Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

An Annual Repost

Each year, I give a prompt to my students for one of their journal reflections, "What was a difficult time in your life and how did you handle it?" The following is my response to that question. And I read it out loud to my students. One of the most difficult experiences of my life was the sudden loss of a close friend; he passed away from cardiac arrest.

Forty-seven years ago on September 28, 1967, a baby boy by the name of Daniel Eric Welsh was born to Kay and James. The fifth of five children. Dan and I eventually became very close friends, like brother and sister. We went to Blessed Sacrament Grade School, Morton High School, and the University of Illinois together. Our schedules were always identical, hour by hour, through grade 12. The only difference that occurred in high school was our language class—when I went to German, Dan went to Spanish. Then during our last year of college, I decided to go into teaching and he applied to medical schools. We both graduated. I began my teaching career and fell in love with it. He went to Rush University for medical school and also had found his calling. We, of course, kept in touch. Twenty-three years ago on September 24, 1992, four days before his 25th birthday, my dear friend died.

I’m sharing this story with you because I still have a hard time with the fact that he is no longer around, even after twenty-three years. One action that has provided me with some comfort is to share his life with my students. Why? I’ll explain.

Dan was the type of person who did everything 100%, otherwise he wouldn’t do it at all. When he studied, he studied 100%. No matter what gadgets or distractions we created at the library, he would not stop focusing on his studies. When he slept, he slept 100%. We actually had to break the door down one day to wake him up to go to Physics. Pounding on it wasn’t doing the trick! And when he had fun, he had fun 100%...well, you get the idea.

Saying that Dan was focused doesn’t seem to describe him thoroughly enough. When we were in grade school, we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. We actually recorded our responses, and I still have a copy of our class’s responses in my keepsake box. He said, without hesitation, “a doctor.” He was lucky this way. He knew what he wanted to be for a very long time. And throughout his life, his family experiences gave him the motivation to make his dream come true. His focus started at a very young age and never faltered. He was the type of person who wouldn’t miss class in college because he felt that something he learned that day might end up saving the life of one of his future patients. He was intense.

I’ve always had a very difficult time during this week of the year, ever since I lost Dan. When it first happened, I remember feeling so weak in the knees, to the point where standing up was an effort. My younger brother, Bill, was worried about me, because he knew how close Dan and I were. Bill had also lost a friend of his, Matt, 2 years prior to Dan’s death. Bill came into my room one day to give me a reassuring hug. I looked at him and asked, “When did you stop crying? When will I stop crying?” He said—and let me remind you that this is my younger brother, but at this moment he seemed so wise—he said, “Joan, it seems like holding onto the pain is the only way to stay close to Dan, doesn’t it? Well, I don’t know how or why, but one day I was thinking of Matt, and I laughed. I laughed out loud. And it felt great. And one day that will happen to you; you’ll think of Dan and smile. You just have to be patient. Just don’t think that the pain of his loss is the only way to stay close to him.” I  knew he was right, but had trouble with this for years. But, about 12 summers ago it happened. I was thinking about Dan, about how in second grade he glued a Kleenex on his eraser and started flying it around the classroom calling it a “Super Eraser”, and I smiled...then I laughed out loud. Bill was right. It did feel good to let the happiness through.

So why share such a tragic story? Because if Dan's life can in any way inspire you for one moment in your life to grasp everything that occasion has to offer, if this story can inspire you to make your next words and actions be a positive influence on the people around you, then this story will have made a difference. You have no idea to what extent you are impacting another person’s life. Who knew that I would ever remember “Super Eraser” and that that memory would in some way help me grow as an individual twenty-seven years later? Your words and actions make a difference for you and for others. Speak carefully, listen wholeheartedly, and live best you can.

Every experience, no matter how painful, provides opportunity for growth. Dan’s life and death have influenced many aspects of my life, including my teaching, in a profound way. And I will be forever grateful to my friend for playing his part in helping me to become the person, and the teacher, I am today.

Friday, August 14, 2015

College Readiness...With a Twist

This post provides no answers. Fair warning.

In the last 12 months, I have been inundated with, challenged by, and learned from conversations regarding "college readiness." In all honesty, that label has never been used as much in all my years in education combined as it has in the last year. That's both a good and disconcerting reality.

The dialogue can become suffocating when the focus is simply on numbers and what we baptize as "core content." BUT, happily, all of my conversations at Niles North are with colleagues who embrace and understand the nuances of that label. They reach for, and many times find, creative and loving ways to nurture our students on their high school journey so that they are ready for college in ways far surpassing simply being prepared for the rigors of post-secondary coursework.

