Things I'm Noodling On: School Board & Numbing

Monday night was my last school board meeting. I spent 6 years learning about education, complex systems, governing, our community's culture (related to education, leadership, gender dynamics, fear, LGTBQ issues...the list goes on).

Some basic (and wildly underestimated) math, calculates that I spent 216 hours in meetings over those 2 terms. 216 hours - that's over 5 work weeks of sitting in a board room with neighbors from our wonderful community to try to push through headwinds and take advantage of the tailwinds presented to our district.

People often say that being on the school board is the ultimate thankless gig. I'm gonna call a bit of bullshit on that this morning. Remember bullshit is a complex thing - read more about it here to jog your memory.

Thankless defined as "difficult or unpleasant and not likely to bring one pleasure or the appreciation of others." Let's tackle the appreciation of others side first:
  • Fellow Pointers told me they appreciated my work often during my time on the board. 
  • I've received cards in the mail, pats on the back, messages on facebook, thoughtful texts, a hand-painted plaque and a couple of rounds at a local tavern all for my service to the school.  
  • The district pays a small stipend paid to each board member.
Plenty of appreciation from others.

So then let's dig into the difficult or unpleasant and not likely to bring one pleasure side of the thankless definition:
  • Sitting in front of my community either live in person or virtually via the unforgiving lens of a camera
  • Needing to know enough & communicate effectively enough to add value
  • Dodging the egos in the room (my own as often as anyone else's)
  • Trying to avoid the cultural landmines of our small, rural district
Yeah, all of that was unpleasant and difficult, and at the same time I learned each and every single time I put on my school board hat. The knowledge I gained will impact and benefit me and my family forever.

Can I call out the ironic part of this conversation for a second? Shouldn't the school board be the champions for messaging how excruciating learning is. It's super fucking hard. It's always been a difficult process. From the walking, talking and potty-training skills of toddlerhood to the algebra, acne and drivers ed days of high school. Learning is hard when you're reading philosophy in college and also responsible for your own car payment and checking account. Finding your way through dating and marriage and interviews and bosses and babies and taxes and cancer and divorce and .... every day we learn and every day it's a pain. So what moron (I'm pointing at myself here) thought the school board should be any different or any easier?

It's not. It's hard, horrible, and mind-blowingly amazing all tied into one. Exactly how I've come to describe life....recently. This season of my life has shown me that those paradoxes make life rich and wretched in the very same space and time.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the lines we start to want and expect all or nothing. The paradox is not for us. We want all fun or comfort and when we cannot have that we numb what we don't like. And numbing is effective. It kills the pain and it also kills the joy, gratitude and other skills that build our resilience to struggle.

For a few years, I numbed the discomfort of being a school board member - I used backbiting, withdrawing and judgement. And I still used sarcasm from time to time, but more often than I like. When I only focused on the pain, struggle and discomfort - that all I saw and I needed to numb. When I only focused on the inefficiencies, the fear based mentality, the politics of it - that what the school board was about.

However, when I started to focus on the learning, the courage and the neighbors sitting there next to me  - I could embrace the journey of sitting together in shared unpleasantness on behalf of something bigger than us as individuals and watched as my perspective change. I also saw my need to numb fade.

Being present, without the numbing drama, allowed me to make a clear decision at how I can best impact our community & our school district, and that required me to leave the school board to drive a different vehicle for a while. I'm looking forward to a new challenge with different struggles and different learning.


The Stories We Make Up.

So thankful for the wonderful and smart readers of this blog who ask more questions. It holds me accountable. It challenges my thinking and removes the stories we make up in our heads. 

If I write something that makes you wonder, ask me about it.

I'm not expecting perfection in my personal growth journey. I will screw this up over and over and over again. But I'm perfectly in progress and learning every step of the way. 


Things I'm Noodling On: Personal Growth

Learning and incorporating personal development practices are by far the hardest work I've ever done. And at the same time it's been more rewarding then I ever could have imagined. Personal growth is the kind of awful work that lights you up completely, but you have nothing to really 'show' for it. The reward is invisible to others unless they've gotten a glimpse.

