Tag Archives: purposeful life

A Hero’s Windows and Mirrors

Like any parent, I hold lots of hopes and dreams for my three boys.  If you asked me what I pray for the most for them, though, besides their continued vitality and good health, it would be that God places before them influential mentors. Especially as my boys age, I realize that much of my important work with them has been done.  While I will remain unconditionally loving and supportive, as they steer their own life journey more independently, it will be others who impact their course in significant ways.

Recently, I shared a chapel talk with our students at the Midway campus about the important individuals who will help them on their quest – be it the journey they are on this school year or the larger one which is their life story.

Utilizing excerpts from the Book of Exodus (18: 6-7; 14-19; 21; 23-24) telling the story of Moses and his father-in-law, Joshua, I tried to convey to students what mentors do and how I hoped they might broaden their perspectives on what mentors look like.

Here are some excerpts from that chapel message:

So, today, with the conclusion of the first trimester just a few weeks away, I do not know whether you have even heard a call to take up a quest, never mind answer it. I hope you have. In class; on the stage or court; in your home or church –  hopefully you have resolved to pursue a new you.

If you have, I offer you travelers your next piece of advice: your journey will be hard.  You will need help and you will find it in the form of valuable mentors.

Hero's Journey

One of the questers to whom you were introduced in September, Moses, returns in our reading today with a mentor.  Jethro is Moses father-in-law; Moses worked for him as a shepherd for 40 years before hearing and answering the call of his life – the one which came from the burning bush. In our Exodus verse today, Moses is leading the Hebrews on their journey out of Egypt. He has assumed enormous responsibility for thousands of people.  As such, Moses is constantly being asked to judge or solve all the problems presented to him by his tired, scared people.  Moses is overwhelmed and fatigued. So much so that the very success of his quest might be in jeopardy.

Jethro & MosesJethro travels to see Moses and they enter his tent to talk and there Jethro demonstrates the two gifts a mentor provides: mirrors and windows.

A mentor, you see, is one brave enough to pace a mirror front of you and then invite you to take an honest look at yourself and your actions.  Sometimes our quest consumes us and, without even knowing it, we get thrown off course.  We need the help of a trusted advocate to help us restore our sense of direction.

How does a mentor’s mirror do this? Most often, the mentor promotes our self-reflection the same way Jethro did for Moses: he asks good questions. “Why are you the only judge?” Jethro asked Moses.  “Why do people come to you all day?” he wanted to know.

A mentor’s personal example represents another powerful mirror.  As we watch our mentor from afar on her own hero’s journey, we reflect on how we might travel with the same sense of purpose, the same alignment of words and actions, and the same selflessness.  Moses clearly had watched, admired, and respected Jethro as – when Jethro arrived to visit him – Moses “bowed down before him and kissed him.”

Windows & Mirrors

Jethro also demonstrates how mentors offer us the gift of windows.  A mentor’s fresh perspective, hard-earned wisdom, or comforting counsel help make pathways visible before us when we face the inevitable hardships, setbacks, and tough decisions which accompany any worthwhile quest. The help us see rays of opportunity where before we saw only the clouds of confusion.

Jethro gave Moses sage advice: identify other trustworthy leaders among your people who can help you make all these decisions. In doing so, Jethro suggested, Moses would feel less overwhelmed and fatigued.

Mirrors and Windows. Two gifts mentors offer you as a hero on a journey

But, at times, I think we hold a narrow view of mentors.

Like Jethro, you might think mentors only come in the form of a family member – like a parent, grand-parent, or aunt and uncle.

Or, maybe you think mentors look and sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi: gray and wise from years of experience. He offered Luke a window see how the Force could guide him in his quest to defeat the Empire. But must all mentors be older than you? 

Or maybe you think mentors look and sound like The Good Witch of the North, Glinda. She protected Dorothy and offered her a window to see her way back to Kansas via the Yellow Brick Road.  But must mentors have magical, fairy Godmother-like qualities?

No, mentors are not always older than you; they are not always family members; nor are they possessive of magical powers.  Some may be in your life for just a short period of time while others travel with you for many miles on your journey. 

