Monday, March 30, 2015

Creativity: What are we truly wanting?

I just recently purchased my four year old son his first box of legos. In short... he loves them! Ever since he was born, he has been enamored with anything having to do with engineering, motors, construction, physics. He loves anything that moves, rolls, digs, bangs, clangs, rotates, etc. He loves cars, trucks, trains, machinery, dump trucks, garbage trucks, moving trucks, and more. Despite this love for the aforementioned items, I hesitated to dive into the creative world of legos because I just did not know what to expect... "would he become frustrated? would he even like it? could he manipulate the pieces with his tiny hands that could possibly prove a challenge for even his good dexterity?" All of these questions presented themselves to me. Nonetheless, I took the plunge. I am glad I did too. Here is what I noticed:

For the first time, he was able to create the things he loves. He was able to create with his own brain, imagination, mind, creativity, innovation, and planning any item he wanted that would/could roll, move, bang, clang, and move around. You see, for quite some time, he has had the opportunity to roll a "Hot Wheels" car or a Tonka truck, BUT he did not create it. He also has been able to move a "Thomas the Tank Engine" BUT he was not the curator. He manipulated remote control cars, BUT he was not the master mind behind the creation of the machine. It was already given to him and then he... well, he played (as he should). And, although he had fun while playing with these pre-made items (who wouldn't?), he lacked something extra... something he could really take pride in: his own opportunity to sit back and think and perhaps even say aloud... "look what I created."

In fact, my most significant observation came in the form of an awakening I had about what it means to create. You see, the box of legos I bought for my son came with explicit directions for how to create a specific machine which is conveniently featured in the photo at the top along with my son's small fingers. I put all of the pieces together, following each step of the directions meticulously so that I could achieve my own sort of self-accomplishment while also showing my first born my skills as if to pound on my chest and cry out to the world... "this is my creation, look at me, look at what I have done!!!" I am serious... it really is amazing how exhilarating creating even a child's lego feels to me, a man in my 30s. Okay... enough about me. I want to really focus on my son... you see... he liked my creation. I saw it in his eyes, he liked the fact that it mirrored the picture of the lego on the box. He really did and you know what... I am glad he did because quite frankly, it made me proud. But, you know what else? I noticed something else even cooler. Although he liked my creation which was identical to the rendering on the box and was a direct result of the directions... HE LOVED HIS OWN CREATION. His own creation can be seen in the photo on the right hand side. It comes complete with an antennae (in the form of the orange cone), a vent on the roof, and a simple body style. He LOVED it. And, you know what... I LOVED it too. I loved it because he did.

He did not follow the directions. He did not make his by following a standard. He did not meet any expectations. He did not abide by some template. He did not take a blueprint and make sure he was within the parameters of what someone else has required. He just created: freely, openly, and innocently. I love it! He also created a different lego car later (featured below) and he said... "look dad, this one is extra long!" He later discovered that the length made for a pretty fragile car in the middle of the vehicle where it would easily break apart. I saw his own learning taking place: his own analyzing, his own "wheels were turning" (pardon the pun).

These observations have left me asking the following questions about what we have set up with regard to creativity in our homes with our children, in our schools with our students and in our workplaces with our employees. What are we teaching our students and our young people or our workers or our employees when we hold them to the same confines of directions that are cookie-cutter? What are we really desiring by seeking standardization? What is the result of following a pre-made template/blueprint? Maybe it is the appearance of quality. I am not opposed to quality. I desire quality too. However, under what guise. I am seeing that even the quality lego creation I made for my son was not original, it was not innovative, it was not full of discovery and curiosity, and perhaps most importantly: pride. I want to encourage us all to think about what it means for us to be truly creative. What are we creating? More importantly, WHO are we creating? Individuals who merely follow a plan sent down from someone above like an obedient robot or individuals who think for themselves, experience the messiness of freedom, and who become curators and innovators of the next world-changing creation?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Reflecting on My Social Media "Hiatus"

On Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015; I took a break. I announced to friends, family members, and some 3,000 other individuals who I connect with online that I would take a break from social media for an undetermined amount of time. In the end, the exact amount of time of my "break" was approximately 7 days, and 11 hours. This break was more than a break from social media. It was a break from connecting with others around the globe. It was a break from networking. It was a break from sharing. It was a break from some of my learning. It was a break from photography. It was a break from some reading. It was a break from news. It was a break from humor. It was a break from ideas. It was a break from spreading the good news of our school community at Eakin School in Nashville, TN. It was a break from so much more than what many of us view social media to be. Specifically, I took a break from twitter, instagram, facebook, Blogger, Pinterest, SnapChat, YouTube, buffer, , LinkedIn, Delicious, and more. It was a break I thought was necessary. Up until March 3rd, I had been connected and plugged in for 1,824 out of 1,825 days (in other words, for five years). It was a break that I needed to take for my health. The time had arrived for which I felt I needed a social medic, not social media.

It did not matter that my social media analytics revealed that my "digital footprint" had taken a nosedive. I thought I knew the impact of this hiatus and what it meant for my own social media presence. In fact, my social relevance took a hit by social media terms. -------->

And, to make matters even more surreal, just a few minutes after I posted that I would be taking a "break," I received an email from an online follower and fellow educator that simply stated... "quitter." The sender of that pithy and curt email and I enjoyed a series of emails exchanging questions and thoughts on my first day "off the grid." In short, his "jab" at me labeling me a quitter is exactly why I needed a break. It allowed me to take an introspective look at myself and ask this important question... "am I what the world of social media says I am? Am I my analytic value? Am I made up of more than my retweets and favorites or my likes and double taps? Am I only as valuable as my connected life?" The answer to all of those questions (and the same goes for you and for us all) is a resounding NO. We are all so much more. I am so much more.

