Living For Today

April 23, 2018

John Lennon is often attributed with the quote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”. This is because he included these words as lyrics in a song he wrote about his son, Sean called “Beautiful Boy”. However, nearly two decades earlier these same words were used in a newspaper comic strip, “Steve Roper” written by a person by the name of Allen Saunders. Regardless of origin I was reminded of this quote again during the past week and the impact was greater than ever before. Because I recently promised myself (and made my promise public) that I would spend time planning my future (after work). My resignation from my current position is effective the end of May, 2019. Part of the reason I started writing my blog again was because when I publicly express my intentions I stand a better chance of following through. Although I have not changed my mind, two events and a blog repost occurred in the recent past that have given me pause and reminded me of the critical importance of balance in life and being present in each moment.

The first event of note was that I traveled with a group of 30 – 7th grade students on their annual international trip to Norway from our school in Lagos, Nigeria. I was with two other adults serving as a chaperone. The second event was the passing of a good friend of mine over the weekend when we were away. Jim was 4 years my junior. He was also a principal and was highly respected and loved my many (including me and my wife).

My wife Amanda and I decided to pursue international education about 7 years ago. We were hired to work at the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria (AISL) beginning in the 2013-14 school year. Amanda teaches first grade and I am the middle school principal.

An amazing tradition in the middle school at AISL is that in late April or early May, each grade level travels internationally. Grade 5 travels to Huntsville, Alabama to Space Camp, Grade 6 to Village Camps in Leysin, Switzerland, Grade 7 to Hardangertun School Camp, Kinsvarik Norway and Grade 8 to Washington, DC. The trips are tied to the curriculum but equally or more importantly students get to experience another culture and region and practice other skills. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity are affectionately referred to by many as the 4 C’s of 21st century learning. They are said to be the characteristics and dispositions that will help to make students academically successful, contributing members of society and employable.

Despite supervising and watching over my group of 10 – 12 year olds (passports, luggage, money, medications, etc) in transit from Lagos through Amsterdam to Bergen, Norway, we arrived in a place of such awe-inspiring beauty and majesty that it nearly took my breath away. Even in the midst of their full-blown adolescence, our 7th grade students were equally enchanted by this place. Without cell phones, laptops, tablets or even textbooks to distract them, we hiked, canoed, rock climbed, took a boat ride on a fjord, a train ride up to the top of the mountains, and experienced snowshoeing and archery. We were each responsible to prepare our own breakfast while living in 4-person cabins for the week. We also made and packed our own lunches before heading out in the morning.

The second event was the antithesis of the above. The loss of a friend. My friend Jim was 4 years younger than me. I found out rather recently that Jim was diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancer on January 23, 2017. Ironically January 23rd is my mother’s birthday. We lost my mother to metastatic liver cancer of unknown primary origin, 6 months after her diagnosis. She died just over 14 years ago. Jim’s death has been particularly difficult for me. Maybe that is because he was so full of life, had a contagious laugh and sense of humor and was actively engaged in schools making a difference in the lives of kids. The fact that we have similar ways of connecting with people and are in the same profession makes it feels closer to home.

My wife, Amanda and I were both friends with Jim. In fact, jim was the principal of the school where Amanda was teaching before we moved to Africa. Amanda came across and sent to me a blog entry from his 1500 Days to Freedom Blog site that Carl Jensen reposted entitled, “Are You Happy”. He opens the entry by asking the question, are you happy? and then asks the reader to consider yesterday. He continues, by asking:
How many times did you smile?
Were you happy, sad or just going through the motions?
Did you say “Hi!” to strangers or look away?
How did you spend your day? Did it bring you fulfillment?
Did you go to bed content or did worry keep you awake?
Yesterday was Sunday, so you may not have been at work. However, think about your last day at the job. Was it mostly positive or negative?

Carl is part of a growing group of people in the FIRE movement. FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. It is really a fascinating movement and many of its more prolific members are authoring blogs and social media groups to share thoughts, ideas strategies and tips and much, much more.