They will appear like my best friend from high school, Hank, did when I moved to Louisville, KY right before my freshman year of high school; he became my guide as the New York native that I was entered a whole new world in the south. Or step forward, like Mr. Tony Barnes did when I moved to New York City to go to graduate school.  He was my 8th grade social studies teacher at a school in Manhattan, but he opened his apartment to live in for the year while at school; he held up mirrors to help me think about what kind of teacher I wanted to be.  Or invite you in, as Mare Kalin did me in 1993, when she inspired me join her quest starting an education program for underserved students. The experience impacted my life and career in ways to significant to list.

So, don’t worry, travelers.  Your mentors are out there ready to help.  Seek them out.  Use the mirrors they place before you to stay on course.  Accept the view from the windows they provide and be grateful for the perspective they offer.  And, when you have the chance, be a mentor yourself. A hero right nearby is counting on you.

Life Prep Not Just College Prep

In my November blog post, I highlighted how Cole Jones’ ’14 post Parish experiences demonstrate the boundless mindsets of our first wave of graduates.

In January, Cole returned to campus and took questions from the juniors in my class, all of whom are members of the Leadership Institute ’18 cohort. It was perfect! With no advanced prompting from me, Cole shared his personal mission statement (something my students had just been asked to do) and espoused how leading a life of possibility requires one to develop a working relationship with fear (messaging I have shared this year with all students in my monthly chapel talks).

leadershipclass_crop“Cole speaking to us today was probably one of the most impactful moments I’ve had at Parish…He grabbed my attention from the beginning when he started to talk about working on a 67 foot schooner…The way he carries himself with his values and adventurous attitude is inspiring…I think that Cole helped us realize the importance of our personal credo. To be honest, a couple of weeks ago I didn’t see the point to the personal statement/credo, but now I see it as something I can use to guide me. I have come straight home to open my laptop and revise my credo making sure it’s what I want it to be…”

Member of Leadership Institute cohort’18 reflecting on visit from Cole Jones ’14.

Every school should be blessed with graduates like Cole and Emily Sher ’13. Whenever Emily is in Dallas, she stops by for a visit. Emily understands the power of networks and mentors in today’s complex global society, so she diligently cultivates ongoing relationships with her Parish teachers.

Emily also represents the best of what Parish seeks to produce. She’s a learned and intelligent person to be sure, but Emily is also defined by her tenacious work ethic, refined relationship building skills, and indefatigable drive.

Emily’s path to powerful internship experiences called on her to evidence each of these traits and more. She had chosen the University of Miami over an early acceptance at Wake Forest (I still remember our conversations weighing that decision!) because she embraced the challenge of a more cosmopolitan, diverse city. She has thrived at Miami, but financial firms like UBS and Morgan Stanley, which had become the focus of her career path, did not recruit directly at the University.

emilysher_2Undeterred, Emily took the initiative to apply to the Bermont/Carlin Scholars Program within Miami’s Business School. She was one of 20 students accepted after a two-part interview. As a Scholar, she completed a team-based summer project learning more about one of the major financial institutions, took a fall recruiting trip to New York to hone interviewing and networking skills, and ultimately landed a prized internship in Manhattan with Morgan Stanley this past summer.

At the conclusion of her 10 week internship focused on institutional wealth management, Emily was offered a full time position with Morgan Stanley which she will begin after graduation. Needless to say, that was an exciting exit interview (and productive summer internship) for Ms. Sher!

ParishBridgeLast February in this space, I introduced ParishBridge, one component of which is a professional experience of 15-50 hours depending on the senior’s course schedule.

Through ParishBridge, we are introducing our oldest students to the power of internships, network building and learning beyond the classroom. In an amazing and unexpected twist in ParishBridge’s first year, nearly 10 percent of the class of 2016 turned ParishBridge professional experiences last spring into summer internships (many of them paid!) last summer. In our second year, members of the class of 2017 – observing their peers in last year’s pioneer class – have been poised to capitalize on this unique opportunity. Already, they’ve investigated potential professional experiences with the likes of Disney, the Dallas Mavericks, the Perot Museum and Top Golf.

Parishbridgeprogram

Combined with ParishConnect (which I highlighted last month), we are building a powerful and unique set of services. Together, they will equip our oldest students and young alumni with the skills and experiences they need to establish powerful networks – ones which will be essential to their thriving in the “complex global society.”