The people I've been privileged to work with focus on the entire spectrum when it comes to helping prepare our students. We aren't perfect. But I've never seen a faculty so dedicated to reaching every child's needs and helping them grow and be ready for life outside our building. The commitment demonstrated by the educators here reflects an ability to think about the following...all at once...and how to get the kids to recognize where they are, where they can be, and how to get there. Areas they focus on include:

  1. Knowledge base
  2. Academic skills
  3. Maturity
  4. Emotional intelligence and flexibility
  5. Relationships
  6. Time Management
  7. Independence
  8. Reflection and Growth
  9. Citizenry
  10. Cultural competence

    I'm sure I'm missing many.

    But this week, as we've started school, I've had a conversation about each of these at some point. And it's made me think about my daughters and how they had/have varying degrees of "college readiness" in those categories. But in any sense of the definition, they were/are both quite ready. I had/have no hesitation that heading off to school was a constructive and appropriate next step for them. And I thank my family, friends and their teachers for helping to raise them and get them there.

      But here's the thing. We focus so much on the kids, which makes sense, of course, because that's our job. But recently, I've been thinking about our Niles North parents. I'm curious. Do we have anyone on staff for parents to speak with if they aren't ready for their kid to go to college? And if they're not (I'm not), can we keep our child in high school a little bit longer? Just a little bit?

      Please? Even if it's just for another week...

      Saturday, August 8, 2015

      What I Learned at Lolla

      This was my first time at Lollapalooza since it moved to Grant Park. Yup. I'm that hip (read, "old.") I was at the fest when it was hosted at Poplar Creek! Jane's Addiction's very own Perry Farrell was one of the founders. And many bands coined as "alternative" got their original recognition from being a part of this touring festival. (One of my all time favorites is Violent Femmes. :)

      So being there with my daughters—and 300,000+ others—this past weekend was an electrifying experience. I know that it might seem cliché to speak/write about experiences related to music festivals, but since it's new to me, I'm gonna give it a go. Here are my thoughts:

      1. Chicago rocks. Period.
      2. Alabama Shakes rocks. Double period.
      3. Alabama Shakes w/ Paul McCartney is a once in a life-time experience. If you left, it's your fault. It was magical!
      4. Walk the Moon's guitarist split his jeans. Still played. Had a ball. A man after my own heart.
      5. Sam Smith can captivate any audience. And make them believe they can sing. Even if they can't, they still sound wonderful.
      6. Coin. An up-and-coming-band who deserves our support. So humble. And talented. And passionate. Hoping they "make it."
      7. Being a teacher is the worst kind of celebrity at these occasions. Trust me. 
      8. I can eat pizza. And cheese fries. Under any circumstance.
      9. Being short is the best bonus. People block the sun, don't notice you, help you through crowds, and provide assistance. I love being "little."
      10. The stupidest thing I did at Lolla? Ran home from the train station in a lightning storm. Ignoring my science background, I was worried about my pup. Seriously, I should be fired for stupidity. Or dead. 
      11. My daughters both have incredible taste in music. Unique, but wonderful. I'll follow them each. Learning new things along the way, any time, any place.
      12. I'm the luckiest woman in the world. Although Lolla didn't teach me that, it reinforced it. :)
      Getting tix for next year. With my girls. Perhaps VIPs. :)

      Sunday, June 21, 2015

      What My Dad Taught Me...

      ...and continues to teach me.

      Just as I was on Mother's Day, I find myself particularly nostalgic this year. And the adventurous, reflective, and rewarding life I'm living has much to do with my father's influence. So on Father's Day, I'd like to share a few of the things my dad has taught me over the years.

      Some lessons were practical, some were necessary, some were life changing, some happened when I was little, and some happened today. But all of them were a gift from my father.

