When It Makes No Sense…

Here is what makes sense: Work hard, focus on self help/improvement, get the next degree, climb the ladder, make six (or seven) figures.

In my series of posts, Leading From the Second Seat, and stories surrounding my second go around at being a dad, you should know that I purposely set aside much of what makes sense….and that (sometimes) makes my colleagues shake their heads. For those who “get” me, what follows makes perfect sense.

About 12 years ago, I decided to forego an offer for a good principalship just south of Austin and take a central office position as a director. I chose the position and the immediate gratification of the money over staying on the path to my terminal degree and taking the advice to work towards becoming a school superintendent. In Texas, I was in “Mid-Management” in the truest sense of the word, working to influence those with authority and position and learning that success in central office comes from being service oriented rather than “directing” anything. I also learned that following a path in the fine arts(my area of curricular expertise)was a dead end in more ways than I could have counted on — especially if I wanted to continue to climb.

Regardless, I worked to successfully rebuild a fine arts program in an urban district with a long history of minimal success and a stepping stone for those seeking to work in more affluent districts (make a score and move on). Along the way, we began the path of “Good to Great”; moving the flywheel and gaining momentum. Personally, I found myself moved into the superintendent’s cabinet, and enjoying the positive press that came with the successes created by great hires and growing programs.

The voice in my head kept telling me that the only way to keep moving up, though, was to get back to a high school principalship and see what would happen from there. So I did the unthinkable (and looks like a career ending move). I moved out of central office and went “back to the future” as a high school assistant principal. At a time when others were falling from grace in the midst of major changes in the school district, my change was mentioned as an afterthought in a story in local newspaper and (to many) I looked like a victim of the politics of the minute. So not true. This change, however, took me on an unintended trajectory that has become a life changer and a game changer.

After three years of building a successful cohort system in a medium sized high school(1600 students), we experienced a principal change. My initial reaction was to make a move, find a job (fresh start)that would protect me, and move back towards the family we have long been separated from. All of that made perfect sense.

The job hunt was enlightening — Not what I expected (age matters), and not what I wanted to do.

What I have chosen to do is very different but — given the specific circumstances — feels so right. After the last job change, I sold the house, rented a great townhouse, and set myself up for whatever may come our way in the form of a job, a chance to get back to school, and whatever. Now, I am in the role of dad all over again. The dad of five daughters — with three new girls. Most people were very supportive of our move to become adoptive parents. Many were skeptical….”You’re doing what at your age?” 50 has become the new 30 for my wife and I.

I chose to stop the job search. The new children need stability. Stay put. Buy a new house. The career is fine right here. Really.

At some point, the quality of life has to be determined by something….anything…besides a job title and paycheck. The quality of life has become defined by a whole new set of parameters. For me those parameters look like this:

  • I can make a difference from where I am at home as well at work. Three little ones calling me dad looks the same and very different the second time around.
  • If my work is significant, or I can make it so, then why move or try to climb? Leadership is far more significant than position. I decided long ago that the marble for my statue is not being ordered. My legacy can be spoken over time through my deeds and the increasing number of young lives that will continue to cross the stage as a result of the work we are doing is more than gratifying.
  • I can be satisfied just as I am and right where I am. Balance exceeds paycheck and is far more palatable. I would rather be tired from the energy expended on my family rather than working late into the night, night after night, year after year, for results that are temporal at best.

Don’t get me wrong. Work is important. Aspiration is important — very important. What you aspire to will ultimately define who you are. For me, mentoring, coaching, inspiring and serving far outweigh being the front man, being the smartest person in the room, and seeking the recognition that we all crave (and naturally comes anyway when we work hard on the right things).

This storyline doesn't work for everyone. You have to be comfortable acting as the protagonist in your own life. What I have chosen to do, especially the last three years, has inspired some and caused many more to shake their heads. On the surface, not following the traditional plan — work, degrees, position, money — means stagnancy, failure, or defeat. For me, these choices have represented a series of switches — sticking to my morays and beliefs, searching for excellence and significance, leaving a legacy of balance, building something greater than position and wealth.

The voices in the Kevin Costner movie had it right, “Build it and they will come.” I am no Kevin Costner, at least the role in that far away movie about baseball, but I have found the light of significance in my new path.

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