Performance Review

A few months ago, I pondered the type of projects I was going to pursue next. 

After much deliberation, I decided that, for now, one of the best ways I could serve my community would be to help alleviate the staffing shortages in our schools.

When my paperwork was finally approved, I stared at the available assignments with some  trepidation.

Eventually, I clicked the “Accept” button for a 1-day assignment as a 5th-grade science teacher in a neighboring school district.

Since then, I’ve worked in four other districts–pre-K, high school, middle school–across myriad income levels, so that teachers can: go to the dentist, celebrate their birthday, take their child to the doctor, attend an IEP meeting, or recover from Covid.

The jobs are never quite the same and are often extremely different from one day to the next. Nearly every day begins with an encounter with  imposter syndrome.

However,  the feedback, from the students has given me an incredible boost. I’ve shared some below.

After I’d  covered her class for 30 minutes–while her teacher was in a meeting–a 2nd-grader wrote me a note:

“Thank you for being the best sub ever. “

A middle schooler said to me (30 seconds into a conversation):

“What?!? You’ve read the book ‘Jurassic Park?’ I’m already your biggest fan, ever!”

A 5th-grader walked up to my desk on his way to his next class, and offered:

“You’re a good sub., but you need to be more strict.”

A high school junior wrote this:

“Dear Mr. Smith, I’d love to thank you for subbing in my class. We may be wild, but we mean well. You’re a great and funny man. I like the way you say ‘ya’ll.’ It reminds me of a cowboy movie. “

These are among the best performance reviews I’ve ever had.

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Cool Change

In my twenties, I found myself in a bit  of a predicament.

Shortly after I’d resigned from my job in Tallahassee, and had let my lease run out, I found out my new opportunity—with a previous employer in Gainesville—had evaporated.

I learned this at 10 pm on a Sunday night, when I still had 135 miles left to drive on the return leg of a weekend trip.  On the agonizing ride home, I concluded the practical, and easy thing would be to rescind my resignation, then I could find a new place to live.

The next day, my boss said they hadn’t hired my replacement and asked if I wanted to reconsider my resignation. 

I opened my mouth, with intent of being practical and saying ”Yes…” but I was overcome by a stream of impractical thoughts. The first thing to come to mind: I couldn’t stay in that soul-sucking  job. 

I was also more than ready to leave Florida where I’d been for 15+ years  since my parents relocated their 3 remaining nestlings to The Sunshine State from Massachusetts. 

My impractical thoughts raced to my youth, in Connecticut and Massachusetts: the fall colors, the fluffy snow, the topography, clam rolls, Fenway Park,  apple orchards, the rocky coasts, Lexington and Concord, aunts, uncles, and cousins, …and cooler weather. I decided to make a big change.

The impractical thoughts won. I answered ”No, I can’t stay here.”

She asked about my new plans. I replied, ”I guess my new plans are to make new plans.”  

The next day, I bought a new typewriter and started writing cover letters to organizations in the Greater Boston area and was able to line up some interviews. 

An unexpected, though welcome, twist was that a couple of college friends (who were now a couple) had offered to let me stay with them, if I was interested in working in the DC vicinity.  Thus, I contacted some organizations in that area, too.

The next few weeks, was a blur of yard sales (where I tried to sell my beater truck) working overtime,  researching potential employers, writing cover letters, running, and listening to live music (see below). 

I had lined up some interviews in Boston and DC, and picked a departure date that would allow for some short visits with my college friends, and my sister’s family in Connecticut, before I had be in Massachusetts for the first interview.

It was almost exactly 30 years ago today, that I put the last armful of items into the trunk of my Mazda 323 and headed north. I’d would eventually settle in the DC area for a spell, before moving to Chicago, and finally West Michigan.

Other than the occasional adrenalin surge and swearing  that accompanies  skidding on an icy road, my regrets are few, far between, and of short duration.

It still seems like one of my best decisions ever.

(Funk Bible “Funken Soul”)

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I Got Nothin’

Hiatus

As some of you know, I had been lying low for a spell.

I’ve been spending time  chauffeuring (until my ”client” reached his 16th birthday)  cooking, dog-walking, attempting to write, thinking about home repairs,  doing some occasional YouTubery, reading. and rebuilding.

