Sarah Johnson is an educational consultant, author, and educator. Her blog is intended for audiences who want to engage around the topics of balance, resilience, and faith.
Sarah is co-author of Balance Like a Pirate: Going Beyond Work-Life Balance to Ignite Passion and Thrive as an Educator.
Find out more about her at sarahsajohnson.com.
Building Resilience To Adapt to New Normals
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
― Sheryl Sandberg, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
Five months. The amount of time passed since I literally leaped into faith. When the consistency of a paycheck ceased, and the reality of having no place to report for "work" really took shape. When I consider how short five months is in the scheme of the 451 total that I have lived, it's not very long. In fact, it's only .01% of my lifetime to date. Minuscule!
Yet, like the period after any significant loss, it has felt long in some ways. Challenging. Sometimes depressing, but often exhilarating with the potential, new learning, and promise of what is on the other side of the courageous leap into the unknown.
My own experience of adapting to a new normal has me thinking about how my challenges and intentional focus on building forward might help to boost anyone else moving in uncertainty.
I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review about building resilience and the work that the author, Martin E.P. Seligman has been doing around the topic for schools and military personnel. It struck me in new ways in this fresh space after a recent loss of identity in position.
Those who want to pick this apart could say that my current situation is nothing like what they outline because I did not lose my job; I gave it up. While that is technically accurate, I would argue a loss is a loss, and much like a spouse dying versus a divorce, there is a period of adaptation that needs to take place when we lose a significant piece of our lives, elected or not.
What I love about the science behind resiliency is that we can build it! In ourselves. In our students. In our staff. In the clients we serve or our employees engaged with our business. Resiliency is not something with which we are born and have a finite amount of stores. We can actually take real steps to build our resiliency muscles so that we can adapt to new normals.
And that is the bulk of my life now: Adapting to a new normal. Taking the gift of a chasm of space between my last paycheck and what I am being called to do. Learning about starting a business, running a business, providing meaningful services, and adjusting my purpose in service. All this while I mourn the gifts that I gave up as a building leader that I loved. Camaraderie of a team. Problem solving to serve the school. Daily immersion in important work that fed my extrovert need to engage with people to replenish energy stores. Finding the joy in every fist bump, eye roll, laugh, song, dance, and presence with students. Feeling deeply the truth of the fact that being with students in their most challenging times is an honor afforded to few.
I have teased myself with finding this again in little spurts while I sub as a building principal, and it feeds these passions so well that it would be very tempting to leap back. Honestly, it would be the easiest thing to do to give up all the new normal and get back with students and staff.
But that's now what my obedient risk is about.
So, I am intentionally employing strategies for building resiliency while I obey and build where I am supposed to go next. Maybe some of them will resonate with you.
Practicing Present Moment Awareness: While it would be so easy to ruminate on the past and plot only for the future, doing so would feed anxiety and tempt me to quit. Too much focus on the past, and I am paralyzed by my longing for all I loved. Too much focus on the future, and I am paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of new learning and unknown. So, I prioritize focus on each day. I focus on what I have today that is so brilliant and meaningful, and I lean into what I can do today. For me, that can be learning a new media platform, completing the online leadership and author courses I have been taking, or writing. It also means when I am with someone, that I am focused on them and not on other tasks. I look at the sun. And take pictures of it. A lot.
Gratitude Mining: Truly being mindful about what I have to be grateful for now boosts my attitude and productivity. It is science based, and whether I write it down, speak life to it through words of gratitude, or visualize what makes me thankful, I am blessed. And then I am not so stressed. I can do this! So can you.
