METAMORPHOSIS and emerging from the chrysalis: #oneword2018

taxidermy butterfly left to me by my scientist grandfather

It’s that time of year when we’re recovering from the holiday season and gearing up, or regenerating, for the new year. It’s a time, often, of reflecting on the year that’s been and planning for the year ahead. For the last few years I have used a ‘oneword’ to clarify my intent for my year. While I sometimes forget the oneword intentionality I have set, especially when life is at its busiest or most pear-shaped, mostly I find that choosing a single word allows me to bring a mindfulness to my year that is based on an essential focus to which it is easy to return across a year.

In 2015 it was CONQUER, as I worked at a ruthless pace to submit my PhD in between parenting my two young children and working 0.8 at my school.

In 2016 it was MOMENTUM, as I tried to capitalise on my PhD through lots of presenting (including at AERA) and writing from my thesis, still in the spaces between life and work.

In 2017 it was NOURISH, as I worked to clarify my work and life by focusing on that which nourished me.

On 2017 …

In 2017 my oneword embodied itself in multiple aspects of my life. As my youngest child entered full-time school, I returned to full-time work that has been nourishing in its focus. That is, I’ve been grateful to spend my time in areas of passion and purpose: teacher professional learning, building a research culture, focusing on staff development, and leading the Library, as well as teaching English.

In 2017 I have said ‘yes’ to projects because they are nourishing experiences for me, or because I have been burning to say something. My formal 2017 publications, for example, have been:

I have also joined the Board at my children’s school, and become a member of Evidence for Learning’s Research Use and Evaluation Committee. These commitments are about contribution, giving back, and making a difference; through them I receive the nourishment that comes from doing something worthwhile.

In 2017 I have spent nourishing time with my family, including a couple of lovely holidays. I have been seeing a new personal trainer whose strength and conditioning sessions have meant that my regular three-day-long headaches seem to have disappeared. Working with him has meant looking after my body, paying more attention to it, and getting stronger.

To 2018 …

2018 is around the corner and I’ve been considering what might be my fundamental intention for a year that already feels like an ending before it has begun. The end of 2018 will mark 10 years since I returned to Australia from the UK. That decade is a time in which I have had my two children, from pregnancy to babies to primary school students. It’s the decade in which I completed my PhD. The end of 2018 will mark a full decade of working at my current school (well and truly my longest ever period of employment). And at the end of next year I will have a zero birthday. The years from 2009-2018 feel like a chrysalis from which I will emerge at the end of next year. (I’m no doubt influenced here by the book I’ve just finished: Stephen and Owen King’s 715-page novel Sleeping Beauties in which women around the world are falling asleep indefinitely and being cocooned in mysterious chrysalides.) This seems a perfect time for looking back and looking forward.

On Twitter it was a close race ….

For 2018 I have considered the word CREATE because I have some projects I’m keen to progress. I have considered STRENGTH because I would benefit from focusing on the strength of my body as well as the strength of my advocacy for others and perhaps for myself. But I am going to tackle a more complex and messy word this year: METAMORPHOSIS.

It’s not that I think 2018 will be filled with transformation. In fact, it’s more likely to be about consolidation and simplification (think Marie Kondo’s KonMari method applied to life, or perhaps Sarah Knight’s life-changing magic of … ahem … figuring out what not to worry about). METAMORPHOSIS isn’t just about change. It isn’t that I think I’ll grow proverbial wings in the space of a year. But it is about development and moving on to another stage. For me that stage is mid-teaching-career, post baby-having, post-PhD stage. It’s time to figure out what ‘mid’ and ‘post’ look like when they are my ‘now’.

METAMORPHOSIS is also about letting go. It is about shedding old skins, old bodies, old habits, old values, old dreams. It is about considering what I want to take into my next decade, and what I’m willing to leave behind. After a few packed but fragmented years, full of simultaneous, competing, overlapping commitments (teaching! school leadership! PhD! academic writing! presenting at conferences! pregnancies! parenting! moving house! all at the same time!), it’s about re-assessing how I am spending my time and considering where it might be that all my endeavour is leading me.

The questions I will ask in 2018 in order to be mindful of METAMORPHOSIS in 2018 are:

  • What might flight, freedom, joy, and purpose look like and feel like for me?
  • How might I imagine the next decade and what might I need to do to get there?
  • What do I want to focus on doing and what can I stop doing, or do less of, in order to fulfil that focus?
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Oneword 2017: NOURISH

my 2017 is going to be replenishing

my 2017 is going to be replenishing

It’s January 1. The time of year for resolving to do more, better, healthier. To be more productive, mindful, prosperous. For the last couple of new years, instead of resolutions, I’ve chosen a oneword (sometimes called oneword365 or one little word) to set my intention for the year, a lens through which to view my decisions, to reflect upon daily and to embed into the rhythms of my year. Unlike the traditional resolution, it’s not possible to fail at a oneword. You can’t get it wrong or fall off the wagon. You just revisit it across the year, rolling it around in your head and allowing it to guide your thoughts and behaviours.

In 2015, although I began with three words, these were soon overtaken by one word—CONQUER—as I climbed to the summit of my PhD thesis. Success! In 2015 I submitted my thesis, within 3 years of enrolling (O, happy days!). Then in 2016 my word was MOMENTUM, as I looked to put one foot in front of the other in order to keep moving, despite not being sure of my destination. In 2016 I did plenty. I taught, led, coached, worked, fought for what I believed, became a doctor, presented, published, wrote, read, connected, advocated, won a couple of awards, was appointed to two new positions (one at a university and one at my school). I got somewhere. These words served their purposes, but I finished 2016 spent. I had conquered and moved at a cracking pace, and 2016 was pretty good in my book, but I reaped the exhaustion of pushing hard. I knew that in 2017 I needed a word that allowed me to be kinder to myself. A gentler, slower word.

