Lowest Common Denominator

Sometimes the best tool for one process is the worst for another. The lowest common denominator is a great tool for adding fractions, but not great for creating policies and rules. There are multiple factors in determining how we manage needs and behaviors–ease, efficiency, safety, justice, responsibility of all involved, etc. In an urgent situation, a broad-sweeping procedure change is often needed. It’s quick and gets at a pressing issue. In our schools, I lament making our decisions for what we allow or don’t allow for our students based on our frustrations with a handful of missteps without acknowledgment of all of the other positives that we aren’t necessarily seeing. Most people call when there is a problem, but not when things are going well. If we only respond to those problems, we are catering our practices to the worst case scenarios and limiting the best case scenarios.

We are preparing the next generation for their future, not our past.

In the technology world, limits are a quick reaction. The instant gratification and addictive nature of social media, gaming, and constant notifications are real in our world. Our students, teachers, and parents are navigating these challenges in the midst of also leveraging the good of technology. We definitely need guardrails, monitoring, and constant adjustment while teaching our students and kids to be savvy tech users. Yet, often the adult default when a new distraction arises is a response of “shut it down!” All of us will spend the rest of our lives with increasing access to technology that connects us to others, entertains us, creates efficiencies in our lives, and gives us tools to create and share awesomeness. These same innovations will also come with potential dangers, distractions, and unhealthy behaviors. As opposed to completely eliminating those, we need to constantly monitor and adjust in order to teach responsible and productive use of technology. We are preparing the next generation for their future, not our past.

In order to teach responsibility we need to allow the freedoms to use and develop it. Think about the world around us and the choices we make each day. Drunk driving is never acceptable, yet we don’t all have breathalyzers on our vehicles to allow them to start. Wouldn’t a requirement like that limit a behavior that is never good? We have speed limits (well, I think everywhere except Montana), yet our vehicles are capable of going over 100 mph. Is that ever necessary? We don’t restrict this on a whole. There are consequences when we make poor decisions. We can have periods of time with limited freedoms based on past performance, yet we also generally have the ability to maintain freedoms based on not misusing them. Should this be true for our kids, too? Clearly, there are different needs for different tools and different people. Content filtering and screen time rules are needed, and I’m not advocating for leaving our youth home alone with blowtorches and firecrackers.

Learning is messy, and it’s hard. We like to think of it as a joyful and increasingly enlightening path. When we really learn something new, it can give us a pounding headache. Oftentimes, failure is our best teacher. We need to be able to painfully mess something up in order to learn the most. I don’t want to watch our youth fail, but I also know that we need to allow them the experience (when it’s reasonably safe) to do so. Case by case adjustments are less efficient than a lowest common denominator approach to rules. They’re harder to manage. However, a targeted approach when possible may also allow for the richest collective good.

Instant and Complex

We live in a world of instant access to services, goods, and interactions. By just using our voice, we can listen to whatever music or media is on our mind, call our friends, order takeout or delivery, send a text, and so much more. We can see a book title that interests us and have it in our mailbox the next day or on our devices within minutes. We have access to next to infinite information to answer our questions. We’ve become accustomed to quick satiation of our desires…perhaps too accustomed to that immediate gratification (but I’m not actually interested in giving it up!).

What many of us fail to realize or even consider is the complexity behind the scenes to bring us the conveniences we love. The solutions that seem so simple are products of countless hours of work, intricate systems, and multiple interactions we never see. Our culture is even prone to immense frustration when the tools we rely on for entertainment and productivity fail us or have just a blip of lessened performance. This could be a website taking one second to load, Siri misunderstanding our text, our navigation system taking us to a closed road, a delay in a shipment, or maybe something more catastrophic. I find that some pretty minuscule issues can seem like emergencies or major inconveniences.

Our society is also prone to quick judgment. We have come to expect the best of the best in service (human or machine) and product satisfaction. We have access to news, “news”, opinions and reviews, and an abundance of research. Many of us are data driven, and we can get the data! It’s important that we also apply it well. As it turns out, we can also usually find data to support multiple sides of any issue, and we also live in a world of AI that leaves each of us in a filter bubble that we must understand. Yet, when we are unhappy with a decision, a piece of journalism, or false advertising, we can be quick to anger without taking in the full picture. We see people expecting perfection in processes, governance, and services without fully appreciating all that is going right and those countless hours of work, intricate systems, and multiple interactions we never see that I mentioned earlier.

