Happy 2021! I am back after a December sabbatical, and I’m going to talk a bit about that process with you next week in episode 213, in terms of what I learned and what I’m reflecting on.
But I wanted to kick off Season 13 of the podcast with an ep about one specific thing I realized during my sabbatical that I hope will be energizing for you to hear.
Obviously, a LOT has happened in the U.S. since my last podcast in late October and I hope this episode shares a bit of insight as to a path forward for us, both individually and collectively.
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As 2020 came to a close, I reflected a lot on how there are so many fundamental issues that humans are simply never going to all agree on. We are not all going to “unify” around everything.
I’ve been reflecting on how I need to allow people to take their own journeys, and not argue with them or try to educate them unless they are open to the discussion and it’s worth the energy.
Because in many ways, I’ve let folks who are going in different directions than me become a very big distraction. I’ve really felt the need to ground down into what I’m doing and where I’m going and stop worrying so much about people who aren’t on board with that.
Keep playing the jazz
I was sharing these reflections with my husband, and he said, “You know, that reminds me of jazz”.
It’s one of the great forms of music today, but it wasn’t universally respected in the beginning, and a lot of people just didn’t get it. And the jazz musicians didn’t say, ‘Well, some people don’t like jazz, so we should switch and play country music or classical music instead.” They just kept playing the jazz. And the people who liked jazz supported them and it grew in popularity organically over time.
To this day, there are still people who don’t like jazz, and that’s okay, in the sense that jazz still thrives and evolves, regardless of the fact that not all people like it.
But the jazz musician’s job is to keep playing the jazz: not to conform to the whims of every individual around them, but to commit to following through on what they are passionate about, and let the like-minded folks come.
You don’t have to convince everyone to like jazz in order to be a successful jazz musician, and in fact, if you spend all your time trying to persuade people who can’t stand jazz that they should like it, you’re going to be too distracted and discouraged to produce the beautiful music that so many people are depending on you to create.
This analogy hit me hard, because I have spent way too much time trying to get people to like me and what I create instead of playing for the people who already appreciate who I am. Can you relate?
I’ve made far too many decisions in my life and with my online platform that are trying to entice people who don’t like jazz to listen to it anyway.
Going forward, I am committed to jazz, I’m playing the jazz, and I’m playing alongside my husband. We have confirmed our commitment together that we are not going to get caught up in people who don’t share our same vision and we’re not wasting too much time explaining or justifying ourselves.
I don’t want to waste a single drop of energy getting annoyed with people who see things differently and are not on board with the vision, because they don’t have to be. I can and should still do the work I need to do anyway.
On a bigger level, for me personally, I need to spend more time supporting people who are marginalized and less time trying to convince the folks who don’t want to understand what’s happening that they should come on board.
To be clear, I’m not trying to imply that being oppressive and working for justice are like simply enjoying different styles of music: the consequences are serious and very different. I’m saying that our energy is better spent on folks who are interested and open to the movement, rather than trying to convince everyone to like what we’re doing.
And that’s where we come to my next analogy.
Moving toward your destination regardless of who’s on board
My husband is a musician, of course, he’s going to think of a musical analogy, but for whatever reason, I am thinking about a train.
I’m going to be purposely vague here about what the train represents because I think it can apply to a lot of things and I want you to insert your own thing here, provided of course that it’s something you want to see happen that will help rather than harm people.
The train you’re on is about to leave the station and head off toward its destination, the goal you are trying to achieve. There may be a lot of folks hanging around the train station protesting where it’s going, but the engine is running, it’s loaded up, and it’s leaving the station.
They cannot stop this train. They can get left behind by the train, they can get run over by the train, or else you can get on board. But they cannot stop it. The train IS leaving the station.
You are on board that train and it’s your job to help steer it toward where you want to go. It’s NOT your job to try to persuade all those folks to come on board.
I am on board the train toward progress right now: in working toward a better version of myself, my marriage, my home, my life, my contributions to the field of education, and more broadly, toward a more inclusive and equitable way of running our schools, communities, budgets, government, and so on. I want to see ALL of us win. I want to see ALL of us succeed, people of all races and genders and nationalities, I want the best for ALL of us.
And there are people who are just not on board that train — they want to see some groups elevated over others, or believe there is a hierarchy in society that needs to be upheld, or that certain countries or states or people groups deserve more than others do. They are not on board the same train I’m on. They are going to be left behind — they just are, by their choice.
Because the alternative is for this train I’m on to wait for everyone to get on board, and if we do that, the train is never going to move. If you don’t move forward until all the people who don’t WANT you to move forward get out of the way, the train will idle in the station for all eternity.
The train has to leave the station with however few people might be on board, because if it keeps going, it will pick up more people all along the way and progress in the direction of its destination.
A single-minded focus on the destination
This is my mindset going into 2021. If you want to get on board the train I’m on, that’s great, if not, that’s fine too, but I HAVE to keep moving. It’s not a hateful or angry or dismissive or passive-aggressive movement. We just have to be super focused on the goal, on the destination we want to get us to.
We don’t try to convince everybody. We organize with like-minded folks, we welcome them on the train as it begins to fill up, and we use that to move toward the direction we want to go in. It’s a single minded focus on getting to the destination, hopefully picking up more people at each consecutive stop, but rolling on regardless.