I anticipate that boundless futures, like those of Cole and Emily, will be the norm for Parish graduates to come, and I can’t wait to watch their individual journeys unfold!

Boundless Hope & Optimism Shall Prevail

I am ready for 2016 to end.

Generally, I do not hold such antipathy for entire calendar years. I also recognize each day God has made is a gift and should not be wished away. Still, 2016 has been particularly irksome.

It’s ironic, my yearlong writing and speaking theme of “boundless,” because my most pervasive recollections from 2016 evoke images of loss, setback and divisiveness rather than expansive hopefulness. Perhaps I was subliminally influenced!

To be sure, the last 12 months have offered highlights. Parish graduated its 10th class in May, which included my eldest (who, it should be noted, has not appeared on our doorstep forlorn and with suitcase in hand from Texas A&M!). A new building rises from our Midway campus for the first time in over a dozen years; it will be ready for use by next summer. And on a daily basis, we steep in a joyful, communal environment enriched by immensely dedicated professionals and potential-laden students.hillcrestfire2016

Still, 2016 has been a handful.

On campus, the at times relentless march of loss began with a fire in Building E on our Hillcrest campus in January, which necessitated a five month relocation of multiple classrooms. The loss became more painful and personal this fall. Four deaths in our community in six weeks challenged our optimism and tapped our emotional reserves.

Meanwhile, as citizens of this country and the world, 2016 threatened to leech our supply of hope and resolve.

standworlandoBy July, major terrorist acts had occurred in Brussels, Orlando and Nice, among other locales. According to the global mapping software company, ESRI, there have been 1,600 terror attacks across the globe to date in 2016 claiming over 14,000 lives. Aleppo, Syria emits constant images of devastating human suffering and despair.

dallaspolice16Racial tension flared in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee and Charlotte with both citizens of color and law enforcement officers harboring justifiable fears for their safety. With four police officers shot in four different cities on November 21 alone, we in Dallas were haunted anew by unspeakably sad memories of July 7, when five police officers were slain on our streets.

election16The Presidential campaign – featuring two flawed candidates – and its result served to heighten the country’s sense of anxiety, division and bewilderment. I am a student and teacher of leadership; in fact, I have just begun this second trimester teaching the “Leading Self, Leading Others” course to juniors in our Leadership Institute. Our course begins with the topic of values-based leadership, with the premise that credibility is the foundation of leadership, and with an introduction to the now nearly 40 year old research of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. Their study identifies credible leaders as ones who are honest, competent, forward thinking and inspiring.

I’ve pondered how I will address students who justifiably question the results of this research when assessing the campaign of 2016. I’ve yet to arrive at a reasonable explanation as to how the prevailing traits of these leaders rewarded with the honor of representing our two major parties marry with what I teach about credible leadership.
Of less global import, but still relevant to my relative disdain for 2016, I began my 50th year this past August. With it have come those challenging mid-life questions about life choices made in order to pursue passionately and completely my calling to school leadership and their consequences on my role as husband, dad, son, brother and friend. Introspection on my 2016 performance in several of these capacities has been less than affirming.

So where does this leave me? Must I silence for this month the talk of limitless possibility, hopeful optimism and personal growth associated with my boundless theme?

Not so fast!

In fact, research tells us what the healthiest and most productive individuals and organizations possess and tap into regularly, but especially in times of trial: boundless hope and optimism.

martinseligmanMartin Seligman, past President of the American Psychology Association and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the most influential thinkers and writers of the last half century. During that time, Dr. Seligman has been the visionary behind “Positive Psychology;” he has shifted discussion from a focus on mental illness to “the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” Among these virtues is optimism and hope.

In his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Seligman explains that we can learn a set of cognitive skills which help us interpret what happens to us in a more hopeful way. According to Seligman, “Optimism is hope. It is not the absence of suffering. It is not always being happy and fulfilled. It is the conviction that though one may fail or have a painful experience somewhere, sometime, one can take action to change things.”learnedoptimismquote-jpg
Seligman’s research is clear: Optimistic people are happier, healthier and more successful. How important, then, it is for us to practice resilient living; to model fortitude for our children; and to teach them to assume command of their internal dialogue and craft a hopeful forward-moving narrative.

