I accomplished my goal…and it was awful.

resilienceI’ve confessed before how much I suck at running. It’s true. I’m really not being modest. I’m slow. It hurts. It’s discouraging. And yet, last month I ran a marathon. Okay, that sounds better than it actually was. It’s true I did complete the 26.2-mile distance, and people have been incredibly kind to pat me on the back and tell me how awesome I am to have finished it. And yet, I’m not happy with my accomplishment at all.

My race day was awful. In the weeks leading up to the race, my stomach didn’t play nicely. I tapered my runs. I took my supplements. I watched my diet and my hydration. I did everything I knew to do in anticipation of my race on December 6th, but I still found myself in my doctor’s office on the afternoon of December 5th watching as he shook his head and said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

I did.

The first 15 miles of the race went well. I ran right along with my pacer. I cheered my fellow runners on. I thanked volunteers and hugged friends who’d come out to support our cause. I felt great. My energy level was good, and my spirits were high. I doing it. Mile 16 changed everything. At the end of 15, I stopped to go to the bathroom. My pacer ran ahead, but I wasn’t worried thought I could catch up with her. I never did.

Mile 16 was awful. My stomach started cramping, and my legs, feet, and lower back began to hurt. I had to stop for the bathroom again at the next water station. Honestly, if a friend hadn’t been there to encourage me to go on, I probably would have quit. I certainly felt like giving up. Miles 17-21 consisted of a little running, some walking, regular Porta-Potty stopping, and lots of grumbling. I expected to see my family at mile 19, but falling off pace meant missing their cheering faces, too. I trudged on.

I don’t remember much of the last five miles. I know I ran more than I walked, and I know every single step hurt. A lot. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stop at the toilets during the last few miles. There was nothing left in my system. I crossed the finish line in 5:42:48. I wasn’t happy or proud, but I was finished. I’d been looking forward to the race for months. I’d trained my body. I’d raised money for a great cause. I wanted to feel good about it all, but I didn’t. I just felt awful. Yes, I’d finished the marathon; I’d technically accomplished my goal. But, the experience didn’t met my expectations, and I’m a little sad and discouraged as a result.

Where does this leave me as a runner? I’m not sure yet, but I’m finding it tough to lace up my Brooks. What do you do when you’ve accomplished a goal, and it’s left you feeling bleh?

Rethinking My PLN

Three recent posts by members of my PLN have had me thinking. First, in September, Mark Schaefer pricked my heart g in his post “Social Media and the Big Conversation Fail.” (That post led to a cool Skype conversation with Mark.) Then, William Chamberlain posted “EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection” in which he revealed his pain that his online connections are not a meaningful substitute for the face-to-face relationships he needs in his building every day. Finally, Hadley Ferguson wrote in “Why We Go to Conferences” about the need to solidify online connections by spending real, quantity time in each other’s physical presence. These posts struck a chord deep within me, and I’ve been stewing over them for some time now.

For the past year I have worked hard at developing an online presence and connecting with other educators online. I have built a personal learning network (both digitally and face-to-face) of folks that have become quite dear to me. Some are here in Memphis and West Tennessee while others are scattered around the globe. I have done this mostly through web 2.0 technologies and a handful of conferences, face-to-face meetings, and Skype phone calls. Most of these folks are professional educators, but not everyone is. My knowledge has grown exponentially and hopefully my practice has improved as well. The number of connections in my network has grown tremendously as well – a situation that is both a blessing and a curse.

What I long for is genuine connection and friendship within my network. I don’t have a personal need for lots of close friends, but admittedly I long for close friendships. I want to connect with educators around the world, but I want several of those connections to be real, primary connections. I want to know and be known in my network not just as a professional, but also as a real friend. I also want to be faithful in my relationships with my family and my off-line friends. So, I’m making some decisions about what I want to do with all of this, and I think I’m going to take a step back.

At one point I subscribed to almost 250 different blog feeds in my RSS. It was a lot of good stuff, but keeping up and reading that many feeds became oppressive. In trying to consume that much information, I wasn’t able to slow down, reflect, and comment on what I was reading. I also found myself spending way more time-consuming than creating. I want that to change. So, over the past few days I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of great blogs. I’m sure I’ll miss out on some great learning and conversations, and I’ll still check in occasionally, but those posts won’t be in my reader waiting for me when I log in. Instead, I want to spend more of my screen time reflecting and commenting on those subscribed blogs and to those individuals with whom I have connected. My goal isn’t to become a snob, but more to make a deeper connection with a few. If someone reaches out, I’ll still reach back in the hope of making a meaningful friendship.