Think about the Covid vaccine rollout. I’m not here to defend or attack the reality of the vaccine distribution. My point with this is that every criticism I’ve read comes from someone like me who has no idea what has gone into producing, testing, refining the vaccines; the processes of producing them in large quantities, distributing, transporting, and administering them; or identifying who should have access and how to prioritize the rollout. It’s a MASSIVE task, and we see short news stories that don’t scratch the surface of the scale of this project. Let’s also not overlook what’s going well. This is just one example of what I’m getting at that happens to be currently relevant.

I’m about to wrap this up. If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll take some time to think about, appreciate, and even be a little awed and inspired with the world around us. When you wake up in the morning and your coffee has brewed, when you connect your running watch to GPS to track your stats, when you click the button on to start or unlock your car, when you look at the notification on your phone to see who’s at your door, when you want to watch something and instantly stream your first choice, when the package you ordered or even just the mail show up at your door, when your family member sends you a heart-warming video, when you press a button that automatically reorders your laundry detergent, or even when you send your kids off to school…think of all that went into making that possible. What a world! Then, look around and see if there is someone you can thank for the effort and ingenuity that has gone into making things work for us! In whatever way you might be behind the scenes, please accept my sincere gratitude.

The Power in your Pocket

When I was growing, up, we were lucky enough to have a Macintosh SE. What was even cooler is that we also had AOL. With a few beeps, bongs, and some static, we could dial up to this new fangled thing called the internet, and we could communicate with people in other places. It was mind-blowing.

On that same Mac, Mavis Beacon taught me to type. Actually, as I was pondering this post, I learned from Wikipedia that Mavis Beacon isn’t a real person. That typing program was written by a male programmer (likely White) but used a Black woman as the teacher image. My mind is still processing that, which will have to be another post.

At any rate, I thought the technology we had then was awesome! And now, we get to pick from a variety of supercomputers in our phones, tablets and laptops that can do a TON for us.

For reference, today’s MacBook

  • Is about 500 times faster than the old Mac SE with its 8 GHz processor
  • Has about 16,000 times the working memory than the Mac SE which offered either 1 or 2 MB of RAM
  • Holds up to 100,000 times the content of the Mac SE’s groundbreaking internal hard drive of 20 or 40 MB
  • Oh, and it has a color screen!

So, how will you use your powerful technology today?

I will use my tools to:

  • Learn
  • Create
  • Connect

It’s cold outside, so my morning is starting with some creative energy, a cup of strong coffee, a cozy dog, and some tools that I will use for good.

I’ve read a few things lately about mindfulness, gratitude, focus, goals, and well-being. Many of them have common threads of intentionality in how we start our days. So today I was thinking about what would happen if each day, I decided I really would learn something new, make something, and connect with others intentionally? This is different than happening upon information, scrolling through news and social feeds, and occasionally commenting or posting.

How cool is it that we have gadgets that essentially have superpowers that give all of us the ability to learn (read, take a class, access videos, try out a new app), create (graphics, writing, videos, memes, inspiring media), and connect (video chats with loved ones, messages, photos, videos)! These are tools for personal growth and relationship building…and some fun as well. I hope you have joy in your day and that the tech in your pocket serves you well!

Perspective Matters

I recently saw a post on LinkedIn, and I wish I knew who I could attribute the original content to, but that’s really unclear. The post was focussed on career paths and seeking professional opportunities, but I’m about to adapt it to something more applicable to all of us for everyday life. So read this. If it resonates with you, please hang on because it’s about to get better!

I’m a failure
So don’t try to tell me
There’s so much potential inside me
Because at the end of the day
I’ll never be able to start fresh
I need more grit
I’ve been losing touch with myself
And don’t try to convince me that
There is real value inside of me
Because deep down I know
I am stuck and incapable
And nothing you say will make me believe
I will make it in this world

Now reread this, but start from the bottom☝️and read up ☝️.

We’ve all got this! Whatever your next goal might be–getting in shape, eating better, going back to school, looking for a promotion, being a better parent or spouse, etc.–go for it! You’ve got what you need inside of you, and you matter in this world.