      My dad taught me:
      1. how to throw a ball and "have a catch."
      2. how to drive a car. And change the oil. And change a flat. And drive over a piece of trash with precision. Using each tire. And drive in reverse for a 1/2 mile. Really. That happened.
      3. how to fish. All of it, from making lures with a hot lead mold to building my own rod to "getting it in the net" to filleting. 
      4. how to fix things. So many, many things. Gluing chipped ceramic figurines, to patching holes in walls, to fixing running toilets, to repairing broken bicycle chains, etc. All things I broke in the first place.
      5. how to create an incredibly abundant garden. From seed. Literally and metaphorically.
      6. how to be coachable. "When the coach is interested in your perspective, he'll ask. Otherwise, learn from him." And yes, my Dad was my first, favorite and most insightful coach. (He took stats at every one of my basketball games. Pic below.)
      7. that hard work is as nourishing as healthy meals.
      8. to think "things" through and prepare for the most likely and most important outcomes.
      9. how to think like a scientist.
      10. to learn the difference between the quick, convenient decision and a solid, deliberate decision. And that each has its place.
      11. how to be physically adept, mentally strong and intellectually competitive while participating in sports. It's part of what put so much fun in sports for me.
      12. what the true meaning of respect means. Even if you don't respect a person's decisions, respect his/her position. And that self-respect is the most important kind.
      13. that life is too short to worry about things you can't control. Keeping your sense of humor in tact is critically important during those moments.
      14. to maintain an appropriate balance between academics, athletics, a social life and a spiritual life.
      15. right from wrong. And that sometimes it's not that simple.
      16. how to be calm in times of stress.
      17. how to embrace confusion. If you push past it, you'll learn something.
      18. how to advocate for myself. Intelligently.
      19. that family is everything.
      20. ...and so much more.
      I love you, Dad!
      I look forward to spending time with you this summer!

      Sunday, May 17, 2015

      I Mowed The Lawn Today...

      ...and it was a BLAST! :)

      Yes, I'm one of those crazy individuals; I actually enjoy yardwork, not just the gardening part. I love it all!

      I'm certain it stems from the endless, fun-filled hours I spent with my dad as a kid. Perhaps this post should wait 'til father's day, but I'm on a yardwork high, so here goes.

      It's been a while since I've mowed the lawn because we've had yard service for the past four years. In trying to save money, I gave it up this year. But I really don't know why I ever got it in the first place. Seriously. It's such a feeling of satisfaction when you get the yard cleaned up. And with every pass, I could hear my dad's voice:

      • "What pattern are you gonna leave in the yard this time, Tad?"
      • "Check the oil. Check the gas. Fill it up if you need to. Just don't flood it when you prime it. We don't have time for that. Rain's movin' in quickly!"
      • "Don't bump the tree trunks."
      • "Careful not to nick the blade on the water pipe."
      • "Don't run over the flowers!"
      • "You'd better bag it this time; it's too long to leave."
      • (When the whole gang was out working...) "Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty." Then looks at me, chuckles, "That's not a problem for you now is it, Tad?"
      • "Lift the bag with your legs, not your back."
      • "Sweep up the clippings. And remember to pull the broom as often as you push it. And trade hands so you're sweeping with your weak arm as often as your strong arm. Good training for basketball." :)
      • "I hate the self-propelled mode on the mower. It's a safety hazard. Don't be a wuss; use your muscles and just push the damn thing." (So that's where I get these guns, eh Dad?! Hahaha!)
      • "Clean the mower when you're done. If it doesn't last 20 years, you haven't taken care of it."
      • "Nice job, Tad. Good on ya."
      Perhaps a silly post, but feeling nostalgic. LOVE reliving these moments. Think it's time for a visit to Morris! :)

      Sunday, May 10, 2015

      What My Mom Taught Me...

      ...and continues to teach me.

      My mom has taught me more about love and life than I will ever be able to comprehend. As the years progress, I find myself reflecting more and more on my mom's inner strength, humility and integrity. I am older now and have some life experiences to realize just how remarkable this woman is. Just how much she has taught me in terms of every day living—being a strong, intelligent, loving, compassionate woman. She does it every single day. Just by being her.

      Some lessons were practical, some were necessary, some were life changing, some happened when I was little, and some happened today. But all of them were a gift from my mother.