Self-Care Streak: Yes, I run every day. I have for 1,583 days now. Keeping this streak alive continues to make me feel physically, mentally, and emotionally well. Because this practice has become such a habit, it is a given that my family and I adjust around it. "Have you run yet?" is the question when my kids or husband wake, and we figure out a way to make it fit no matter what is happening for the day. It is essential, and I have fought many days to keep it. Sometimes the battle is with myself, my guilt for the indulgence that it can feel like some days, the elements outside, or the schedule of the day. But I have won that battle over a thousand and a half times! The key is adaptability (sometimes one mile is all I can give myself), and I refuse to let go while I have the gift of the ability to do it. *See also gratitude.*
Visualizing: Formally picturing where I want to end up is something new to me, but not new to mindfulness or resilience training. If you can visualize a positive image of where you want to be, it can help guide your goals and set your tone of belief. Currently, I visualize what my business can do for others and the purpose God has for me evident in that work. That bolsters me to do the grinding work of learning all the new details of the business world and insulates any sense of unworthiness that pops forth through that work. For some people, visualizing how things could be worse works too. The truth is that is a struggle for my optimistic nature, but this is also a way to boost gratitude for what you are experiencing now versus what a worst case scenario could be.
Affirmation: This is not small. Taking time to think about what we are and can be and do is significant to positive psychology research. My affirmations now center around my spiritual identity and the rest spurs from that. "I am fulfilling God's purpose in me, and through Him, my work will serve that purpose." When I go from there, it doesn't feel so daunting to form an LLC, consider how to sell my services, or build content. It feels worthy. And incredibly important.
Building Signature Strengths: Building leadership and education in general can really be a hit to our sense of worth when we look to test scores, survey results, and other accountability measures. We all have strengths as well as areas in which we are strong. To really prompt my own growth, I am focusing on exercising my strengths because I can. Of course, I am working on weaknesses and will certainly always look to grow from them. Right now, I can focus on what I do well and use those traits to build something really special. I think we forget to do this sometimes, because we are too focused on deficit or scarcity, especially if the organizations in which we function do that.
These are just a few tips of many to build resilience. If you are in a good place, consider building them in anyway. Proactively placing strategies in your life like these can insulate us and reduce disruption in our lives if earth shaking events do occur. Think of it as building muscles to be able to withstand the weight to bear in the future.
What strategy do you use from here? Are there any you would add? Comment in the blog, or share through social media. We can learn from one another!
Exactly one year ago today, I was given the spiritually driven direction to leave my position as a high school principal. I can literally still feel my heart pump as I recorded the words flowing from my hand onto my journal. The fear. The excitement. The questions.
Fast forward to today.
I just completed an interview for the In AWE Podcast that still has me reeling with its clear message to me in regard to the mission in what I am doing now. My guest was speaking about her own mission, but in that message shined through my own purpose, and I am so grateful to notice.
Though my professional path is still forming, what is clear to me today is that my passion and strengths are coming together in a way that will honor my life purpose for the rest of it.
However, I still have a lot of listening and hard work to do.
For example, on my run this morning, I allowed my path to be driven by the call from The Spirit, and I found myself heading down a road that I have avoided for quite a while. W…
After a year of #RISE where I learned to speak with purpose and step into my faith, the oneword for this year came to me first as a surprise. Honestly, my initial reaction was that I had already slayed the giant. I faced fear and left my career where I felt safe and purposed, stepping out where not many would go in a leap of faith and trust. Had I not battled through months of giants where I was searching for where God was leading me?
The answer is no. I simply rose.
Of course rising was not simple at all. When I wrote the post about my one word last year, I was full of trepidation to speak so openly about faith, and specifically about the Holy Spirit speaking life into me. After all, I had spent a chapter of my life muting that passion and living out of fear at times. What if people were offended or started calling me out? Placing myself out there as a person who leads with fait…
It happened again. Someone I admire and respect completed a suicide, and my wounds are laid bare all afresh. Suicide survival is a club nobody asked to be in, and admission comes with a lifelong process of reliving the devastation on repeat. I know this because my first loss occurred in 2000, and each time I think of the circumstances and absence of that person in my life, it feels like an exposed bone, throbbing anew. I dream of him and still experience that sensation when I wake up that he is on this Earth today until reality smacks me hard again. The feelings have receded over the 18 years since, but they remain and creep up with any new experience.
With this most recent loss, I find myself checking in on my brother's Facebook page, sorting through old photos. I stopped myself from watching his tribute video by a narrow margin and even thinking of it brings fresh tears. Though I am no longer in the acute grief stage, it sure feels like it when I cannot stop myself from going do…