Does Stress Bring Out Your Best or Your Worst?



Stress.  It’s a daily part of life. Not all stress is bad. Not everyone reacts the same to stress. I find that stressful situations often bring out the best or the worst in people.  I have seen the best and the worst in others during especially challenging times. But rather than point the finger, I want to take time to reflect on my own actions.  I know that as a leader, stress has brought out both the best and the worst in me at various times throughout my life.

When I have been stressed out and overwhelmed in the past, I have been known to snap at people. I have worked hard to address this, so that I don’t take my stress out on others.

As a leader, I have allowed stress to affect my health and well-being. I continue to work hard on this one, so that I maintain a healthier lifestyle and can handle stress better.

I have also found myself listening a lot during stressful times. When a large issue impacts a staff/district, you can learn a lot by listening. Often times, people need to vent, but they also need to be heard. They want to be a part of the planning, the problem-solving, and the ultimate solution, especially if they will be directly impacted.

When I am feeling stress and know that others are as well, I have recently taken to writing a quick email or text to individuals to let them know I care about them, I appreciate them, or to wish them a good day. This simple act of kindness goes a long way to spread good will, to enhance personal relationships, and it feels good to make someone else smile.

If stress can bring out my best or my worst, I want to cultivate habits that will lead me towards my best self in trying times. Some of the habits I have used over the years to learn to adapt to stress include:

  • Meditation/ Mindfulness/ Breathing – Any version of this, often with the help of an app like Headspace, can calm me down or ground me in the present.
  • Stepping Away – If I know I am stressed and have the potential to take it out on others, I will consciously step away. This might involve closing my office door for a little while. It might mean going for a walk, taking a drive, listening to music, or taking a breathing break. By stepping away, I can limit my worst self negatively impacting others.
  • Writing– I reflect best when I take time to write about a situation. If I am stressed, I go to my journal to process my thoughts. I can take my stress out there without harming anyone around me. It’s possibly that this blog post began in a journal entry!
  • Friend Support – Calling a friend, scheduling a walking date or a happy hour, or making plans to do something fun can often distract me and lift my spirits.
  • Problem-solving – Sometimes the stress needs to be addressed. I find that if I make a plan for solving the immediate problem, I feel better. I love to make lists and check off completed items, so this fuels my Type A personality!
  • Collaboration – Two heads are often better than one. When I find myself working through a stressful situation, I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with someone else on the issue.

Some behaviors I have witnessed in others (or in myself in the past) that bring out the worst in people:

  • Blaming others/ Pointing the finger/ Throwing someone else under the bus
  • Spreading rumors
  • Generating negativity
  • Taking no responsibility
  • Bringing past grievances into current problems
  • Inability to listen or acknowledge another point of view

I have had the privilege to work with some amazing leaders. Some of my leadership mentors model a positive way to lead through stressful times. The traits and actions I have observed in them include:

  • Taking responsibility
  • Communicating clearly and effectively
  • Addressing rumors and misinformation head-on
  • Acknowledging the challenges
  • Staying positive
  • Supporting others
  • Listening with intent

These are some of my thoughts on this topic today. I’d love to hear from you. What do you do to ensure that stress brings out your best and not your worst? What behaviors do you work to avoid during stressful situations?


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What I Read in October 2018

During the month of October I read:

  • The Thousandth Floor (Series #1) by Katharine McGee – I saw this YA book recommended a few times recently. It was much longer than I was expecting, with a lot of characters to get to know at first. Each chapter was told from a different character’s perspective, which I normally like. However, it was confusing at first because of the number of characters in this story, as well as the fact that it was set so far in the future with a lot of made-up things.  It’s clear that it was setting up for a series, but it was hard to get into at first. By the end, I was hooked enough to consider reading more in the series (especially to see if Mariel will figure out that Erdis was pushed off the roof, unlike what she was told).
  • Sex, Lies and Serious Money by Stuart Woods – Another great one in my favorite series, though this was less about Stone and more about a new character, a billionaire who just won the lottery. I love reading about the filthy rich, who can buy multiple houses in one story.
busy p book