I plan to take a similar approach to Twitter. If you know me, you know I believe in growing my digital PLN. I follow lots of educators and a smattering of people in other professional fields that interest me. I also like to connect online with members of my local community. I’ve met some incredible, fellow Memphians just by following them on Twitter. Having said that, my Twitter feed has become quite noisy with all the folks following me and my willingness to follow people back. (I don’t follow everyone back, but if I believe you might add value to my learning or I can add value to yours–you’re in. If you’re selling something, you’re ignored. Spammers always get blocked.) My new approach will be to establish a micro-PLN feed through a Twitter list or a Tweetdeck group. I plan to work hard to get to know those I include on a deeper level. My goal isn’t to be exclusive (I’m sure I’ll continuously add and subtract from the list) but to focus my energy on building real friendships where I can. I want to chat, call, and Skype with these folks, make plans to meet at conferences, and get to know them beyond their online personas.

I want to do more writing, so I am setting a short-term goal of averaging two posts a week from now until the end of the year – 12 posts, starting with this one. I’ll still do the occasional In Retro Cite from Diigo, but those don’t count toward this goal. I’ll also continue to share things on my Posterous, but I’m not counting those either.

As for my face-to-face learning network, I’m going to be intentional in those relationships as well. I want to spend more meaningful time with my wife and kids and more focused time with my friends. I’m going to try to silence the smartphone and be fully present in those moments. I also plan to write some personal notes to my co-workers, make a few phone calls, and line up to some gatherings with local friends. Who knows? Maybe we will even have a holiday party this year.

In conversing with Hadley after her post, we talked about the idea of a PLN road trip, and I invited her to Memphis to spend some time and see where I live. I’d really love something like that to happen. I’d love to introduce her to my family, to show off my school, and to tour her around town. I’d  love to deepen that connection and others, as well. (Let me know if you’re interested in a trip to visit and see Graceland, Stax, or the Civil Rights Museum.)

In my former life as a youth minister, I learned that quality relationships only happen through quantity time. I guess it’s time I prioritized mine.

Any thoughts? Do you long for deeper connections? How are you solidifying your face-to-face and online relationships? What are you doing to grow closer to other members of your network? What do you think of my plans? Feedback is always appreciated.

Reflections on TEDx Memphis (#tedxmem)

I spent the afternoon Saturday with approximately 35 other people at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum attending the inaugural TEDx Memphis. To be honest, I almost missed the event. Fortunately, I saw a tweet by Dave Barger late Thursday night and was able to still register for a ticket on Friday. Apparently, the event started out as invitation only or so it seems. (At this point, I need to publicly apologize to Jason Bedell. I should have contacted him and invited him to join me in Memphis for the event, but I just didn’t think about it so he missed it. Sorry, Jason.)

For anyone unfamiliar with TED, the conferences were started in 1984 as a way to bring together “ideas worth spreading” from the fields of technology, entertainment, and design. Members give brief (under 18 minute) talks on their particular “idea worth spreading.” TED conference membership is exclusive (they don’t like the word “elite”) and the membership fee is currently $6000.00, but they have begun admitting a few TED fellows in order to diversify their membership. TEDx events are independently organized but follow the TED format. I learned about TED through my Professional Learning Network and have been inspired by several talks including ones by Sir Ken Robinson, Jonathan Zittrain, Gever Tulley, and Dan Pink.

The Memphis event focused on the concept of simplicity, a topic about which this father of four knows very little, and I was excited about the potential learning TEDx Memphis would afford. It was a good day and I gleaned several nuggets. If you’d like to read the tweets from the event (most of which are mine) you can do so here. In this post, I’m only going to hit my personal highlights.

Kris Pond-Burtis started the day with a presentation “Beyond Leisure: The Pause that Truly Refreshes.” I appreciated her thoughts as she spoke about the value of Sabbath rest. I know I need to be more intentional about setting aside time for rest, and I plan to act on her suggestion that we schedule Sabbaths in our calendars and protect the time as we would any other important appointment. I’m looking at my calendar and planning my intentional escape.

“Why the Human Mind Should be Recalled: Exploring the Great Disconnect Between Intention and Action” by Steve Levinson helped me understand and think through why my best intentions never actually realize the wanted results. He also provided me with some helpful suggestions for how to actualize my intentions. I intend to implement his strategies, but we’ll see what happens. :0)

Finally, I was encouraged and inspired by Austin Baker and Bob Taylor‘s “MILE : A Simple Program for Transferring Leadership Knowledge to the next Generation of Leaders.” While the program is focused on connecting college-level business students with current business leaders in mentoring relationships, I can see the potential benefits of implementing a similar program designed for our career and technical students or any of our students at the high school level. A good mentor is so important in developing as a leader and I am encouraged that so many business leaders in Memphis are interested in working with students.

