sharpening the saw

Nothing like a little risk taking to keep things fresh

A couple of years ago I presented, School Leaders Set the Tone by Playing, Experimenting and Taking Risks at the 2011 K12 Online Conference and I talked about the importance of taking risks. Even so, when I turned 50 in August my wife had to really shame me into agreeing to an exciting birthday adventure. In the morning we went hot air ballooning and in the afternoon we went skydiving. Even though Wikipedia states, “Despite the perception of danger, fatalities are rare. However, each year a number of people are hurt or killed parachuting worldwide. (Skydiving fatalities and dropzone.com) About 21 skydivers are killed each year in the US, roughly one death for every 150,000 jumps (about 0.0007%).”, it still felt risky to me. It was certainly an adrenaline rush and I highly recommend the experience. Afterwards, my 15 year old son proclaimed that he was going for his 16th birthday next year. Guess who will be joining him.

My colleague, Ocki Fernandes also joined my wife and I on the adventure. My next challenge is to talk the members of our leadership team into going as a group. Oh, BTW, a few weeks later our business manager jumped to celebrate her 50th birthday. I’m thinking that we’ll have a critical mass when it comes to convincing the rest of the team.

What I learned during my “Sagmeister” year

While I enjoyed every single minute of my sabbatical year,  I’m energized and excited about my new job as the High School Principal at Graded – The American School of  Sao Paulo, Brazil. I’m two weeks into my new job and I’m reflecting on the entire experience of this past year. In September I wrote “What’s it like to take a year off?” and I described the basics of my action plan for the year. The focus for this year has been on Stephen Covey’s Four Assumptions for Life:  heart, body, mind and soul.  Consider this post my end of the year report on what I learned.

1. Spending quality time with family- I learned the joy of giving 100% of my attention to my wife and children. I have never been very good at leaving my work at the office so even when I was spending time with my Jennifer and the kids I had work on my mind. With my children, it was a joy to watch their sporting events, coach their teams, take them with friends to play soccer, float in the ocean with them for hours. go on bike rides around town, etc. I enjoyed planning ahead and talking with them about things for us to do. I remember reading that Michael J. Fox has a rule that he says “yes” any time one of his children asks him to do something. I tried adopting this practice throughout the year and I have to say that it was a pleasure. There were many time where my first reaction was dread and I truly ended up enjoying my time. I hope to continue spending quality time with them for years to come. Jennifer and I were able to spend uninterrupted hours while the kids were at school during the day.  We also enjoyed the many activities with the kids. Those times we will treasure for years to come. We did have fewer dates since we didn’t have a live-in maid. I can only hope that our relationships are stronger based on the quality of our time together this year.

2. Taking the plunge was not as scary as we thought - There were many scary thoughts that went through our heads when we were trying to decide what to do this year. Things like, How will we afford this sabbatical?, What about health insurance?, What will others think of us if we’re not working?, What if we don’t find jobs afterwards?, How will the kids adjust to this new situation? It didn’t help that some of the people that we spoke to advised against it. Now I just chuckle thinking about how silly these fears were. What seemed like a huge gamble turned into an awesome opportunity. We found ways to easily deal with all of these scary subjects. Only time will tell if the year off turns out to be a good investment. It did cost money that we would have normally invested for retirement, but we do believe that there are financial benefits that will help us for the future.

  • We reconfigured our home mortgage to save money over the next 20 years.
  • We made improvements to our home that should increase the value of the house.
  • We have rented out our house for the long term and the rental price is much greater than we received in the past.
  • We are currently taking the time to develop an investment plan for the long term. We may/may not have taken the time to do this during our normal year.
  • My new position comes with a salary that is greater than what I was making in the past.

3. My learning and stepping outside my comfort zone – I decided that I was going to spend time learning how to build and repair things around the house. I tiled a floor, built a storage area in the garage, an outdoor shower, a walkway, planted bushes, cut down trees, power washed the house and stained the deck. With this projects, each morning there was a new challenge to be conquered so I would wake up a bit nervous about the new task ahead.  These challenges were due to my lack of skills and/or knowledge in the area of home improvement. I found that my teachers were the men and women at Lowe’s, my good friend Dave Lewis, the father of a friend of my son and the internet. They were excellent teachers who guided me along. They expertly took me through the steps by giving me just enough information for me to succeed. I was allowed to make mistakes and learned that in most cases the mistakes can be fixed easily. As time passed my confidence increased so that I was able to do more on my own. As far as I know none of my teachers had any formal training in education.

4. Seems like yesterday – The first 3 months of the sabbatical we spent traveling the United States visiting family and friends. It was so great to see family and friends that we have not seen for years. I learned that with good friends and close family members it is easy to pick up where you left off. Whether they warmly welcomed us into their homes or we laughed and told stories of old times it seemed that the connection was still strong. I’d like to thank all of those who took us into their homes over the past year. We realize that it’s not easy to have the Peterson Family drop into your lives for several days. You always know that you have a place to visit in Sao Paulo.

5. My body isn’t what it used to be – While I ran, cycled and lifted weights throughout the year, I learned that as I get older, my body is less willing to cooperate and I less likely to push myself. While I ran three half marathons I learned that my body is probably not up for a full marathon and that my times will never be the same again. There were sudden injuries and my body took more time to recover after difficult workouts. I also found that it was tougher to push myself. I certainly had the time but the desire was not as great as in my prime. With that said, I feel like I stayed in excellent shape throughout the year.