Even in the foundational Judeo-Christian Holy Days to be celebrated this month, we witness the power of hope. A Menorah candle remains lit for eight days though it had enough oil to burn only for an evening. A child savior is born humbly in a manger to parents of common station and a government which sought to eliminate Him. Amidst these trails, faith and possibility prevailed.

I carry into this holiday season a resolve to restock my sense of hope and optimism. A difficult 2016 will neither confine nor define. It will not deter boundless aspirations for a better tomorrow.

Trying to Make Sense of a Senseless Summer

brown_rawlingsAt our recent Parent Nights, I projected this picture on a screen. While it might seem an unusual picture with which to welcome parents back to a new school year, the summer we just experienced was anything but usual. Woven with the joyful moments of relaxation we enjoyed were disorienting and disturbing images of violence, divisiveness, and incivility.  Our city experienced this firsthand, and Chief Brown and Mayor Rawlings leadership in the wake of the July 7 shooting contributed to my reflections on the turbulent three months gone by.

The summer’s events compelled me to speak to the home/school partnership. In particular, how we cooperate to guide young people in our community to be “bold leaders prepared to impact our complex global society.” This phrase from our mission statement– “complex global society” – has been on vivid display in the 90 days since school released for the summer in May.

MissionStatement_finalTwo other words from the phrase – “bold leaders” – explain my picture choice. As a student of leadership and a citizen of this city, I watched with interest and admiration the police chief and mayor in the wake of last month’s shootings.  I was impressed to see these two men – one black, one white; one a fourth generation Texan, the other born and educated in the northeast; one a career public servant and law officer, the other a career businessman turned local politician –  transcend these evident differences and lead.  In the midst of harrowing violence and loss, they projected assurance, other-centeredness, and hope for a better tomorrow.

But the “bold leader” phrase from our mission statement and the example of these civic leaders also begs the question: from where do such leaders come? What type of parenting and school culture consistently yield individuals with the intelligence, skill set, and disposition we associate with credible adults whom others follow willingly?

These are certainly questions too big to address in a blog post – they form the basis for excellent leadership courses. But as a father and an educator, this summer left me feeling powerless.  I wondered what was within my reach to influence amidst this seemingly endless news stream communicating unspeakable hatred, puzzling justice, random violence, and vitriolic politicking.

Among other things, I want my sons and the students who graduate from Parish to live and lead with a boundless spirit, unencumbered by fear; I want them to modulate ambition and empathy; I want them to be guides to the middle ground where solutions, compromise, and steady – if at times deliberate – progress is made.

I knew I could ensure intentional programming exists to build such disposition in students. Our ParishLeads framework – woven through advisory, homerooms, experiential trips, and our daily chapel – contributes to it.  Our intentional work around diversity and inclusion, led by our Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Tyneeta Canonge, develops our skills in this regard. As the November election approaches, we will intentionally engage our students across each division in activities and discussions to heighten their awareness of our civic responsibility to be an informed and passionate electorate. We will also teach and model civil discourse and celebrate it as one of the most cherished and honorable characteristics of our unique democracy.

familymatters1But I’d propose there are two additional things we can do together, home and school. I would like to suggest we have the power in this milieu of uncertainty to make a shared contribution.  And I would like to think what it requires of us is not that difficult.

First, we can promote awareness.   An understandable tendency in the face of what we’ve experienced would be to shield our kids from it.   In most cases, the blessings of our resources afford us the opportunity to stay comfortably tucked in our enclaves insulated from the messiness of our world. When you travel – locally or globally – move off the beaten path.  Help your children understand what a food desert is; drive them to South Dallas and wonder with them what it might feel to live at great distances from a supermarket. Put challenging issues before them at a level appropriate to their age. Text them editorials on contrary sides of an issue; share informative video clips. Discuss all of this at dinner. Do what you can to help you children become aware that they are part of a larger, complex global community – not above it, apart from it, or absolved of responsibility for it.

Finally, remember this.

Love beats back fear every time.

