Interruptions as Opportunities

cc photo by J. Delp

The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day at a time.  – C.S. Lewis

I like to plan my day.

I try to follow the tried and true principles of effective time management. I keep to-do lists. I schedule appointments. Each morning (or prior evening) I look over my lists and my calendar and I make decisions about the most productive way to spend my day.

And then I arrive at work. I am greeted by over eight-hundred and fifty junior high students, their teachers, and parents. From that point forward, I’m lucky if I look at my plan for the day. Stuff pops up that is not on my list. A staff member experiencing a technology issue. A student sent out of class for emptying a bottle of water on another student. A justifiably upset parent calling because scary clowns (high schoolers promoting a haunted house event) were chasing their student at lunch. Yes. This happened. I could write an entire blog post about this one incident.

My well planned day rapidly devolves into a series of unpredictable interruptions and scary clowns (literally and figuratively). I have typically viewed these intrusions as a source of frustration — things that are keeping me from more important tasks, appointments, and projects.

But take a moment and re-read that quote by C.S. Lewis. The interruptions are “real life.” It’s what I am being sent. One day at a time. One moment at a time. The possibility of supporting a staff member and helping them solve a problem. An opportunity to visit with a student about a poor decision and how we might make things right. The chance to acknowledge a parent’s frustration, demonstrate empathy, and reassure a student who was upset by scary clowns.

These are not inconveniences, they are opportunities — “real-life” experiences. They are only interruptions if I choose to view them as such. How boring life would be if it all went according to plan.


Clearing Physical and Mental Space

Clutter – cc photo by J. Delp

I’m struggling a little with life right now.

My todo list is too long. My calendar is too full. My days feel like they are spent in crisis mode. Too many challenges at work. Too much stuff on my desk. Too many problems.

I’ve got to make some changes so that I can have space to live the life I truly want to live. I’m not entirely certain what that means, but I know that one aspect of this process is going to be to literally “clear some space.” I have too much stuff.

Amazon is the bane of my existence — especially when it comes to books, and gadgets that I think will make my life better. I impulsively purchase items thinking they will be the answer to my overwhelm when in reality these “things” are a major contributor to why I feel the way I do.

I get in my truck and there is stuff (it’s like a second closet). I drive into my garage…piles of stuff. Head into my home office…stuff. Closet…more stuff. Dresser drawers…stuff.  I think I need to read those books. I need to organize that pile of clothes. I need to clean-up the garage. All of this stuff is a subconscious distraction. It makes it difficult for me to relax because I always feel like I need to be doing something.

The answer isn’t organizing. The answer is getting rid of a lot of the things I don’t really need — things that are simply creating clutter and causing a distraction. So, today I am beginning a thirty-day journey to reduce the clutter in my life.

Here is my commitment. Every day for the next thirty days, I will begin eliminating (sell, donate, or throw away) items that are not truly meaningful/purposeful in my life. I’ll begin by working in very small areas — a corner of the garage, a desk drawer, one small section of my closet. Each day, I will record the items (and the number of items) I purge and post stats or pictures to my Twitter account. The goal isn’t to get rid of everything, but to reduce my belongings to things that I truly value.

Not only is all of my stuff taking up physical space, but it’s also occupying mental space — and that is a problem. Beginning today, I am committing to eliminating excess in my life for the next thirty days (through November 17) at which time I will reassess and continue as needed.

Look for my Tweet later today!

Will Smartphone Use Come Back to Haunt Us?

Vaping devices have recently been front and center in the news due to reports of severe illness and lung damage. Although these cigarette alternatives have been around for some time, the reports of the health risks have only recently surfaced. It makes sense that there has been a gap between the use of vaping devices and a connection to health problems. Both damage and evidence accumulate over time.

As a casual observer, I’m beginning to have similar concerns about our use of smartphones. Is this a habit that is eventually going to catch up with us and result in physical, mental health, and social issues? Some of the dangers of cell phone use have been obvious and immediate — texting and driving, cyberbullying, sex trafficking, etc. We have seen hints of other issues, but the jury is still out on the long-term impact of the effect of social comparison on self-esteem, the stress of constantly being “connected,” and the potential risks of staring at a small screen for multiple hours every day.

However, my biggest concern is related to how smartphones influence our ability to communicate with empathy and civility. When I worked as a stock broker at Charles Schwab, I was convinced people would say anything on the telephone, but their words pale in comparison to what they are willing to Tweet. Unfortunately, we need look no further than our own political leaders to see evidence of the erosion of civility in online communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. I’ll be the first to admit I am incredibly tempted by the iPhone 11 and I am actually writing this blog post on my smartphone. Smartphones have many benefits and they can be used (along with social media) to do a lot of good. But like vaping devices, it’s possible we haven’t been on our phones long enough to experience the accumalation of damage and evidence.