We’ve all got a lot to offer, and I want to see all of those alongside of me reaching their own potential and offering their all. I’m here with you knowing that we are a collective powerhouse!

Layers

This morning I needed a little extra motivation to get out of the house for my morning run. It was COLD, and not just cold, but also WINDY. Thankfully, I know what to do in this situation, so I pulled out my layers and actually felt a bit like an expert as I bundled up. I knew how much I needed to wear, and each piece had its own purpose. As it turns out, I was comfortable and well protected from the air and the dark (hello reflectors and LEDs!).

As I ran, I thought about the layering I had just done and some analogies to the layers that make us. Of course, the line from Shrek came to mind, “Ogres are NOT like parfaits!” Each of us is unique and complex, and thankfully we’re not ogres. Aside from the various roles we fulfill and the complexities that make us who we are, I was mostly thinking about the experiences each of us has had that have prepared us for the current moment and the next steps. And, let’s be honest, this was a reflective time for me, so I was pretty much thinking about myself.

My main focus (though I had time to let my mind wander) was my own professional journey–the learning, relationships, challenges, wins, new skills, etc. that have resulted from my schooling and career path. I was reflecting on 20+ years of experience, which (GASP!) makes me feel a little more mature than I like!

I never could have predicted the path I would take. I started out as a pre-med student with a million curiosities and interests. My liberal arts undergrad program opened up doors I never anticipated. I discovered that too many topics drew me in, which is the main reason I ended up not pursuing medical school. I dabbled in science, math, communication, literature, psychology, linguistics, and more. Spanish ended up sucking me in, which was unimaginable when I started at the U, but I am ever so grateful! A leaning toward public health gave way to a passion for education.

Fast forward 20 years, and obviously I’m a technology director now! Wait…what? Technology? Again, who would’ve known? Certainly not I! And so it is, that the layers of experience, opportunity, willingness to dive into the next options have added up to my current self. What a journey!

My takeaways from this thinking run along a couple of lines. First, I want my kids and others I influence to be open to opportunities they hadn’t even thought possible, to see options as they arise, and to take risks in order to pursue them. Secondly, wow! Science → humanities → Spanish → Argentina → teaching → pedagogy → staff development → technology integration → curriculum development → professional network → strategic planning → leadership → public speaking → extra degrees → team building → visioning → technology director → ??? Can’t wait to see what’s next! Journey on, friends!

Sleep…Priority #1

So, I realize the irony that I’m starting this post at 10:30 pm, when I’ve decided to stop with the responsibilities of the day and get on with a big week. This week will be one of the most important for me, as we welcome our teaching staff back to school and help them to prepare for the coming year. Students come soon, and all in our district need to be ready to support them!

This time of year can be simultaneously the most energizing and the most demanding. Last week, we felt a clear change in our work as a technology department, as we saw more and more teachers rolling into our schools to prepare for the year, and the deadlines of summer projects really began to tighten.

Personally, I respond to deadlines in a couple of ways. One, I work towards them and feel motivated by them. Two, I can be overly stressed by them and make choices that aren’t healthy for myself or for those I lead and support.

Last week, I ran on a sleep deficit all week–3 or 4 hours each night–

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3 hours and 18 minutes of sleep. Even my Fitbit is telling me to sleep more.

not enough to be at my best. So, while I worked hard and forced my mind and body to perform for long hours, some of which were highly productive, there was a price. I definitely could not be at my best, and I put my capacity at risk.

I apologize to my team for not being the best leader I could be. I apologize to my family for not being the best mom and wife I could be. And, I promise my colleagues, my family, and myself to be a healthier version of myself as we start this school year.

What I realize is that not getting enough sleep negatively impacts every other aspect of my life (duh…this is what all research says!).

This hits home to me in a few ways. First, I went for a run on Saturday after a better–but not great by any means–night of sleep on Friday night. I did fine, but I didn’t feel great. Saturday night I got great sleep, and on my Sunday run, I felt AMAZING! A good night of sleep (even after neglect) prepares our bodies to perform. Second, my clarity of mind and productivity are better when I’m rested. Third, neglect of sleep is the first domino in a series of other poor choices. When not rested, I’m quicker to give in to convenient and unhealthy nutrition, my patience suffers, and my exercise–something that typically yields positive gains in many aspects–is skipped.