Not the overprotective, shielding, and indulging kind, but the type of love that – with consistent application by parents and caring adults like us – research has proven produces the well-adjusted, resilient, hopeful, and capable adults our complex global society needs. Author and psychologist Robert Evans has provided perhaps the most cogent compilation of this thinking in his framework of nurture, latitude, and structure. I think Parish provides just this type of love for our students. When we regathered in August following this complicated summer, I asked our faculty and staff to recommit to offering our students boundless doses of love. I hope parents will take account of how their home environment features nurture, structure, and latitude.

In the end, as a dad and a school leader I’ve determined there is indeed something I can do. I can help shape the next generation of Mayor Rawlings and Chief Browns. Young people who become adults possessing a civic awareness and aptitude both in mind and heart.

In my August post, I cited Reimagine Parish, our plan to provide boundless opportunities for learners featuring greater personalization and student engagement. As much as our program continues to evolve, though, one commitment will remain.  We will be a school where, no matter how dark the world may seem at the moment, no matter how predominate the constraints and limitations of incivility, ideological thinking, and divisiveness may be, kids will feel loved. They will know we walk through this complex world with them, committed to equip them with the skills and character they need to make it better.

One Month, Two Hats

What a whirlwind May proved to be!

Of course, the final month of school always tests a teacher’s stamina. Final learning experiences, exciting culminating programs and awards ceremonies, and the unbridled anticipation of summer infuse our hallways with uninterrupted electricity!

This May, however, presented a different dynamic for me as two of my three boys celebrated milestones on their respective academic journeys. My second son, Robert, completed middle school and is on his way to his upper school experience at Parish.

My oldest, TC, concluded his journey at Parish along with his classmates in our 10th graduating class.  He is excited to begin his studies at Texas A & M in August! As the relatively quieter summer days on campus begin, I am finding time to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.

As you might imagine, I was asked often if these graduation ceremonies felt differently to me. The answer has been at once an obvious yes and a more nuanced no. Like our fellow 8th and 12th grade parents, my wife, Mollie, and I were filled with a range of emotions in the shadows of these ceremonies: pride, disbelief (not that our sons graduated successfully, just that time had moved so swiftly!), sadness, wonder, and a dash of anxiety.

While I felt these more intensely and personally this year, though, they were not unfamiliar to me. Each May for 25 years, as I’ve looked at the faces of 8th graders or seniors with whom I have worked, I have felt similar emotions: Pride in what the students had accomplished; disbelief that the youngsters I once knew were now high school or college bound; sadness that graduating seniors would soon be gone from my daily routine; wonder as to what life might hold in store for these young people; and a dash of anxiety that they would find their way.

If anything, this past frenetic month reminded me of this: For better or for ill, my roles as head of school and dad are inextricably intertwined. The words and lessons I share with Parish’s students are spoken by a Head of School but crafted by a father. My commitments and responsibilities to my three boys are lifelong and unconditional, but my prayers for all of the young people in my life are uniform:

  • That they recognize that God has bestowed gifts upon them which are uniquely theirs.
  • That with zeal and purpose these young people will discover what these gifts are and that with a discerning eye and ear they will look and listen for the people, places, and causes which need them most.
  • And that one day when they take account of their lives, they will well with fulfillment borne of having left their impact doing the purposeful work they were called to do.

Come next May, I will return to wearing just one hat – that of the head of school. I will carry with me, though, terrific memories of a frantic month of May in 2016 when, with excitement, I proudly wore two hats – that of head of school and dad.

A Purposeful Life Begins With Purposeful Days

Last month, I reflected on the disciple’s Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in which he told Jesus’ earliest followers that they were God’s handiwork, created to do good works uniquely prepared for them to do.

Indeed, each of us has a particular purpose to serve in this world; we are custom-designed, fitted with gifts to be used to impact the world in a way only we can.

And it starts here at school. When you experience school as an opportunity rather than a burden to survive, you begin your journey to living purposefully. Through both your triumphs and your struggles here, you will uncover the particular gifts God has given you and explore ways they might change a life, enhance a community, or make a team or organization stronger.

I’d like to look today at the foundation of purposeful living, which, not surprisingly, you play an important role in constructing for yourselves.

This is Admiral William McRaven, who is now the Chancellor of the University of Texas system, but before that spent 37 years in the Navy. Among a variety of leadership roles, Admiral McRaven oversaw the operation which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. Admiral McRaven gave the graduation address at UT a couple of years ago; perhaps some of you have seen it. Here is his first suggestion on where living a purposeful life begins:

Now I know what the beds of the three boys in my house can look like on occasion. I hope the world is not counting on them yet!