Several of the other presentations were also excellent, and I hope the videos will be available soon online. I also enjoyed getting to meet some new folks and share a little with Dave Barger about how many educators are using Twitter, blogs, and other web 2.0 tools to develop Personal Learning Networks. It was a good day and I look forward to the next TEDx Memphis. Hopefully, next time some members of my PLN and more fellow Memphians will be able to join me.

In the meantime, if you want to get an idea of what TED is like I recommend you view the following talks which we also viewed at TEDx Memphis on Saturday.

Have you been to a TEDx? What was your experience? I’d love to hear more about the independent TED events happening around the world.

Time to STRETCH

Okay, I’ve decided. I’m going to really stretch my comfort zone and attend BarCamp Memphis tomorrow. My new friend (and tech guru) Clif Mims has encouraged me to go, and I’m grateful he’ll be there. As much as I really like technology and have jumped head first up to my ankles in social media, I’m still just sticking my toes in the water of all of this technology. Don’t get me wrong, I think as an educator I really need to embrace all the 21st century skills I can muster, and I want to advocate for technology and digital learning in schools.

At the same time, I don’t like to feel like an idiot. No, I really don’t like to feel stupid. It’s one thing for me to stumble and fumble my way through an application or software program at home. It’s entirely different to spend a day talking tech with all the brainy folks I’ve followed for the past few months. I’ve interacted with a few, but I’ve mostly just sat back and learned at their proverbial (digital) feet. Nevertheless, I’m going. I’m going to be brave, and I’m going to plan to stay for the whole event, too. I’m taking my laptop, my iPhone, and my wife’s pink digital camera (as if I wasn’t already insecure). I may even bring my Flip camera so that I at least look the part.

Today, I read an interesting article by Carol Dweck entitled “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids”. After reading the article, I realized how much I, too, don’t like to feel stupid or fail. I hate it so much that I sometimes don’t challenge myself. Well, it’s time to change. I’m ready to fail if that’s what it takes to really learn. Well, I’m ready to at least try something new and uncomfortable. So here I come BarCamp Memphis. I hope you people will speak some English while I’m there, if not, I’m putting my Memphis Tiger football tickets in my pocket, just in case.

Repost: Welcome to Our World!

Me, Debbie, and the baby
Me, Debbie, and the baby

I decided to start this blog where my last website ended. Why? Because two years after the fact, I still get asked to tell this story all the time. The story is true and accurate as it is here, and I’m still recovering from it. I originally posted this story on Wednesday, 22 August 2007 about 36 hours after these events occurred.

I awoke at 2:37 AM. I know because I looked at the clock next to my bed. I heard the shower running in our bathroom, and Debbie was no longer lying beside me in bed. I stretched out my ankle like I always must after sitting or lying for a long time, then I went to the bathroom and poked my head in the shower door to ask Debbie if she was okay.

“I think my water has broken, “she said calmly. She’d been through this before three different times.

“What should I do?” I questioned.

“Go get dressed, pack your bag, grab the baby’s diaper bag, and get her dress and blanket.” My wife is always very patient with me.

I shot back into the bedroom, threw some clothes in a backpack, dressed, then changed clothes again before returning to the bathroom to ask Debbie if I should wear pants or shorts to the hospital. I was afraid it might be cold in the delivery room.

She replied, “It doesn’t matter, but you need to call Mom and Dad to come watch the boys while we go to the hospital.”

I dashed back to the bedroom, called my father-in-law, then continued scurrying about gathering belongings and throwing things in the mini-van. After a few minutes had passed, I noticed Debbie leaning against the van.

“If Mom and Dad don’t get here soon, we’re going to have to leave the boys alone.” Her voice was serious. Her look told me she was in a great deal of pain. I ran back into the house for one last item, and as I returned her parents had just arrived in the driveway.

I jumped in the driver’s seat, and Debbie climbed in the front seat next to me. I noticed she had placed a towel on  the seat beneath her. I backed out of the garage and sped down the driveway. Debbie told me to call the hospital so I dialed information for Germantown Methodist Hospital as I raced through our subdivision. From our door to Highway 70 is approximately one mile. When we reached the highway, Debbie told me I had to HURRY! I stepped on the gas and we careened westward toward Germantown Parkway. I spoke to the hospital, and they told me they would be waiting at the door. At the light at 70 and Germantown, I barely braked to make the turn, and Debbie was annoyed that I slowed at all.

Less that .10 mile down Germantown, Debbie informed me that we needed to change our plans. We weren’t going to make it to Germantown Methodist, we’d have to go to St. Francis-Bartlett instead. I again picked up the cell dialing 9-1-1. Then, I accelerated to approximately 90 MPH and turned on my hazard lights. There was only one other car on the road, and it was heading toward me. I knew it was a Bartlett police officer, but Debbie warned me not to slow down for ANYTHING! We were not going to make it! The cop passed me, made an immediate U-turn and chased me with lights flashing (I don’t know about the siren). I never slowed except to turn.