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philips

  • This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philips – I listened to this audiobook read by the author, who is a fun celebrity whose Instagram stories I enjoy as much as her past acting gigs. This was a raw, real memoir about painful stories, male chauvinism, and funny, stressful acting situations. I love celebrity autobiographies and this was no exception.
  • The Midnight Line (Reacher #22) by Lee Child- I haven’t read a Reacher novel in awhile, so it was fun to get back into this larger-than-life character (and I’m still annoyed that Tom Cruise was cast as him for the movie!). In this story, Reacher finds a West Point ring in a pawn shop, and goes out of his way to find it’s rightful owner, through a small town opiate ring, partnering with a private investigator and a civilian along the way.
  • This is Me: Loving the Person You are Today by Chrissy Metz – My second celebrity-read autobiography this month! I love this actress in one of the best shows on TV, This is Us, so I wanted to hear her stories. She is funny and real and down-to-earth about her successes and her challenges. She seems like a genuinely good person.
  • Thyroid Healing by Anthony William – This is a health and wellness book I heard about by following the author on Instagram (Medical Medium). There are lots of tips and recipes to support healing.
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Learning Leadership from Big Brother

I don’t know about you, but every summer I find myself glued to my television three nights a week as each new episode of the reality show Big Brother airs.  I have watched all 20 (!) seasons of the show and I love the insanity of each summer.  But this summer was different.  The cast was full of nice people. And since they’ve all left the house and resumed their real lives, they have stayed in contact and shared their friendships live across the world via social media. [If you don’t know anything about the show, keep reading… I promise you will see a connection to leadership in a moment!]

As I have watched this evolution, which is so different from past seasons of contestants, I realized that there is more than just a reality show here.  You might be surprised to know that I believe we can learn leadership lessons from this particular season of this particular reality show.

Here are my top leadership lessons learned from Big Brother Season 20:

  1. LOYALTY – If you know the show at all, loyalty has not been a strength of many past contestants.  However, this season’s winner, Kaycee Clark (shout out to my hometown hero!), played an incredibly loyal game from beginning to end. As leaders, loyalty is important in our every day interactions with students, staff, parents, and community. When a school community knows that their leader is loyal, they feel safe. With safety comes trust, security, and risk-taking.  Loyalty is an important leadership strength that goes beyond wearing your school colors and deep into being there for your school community day in and day out.
  2. CREATIVITY – The premise of the Big Brother show is that a group of strangers are locked in a house with no access to the outside world – no TV, no music, no other people, and limited outdoor time. This is sometimes a recipe for craziness and drama.  It can also lead to some outstanding creativity.  This summer the house guests created their own original song (about Tyler), made crafts out of the random material available in the house (Sam was quite resourceful!), invented their own #TyeDyeMonday, and did a lot of hair straightening on each other. Leaders can serve as the models of creativity – whether it is about looking at budget concerns from a new perspective, or avoiding saying “no” to unusual requests, or celebrating what makes each student and educator unique. If leaders were forced to disconnect from social media and the outside world and only use what was available to them to solve a problem, how creative could we be?
  3. SUPPORT – I cannot imagine how I would deal with the daily pressure of living in a house with strangers where every move I made was recorded for the world to see. There were many moments throughout this year’s Big Brother where a house guest broke down crying. There were also many moments of support. During these moments, it didn’t matter which alliance people were from; they supported one another as caring human beings, not competitors. In education, sometimes people may break down in tears, but more often, the stress manifests itself in other ways.  As leaders, we can model support through big and small gestures – checking in on individuals when you know they’ve had a rough day, listening when someone shares a problem or a concern, or stopping our busy pace to make a personal connection with a colleague, especially during stressful situations. All educators work hard and deserve support from their leaders as well as their peers.
  4. ENCOURAGEMENT – Despite the fact that the Big Brother contestants were competing against one another for a $500,000 grand prize, they spent most of their time encouraging one another. In each competition, down to the battle between the final three, the house guests cheered each other on, offering words of encouragement and support. Since leaving the house, they have continued to encourage one another to dream big and achieve more. As leaders, we want to remember to be the voice that offers encouragement. Staff and students will respond better to positive encouragement than to criticism. We can encourage risk-taking, innovation, and hard work. We can celebrate the success of our peers and teammates because by lifting each other up, we encourage our entire community to do the same.
  5. STRATEGY – The Big Brother 20 winner, Kaycee, shared her game strategy before she went into the house. In her post-game interviews, she was able to say that she executed her strategy just as she had hoped to, and quite successfully (to the tune of $500,000!). Leaders need a strategy as well.  A strategy is a plan that helps us achieve our goals, whether short or long-term. Strategic leaders think two, three, and four steps ahead, always preparing for what is coming and how to overcome any obstacles along the way.