So, as the school year begins, I implore all who go back to school or quicken their pace to also take care of yourselves. Treat yourself to downtime. Be sure to get some rest. Keep up your good eating and physical activity routines. Carve out time to socially engage with those who matter to you. Spend quality time with family after the work day. And for goodness sake, get good sleep.

Good night, all!

Decision Paralysis (Less is More)

Does this ever happen to you? You have a whole host of options available to you, and just the sheer number of choices makes you just stop? I’ve been there, and I’ve blown some opportunities because of not knowing what to choose. This particular weekend, I’m in the midst of something I haven’t experienced since the establishment of the Briske family: down time at home by myself. Yes. Down time. At home. By myself. Nobody is there, and there’s nothing on the schedule.

So, as I was anticipating this time and contemplating how I would spend a Saturday and Sunday on my own, I had a lot of ideas. My extroverted self went right to thinking about who I would see…maybe some friends I haven’t seen in a long time, maybe a girls night out, maybe inviting friends for dinner. The options seemed endless, and my goal was to maximize my enjoyment of this time.

Then, my active self kicked in. Maybe I’d go for a long bike ride or drive to a new trail for a run. Maybe I’d get up early and go for my normal run while the family was still here, then get another workout in later on Saturday, and something else on Sunday. Adventure, here I come!

I also thought about the craziness of day-to-day life and what would be renewing and refreshing on a weekend to myself. My thoughts shifted to making this a very low key time. I love to cook and try new foods, but my family isn’t always as intrepid as I am when it comes to food. Maybe I would make some new international dishes, learn some new techniques, experiment with new ingredients. I should probably have seafood or fish, since those are not appreciated by the fam. Yes, new foods, add in some outdoor exploration, time for reading, maybe a massage, good rest. This is shaping up nicely.

As the options hovered around my imagination, I knew I was in danger of decision paralysis. You see, I’m the type of person that needs to read the whole menu at a restaurant because I want to be sure I’m ordering the meal that I will enjoy the most. I will weigh the options against one another and take care to choose wisely, even when there are numerous satisfying options.

I started whittling down to the things I love that I could do without guilt or accommodation. What I realized in this process is that I really just crave some simplicity. I think about simplifying life often. I try to focus on the things that matter. Why do there have to be so many things that matter?! Life stays busy. I decided I’d be content staying close to home, cooking, enjoying my food, reading, getting some time out in the sun, maybe watching a movie, maybe even taking some unhurried and uninterrupted time to organize my closet. That might seem like a crazy way to spend this time, but the satisfaction in it sounds appealing to me.

There are a few big ideas that crossed my mind in this decision-making process, so maybe I’ll expand on them on a later day. One thing I realized is that we are often striving for the big events in life–extravagant vacations, nights on the town, laughter with groups of friends, new adventures, accomplishing stretch goals, extravagant purchases, or indulgent outings–smiles, leisure, excess, and experiences to enjoy and share on social media.  Don’t get me wrong, there is good in those experiences, yet what I really wanted was not more, but less. Less running around, less spending, less time crunching. I didn’t want to fill up the time. At the same time, I wanted some ideas of what I would do, so I wouldn’t get stuck weighing the menu of options or scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, or email while having the chance to do whatever it is I wanted. What did I land on? Some simplicity. Time to read, time to write, a pedicure, a nap, late afternoon in the coffee shop, soaking up sunshine on the deck, a walk with a friend. And what do I know about this choice? Down time is good for the mind, body, and soul.

If you’ve found your way this far in my ramblings, I hope you also have some time to just sit back and enjoy some unstructured, un-rushed, and uninhibited time of rest.

The Longest Short Week

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As I was having some morning coffee on Thursday before heading to a meeting, I had the thought, “This has been the longest short week.” The thing is, I was home on Monday with a sick kid, we lived the MN dream of a snow day on Tuesday, I worked on Wednesday, then Thursday morning I already felt like it had been a long week. This is after one day of work. ONE DAY! Granted, I had already worked through some dramatic kid breakdowns over things that seem pretty inconsequential, but that shouldn’t sap my energy or drain my spirit too much.