The 911 operator was less than helpful. (You don’t ever want to have an emergency in Memphis!) As I explained that my wife was in labor, that we were switching hospitals, and that I was presently being chased by the police. The operator told me that I’d have to call the hospital myself to let them know we were coming, and there was nothing she could do to help me. I thanked her for not being at all helpful and promptly hung up the phone. MEMPHIS!

We slowed slightly to make a curve in the road, and then raced across the parking lot to the St. Francis-Bartlett Emergency Room entrance. I slammed the car in park and dashed through thew hospital doors screaming, “Come help! Come help! My wife is in labor and she’s having the baby now!”

Nobody moved. Apparently, husbands tend to overreact when their wives are in labor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t overreacting. What Debbie had failed to relay to me was that while we were driving the baby had already crowned.

“HURRY!” I screamed. “She’s having the baby NOW! This is her FOURTH baby!

Suddenly, everyone moved. three or four nurses came running out to our mini-van. One was pushing a wheelchair. (Behind my van sat the Bartlett police officer. When he saw me enter the emergency, he patiently waited in his car. When I returned with medical staff in tow, I yelled to him that my wife was in labor. His only response was “Okay then, I’m gonna go.” He put his cruiser in reverse and wasn’t heard from again, but I’ll let you know if a ticket arrives via the U.S. Postal Service.) A nurse instructed Debbie that she’d have to get in the wheelchair. Debbie’s response was that she couldn’t–the baby was already crowning. The nurse told my wife that she had no choice and they would look at her as soon as she got inside.

They helped Debbie into the chair and wheeled her inside, but not before getting the chair stuck on the door. They rolled her directly into triage. One nurse lifted up Debbie’s dress to see how far along she was and shrieked, “THE BABY”S COMING NOW!” (Duh!) They rolled her behind the first curtain, and the admittance attendant asked me to leave with her to get Debbie checked in.

As the attendant and I made about five steps down the hallway, I heard a nurse scream, “Oh, my God! She hit the FLOOR!” I turned to see nurses scattering in every direction. One in particular had her hand covering her mouth. I raced back to see what had happened. I didn’t know if Debbie had collapsed, the baby had been dropped, or a nurse had fainted. My heart leapt. It was 3:04 AM.

Reaching the E.R. curtain, I saw my daughter, purple and crying, on the floor on the corner of the room. Blood was everywhere. Debbie was moving onto the gurney and the nurses were frantically trying to move the wheelchair out of the way to get to the baby. I ran to the other side of the curtain and jumped over a trash can to try to get to Debbie’s bedside. I shouted, “Are they okay? Somebody, tell me they are okay!”

Nobody really said anything. they were as panicked as I was. They looked at me and someone gave instructions for somebody to get me a chair, but I leaned against the wall and declined. I just wanted then to take care of Debbie and the baby.

The attendant had followed me back to the curtain. She reached out, grabbed me arm, and said, “Dad, we have to get them admitted. Can you please come with me?” I reluctantly obeyed.

Within five minutes, Debbie’s paperwork was in motion. She and the baby had been moved to room 228. The attendant asked me a few really important questions like: “Is Church of Christ still your religious preference?” and “Do you know if your insurance covers our hospital?” Meanwhile, I still needed to know whether the two most important women in my life were okay.

Shortly, we were done. The attendant led me to Debbie and the baby’s room, and Debbie quickly reported that she was okay. the nurse was looking over the baby who was apparently undergoing her first tanning appointment. I asked the nurse if my little girl was okay, and she responded that as far as she could tell the baby was fine.

For the next 30 minutes, I bounced between Debbie’s side and the side of my tanning newborn. Debbie explained that when they tried to move her from the wheelchair to the gurney, the baby had entered the world by falling to the cold floor  and sliding under the wheelchair into the corner. The umbilical cord had snapped. Apparently, my daughter is a natural break dancer. Within the next two hours, the baby had been thoroughly poked and prodded, and Debbie had finally delivered the placenta and was doing much better. By all accounts, mother and child were doing just fine. In fact, one nurse said they were perfect.

Debbie was ready for another shower. So as the grandmothers, who had just arrived, together with the nurse and my bride made their way to the shower, I sat in the window seat, held my daughter in my arms, praised God in my heart, and bawled like a big ol’ baby.

I’d love to say that in the middle of all the chaos I had the faith to immediately drop to my knees and pray. I don’t have that kind of faith. My faith is more of a “do-what-you-can-as-best-as-you-can-and-trust-that-God-is-here-somewhere” kind of faith. Saint Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by pure fire–maybe proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” I have no idea why my heart and soul were put through the ringer during that baby girl’s birth. However, as I hold this little girl, I am trusting that God will watch over her because I know there’s no way I can. That’s been proven true.