So for three entirely different reasons I have been hit squarely between the eyes with the stark realization that, once again, I have not been living in the present moment. Like many others in the FIRE movement, setting goals and counting down is great fun. Planning what will take the place of the job that I current do for a living is a rather important process to ensuring meaning and purpose in that which comes next. But happiness is not a destination, happiness is the journey. My happiness is my daily responsibility. To be sure that I am happy when I am able to live without the financial security provided by my current employment situation, I must practice being happy every moment of every day. It is not something to be put off for retirement, whether early or late.

Today is Sunday and I will be going to work tomorrow. I will carry the beauty of Jim’s smile in my heart, put it on my face and give it away to everyone who looks my way. I will remember that just because my surroundings here at my school in Nigeria are nothing like what I experienced in Norway, but that the relationships that were forged came home with me. By remaining present in each moment I will find the charm, grace, loveliness and elegance that exists wherever I am.

So, I ask myself, are you happy? Why yes, I believe that I am.

In loving service,


“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Unravelling the Fabric

April 7, 2018

If you are looking for a job that is laid back and easy going, working in a school is not a good choice. To say that education is or has become a fast-paced environment is an understatement. The pace varies from an active clip up to and including a frenetic sprint. With the constant bustling of high-energy kids, special events and activities, there is almost always a feeling of electricity in the air. I think because of that (and I believe I can speak for most educators when I say) we really look forward to holiday breaks during which we can enjoy some downtime.

Since my last post, my wife and I appreciated the pleasure of some SCUBA and beach time over our school Spring/Easter Break. Although I promised myself that I would remain out of “work mode” and enjoy our vacation, I admit to intermittent tinges of anxiousness. I really just wanted to wallow in an aura completely void of anything even resembling serious decision making. The act of looking at a menu felt ever so slightly taxing. I was however, quite proud to say that I successfully fought off most of my urges to think about work. The angst I realized, was all about figuring out what I am going to do with myself when I stop working. I find it so uncomfortable to use the term “retirement” that I am referring my last day of work as “New Beginnings Day”.

In my last post, I said that I was committing myself to a reflective process that I hope will help me to plan my future. I thought that by looking back over my life through the lens of some guiding questions, a future direction might become more clear. The questions are: “What has sustained me?” “What has served to put a smile on my face or to light up my heart?” “What has touched my soul?” “What really matters deeply to me”?

Although the guiding questions still “feel good” to me, where to begin the process has me a bit perplexed. The line of sight looking back over my life is anything but a straight one. Unravelling the fabric made from the many individual experiences of a lifetime, stitched together with a zillion memories is not a nice, tidy project to take up a lazy afternoon.

As I usually do when I come up against a sticking point, I did some research. Tanja Hester, the author of the “Our Next Life” blog, and her husband Mark, are one of the couples who are part of the Financial Independence Early Retirement (FIRE) movement. Although some of the issues being faced in early retirement (Ms. ONL was 38 and Mr. ONL was 41 when they retired at the end of 2017) are somewhat different than in our case (I will be collecting a small pension but Amanda will not). I think that there are many people who think of retirement as a future destination. As it gets closer I have come to realize that for my retirement to be as meaningful as been my career, I must avoid viewing it as a destination but instead must embrace it as a continuation of the journey. In a post entitled, “What Do You Want Your Tombstone to Say? // Defining Our Purpose”, Mr. and Ms. ONL asked themselves three questions: What do we want to look back on and be happy we did? What would we want to be remembered for? What do we want to contribute to the world? Next they created an excellent mapping tool consisting of a series exercises designed to help in identifying purpose. Follow the link to read their post and see what their map revealed.

A Google search will render literally thousands of books written about life’s purpose. Having spent an entire career working with kids, a sense that my work has had meaning and purpose is not at all in question. The regular opportunity provided by working in a school to form relationships with and to inspire students to become their very best has been extremely gratifying and fulfilling.

Now don’t get me wrong, working in schools is not all fun and games. Granted, the rewards have been plentiful, but they have also been interspersed with some very difficult and thankless moments and situations. The positive experiences have sustained me and spurred me on to face and endure the harder times.