As I was considering words, I considered ‘consolidate’, but that seemed too inert. I want to do more than stay where I am, but I am ready for a less frantic, more mindful pace. I considered ‘joy’ and ‘illuminate’, but a Twitter poll told me what I already knew: my oneword for 2017 is NOURISH.

Twitter polls: solving life's dilemmas

Twitter polls: solving life’s dilemmas

The thing I love about oneword is that it can be applied to all aspects of life. Nourish can mean nutritional nourishment. It can mean doing what helps me to feel centred, like coastal walks, yoga and seeing close friends and family. Nourish can mean saying yes to work that feeds my inner nerd, and saying no to being ruled by metrics or external measures. It can mean connecting with others who encourage and inspire me, and vacating conversations, Twitter arguments or relationships that wring me dry. Nourish gives me permission to withdraw from that which does not sustain me—physically, emotionally, intellectually, professionally—and to immerse myself in that which nurtures, supports and strengthens. This year I intend to be mindful of how my time, food, drink, sleep, exercise, relationships, writing and work give me something positive, or whether they sap me of energy and fulfilment.

In setting my intention to seek nourishment this year, I’ll use this question to focus myself:

Does this nourish me?

Simple!

I’ve started my nourishing year as I mean to go on. Today I woke and made a yummy breakfast of paleo pancakes with raspberries. I exercised by the beach and drank coffee from one of my favourite coastal cafes. I cuddled and played with my kids. I’ll work on abstract for a book chapter that I’m excited about, an example of something that feeds my brain and my always-itching-to-write fingers. I’m writing this blog post because it helps to set my intention and to help me think through what’s in my head. I’ll be catching up with old friends on the beach later today and will see the sun set into the ocean.

I’m looking forward to a year in which I turn away from what depletes, drains and undermines me, and in which I am attentive to what feeds my body, mind and spirit.

Presence, Sharing, Strength: 3 words for 2015

presence * sharing * strength ~ words for 2015 against the backdrop of my New Year's Day

presence * sharing * strength ~ my words for 2015 against the backdrop of my New Year’s Day

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’ ~ Alfred Tennyson 

We have passed across the threshold of the year to come. The new year is upon us.

While I tend to reflect constantly and set small, achievable goals, it’s been a while since I have set a New Year’s resolution (and I don’t intend to start here; what follows is an alternative approach to finding focus at the inception of another trip around the sun). While I love a good list, and an inspiring goal, I also love a good vision. Like organisations, individuals function optimally when we align our words and actions with a clear, coherent sense of identity and vision. Chris Brogan advocates for a simple personal visioning exercise to develop our own personal vision for the year ahead: ‘3 words’. Interestingly, some people (like educator Kirsten Wilson here) use this approach intuitively.

This is my first year of utilising the 3 words approach, and here they are:

Presence

This is a year of being present for me; of hereness, mindfulness and breathing into each moment. Presence, as I wrote about here, is an ongoing daily focus for me. My life, like most lives, is filled with competing, overlapping commitments, including my family, teaching, leadership role, PhD research, wellbeing and relationships. I have written about how I approach doing a PhD and my thinking around finding work-family commitment. My intention is to commit to being absolutely present in each of these spaces. If I can minimise distractions and focus fully on experiencing the person or task at hand, I can be immersed, productive and joyful. I can nurture relationships and be effective in my work and writing. I don’t want to see 2015 as a mad juggle of life’s components, but as a kind of ecosystem of interconnected wonderfulness in which all elements can be honoured and enjoyed. In amongst the doing needs to be the being.

Sharing

Sharing is reciprocal and collaborative. I read what others share. I share my thoughts on social media and on this blog. I share the stories of others in my PhD (which uses narrative research to examine transformative adult learning and school change). This word could have been ‘connecting’, ‘storytelling’, ‘expression’, ‘conversation’, ‘communication’, ‘collaboration’ or ‘tribe’ but none of those capture quite what I mean by ‘sharing’. In 2015 I am sharing – hopes, dreams, stories, pedagogy, beliefs, leadership approaches, writing strategies – with my friends, family, PhD, supervisors, PLN, Twitterverse, blogosphere and hopefully even some thesis examiners (although that might not be until 2016). As I discussed in my post about writing dangerously, I will be writing various texts in various styles to be shared with various audiences. Sharing our own thinking makes connections, starts conversations and builds collaboration. Sharing is viral, organic and transformational.

Strength

In 2015 I want to be strong in body, convicted in belief, confident in voice and resilient in character. A strength regime therefore involves physical bodily exercise including strength training, development of writerly voice (especially important in the final stages of my PhD), honouring my deeply held beliefs, and confidence in sharing my thinking in blogs, at conferences and in academic articles. Strength in myself and my identity means being able to stand up for my ideas, believe in my approach and be accepting of my own idiosyncracies, my own creative ways of thinking, my own imperfections and my own brand of ‘lovably weird’.

If you are looking for more visioning inspiration, check out the 2015 #3words blog posts of C. C. Chapman, Joyce Sullivan and Sheree Martin. Educators, check out Dave Burgess’s Teach like a PIRATE: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask & analyse, Transformation and Enthusiasm – kind of a vision and a list all rolled into one acronym. ‘Piracy’ would be a pretty good word.

What are your 3 words for 2015? I would love to hear them.

It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time. ~ Winston Churchill

into the future we go

into the future we go