      My mom taught me:
      1. how to make a bed. Perfectly.
      2. how to change a diaper. I had so much practice with my younger siblings, it was old hat by the time I had kids!
      3. how to wrap and hold and bathe and dress and rock and feed a baby.
      4. how to fold t-shirts. And towels. And men's underwear. (Why? Seriously...)
      5. how to vacuum, dust, shake rugs, clean bathrooms, wash windows, sweep, polish silver, and do dishes. K.P. every night!
      6. that "By the inch, life's a cinch. By the yard, life is hard."
      7. that it's hard not to lose your identity when you're a mother of young kids. But it comes back. 
      8. that asking for help can be difficult, particularly for someone like me who likes to do it all on my own. "Do it anyway, Sweetheart. Everyone needs help from time to time. It's not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of intelligence. Besides, that's what I'm here for."
      9. that being a really competitive athlete AND a "sexy woman" were not mutually exclusive. ;)
      10. how to laugh at yourself. To really belt out a chuckle when you do something "silly." It's healthy. And contagious.
      11. to find time for yourself, however brief, every day.
      12. how to hug. How to really give someone a hug that says, "You are all that matters in this moment. Can you feel it?"
      13. right from wrong. And that sometimes it's not that simple.
      14. how to protect the underdog.
      15. that when you lose someone close to you, your Mom is there to hold you together.
      16. that when you are worried about your newborn, or your toddler, or your grade schooler, or your teenager, your Mom is there to talk you through it.
      17. when someone makes you feel like a million bucks, your mom is there to listen to the story. And to be sincerely happy for you.
      18. that family is everything.
      19. that there's nothing more challenging and simultaneously rewarding than being a Mommy, a Mom, a Ma, a Momma, a Mother.
      20. how to love. Unconditionally. I think she wrote the book.
      21. that it's important to pass it all on. 
      22. ...and so much more.
      I love you, Mom!
      I look forward to spending time with you this summer!

      Friday, April 3, 2015

      Sedona or Bust :)

      Upon reflection, I think this post title can be taken literally. Let me explain.

      Spring Break for my district officially began 3/20. I have a contract stating that I should partake in said break. Instead, I worked 3/21, 3/22, 3/23, 3/24, and 3/25. Healthy? Of course not. I spent the time determining all the things I should be doing, could be doing, wanted to be doing, and hated doing. So I really didn't accomplish much, other than to exponentially increase my stress level. I was ready to BUST!

      So on Wednesday night, I bought a ridiculously priced plane ticket to Sedona, Arizona.

      I'm glad I listened to two very important people in my life who suggested I go. I needed this!

      Why there? Well why NOT? It's beautiful and has everything I love. The sun, hiking and peace.

      It was a life-altering trip. I don't say that lightly. In fact, I've said that in reference to five experiences in my life so far. This was number six. So it should go without saying I'm still processing, and likely will be for some time. But I'd like to share a few things that serendipitously surfaced for me over the past couple weeks. Realizations I've made upon reflection, not reasons why I went in the first place.
      1. I Miss Being an EXPLORER. When I was younger, everyone used to describe me as independent and curious, along with a few other choice descriptors, I'm sure. I used to "get lost" on my own—for HOURS—exploring. Around the neighborhood, in the creek, up a tree, down the basement, at the park. I would discover or do something new all the time. By myself! I've realized that I have misplaced that treasured practice over the years and I got to wondering about when and why that happened. Why would I give up opportunities for such formative, exciting, nurturing experiences? Which leads me to...
      2. I enjoyed getting lost again. ALONE. I really loved going to a new location and exploring again. I suggest this for everyone. But go by yourself. Pick a destination that has no friends or family at the other end. (An event on the other end is still open for discussion.) I now realize how important it is to allow yourself the vulnerable feeling of only being responsible for yourself, a feeling that many of us embraced as children. This trip was invigorating because I was getting to navigate the world without any support or accountability other than my own character and instinct. It was the most rejuvenating, challenging, and rewarding experience I've had in a very long time. I chose to be completely disconnected from not only technology, but responsibility for others. And I LOVED it. I introduced myself to a side of Joan I haven't seen in a while. I allowed myself to be as courageous and vulnerable as I was when I was twelve. :)
      3. I'm glad I went somewhere NEW. A suggestion if you're going to try this adventure? Pick a brand new destination, a place you'll enjoy exploring. Don't cloud your adventure by choosing a location that has memories of/with others; it will destroy the potential this trip has to offer. I now have a place that's all my own. And I plan to return. (Maybe someday I'll share it with others. If I do, I'll immediately pick a new place to explore on my own.)
      4. I listened to NEW MUSIC. Everyone I know finds music an integral part of travel. (So if you don't, this doesn't apply.) But listening to music that carries memories or moods from other experiences will suffocate the creation and impact of truly new adventures. So I'm glad I happened to be in the mood to listen to new artists while on this trip. When I hear certain songs, I am immediately transported back to Sedona. A lovely feeling!
      5. I was SPONTANEOUS and TRIED NEW THINGS. One included climbing a mountain. :)
        And I'm thrilled I did. My suggestion is to do something you wouldn't do if someone else was with you. Something that by your definition is healthy, of course. But something that nudges you outside your comfort zone. Something that will allow you to either share the story when you return, or not. But that will expand your horizons and help you grow. As I said, I did a few new things, all spontaneous decisions while there. I'm so happy I did; I've grown.
      Of course I look forward to future vacations with others. Taking trips with people whose company you enjoy—people who enhance your being and nurture your soul—is just as important. But I do look forward to my next lone adventure in Sedona. And I'm glad so much of my childhood courage and personality resurfaced. The memories of feeling a sense of freedom to explore and of pushing the boundaries of creativity have fueled my intellect and spirit. Just the adventure I needed to enthusiastically end the school year!