Interestingly, the most meaningful (to me) aspect of my work life has been encouraging, inspiring, and energizing kids to boldly and relentlessly pursue their dreams and never give up. Being a principal, I have taken advantage of my turns at the podium to influence and promote the attitudes and character traits that I believe are required for young people to have the best chance to achieve the things of their dreams. This has been my passion.

I seem to have answered the questions “What has sustained me?” “What has served to put a smile on my face or to light up my heart?” “What has touched my soul?” “What really matters deeply to me”? in just a few paragraphs. The question that remains is, now what? So far, I am pretty satisfied that I have managed to live a fairly meaningful and purposeful life. For me, it doesn’t follow that retiring from my job also has to mean letting go of meaning and purpose. So for that, the search must go on.

In loving service,


“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

~ Steve Jobs

What Gives Life Meaning

March 28, 2018

For many, deciding to become a teacher is made with the intention of doing something meaningful with one’s life. As a long time principal, I have conducted literally hundreds of teacher interviews. I have found that people become teachers for a variety of reasons, but when asked the question “Why did you want to be a teacher?”, they usually respond with answers like, “I know that everyday I will be making an impact on someone’s life” or “There will never be a dull moment”. They might say, “I would rather be surrounded by construction paper than cubicles”. Or perhaps, “Children are the future” or maybe “I never want to stop learning”. I have heard, “I wanted to become a teacher, because watching students have that ‘lightbulb’ moment makes everything worthwhile” or that “Working with kids brings out the child in me”. I have also been told “I could never imagine doing anything else with my life.” Regardless of the original reason a person became a teacher, the truth is, in my opinion, that teaching is a rather noble profession. I also believe that in the the back of every teacher’s mind lingers the awareness that the opportunity exists every day to make a difference in a child’s life. That really is a very cool thing.

I didn’t know “what I wanted to do”, right away after high school. It took me quite a while to formally make my way into the school system. I am happy I found my way, and I am proud to say that I have served kids, families, teachers and my profession for almost 30 years. Despite the many challenging days, people and demands, my daily life has never really lacked for meaning. To be sure, in the everyday stress, hustle and bustle there were times that I lost track of the aspects of the job held meaning for me. Thankfully they were few and far between.

Recently, a new set of thoughts and feelings have taken up residency in my consciousness. I believe this has arisen from the fact that I now know the actual date of the last day of my career. I signed a contract that takes me through to the end of the 2018-19 school year and submitted a corresponding letter of resignation designating the last day. The reason for the early notice is that by doing so it paves the way for my employer to legally offer a contract to my replacement. The day that I have termed “New Beginning Day” is May 31, 2019. That day is less than 450 calendar days away. 450 days may seem like like a long time, but compared to the nearly 11,000 days that make up a 30 year career, 5-31-19 is practically around the corner. Upon reflection and introspection, I am aware that to find meaning in my life, all I had to do was to go through the front doors of the school building. Meaning was readily available to me there. Children are amazing beings, and even in the darkest of days, spending time with and around them could instantly fill my heart with joy and love. More often than not, their gifts were effortlessly and unconditionally given.

Let me be perfectly clear, the anticipation of freeing myself from a regular morning wake-up call and the constriction of an imposed schedule give me intermittent tingles of great joy. In moments of lucid honesty, I have become aware of a subtle but accompanying fear. Because I tend toward optimism and positivity, my default tendency is to deny the mood-dampening, subtle thoughts and feelings in lieu of the brighter emotions that elevate it. I have concluded that now is the time to attend to this disquietude. I believe that I have arrived at a pivotal time and place in my life. To ignore this tug could have unintended and undesirable consequences for the future.

So, I am embarking upon a quest. Between now and “New Beginnings Day”, I am committed to a process that I hope will guide me into the next phase of my life. It begins with a self-reflection. Looking back over the course my life I will seek the answers to the following questions: In my life, “What has sustained me?” “What has served to put a smile on my face or to light up my heart?” “What has touched my soul?” “What really matters deeply to me”?

I am not in any way thinking that answering these questions is the end of the expedition. Finding answers will likely lead to more questions. I also know that once I have answered the questions, it will then be time to find out where to go and what to do next.