I’m not making a literal comparison between smartphone use and vaping, but I won’t be surprised if in five, ten, or fifteen years we are looking back and wishing we wouldn’t have spent so much time on our phones.

Bless Your Heart…

cc photo by J. Delp

I’m a junior high school principal.

This comment is typically met with a grimace and one of a few predictable responses that can be summarized by the statement, “Oh, bless your heart.”

Junior high is the age of hormones, uncontrolled laughter, and eye rolls. It can be a challenging age, but name one that isn’t. Junior high kids can do incredibly dumb things (often on purpose), but so can adults. There is plenty of evidence of that in the news and on your Twitter feed.

I have spent nearly twenty years working exclusively with adolescents. I credit them with my calm demeanor, charming personality, and quick wit (as well as sarcasm) — all necessities for surviving in the junior high world. They may also be responsible for a few extra pounds and some gray hairs, but that just comes with the territory.

Truth be told, some of the adults I’ve had to deal with are much more challenging than the kids. I’ve always believed kids have an excuse for behaviors that don’t quite measure up to expectations for civil, or appropriate discourse. They are young, still learning and often lack the experience (or modeling) to know better. Adults…not so much.

I honestly count it an honor to work with young people. In fact, when my time as a principal is over — whether in three days or twenty years — I’m a little worried about the prospect of interacting solely with adults. I’m not sure I’ll have the necessary temperament, patience, and tolerance.

When people tell me about their job where they work exclusively with adults, I often think, “Oh, bless your heart.”

When the time comes, Heaven help me.

What the World Needs…

sunset beach people sunrise
Photo by Pixabay on

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. —Martin Luther King Jr.

A few weeks ago I was struggling to stay afloat. I went to my office mailbox and found a small card — a note from one of my staff members. It began with a recognition that it appeared to have been a difficult quarter for me and then this person listed specific things they had noticed me doing that they felt had made a difference. It was a powerful and immediate boost to my spirits.

That note has me thinking about the countless opportunities we have to encourage others. What if we all took advantage? What if we trained ourselves to see, and acknowledge, the good in our daily lives, our community, and our world? It could truly be life-changing, for ourselves and for others. As awful as things sometimes appear, there is considerably more positive in the world than negative. The good just does not get the attention it deserves.

So what made this note so powerful? First, it demonstrated empathy. There was an acknowledgement of the struggle. Then, there was encouragement — “I see what you are doing.” Empathy and encouragement. It’s impossible to argue that the world wouldn’t be a better place with more of both.

Here is the great thing about encouragement — giver and receiver benefit. So, instead of scrolling through your Twitter feed, watching the news, or engaging in an argument on Facebook, try writing a thank-you note or email, making a positive phone call, or find a way to let another human being know they matter.

Altruism or selfishness. Your choice.

My Wilderness Experience

Trying to Stay Warm

This weekend I went on a very brief camping trip. Two nights on the Mogollon Rim outside of Payson, Arizona. As always, time outside of the city did my soul good. Nature has a way of healing the head and the heart.

I always envision a wilderness experience that would make Bear Grylls proud, but the reality is that my encounters with nature more closely resemble those recounted by the late Patrick McManus in his columns for Field and Stream, or in books like They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They and a Fine and Pleasant Misery.

For example, on this trip, I made a McGeyver-like attempt to repair my inflatable sleeping pad with tree sap and small squares of plastic. It sounded like a reasonable solution at the time but the end result was a leaking air mattress and bits of forest debris stuck to my sap covered hands.

In this world there are fisherman, there are people who fish, and then there is me. I typically spend more time untangling my line than fishing. My level of success is typically measured in the number of flies, or lures, I lose rather than in the number of fish I catch. I did manage to hook one trout on the first evening at the stream. I suspect there was something wrong with it. Perhaps, as McManus suggests, it was lacking in “style and taste.”

I have practiced ignorance most of my life and am intimately familiar with all its variations and applications…Let us now apply ignorance to fly-fishing. Suppose your flyfishing is like mine—no offense intended—and your main objective is somehow to get a fly to plop on the water in the hope that nearby there’s a fish lacking in matters of style and taste. – Patrick McManus, Ignoramus, October 1997

On the second day of the trip, I saw a small tarantula crawling through my camp. That evening, as I was enjoying a bowl of ramen noodles (that’s a lie, I wasn’t enjoying the noodles) I remembered a previous encounter with a tarantula in which I put my hand down in front of the arachnid. He (or she) crawled on to my hand and then, sensing the change in surface, promptly froze and refused to crawl off. I’d probably still be sitting on a forest road with a tarantula in hand if my brother hadn’t help me prod the spider on it’s way with the help of a stick.

I’ll keep making these trips to the wilderness and I will undoubtedly continue to resemble a character in a McManus book. Oh well. It makes for better stories than being an accomplished outdoorsman.