Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Gift of the Present

Do you look back at this past weekend with your children or significant other and wish you were more present? Do you reflect on last week's challenge and how it was handled poorly thus you now sit with regret? Recently left a project at work feeling like a failure who buckled under pressure: pressure from others, pressure from yourself? Have you processed that argument you had with the school bully in grade school and play it over in your head time and time again with that perfect "comeback" that was never executed? Are you like me in that you have recalled the challenges and hurdles in life thinking... "goodness, I could have done that differently. I would have done that differently if I was not so caught up with __________." Are you a people pleaser? Are you self conscious? Are you anxious? If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, (congratulations!!!) you are completely normal. If you relate to any of the aforementioned scenarios, then welcome to the club. This is most of us. 

"Too often we approach our lives' biggest hurdles with dread, execute them with anxiety, and leave them with regret... [however], we can achieve "presence," the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we're making on others and instead adjust the impression we've been making on ourselves... we need to nudge ourselves, moment by moment, by tweaking our body language, behavior, and mind-set in our day-to-day lives." Above are the thoughts of Amy Cuddy, a Harvard professor and author of the New York Times Bestselling book entitled PRESENCE: Bringing your Boldest self to your biggest challenges. 

Recently I shared reasons for making a significant professional transition by way of resigning from my job as a school leader, a position of leadership that is valued and honored. Again, at a place of feeling much gratitude and honor, I have interacted with hundreds of individuals who have reached out to me on social media, via text, through email, over coffee, etc. I am finding many friends, relatives, and even strangers want to know more about my recent life choice. More will be shared in the coming weeks and months. 

For now, I aim to be present. Present for family. Present for a part-time investment in a local non-profit serving the homeless called The Cookery. Present as a dad. Present as a husband. Present on a bike ride with my children. Present as I mow my lawn. Present as I continue to prepare for the next chapter in my life, my career, my time with my family. Present as a friend. Present as a confidant. Present with personal spending and the family budget. Present grabbing a meal with a friend. Present sipping on coffee and enjoying conversation. Just present. 

It may be viewed as somewhat of a kitsch cliche, however the following quote has always resonated with me despite my feeble attempts to mock it and make fun: "Yesterday is the past and tomorrow is the future but today is a gift from God and that is why we call it the present." Like most of life, there is truth that can be found in the silly phrases and trite quotes we stumble upon. Gratitude for the gift of life is something special. There is no guarantee of our next breath much less next week or next year. It is a better investment of time to live in the present and focus energy on the current challenge, the blessing of today, the gift of now, and the joy of the moment. Anxieties of tomorrow need to be pushed aside. Regrets of yesterday need to be confronted. Joy and fulfillment is found in each ordinary moment we face. The ordinary moments of life are what make extraordinary memories and in the end, extraordinary lives.

Sit. Sip. Breathe. Laugh. Smile. Serve. Hug. Reflect. Pause. Whatever you do... make the most of this ordinary moment. If you do, it is destined to be extraordinary. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Why I gave up a six figure income to work part-time at a non-profit serving the homeless...

Many of those in my circle know I resigned from my role as a school principal and my last day was last week, June 30th. I have fielded a lot of questions since I first announced I would resign back in early May and rightly so. I get it. Why would someone like me... young, goal-oriented, accomplished, driven, educated, and, of course, good looking (just kidding) seemingly abruptly resign from his position as a school leader? The fact is the answer is pretty simple. I am tired. It became evident to me I had been running a marathon for quite some time and I was running at a sprinter's pace. The marathon turned into an ultra-marathon and before I knew it, my health and the health of my family began to take a hit.

I have had several individuals ask me what caused me to make this choice for myself. Questions ranged from "who is driving you out?" "what happened?" "is everything ok?" These are actually understandable questions. Again, I get it. I am not the "type" who just resigns from a position of leadership so suddenly unless there be some type of scandal looming, some serious terminal health issue, or some ethical malpractice concern. None of that is true. I guess one could say this is good ole fashioned burnout. It's just, although there may be some truth to the idea that I became burnt out, simply saying I am burned out and therefore I am resigning feels too simple. There is more to it. "Burn out" as a lone reason feels to me like a cop out. It feels I am blaming "burn out" for this. Instead, I take responsibility for this choice I am making. I own it. No one is forcing me out and I am not leaving anything, rather I am running to something: family. Some have gone on to ask if I am leaving the field of education for good. The simple answer is: I do not know. I would venture to say the answer is really a "no." But, really and truly I am not sure because if you had asked me at the beginning of 2017 if I envisioned myself in my current circumstances, I would probably look at you with crazy eyes. I am set free allowing my future to be undetermined for a brief season. Right now, my focus is my family.