I am eternally grateful to be soon headed into a place and time in my life in which I will no longer be dependent upon the income from an employer to sustain me financially. But for me to continue to thrive, I must also find a way to feed and sustain my soul. The search is on and I plan to record the journey. Please feel free come along.

. . . oh, and because writing tends to be a cathartic for me, as I wrote this I realized a recurring aspect of my life that know I wish to continue – service. Service is a continuum. On one end, there is obligatory service. On the opposite side of the continuum exists loving service. I choose the opposite end and know that I will be looking for opportunities to continue to be of service in meaningful ways. Therefore, until I am moved otherwise, I will be signing off with . . .

In loving service,


“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

~ William Jennings Bryan

Now What

February 27, 2018
As a kid I don’t think I gave much thought to my development. I remember having a makeshift growth chart on a door jam in the house. I also remember wanting to run faster and jump higher than my friends when I was in elementary school. I even remember admiring my dad’s “big muscles” and wanting to grow my own.

When in junior high school and high school I cared a lot about impressing girls and having good hair. And if I am really honest with myself, that phase, albeit a little more sophisticated, lasted through college and into early adulthood. My college experience contained some defining moments. It started off pretty rocky but after a couple of transfers I ended up at Pacific Lutheran University. While there I played football for one of the most dynamic men I have ever met and worked as a youth director to help pay my expenses, I finally found a major that, despite it not being extremely helpful for eventually landing a lucrative job, held my interest long enough for me to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

After that I bounced around from sales jobs to youth work and back again. Despite an interest in Psychology, I didn’t give much thought to development, either generally or personally until I became a father. Observing and participating in the developmental stages of my three sons lives was scary, exhilarating and fascinating but admittedly I gave little thought to my own development.

Over the next couple of decades what has defined me as a person has been mostly my titles as a husband, father, educator. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I have placed at least a reasonable amount of effort in my quest to fill these positions with a certain level of distinction. Only sporadically and until recently have I seriously considered the developmental aspects of my life and questioning my identity.
Truly believing that my life’s work has held meaning and made a difference, I now find myself nearing the end of a long career. In the absence of a “job” to consume a great deal of time and energy I am now facing choices about what to do next. In light of the unknown, I find myself again asking who I am and what will I do to continue to make a difference and fulfill my purpose?

Beginning Again

February 9, 2016
When he was 16 years old, my youngest son began an accelerated slide into a rather serious medical situation. Of course we had been aware that this day would come for about a decade but wanted to believe that the advanced care he received and the magic of modern medicine might somehow create a different outcome and preclude the need for a liver transplant. The day that Cayden began internally bleeding because one of his esophageal varices burst marked a critical crossroads. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, this was his day of no return.

The thoughts and feelings that began to well up in me at that time were amazingly poignant. They would come and go and swing from one side of the emotional spectrum to the other. Even at the untimely death of my mother had I not experienced such a broad range of emotions.

Another factor that I now believe contributed to my emotional swings was that I felt the need to exhibit a show of strength, optimism and calm when around my son but in truth I faced dreadful fear and felt immensely vulnerable in private. I would only reveal those thoughts and feelings to my wife and sisters.

Peace and solace were only found in three places. The first was when I walked or exercised. The second was when I talked (which often happened simultaneously with walking). The third was through writing.

It was during this time that I began posting my thoughts and feelings in the form of updates on social media. I also sent informational messages to specific people and groups via email. Someone suggested that I start a blog. So I did . . .
Blogging for me was a way to sort of lasso and round-up the many thoughts and feeling that were running wild around in my mind so I could slow them down and identify them. The writing process helped my make some sense out of the crazy that was buzzing inside of me. Somehow once the thoughts and feelings were put into the blog it was a little bit like getting all of the animals safely into the pen for the night. My mind could rest awhile.

In case you are wondering, Cayden is doing well. My wife, Cayden’s stepmother Amanda, was his living liver donor and aside from a lovely abdominal scar, is healthy as well. Primary sclerosing cholangitis (liver disease) was secondary to ulcerative colitis with Cayden, so he continues to live with that condition and will take anti-rejection medication so that his liver remains healthy.
So . . . . with a new purpose, I begin again. This is the first blog in a very long while.