Because with the way we are all interconnected now online, it is possible to niche down and find the smallest possible group of people who share your interests. We are not going back to a time when we all watched the same 6 pm local news broadcast and attended the same local church, the only one in town, and sent our kids all to the same local public school. There is a choice now with news sources and types/philosophies of schools and religions and all kinds of things. You can find other people wanting to do what you’re wanting to do no matter how obscure it is, or how few people there are in your local area who are interested.
There are positive and negative aspects of this, of course–it is not an all good or all bad developmen– but it is true. It’s what’s happening. It is our reality in 2021.
So trying to appeal to everyone is no longer possible or necessary. I think the only way you can really get everyone to agree on something is to suppress the voices of those who disagree and make it dangerous for people to live their lives differently than the norm, and that’s not a place I want to go.
I do want to be clear about being very intentional as we choose the trains we’re on, because everyone thinks they’re on the right train when clearly some are headed to very dark and dangerous places. It is important to thoroughly vet your train before climbing on board. My beliefs do not harm others, do not endanger them, or incite violence or discrimination against them — that is the check I try to always come back to.
Am I hurting or helping? Lifting up or pulling down?
And if I am confident through self-examination and being plugged into sources other than just ones that agree with me that I’m on a path that is for the wellbeing and betterment of all of us, if I am working toward collective liberation, then my job is to keep getting on board the train and keep playing the jazz.
Some people will not like it and will get on a different train, and that is fine. I don’t have to change to suit their preferences.
So I want to have single-minded focus on the destination right now — a train can’t go in multiple directions at once.
What is my mission, my contribution, what is the thing I can be doing right now in the world to make it a better place? I need to decide, and be on board THAT train.
Other folks might get on board a very different train heading in the opposite direction. I can’t get where I’m going if I’m worried about their train.
That’s where I’ve made mistakes in the past, and maybe you have, too. I have spent entirely too much time delaying my own train in order to get folks on board who had zero interest in coming along.
My tendency — because I want to be inclusive, and I want to be liked, and I want to be understood — is to stand at the train station trying to convince folks this is the right train, and here’s why you should be on board, and here’s why the places we’re going are the correct places you should want to go, too.
I am letting go of that burden of trying to convince people to get on board this train. It is not my responsibility and it never was.
I have wasted so much time explaining myself to people who didn’t want to understand me. I have wasted so much energy trying to convince people who don’t want to be convinced. I have not moved forward because I didn’t want to go without everyone else alongside me. And that choice has held me back.
What train are you boarding for the year ahead?
I encourage you to think about what train you’re on for 2021. I think it will probably be multiple trains, right? I mean this is all just a metaphor anyway, so let’s get loose with it and imagine you can be on more than one train at a time.
Maybe you and two of your colleagues are on board a particular train for a more human-centered, grace-filled, compassionate way of teaching during this pandemic, and the rest of your colleagues are taking a hardline stance that you don’t feel is responsive to kids’ needs. You are on board the train with those two colleagues but instead of heading down the tracks, and moving forward to a deeper professional practice and better relationships with your students, you’re delaying your own train by standing in the station arguing with your colleagues.
You’re trying to persuade them to come on board a train they have no interest in boarding and would probably try to sabotage and run off the tracks if you somehow managed to coax them on board.
Sometimes what you need to do is just let them stand around at the station and complain about where you’re going.
Because your train is not the only one.
That’s the great thing about trains, there’s always another one right behind it. So maybe your colleagues will catch the next train — maybe there will be something about the stops along the way of that route, or the people on board, or the timeline of the next train that will appeal a bit more to them and they’ll get on board.
But regardless, you can’t hold up your train waiting for all of them. That only delays the progress of the trains coming up behind you. Keep moving forward. Blow the whistle as a warning and then pull that train out of the station.
Your colleagues can always catch up with you at a later stop if they want, or catch the next train, or spend their rest of their careers grumbling at the station. They can even board a train heading in the opposite direction. Don’t let any of those choices stop YOU from where you need to go.
So think about the train you want to be on professionally, and get on board. Is there something you’ve been wanting to try with your students but you’ve been waiting for others to do it, too? Map out the next stop along the way to the destination and get that train moving. You might find other like-minded folks at the next stop who will come on board and help you plan where to go next.
Think about the train you want to get on in your family life, and get on board. You know, I shared this analogy with a friend who has preteen and teenage children, and one child in particular who’s always resistant to what the rest of the family wants to do. She started using this analogy with that child: “We’re doing this today, it’s fine if you don’t want to” and not letting that one family member prevent the rest of them from having a pleasant day together.
Kids have their own trains they need to follow, their own path in life they need to carve out, and they might not ride with you all the time. You might run on parallel tracks or you might pick them up at a future stop. We’re not all going to be on the same trains at the same time. So is there a train that needs to pull out of the station in your home, even if not everyone’s on board? Consider that, as well.
Think about the train you want to get on in your personal life — a habit or routine or lifestyle you want to incorporate. Think about the train you want to be on in terms of shaping this world into a better place. And then get on board.
Don’t be like me and spend years arguing with people about why your train is going somewhere they should want to go, too. Don’t let other people frustrate you because they don’t have the same vision. Make your “all aboard” announcement and head on out toward your destination.
Get really clear on the destination you want to head toward. Where are you trying to take your students? Your family? Your personal relationships? Yourself? Get that train out of the station. You might even want to play some jazz on board.