So if we are to learn anything from this reality show, I ask you to consider these questions as you reflect on your leadership:

  • How do you demonstrate loyalty as a leader?
  • How do you model and leave space for creativity in your work?
  • How do you support your school community?
  • In what ways do you offer words of encouragement to others?
  • What is your strategy and how do you communicate it to others? How do you involve others in strategic thinking on behalf of our students?

And if you had no idea what half of this blog was about, tune in to CBS for the winter season of Celebrity Big Brother or next summer’s season 21!


Kaycee Clark, BB 20 Winner     Source: 


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What I Read in September 2018

After my disastrous August reading, I was determined to do better this month. I am proud that I read so much more!


Educated by Tara Westover 

  • Educated by Tara Westover – I read so many positive reviews about this book that I knew I would enjoy it. Tara’s memoir chronicles her upbringing in a family who was Mormon, but whose father did not believe anything good came from the government (including school, medicine, and more). Tara didn’t know how abusive her relationships were until many years after she had found a way to thrive away from home. Her formal education began at the college level and she worked hard for each degree she earned. It was fascinating to read about a way a life so different from anything I’ve ever known.
  • Family Jewels (Stone Barrington #37) by Stuart Woods – One way for me to read a book quickly is to give me a Stuarts Wood book, especially in this long series that I love! I appreciated that Ed Eagle, a cross over character from Santa Fe, had a brief appearance in this story about stole jewels and cross-country wealth and crime.
  • The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – In asking for a book recommendation, this title was shared. I loved the story structure. After four siblings visit a fortune-teller and learn the date they will each die, we follow each of their life stories, one at a time. The entire premise makes you wonder if they lived their lives a certain way because they knew the day they were supposed to die, and whether knowing helped or hurt them live fulfilling lives. It was tragic, surreal, sad, and yet so interesting.
  • Dishonorable Intentions (Stone Barrington #38) by Stuart Woods – Yet another fast-paced mystery, where Stone is being hunted by yet another ex-husband of a woman he is involved with. This story finds him in New Mexico, NY, England, LA, and New Mexico repeatedly. I’m sad that Gala, the sister of Ed Eagle’s wife, turned out to be another ex for Stone.
  • The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain – I bought this book as a discounted e-book while buying some of the others I’ve read lately, not knowing the author but liking the description. I’m so glad I found it! I really enjoyed the story of Riley, as she cleans up her father’s estate and learns hidden secrets about each of her family members. There were fun twists and turns and some flashbacks, as well as different narrators, which kept the story moving.
  • The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain – Once I discover a new author and realize she has many other books, I start to go crazy! I enjoyed this story not only because it took place on the Jersey Shore, where I have many fond childhood memories, but also for the mysterious twists and turns within it. It was sad to follow the journey Isabel’s family took to finally learn what happened when she died as a teenager, because they had to recognize the flaws in those they loved.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin



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Social Media: Friend or Foe?

Social Media

Social Media

Recently I’ve been reading and viewing a lot about the use of social media for business, for education, and for fun. I’ve been an avid social media user for personal and professional reasons for many years. In fact, next week I’m running a workshop about using social media to tell your school or district’s story.  I continue to encourage my colleagues to use Twitter as a way to tell their professional story as well as to connect with other professionals for their own growth.

However, I often seen social media used for negative purposes: spamming people with products, self-promotion without interaction, and anonymous bashing of others. When we see these negative examples, it’s harder to convince new users to join or participate in the positive aspects of social media.

Despite the negativity, I will continue to encourage others to find their purpose within social media.  For some people, one form of social media is an escape – a way to look at cute animals or silly videos for an easy laugh; this is Instagram for me. For others, social media is a way to stay connected to loved ones who are far away; this is Facebook for me. Some people use a social media tool to find motivation, to be healthy, or for DIY projects; this is Pinterest for me. Finally, some people use social media to learn, to grow as a professional, and to help the world at large see the amazing work we do as educators; this is Twitter for me.

If you use social media, I encourage you to share how and why you use it, and to make the positive outshine the negative. I also implore you to invite others into your SM journey! Please use the comment section below to share how you use Social Media.