6. Where is home? - Answering this question can be difficult for expatiates and third culture kids. Consider that my two daughters were born in different countries (Ecuador and Malaysia) that that neither has lived in the U.S. All of us now understand that our home is Emerald Isle, NC. This is certainly our homebase and we developed stronger ties to the area. Since we typically only visit here during the summer time we weren’t aware of how strong the influence of the two nearby Marine bases is. We now know our neighbors and have friends come return to when we come back in the summer. I still remember trying to teach the kids the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner as we were arriving in NC in mid September. Thankfully all three kids learned it over the course of the year. Throughout the year we worked hard to do as many “American” things as possible and the final list is impressive: setting up a lemonade stand, going to the AT&T National Golf Tournament, exploring Washington DC and watching the 4th of July celebration, two  trips to New York City with stops at Central Park, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time Square and ice skating at Rockefeller Center, watching a Cape Cod League summer game, the Cubs vs. the Rockies and the home opener of the Charleston River Dogs, several college campus visits, hiking at the Air Force Academy, The Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody WY, the Cody rodeo, a high school football game in the Dallas, TX area, the National Scouting Museum in Ft. Worth, Walt Disney World, playing soccer and basketball in the area recreation leagues, taking the Penguin Plunge in the ocean on January 1, and watching a 400+ lb. Blue Marlin get weighed at the Big Rock Fishing Tournament.

The list seems pretty amazing to me and I can’t help but smile when I think about all the wonderful experiences that I had. It was truly a gift for me and my family.

Note – Sagmeister refers to Stefan Sagmeister. I learned of his life plan to take a sabbatical year every seven years from Daniel Pink’s book Drive. You can see his TedTalks online. He takes a different approach to his sabbaticals and he recommends that, if you’re considering taking time off, that you speak to others who have done it. Next time I will. I’ve already noted in our long term investment plans that we need to plan for another sabbatical year.

When do we get the chance to get the creative juices flowing?

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”
Walter Lippmann

I’ve had the luxury of not working this school year and It’s been the best sharpening of the saw that I can imagine. Today I’ve been contemplating creative thinking and how excited I get about letting my mind wander to create new ideas (at least they’re new to me). For people like me I have to really work at being creative and it takes time to put serious thought into something, scanning the work of others who look at things differently, and exercising the right brain.

Want a few ideas that may light a fire under you creative juices?

1. I occasionally pull out Fredrik Haren’s book, The Idea Book, when I need to exercise my brain. The book “inspires creative people to be more creative, and It teaches uncreative people how to develop their creativity.” It’s full of quotes, exercises and space to write down thoughts. Use it to come up with 50 ways to use a brick, develop a metaphor for your idea, think of 50 different solutions to a problem, invent new words in order to invent new ideas, do the opposite of what people would normally do, and much much more.

2. I wasn’t able to attend ASB’s Unplugged this year but I’ve already taken a look at Scott Klososky’s presentation on Creativity and Innovation. I’m somewhat familiar with Scott’s work and I love his forward thinking approach. Want some ideas on how to develop your next outstanding presentation? Take a look at his slides. He uses excellent design principles. I only wish that I was there for the entire session.

3. Tonight I watched these two music videos by OK Go with my children. My son said that he loved the video even though the music was OK. I love imagining the planning sessions that led to these two very innovative videos.

This to Shall Pass by OK Go

Here it Goes Again, by OK Go

What do you do to develop your right brain?

I want to find visuals/photos that match the motivational quotes that I’ve chosen to put on notecards that I can use in my school. This seems like a very good exercise to get the juices flowing.

What’s it like to take a year off?

Nothing like taking some time off to relax and let loose a bit.

Nothing like taking some time off to relax and let loose a bit.

Imagine having the opportunity to take a year to do whatever you wanted (Well, there are typically economic constraints). That’s exactly what my wife and I are doing this school year. I have to admit that I am enjoying the relatively stress free lifestyle. We all know how stressful being principal of a school can be. We are sharpening our saws.

I left Mont’Kiara in June and my family and I have been on vacation ever since. We’ve traveled around the United States to reconnect with family and friends. Aside from spending quality time with the family we’re using this time for our children to learn about life in the United States. We’ve been overseas for nine years to the kids have never lived here (aside from summer vacation).

We have completed the first phase of the trip and now we are settling in to spend the year living in Emerald Isle, NC. My wife and I plan to work on our new action plan. Our four focus areas are based on Covey’s four assumptions for life.

“For the body – assume you’ve had a heart attack; now live accordingly.

For the mind – assume that the half-life of your profession is two years; now prepare accordingly.

For the heart – assume that everything that you say about another, they can overhear; now speak accordingly.

For the spirit – assume you have a one-on-one visit with your Creator every quarter; now live accordingly.”

For the mind I plan to immerse myself building skills and knowledge that will help me lead for the future. I plan to work on several projects and expand my personal learning community. For someone who thrives on learning, this is going to be exciting.

So, I’m done with vacation and now ready actively participate online.