Happy 2023! May it be a wonderful year for your learning and leadership, and may it bring you all that you hoped for. I hope this past year was as valuable for your growth as it was for mine. Here are three big personal growth lessons 2022 taught me.
Lesson 1: Breadth just as valuable as depth
In the education world, we often talk about the importance of emphasizing depth over breadth. There is a big reason for this: We want to make sure that learning is rich enough to truly grab a hold of each of us and to help continue to push us to learn more.
I believe the challenge is more about breadth without depth. Clearly, learning a little bit about everything and never diving more deeply into a subject isn’t great. That said, knowing a little bit about a lot of things does help us bring even greater perspective into our personal and professional lives.
As an example, most of my writing up to 2022 had been nonfiction writing, and most of that had been focused on education. I love to write, as it is a practice that I can lose myself in and that helps me attain a bit of that sense of flow that we all need in our lives. Prior to this past year, I had not really thought about writing fiction, but a number of opportunities came my way throughout 2022 to do just that.
As the year ends, I am proud of some of the story writing I have done and excited about the two comics (yes, comics) that I had the chance to write the scripts for. While my fiction writing needs quite a bit of work, I think I will become a better writer overall for the more varied expertise I have gained this past year. In this case breadth was incredibly valuable to my continuous improvement.
Lesson 2: Give up control (across my life)
I wrote a bit about this in a post earlier this year, as I am struggling to be a good father to my older daughter, who is turning 13. I am trying to communicate and parent in the way she needs me to, but, by my own admission, I am struggling to change my parenting style quickly enough to meet her needs. Some days my wife and I just don’t know what to do to speak the same language as our daughter.
What I have realized, though, is that the same flexibility I seem to apply well in my professional life needs to be applied in my personal life. Here’s a recent example. Our older daughter was invited to join a friend for a party in the city. It was a small group of young women, with a parent joining them. New York can be kind of cold in December, so we told our daughter to dress warm, which to us meant jeans, sweater, multiple layers, etc. Our daughter refused, saying she wanted to wear leggings.
Now, to be fair, I don’t think a lot about what I wear, but I recognize that it’s a big deal for a soon-to-be 13-year-old. Nevertheless, we stood firm and said leggings would be less warm than jeans. While our daughter has to work on her delivery and approach, she appropriately did some research on a number of websites that highlighted why leggings would keep her warmer than jeans. So we relented.
I share all this because flexibility is important. So is the realization that we sometimes are different people in our personal and professional lives, and that sometimes our approach in one (being a flexible professional leader) should translate into the other (being a flexible parent).
Lesson 3: Appreciate the small wins
More than previous years, 2022 was one where I found myself being more grateful for what I have. The pandemic at its worst was hard, and there was a lot to be grateful for, to be sure. At the same time, a constant sense of frustration and loss (at least for me) made it hard to be truly grateful all the times I should have been. But as the year unfolded and more and more of life seemed to settle into a new normal, I became more capable of truly opening my eyes and seeing what I had missed previously.
Life isn’t easy for anyone. Despite that, as a family, we have weathered some tough situations and, at least for now, have come out stronger than we were before.
These lessons have translated into my work as well. I might look a bit older and feel a bit more tired than three years ago (crazy, right?), but I have become a more aware and educated leader and learner. That awareness and education has made me much more appreciative of people, actions and the world around me. A cup of tea in the morning, a chance to read a good book, watching a television show with my kids, writing this piece for SmartBrief … all of these are small wins in a life that is challenging for all of us in some ways. Looking at what I have through a much more positive lens lets me devote more energy to helping others get to where they want to be.
Three small lessons, one small part of my life. And still, anything we take from our experiences that makes us capable of being better is precisely what we are here for, right? Always a work in progress, always an opportunity to look back and realize that as much as we can look at time as an obstacle, we can also look at it as an ingredient to improvement.
Enjoy the start of the new year.
Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Ende currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, “Professional Development That Sticks” and “Forces of Influence,” are available from ASCD. Connect with Ende on his website or on Twitter.