As scant few of you know, this follows a phase of my life that is worthy of an “It’s Complicated” status.

It began with a  years-long, undiagnosed,  neurological malady with myriad symptoms: head and eye pain, heaviness and loss of coordination on one side of my body, confusion, fatigue, vertigo,  muscle pain and weakness, short-term memory issues, loss of sensation in my face…

At one time, or another, I was told  by a medical professionals,  I might have (or have had)  a stroke, (or brain tumor, epilepsy, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, CTE, hydrocephalus, cerebral hemorrhage, Lyme disease, encephalitis, multiple sclerosis…).

Seen and Not Heard

Some symptoms were constant, others appeared as though they were activated by a flipped switch.  One had a clear trigger.  When I spoke more than a few sentences, I soon felt as though I was fighting some external force (Lex Luthor?), for control of my lower jaw. 

People who  knew me from earlier in my life, might be surprised to learn that I often chose to go long periods without saying a word. Not even the last word (I know, hard to believe).

Almost every visit with specialists ended with “<sigh> “I wish we could do an MRI.”

I can’t have an MRI.  I eventually realized that I was on my own for this ride.

It Don’t Come Easy

After many fits and starts, some brute-force, ample tolerance by my family, an understanding client,  some luck, and a helluva lot of time (which forced me to be patient), eventually, my gait steadied, the pain, dizzy spells, etc. subsided. Some time later, I was able to wrest full control of my lower jaw away from Lex Luthor.

When I got through the distracting, sometimes debilitating symptoms, my confidence  depleted.  I was pain-free, and my stamina, short-term memory, and coordination* had returned, but I didn’t have much trust in them.

Many tasks, some that I’d been performing most of  my life, seemed incomprehensibly large and complicated, because it was hard to a visualize successful outcome.

That was another soul-sucking journey (perhaps worthy of its own post one day).

Once, in a moment of reflection following a setback, an old Ringo Starr hit popped into my head. I’ve shared it below, not because it became my mantra, or that I’m recommending that it become yours, but it is a kickass song.

Onward and Upward

Anyway, the diagnosis that I eventually arrived at is this:  I got nothin’.

I intend to keep it that way for as long as I can.

I am  pursuing projects with renewed vigor. Please check out my Services page or blog content and contact me if you’d like to talk about how I can help your organization with content strategy.

*OK, If you’ve seen my handwriting  or played hoops with me,  you know that my coordination has never been all that great to begin with 🙂

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Walking The Walk

Like many of you, I’ve observed some questionable, and often  atrocious, behavior by immediate supervisors and executive leadership. This often had a tangible negative influence on employees, particularly the younger ones, leading to dismissive, abusive organizational cultures.   

I’m fortunate to have also had  positive modeling in my work.  I’m even more fortunate in that one the greatest impressions was made when I was a newly-minted adult. 

A description of that experience is in the comments. 

Do you have examples of positive role models, particularly in you early years? 

At 18, I accepted  a position with a local bank. The VP of Bookkeeping led off the interview with this:


”Your primary job will be helping our branches’ customers, over the phone, to resolve issues with their checking and savings accounts. Usually, they will be grateful.”

”However, some of them will get mad at you for things you didn’t do. That part of the job can sometimes be thankless. But you are not expected to endure abuse by a customer. 

”If a customer is being abusive,  politely ask them to hold and then transfer the call to me.”

She added, ”When you are not on the phone, you will be filing checks, lots of them. It can, at times, be tedious.”

Near the end she said, ”Let me make one thing clear, no matter how many times you might get promoted, or how much money you might make, if we are short of staff, you may be asked help out on the phones or file checks. “

”Nobody is too important to help our customers or our coworkers.”

A couple of months later, near the winter holidays, we got crazy busy with customer calls as shopping season grew closer. 


I will never,  forget the sight of this  VP of Bookkeeping emerging from her office, two weeks after a fall at her home, a broken toe on each foot, her arm smothered in a cast, from her shoulder to fingertips. 

She limped to a desk and picked up the phone, ”Bookkeeping this is Clarice, how may I help you?”

She couldn’t write or file, because of the cast, but she fielded calls for a couple of hours before limping back to her office for a meeting. 

A few days later, she hobbled out of her office again to field more phone calls.

She clearly walked the walk, albeit with a limp. 

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