that the most important thing is to share from my heart, and be true to myself.
I’ve learned that the most important thing is to share from my heart, and be true to myself. It’s not about numbers, it’s about impact. All it takes is one. One person reading what I share, one person sharing it to someone else. I’m not here to make quick money. I’m not here to get 1,000 clicks. I’m here to make a difference with what I share.
So, I’ll be sharing the truth, not quibbling or pandering to what may or may not put food on the table.
Where to Share
Context is everything. I had a wonderful administrator once who taught me this valuable lesson. Here’s the story:
There was a fourth grade girl in my choir who was my best singer. She received the staring role in our show. She had perfect pitch. She lifted up the rest of the choir with her voice. She was fabulous. And flaky. She wouldn’t attend rehearsal consistently. She would come to rehearsal without her lines memorized. And sometimes, during rehearsal, she would gossip and talk to friends instead of paying attention and singing.
I decided to do something. I was going to talk to her mom. This behavior had to end, and as a young teacher, the way to stop misbehavior, so I thought, was to talk to the parent. (I’ve since learned much more amiable and effective ways to change behavior, but that’s another discussion for another time.) This girl’s mother happened to be at school one evening for a school-wide family night. This event had nothing to do with my choir. It had nothing to do with my classroom. I was helping this mom with something, and decided, “Hey, since the mom is right here, why don’t I tell her what’s wrong with her daughter.” I had decided that the girl had to shape up or be out of choir (even though we’d loose our best singer).
So, as this poor mother and I were doing something else entirely, I mentioned her daughter would be kicked out of choir if she didn’t change her behavior. To my surprise, the mother did not respond with calm understanding and a promise to ‘talk to her daughter.’ She was furious with me. Veteran teachers can understand why. I had caught this mother by surprise, bringing up a subject that had no business in that context. In addition, I approached the situation as a problem for her to fix. She did not share my feelings. She went on and on about how her daughter had been accepted to sing on a cruise ship and rehearsals for that role were more important than our little school choir.
In the end, the mother actually threatened to take her daughter not only out of my choir, but out of the school. In dismay, I went to my administrator. Again, to my surprise, he didn’t take my side. He calmly showed me the error of my ways. That my message may not have been wrong, but the context was. If I had something to discuss with this mom about choir, the appropriate (and kind) thing to do would be to bring it up in connection with choir. Either after rehearsal when she’s picked up. Or by a specific phone call just for that purpose.
The content of my message was not as important as the context.
Long story short, I ended up apologizing to this mother, begging her to keep her daughter in choir and in our school. The girl learned all of her lines, and more, our show was a hit. The next school year, she was pulled out of school to perform on a cruise ship around the world with a tutor. Good for her, honestly. I hope she’s made it big, I really do.
This story (and there’s others too – it took me a couple of tries to really learn this lesson) taught me that there’s not only a right time to share, and a right message to share, but there’s a right place to share. Where you are giving a message matters just as much as when and what you’re sharing.
How to Share
Finally, just as there is a better way for when, what, and where to share, there’s an appropriate way for how to share. How do I say a difficult message in a way that people will hear it? How do I share in such a way that the ‘believers’ hear and are affirmed, supported, and encouraged, but the ‘non-believers’ are convinced and converted?
Our world would run a lot better if people stopped to think about how they said difficult things before they said them. How will this person take this message? What specific words and approaches do I need to be mindful of when I’m trying to talk to that person? How to speak a message that will spread out of the community in which it was presented and go out into the world?
These are my reflections, sitting here on Christmas morning waiting in the quiet for my kids to wake up and discover what Santa brought them. I feel that 2019 was a great year to share, and to learn what, when, where, and how to share.
Next year, what’s next? It’s one thing to start speaking out and sharing from my experiences and knowledge and insights. It’s another thing entirely to start down the road to promote, market, and spread those sharings.
But if I’m being called to share, to speak up for those who can’t, to give my thoughts and beliefs in order to make a difference, then I’m being called to promote those beliefs. That’s why my #OneWord2020 is #Promote.
Check back later for my blog post on my plans to #Promote in 2020.