But in all seriousness, Admiral McRaven serves to introduce my point for today: Living a purposeful life begins with living purposeful days.

I have a couple of opinions in this regard to share with you:

Purposeful People Make Purposeful Choicesarrows

Think about people you would identify as difference-makers in their communities, families, or professions. I’d submit that if you look more deeply, they make purposeful decisions each day. That is, they hold to certain daily or almost daily commitments which help structure their lives and focus their energies on the task of achieving their vision and impacting their world for good.

For McRaven and the SEALS, making their beds to perfection every day was a purposeful choice. In their world, a successful mission rested on doing the little things correctly – every single time, not some of the time. Making their bed to specifications reinforced that.

But here are some others:

Entertainer Ellen DeGeneres has found that 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation every day focuses her mind and restores the super supply of energy she needs to muster each day to entertain her fans on television.

President Obama is the leader of the free world; he has perhaps the most stressful job and hectic schedule one could have. But he makes purposeful choices in how he manages his time. Not only does he make room each day for 45 minutes of exercise, but he has breakfast with Mrs. Obama each morning and dinner at home with the family each evening when he is not travelling.

13virtuesMany of us recognize the name of founding father Benjamin Franklin. But beyond the kite and the key we know he used to learn about electricity, he is perhaps known best for teaching others that leading oneself is the first step to impacting the world. By age 20 he created a list of 13 virtues to which he adhered. He purposefully charted his weekly choices to see how well he did and scheduled each of his days to the hour.

Now I am no Biblical expert, but I have never read scripture which suggested Jesus made purposeful choices to do yoga daily, swim laps, or write poetry as part of his plan to live a purposeful life.

JesushealsBut if you look at our Scripture readings today (Luke 6:12-13; Luke 9:18, 21-22, Mark 1:35) you see just three of dozens of examples of what Jesus did do purposefully: Seek solitude and Pray.

Jesus’s work was draining.

He ministered to the sick, the outcast, and the poor

He managed the feuds, jealousies, and anxieties of his disciples

He challenged the choices and intentions of the religious leaders of his time.

Moreover, Jesus understood His life’s purpose. Everything He did, he knew, was leading to His death on the cross. So He made the purposeful choice often, if not daily, to seek solitude and pray.

What purposeful choices do you make each day?

valueswordle

Typically, the things you choose to do purposefully align with your values:

  • If you believe a healthy body leads to a sharper mind, like I do, then carving out time for exercise will happen
  • If you love to learn and expand your thinking or imagination, then finding time to read might be something you ensure happens each day
  • If you value creative expression, then you might listen to or practice your music each day; draw; or write in a journal

Maybe you are still seeking the things or things that enable you to be you best, most impactful self each day. Finding it may require time and, as our Framework language suggests, some self-reflection.

In closing, though, I can suggest a place to practice purposeful choice-making: right here at school.

Now, my world at school is filled with a lot of meetings – some of which I look forward to more than others, some of which are on topics more exciting to me than others. But each day, in alignment with my own personal mission to be a person of impact, I seek to enter each meeting – whether excited by it or not – with an intent to leave a positive contribution behind. Sometimes that positive contribution may be as simple as my presence and full attention. Other times, it will mean that I choose to enter in; to make a comment or lend an idea which might help the group accomplish its task better or more thoughtfully.

What if you approached each class this way? Certainly you enjoy some subjects or types of classwork more than others, just as some meetings are easier for me to embrace than others. But you can choose to enter into each class – favored or not – with the purposeful intent to help make the activity or experience there more valuable – because of your attention; your input; or your support for others.

When you commit to this, you will be constructing the foundation of small, purposeful choices which lead to living a life of greater impact down the road.

When Ben Franklin rose at 5 AM each day, he didn’t worry so much about how he made his bed. But he did ask: “what good shall I do this day?” and when he jumped into that same bed at 10 PM, he asked “what good have I done this day?” I can think of no better questions to ask yourselves when you consider coming here to your classes, your practices, and your other commitments, and I pray you come to master the purposeful choices which lead to a purposeful life.