And if you're anything like me you want to talk about your personal growth journey non-stop because it's like you've been given the keys to the world's biggest and unlimited treasure chest, but you can only have your share when everyone else has gotten their share too. You are convinced this is a no brainer & try to spread this message like the plague. And similar to you actually spreading the plague, people are like, "Dude, BACK THE F OFF - I DON'T WANT YOUR DISEASE!" Talking about this kind of invisible and thought-provoking stuff makes you annoying AF. 

Most of us just want to communicate in these 3 shallow puddles (see below) not in a deep sea of thought and possibility. 
  1. Meaningless small talk
  2. 100% agree with and support unconditionally
  3. 100% disagree with and write-off unconditionally
I know this first hand because I've been the dickhead who didn't get it & wanted shallow and easy too and avoided people or was a jerk to them for trying to have this conversation. So many times before...ugh.

For example, I have a cousin who has always been about 20 klicks ahead of me in this personal development stuff.  Some years ago, when I was still an infant -- actually it was like 10 years ago when I was a full-fledged adult who believed my shit didn't stink & my world was the only true reality -- I was like, "Joe, shut the eff up! You're a freaking weirdo!" 

Now I am in awe of the work he's done and the time he's invested into his personal growth and development. We still aren't on the same exact Journey but our paths are leading us to the same meandering streams and we are falling from the same cliffs. We are there in the Wilderness helping each other find our way by shouting out occasionally to remind the other they are not alone.

Now we are both the weirdos who are doing purposeful and intention driven work with nothing but annoying conversations, challenging questions and a deeper connection to each other to show for it. 

But because there is no trophy or certification at the end of most of this work people have deemed it worthless. We like our work to be celebrated with praise and a flashy prize vs. a true sense of accomplishment & a new outlook on life. We'd rather not think or talk about how we spend our limited time & energy here on earth, we want people to just see how we do when they drive past our McMansion and see our fancy new car in the driveway. 

Old Way of Thinking
Stuff = Valuable
I used to believe things were the reward for the time and energy spent working. 

New Way of Thinking
Learning = Valuable
I now believe that changing my reality with new awareness and perspectives that enrich my life is the reward for time and energy spent working.

One draw back to going on a personal growth journey is that people don't understand why I don't engage like before. Just like I thought Joe was a weirdo before because I didn't know better; understanding has given me clarity. I now know based on my own lived experiences that our thoughts literally turn into our realities, so changes in thought will change our lives. This new reality, is giving me new non-negotiables...
  • I am not willing to let my thoughts or conversations be surface-level bullshit that shames anyone about their bodies, their choices or their emotions...and most fiercely related to girls. 
  • I am no longer tolerant of contributing to destructive behaviors or mindsets that further separate humans.
  • I am calling bullshit to the garbage perfectionistic demands that are pressed upon children.
  • I will absolutely not participate in basement-level thinking about politics.
  • I will not take on someone else's learned helplessness without consistently challenging it. 
I am actively avoiding things like my life depends on it. Because it does.

It's hard. It's painful. From time to time it feels like complete isolation. But the pit of my stomach isn't in knots anymore. The frustration or anger or anxiety that follows my fear & pain based thinking is not constant anymore. Now every time I behave in a way that makes me 'fit in' vs. 'belong to myself', the 'integrity hangover' reminds me it's not worth it.

Now I get to actually use the energy I used to waste talking about people or things, to find people who are going to add to my purpose driven work to learn, grow and contribute. I look for them so they can show me the way. 

And some people actually go as far to think the work I'm doing is useless, indulgent or devalue it with open ridicule or complete disregard. Remember me with Joe -- I know people do this because I did it too. 

That's okay! They've not yet embraced this shifted mindset. The mindset that values things that you cannot see or articulate. I'll just leave this here for them to noodle on while they're in church tomorrow.

Is anyone still reading? How has personal growth impacted your relationships with others?