The thing that makes social media so tricky is that we so often feel as if we NEED it. I have felt this a lot over the last five years. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do not need it. It is tricky, however, because it is such a great tool. Remember in the first paragraph above... because I gave social media a break, it also meant I took a break from connecting with others, networking, sharing, some learning, photography, some reading, some creating, some news, some humor, some ideas and more. Some people would also suggest it would be a break from "stress." The stress of feeling the need to post, type, tweet, etc. I actually received an email from a family member with an article that praises going on digital hiatus' and the following short message, "supports your digital detox." Now, don't' get me wrong... I took the break because as I mentioned before, I felt it was necessary. I probably needed a "detox," I needed a medic. However, remember... this is tricky. It is tricky because we feel like we will miss out. We feel like we cannot move on or move forward with out it. My break forced me to face this temptation head on.

Even when there are amazing things to share, I do not NEED to share them as if my life (or my career, or my social status, or my friendships, or my clout) depends on it. Again, do not get me wrong... this is tough. It is hard, at times, to decipher what is worth sharing and what is not. There was one moment during my hiatus in which one of my amazing teachers texted me this touching text (left) on day one of my break and it was so tempting to not tweet it out. You see, these temptations are the temptations nicotine, alcohol, and other dopamine driven addictions are made of. In fact, "Psychology Today" has written articles based upon the addictive nature of social media and how it actually raises dopamine levels in our brains. No joke!

It is important to note, however, that it is not social media's fault. I have to take responsibility- we all do. I had grown into an individual with an insatiable appetite for connecting with others. I understand I am wired for connecting. Heck... many experts, sociologists, social workers, and more suggest we are hard-wired for connecting with others. But, I took it way too far. In some ways, it became my idol. All of the aforementioned good things that can be gleaned from social media as a tool began to take a back seat. In short, I began to become out-of-balance... I began to see myself as a punch line to this very apropos cartoon (see image on lower right)...

All in all, my "detox" or my break lasted for a week. My "take-aways" were every bit as interesting as the emails and the texts. My first take-away is that I am responsible for my behavior online or offline. Secondly, we all have a platform... it can be even larger with social media... this is even more reason to aim for balance and health. People are watching me whether I like it or not (again... online and off). And, lastly... my first post after my break was one that I felt I needed to share: during my time off of social media, not only was able to take away inward, but I was also able to reflect on all the individuals who are so important to me and whom I am extremely proud. That tweet (see below) was what I was compelled to share upon my return. I meant it. Perhaps, it was revealing to me that my "break" showed me that I need balance and it also revealed who is so vital to my life in pursuit of this balance. So, what about you... do you need to take a break? Do you need to take a day, a week, a month and balance yourself? I would encourage it... it may even give you relief for your "text-neck." And... remember, you are not a "quitter" if you do. :)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Valleys over Mountaintops

There is no question that this past year (2014) has been full of its ups and downs. Its highs and lows. Its peaks and valleys. And, quite honestly... as I reflect, there have been more times where I was down than up, more lows than highs, and more moments in which I have felt like the valley was going to be a permanent residence for which I would live out the rest of my life. This is not to say that this past year has not had its share of amazing, encouraging, exciting, and wonderful moments... mountaintop moments--- it most certainly has! Do not get me wrong... I am grateful for those moments. I am humbled for any gift and opportunity that has been given to me. I am grateful to be the father of two precious children. I am honored to have a wife who loves me unconditionally. I am thankful for friends and family who support and cheer me on. I was given the amazing opportunity to serve as Principal of the Eakin School this past school year. I have a doctorate. I have presented to hundreds at conferences and grown my circle of influence. Relatively speaking, I am in good health. My Commodores won the College World Series :). I live in a GREAT city! I own a home, have two cars, live in the top percent of wealth in the world and so much more. There is absolutely so much for which to show gratitude. 

At the very same time... those moments of greatness during this past year have been overshadowed at times by the low moments, the times in which sadness smothered, darkness hovered, anxiety crept in, stress became the most noticeable character in my life, and my focus on the good things in life took a back seat to the stress and pressures in life. Quite simply... 2014 presented itself to me as my toughest year I have ever experienced. For the first time in my life, at age 35, I experienced emotional breakdowns, panic attacks, physical pain from stress, fear, and so much more. There were nights in which I awoke in the middle of the night in cold sweats of worry. There were tears. There were doubts. There has been hopelessness. 

As I have grown older, I am constantly learning the serum to these low moments is not avoiding them, but confronting them head on with honesty, transparency, courage, and a sense that I cannot do this alone... therefore I confront the valleys with other supports such as therapy, counsel, family and friends. I am also learning to embrace the struggle, to not run away, and to not resent the valleys. I enter 2015 with a realization that I need to continue to work on myself, lead myself, create balance and margin, and be grateful for each and every day, each and every season in life... even the valleys. After all... the valleys allow us to appreciate the mountain tops experiences. I invite you to join me this year while I give thanks for the valleys while looking to the top of the mountain. I want to encourage you with this excerpt from Andy Andrews work in which he elaborates on the importance of the valleys in our life:

“Everybody wants to be on the mountaintop, but if you'll remember, mountaintops are rocky and cold. There is no growth on the top of a mountain. Sure, the view is great, but what's a view for? A view just gives us a glimpse of our next destination-our next target. But to hit that target, we must come off the mountain, go through the valley, and begin to climb the next slope. It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life's next peak.”  This quote by best-selling author, AndyAndrews

May you... may we all enjoy a wonderful 2015 while seeking to "summit life's next peak" on the mountaintop while giving thanks for the arduous times in the low valley where growth takes place.