You see, for the last 14 years, I have attempted to give everything to the field of education. My life's mission statement even includes the word "give" in which I elaborate I will "give" of myself, my time, my resources, and my gifts. I hold my head up and can legitimately feel I am holding up to my end of the bargain. But, like many times in our lives, we find ourselves in a different season. The season I found myself in quickly revealed to me that "giving" so much of myself had the potential of a negative impact on a few others: my wife and children. You see, for my first five years as an educator, I was a single adult. The next two years after that I was a married man but had no children. The last seven years saw my marriage to my wife, Kaydee, grow into a family of four after we added two children. All of a sudden the sprinter's pace meant serious repercussions for the rest of my Drinkwine clan.

As the title of this blog suggests, I am willingly stepping away from a six figure income. I am actually fine with this. I would be the only one in my immediate family to earn this type of salary and as a result many may think I am crazy. I guess I am crazy in some ways. I mean, who does that? I worked hard to get where I am today and I am proud of the work I have put in to better myself and put my family in a place where we can enjoy the fruits of life and benefit from them. At the same time, I am increasingly becoming aware that money does not replace or substitute for many of the items that truly matter such as family, legacy, faith, good health, and more. Despite a healthy salary, the anxiety and stress from the work for which I was rewarded resulted in unhealthy circumstances.

I am serious when I type this and there is no hyperbole here. My weeks consisted of six work days out of seven. Generally Monday through Friday consisted of waking up at 3-4am and getting home at 7-9pm each day. I have always prided myself on taking on the work ethic my own father passed down to me. The same work ethic I believe contributed to taking my father from this earth at a young age of 53 thus leaving a family of seven in his wake. I believe in some cases he may have literally worked himself to death. Again, it is not the hours of the work that gets me. Any school leader worth his or her weight will tell you the job requires immense amounts of work time. Schools are microcosms of society and society has needs. Needs require attention. Attention takes time. Time I decided to dedicate to the work. The time I chose to invest in the work of a school leader took away from my time as a daddy and husband who lives in the present.

The early morning hours and long nights meant my work week far exceeded the good ole fashioned 40 hour week. My week's were 65-80 hour work weeks. Again, I take pride in my work ethic. Conversely, I do not take pride in those work hours. That is just not reasonable for a father, for a husband. The truth of the matter is I gave everything I had to the work during those hours, and then in the small window of time I had to dedicate to my son and my daughter and then the even smaller window of time I had to give to my wife, I still gave everything I had. My "everything" for my family however, was leftover, it was almost lifeless.

At the end of the day, leadership is really not about others if the leader is not taking care of himself or herself. It all starts with intra-personal leadership. Intra-personal leadership is the idea that one cannot truly lead others unless one is leading themselves. I was leading but I was leading at break-neck speeds. I was leading on empty. I was leading fatigued. This is no manner in which to lead. Something had to change. My wife and I made a specific choice to change for the betterment of my health and the health of our family. When I say "my health," I do not mean to alarm anyone. I, thankfully have not been diagnosed with any specific disease or setback. It is just that the work over the last seven years in school leadership has manifested itself in severe anxiety, depression at times, stress, and physical weakness. The health of my family refers to the idea that it is imperative for me to invest in the lives of my six year old and four year old before I tend to long tedious "to-do" lists, inflated email inboxes, superfluous spreadsheets, and/or data, data, data. Without care and attention, a family can quickly fall apart. I have seen it occur. It was told to me as a kid that children spell the word "LOVE" like this: "T-I-M-E." I believe it.

Now, I find myself having resigned from my position and our little family is about to embark on a pretty amazing adventure officially beginning September 7th, 2017. Some have asked me what I plan to do between this time... during the months of July and August. Well, I plan to spend time with my family, going on bike rides, playing in swimming pools, enjoying slow meals, laughing, reading, and more. Rather than family being squeezed into the remaining 10% of time leftover from work, I hope to invert that percentage and spend time with family 90% of the time and then contribute a little, the remaining 10% of the time. I now find myself contributing to society in a small way while choosing to place a little time and energy into my community by serving at The Cookery here in Nashville. The Cookery is a non-profit focused on serving the homeless here in Nashville. I have just finished my first week and I am learning a lot. I am being reminded of the importance of caring for people, the humility of a job of service, and the beautiful hearts and minds of other people in my community striving day after day to leave this world a better place. Between now and September 6th, if you are hungry for lunch, feel free to stop by and say hello. It would be my pleasure to serve you. I will soon write about the adventure my family and I will begin the Wednesday after this upcoming Labor Day. I cannot wait to share!