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.

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