Let your positive outshine the negative

Edited on 9/21/18: After I published this short, simple post expressing a few thoughts, I read a disturbing blog post. To read that a fellow educator and blogger has received death threats via anonymous comment son her blog was frightening.  However, she didn’t let those threats scare her away from writing; she is letting that fuel her fire. One of the comments on that blog post references this Internet Pledge, which is a great resource. Let’s keep sharing resources and letting our positive outshine that negative.

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Lessons Learned Skydiving

Today I experienced skydiving for the first time. Spoiler alert: I loved it!  But this post isn’t really about skydiving. I’d like to use this opportunity to check in on my word of the year for this year and for 2015.

mindfulness pic

In 2015 I focused on mindfulness. My skydiving adventure today was all about being mindful, living in the present, and enjoying each moment as it came. For the two-hour wait before our jump, I had no phone so I was disconnected and able to enjoy time with my family, watching other jumpers appear out of the sky before us. Throughout the entire plane ride up, I focused on enjoying each moment: from the silly nervous joking in the cramped plane, to the amazing ocean views, to the excitement building.  Once I got out of the plane and past the first three-second free fall, I was mindful of each gust of air, each move of my guide, those great ocean views again, the clouds around us, and the incredible feeling of flying, free from everything.

I didn’t know that skydiving would be a lesson on the value of mindfulness, but I’m grateful for the reminder.

Possibility 2018

My word of 2018 is Possibility and the supporting phrase to guide me is adventures that stretch. I think skydiving definitely qualifies as an adventure that stretched me out of my comfort zone.  And isn’t that the purpose of picking these focus words? To challenge myself (2017 word!), to help me grow, to learn and change and evolve.

To experience this with my brother, who had been skydiving two times before, and my 75-year old father, was an adventure that I wouldn’t have thought possible a decade ago. I’m so grateful for this day of family, mindfulness, adventure, and the spirit of possibility all around.


My dad, brother, and I before the big jump! Photo credit: Holly, my stepmom

Will Smith has a great skydiving story about not letting fear take over our lives. You can see his story here.  One of my favorite quotes of his is:

“The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It’s bliss!”

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What I Read in August 2018

I’m embarrassed to write this. On August 26th, I realized that I had barely finished one book this month, and that was an audiobook. After realizing this, I did a lot of reflection about why that was and I got reading!

  • I realized that I binge watched a lot of mindless television, so I am now making a conscious effort to choose reading over TV watching more.
  • I spent a lot of time this month at work, since our district has been back in session since late July. I’ve read a lot there- emails, blogs, newsletters, articles, book excerpts, etc.
  • I also spent over a week fighting off a sinus headache that made reading very painful.
  • I enjoyed some of the fun of living in beautiful San Diego, including many trips to the beach with friends and family, where I spent more time interacting and enjoying myself in the moment. #mindfulness
  • I’ve found a lot of new podcasts to listen to, which have replaced audiobook time when I’m in the car.
  • I was using a Library e-reader app that expired and I lost a book I had been reading.
  • I was trying to get into a fiction book a colleague loaned me for over a month. I finally gave myself permission to abandon it and find something I really wanted to read! This added some reading at the end of the month.

The books I did finish this month:

  • Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, it’s a Financial Number by Chris Hogan- I’ve heard a lot about this book on Dave Ramsey’s podcast. I wish I had read this in my 20’s. I don’t think we talk about finances enough as a society, especially with young people before they make choices that will negatively impact their future. I knew a lot of the content, from the podcast, but I learned some valuable new things that I will put into practice. If you are unsure of your retirement plan, this is a great read full of useful advice for readers of all ages.
  • Scandalous Behavior (Stone Barrington #36) by Stuart Woods – I love an easy-to-read mystery, and this was the perfect book to get me out of my reading rut. I love that Stone, the main character with never-ending amounts of wealth, bought yet another home, this time in England. This home came with some crime, adventure, and a movie being made on site, all with the usual characters in a Barrington story.
  • Talk to Me: Find the Right Words to Inspire, Encourage, and Get Things Done – Six Principles of Effective Communication by Kim Bearden – I LOVED this book! My friend Shelley, who published this along with her husband, knew I would enjoy this book and gave it to me last week. Kim shares six principles to help you frame communication: consideration, motivation, appreciation, validation, conversation, and celebration.  I have worked hard to develop my communication skills over the years. The longer I am a leader, the more I realize the value of listening and effective communication with others. This book is full of specific tips and real life scenarios that will help anyone improve their communication.  Go out and read it today!
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