      Tuesday, January 20, 2015

      A New Year's Letter...To My Department

      Happy Belated New Year! :)

      I was so happy to hear you all enjoyed your breaks. I did too; I just could've used a bit more time. That's always the case, though. I will share that it was actually quite jarring for me to see the calendar turn to 2015. I’m not one who gets wrapped up in New Year’s Resolutions or gets upset by time passing. I am a very reflective person, and I’ve naturally somehow always done a pretty good job of deciding when to make life changes for myself. Or at least to recognize when I haven’t made necessary changes and then try to do something about it. ;) But I will admit, this year caught me off guard. The reason? Because I remember so vividly being in grade school when the teacher asked us to write a story based on the following prompt: “What do you think the world will be like in the year 2015? What will it look like, sound like, smell like in the year 2015? What will your life be like?” "What?" I thought. "2015?! Whoa!" That year seemed so far away to me. I remember my first thought being, “It’ll be so cool! Like Star Trek!” Needless to say, the world isn’t exactly what I imagined it would be. Both in good ways and in not so good ways...

      One area I’ve been concentrating on this year—stemming from personal reflection—is providing equitable opportunities for our students. I’m becoming aware of how I’ve contributed to the inequities that exist in our society, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and I'm trying to do something about it. We’re certainly not where we ought to be when it comes to racial and gender equity. Nowhere close. So I’m thrilled that we have part of our department goals focusing on trying to remedy that tragic situation for our students.

      With that said, one of the quotes that caught my attention over this past weekend was from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'” I love this quote. It’s so true, in my opinion. It is an incredibly urgent question, one that everyone should be asking themselves. And it made me think of all of you.

      On an hourly basis, I see you scraping the barrels of your physical, emotional and intellectual energy to figure out how to motivate, energize, connect with, support, heal, educate, awaken, reach, challenge, affirm, and inspire your students. I hear the overcaffeinated dialogue and see the accompanying sleep-deprived walks to your desks and to your classrooms. And I think to myself, “The very last thing I ever need to ask these people is “What are you doing for others?” The very last thing ANYONE should ever ask my science people is “What are you doing for others?”

      Instead, as your Director, it’s become crystal clear that the urgent question I need to ask you is, “What are you doing for you? What moment each week do you give to yourself? An hour? 30 minutes, even? When each week do you play at something that has NOTHING to do with others? Nothing to do with children, students, significant others, family, friends, responsibilities, school, etc. Just YOU! (Oh boy. I can see the eyes rolling now...)

      Don’t laugh! I hear the humor in me saying this to you. The irony cuts deep. I’m a high functioning procrastinator who’s really competitive with herself, wanting to understand everything and do a good job the first time around. I hate simply checking things off a list and/or letting others down. This year, the work load for me has not even allowed for the possibility of procrastination, so I’m in a strange place. You haven’t seen me in a normal, dysfunctional way yet. So you have that to look forward to. ;) But since winter break, I really have made a concerted effort to put aside the time I need, the time I love, to work out. It’s the thing I do for me. And it feels great. I will be keeping this up.

      Setting aside time for yourself...this, I believe, is the most important goal we can have as a department. It is the foundation upon which our physical, emotional and intellectual energies must rest in order to sustain ourselves for the long hall in the profession we chose, the career we love, whether we have three years left or thirty-three years left. So I challenge you all to check in with one another on a weekly basis. What did you do for you this week? And have an honest, deliberate response at the ready, even if it’s, “Damn. Nothing. I’ll do better next week.” Because we can only effectively and lovingly help the students who look to us for guidance if we first recharge ourselves physically, nourish ourselves emotionally, and challenge ourselves in a selfish—read “nerdish"—intellectual way. So please, put your oxygen mask on first. Always. Your loved ones need you. And our students need you. And I wouldn't mind seeing you around for a long while myself. ;)

      Sunday, January 4, 2015

      My "#racematters" Journey Continues

      I'm a changed person. Yes, I know. How trite. How cliché. How utterly white of me. Enough for readers to roll their eyes and close the window right now.