Here’s the deal, though…even when I don’t physically go to work, it is still with me. There are pieces of work that I do from afar because they just need to be done. Then, there’s all the work I needed to do, but didn’t get to because I wasn’t actually there, so it builds up. And the real kicker: even though nothing brings more joy to our little family than the gift of a snow day, the disruption of routine also brings challenges that we don’t even notice.

I have the power to impact how smoothly my days and weeks run. What I realize is that the week feels long not only because of the things that happen at work and in life in general, but also because of the chaos I allow. By maintaining routine (even with sick kids and snow days) and simplifying our family’s lives, I can make the week much less burdensome and tiresome.

My takeaways from realizing my tired and dragging self after one day of real work this week:

  1. Cut what’s not needed–eliminate clutter, unnecessary events, and time/resources spent on things that don’t add joy and value to our lives.
  2. Keep the routines that matter–real meals, a good amount of sleep, daily responsibilities for myself and my family.
  3. Practice gratitude, encouragement, and service–take time to realize how great life is, encourage those around us, and find opportunities to serve others.

Living with intentionality and purpose even when life throws curveballs–both fun (snow day) and not so fun (sickness)–brings a sense of satisfaction and contentment overall. Here’s to rolling with the punches by taking simple steps to be prepared for whatever life brings.

Living in Mission

Have you ever had the experience of two completely separate events or endeavors pointing you in the exact same direction? As I wrapped up one book I’ve been reading recently and started into another, I found such overlap in the content, that it gave me pause. Now, we are likely to pick similar topics to read, so it isn’t entirely surprising that two separate works I choose to read would be similar in their suggestions for living well.

Surprise the World 2

The thing is that one of these books is focused on Christian mission and one is entirely secular relating to energizing work and life. The first I was reading specifically as a Lenten study. The second I am reading out of seeking personal and professional accomplishment and satisfaction. What do they both say? Serve others and live with purpose, meaning, and intentionality. In the first book, this is a means of living out my mission as a believer in Christ. In the second, this is a means of gaining energy and personal happiness.

The first book I’ve been referencing is Surprise the World: The five habits of Highly Missional People, by Michael Frost. The second is Are You Fully Charged?: The three keys to energizing your work and life, by Tom Rath.

Fully Charged

While there are clearly differences between the two books–perhaps the biggest difference being that one draws on references from the Bible, while the other references scientific research–both of these books point me towards serving others, intentionally seeking a purpose greater than myself, and prioritizing interactions with others. As I read and reflect on these texts, I’m challenged to check my habits and assess my calendar and my budget. Where am I investing my time, skills, and treasures? How am I practicing my interests? How am I fulfilling my role as both a leader and a follower? In general, I live a very good life. Still I know (and these two books remind me) that we are all best off when we live in service to others, in relationship with others, and in contribution to a purpose beyond ourselves. If you’re looking for some inspiration, I recommend both of these books!

Seeking Clarity

OrionDuring the day today, it seemed like a good idea to go for a run while both kids were at gymnastics. This would give me an hour of time, but it would be dark, and I’d be on my own. Dark is my least favorite part of winter. And a run by myself gives many opportunities to cancel the date and stay inside. I went, and I’m glad I did.

Someone said to me today, “Since you’ve been blogging about running…” Really, this post is not about running. It’s just that running is what I’m doing when I get to experience the gratitude of sunshine on a sub-zero day, the sense of accomplishment in physical exertion, a simple form of focusing on my well-being, and today–some clarity.

When I run, I typically don’t wear headphones. I use it as a time to disconnect. If I’m with others, we talk. If I’m by myself, I hit pause on information intake and noise. I take the chance to notice my surroundings–the critter keeping an eye on me from the woods with just its glowing eyes visible in the light of my headlamp, Orion’s belt and the big dipper on a clear and dark night, the sound of my breath and my shoes hitting the ground. My mind lets go, but also does some work. The run time gives me time to process the day, nothing to pull me away from just being and thinking.

I talked at work today about clarity in the objectives of our work and setting up the conditions–strategies and structures–to focus efforts on the clear path of our goals. Tonight my thinking was different. It was about the time to process and the clarity of thought we can achieve when we let ourselves be alone, uninterrupted, and unhindered in allowing for our minds to focus and wander almost simultaneously. It turns out that the open time was the only condition I needed to bring some clarity. Perhaps this is even better on a clear and quiet night. So, it’s a good thing I went for the run, but this really isn’t about the run.