      But, here I am, processing and posting my experiences yet again. Recognizing that my ignorance and silence regarding race have been personally suffocating, professionally damaging and socially destructive. So I risk the closed window for the readers who allow the benefit of the doubt. And I have to believe that there are others going through something similar. Hence, the share.

      mentioned weeks back that the biggest takeaway from my experience at the Courageous Conversations Summit in NOLA was that I knew I was coming home with a new understanding of who I wanted to be.

      So what prompted this evening's post? My experiences at my last SEED class. The stories about race, injustice and family trauma were quite jarring. The courage and love it took to share such haunting memories was indescribably moving. Listening to them, all I could think was, "I'm uncomfortable. Please don't let this be true." And I left feeling even more anxious, realizing that I played an indirect role in the shared events.

      So what do I do? How hard can interrupting the status quo be? If you become sensitized to racial/racist issues, and you hear something disturbing, just raise the issue. Then you can turn the tide. Easy, right? Ha! My very first attempt at interrupting was through the political minefield of high school athletics. Bad idea as an entry point. However I don't regret my action, just the way I did it.

      It's been a couple weeks. And here's what I've learned in order to move forward.
      1. You're not alone. I have both experienced and amateur allies available in every corner of my workplace. I am also recognizing allies in old friends; I didn't realize what support they would be because I never really understood the social justice work they were doing. Suffice it to say, I cannot use isolation as an excuse.
      2. Embrace your feelings. I've learned to feel comfortable with intense "blushing" and tears, my reaction to feeling overwhelmed in a moment. I'm surrounded by people whose default mentality is "No shame. No blame. No guilt." And they know I'm trying, so they support me. 
      3. People with white privilege need to act. The discourse about race must happen. And I've received the message loud and clear. "Dear White People. Do Something!" So why not me? The very least I can do is attempt to facilitate a meaningful and challenging conversation. Lives are at stake. My complacency, my escape, my silence...kills, if not physically, spiritually and emotionally.
      4. Education is key. As educators, THIS IS the conversation. Every day we wait, we perpetuate the injustices. Why are we not on the front lines?
      My point? The conference I attended and the class I'm taking are really pushing me to think deeply about who I want to be, to have "courageous conversations" about race, about life.

      My discomfort is progress. And the turmoil is freeing.

      Definitely for me. And hopefully for others.

      After all, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." ~MLK

      Saturday, January 3, 2015

      New Year's Resolutions...No Thanks! :)

      A brief thought while taking a break from preparing for second semester. As I peruse through Facebook, Twitter, Imgur, and Tumblr, there are an enormous number of posts regarding New Year's resolutions—articles about how to choose your resolutions and others sharing how to stick to them. Although I wholeheartedly agree with honest self-reflection and action plans toward growth, I've never really been one who understood using an arbitrary date to reflect on life and set goals. A date can't dictate when this should happen; experiences do. But that's just me. Dates likely work quite well for others.

      But I must admit that as this semester closed and the new year rolled in, I coincidentally found myself thinking about the powerful experiences, the challenging experiences, mostly the beautiful experiences, I've had over the last few months and how they've baptized me into an exciting new phase of my life. In the past week, a single thought has been spinning in my head. This thought stemmed from remembering a book I read years ago.

      The book is The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. As a brief description, the author gives four principles to practice in order to gain personal freedom. Those four principles are:
      1. Be Impeccable with your Word.
      2. Don't Take Anything Personally.
      3. Don't Make Assumptions.
      4. Always Do Your Best.
      5. (He's since added a fifth agreement: Be Skeptical but Learn and Listen)
      I highly recommend the book. The explanations and stories will elaborate on the above and you'll be surprised at how insightful these ideas are.

      But through conversations with others, I think a sixth agreement is a necessary part of personal freedom. It's the thought that keeps spinning in my head.

           6. Recognize that everything happens for a reason. There are no coincidences.

      Adding this sixth agreement means you'll view your experiences with the lens needed to both appreciate the gifts laid in front of you, and to see how to absorb them as a welcomed, necessary part of your life journey. You'll adopt the life philosophy, "Yes, And...?" and "Yes, And...!" I don't think the first five agreements can happen without the belief in and awareness of this sixth. Not sure. Just a thought. But boy, it's really making sense to me! And I'm feeling good. :)

      I wish you all a happy, healthy, adventure-filled 2015. Back to prep work for me!