If you have lived any length of time, you have had something happen to you that you did not cause, did not want, or did not anticipate. If you have lived any length of time you have enjoyed many successes, happiness, and joy due to your actions and efforts or as a result of those from others. Every event or interaction is tied to some level of emotion and produces feelings associated with them. Welcome, my friends, to the human experience!
A human-centered definition of energy is defined as “the strength and vitality required for sustained mental and physical activity.” With this in mind, I argue that we are in charge of the amount, frequency, and quality of the energy we both put into and receive from the world. Managing our emotional energy as leaders is critical. We must have the bandwidth to embrace all types of emotional energy from everyone with whom we come into contact. It is not easy! We often have to put our emotions to the side to support the emotional well-being of our stakeholders. We don’t get to choose the emotional energy that is put in front of us. But we do get to choose how we respond to it, how and if we allow it to inhabit our personal mental space.
As I become a more “seasoned” adult, I am learning that there are just some choices that we have to and are allowed to make regarding the emotions, feelings, and energy that we allow into our mental and even physical, space. Leaders are often expected to show little to no emotion and monitor our reactions whether positive or negative. Education is an industry that is dependent upon human interaction and is most successful when relationships are deep and strong. We spend so much time talking about how important it is for teachers and school leaders to develop relationships with students and families so that students will experience higher levels of success in school. Sometimes I think we forget that to do that, educators can not be devoid of emotion. Our students need us to feel, to be fully human in front of them to make those valuable connections. Of course, this does not give educators a pass to behave inappropriately. But our students need to see us as joyful and also know that we get disappointed, too. They need to see us model resiliency, make mistakes, correct them, and bounce back. Our teachers need to see us as relatable, human, just as they are. Teachers often appreciate when leaders can show empathy while simultaneously maintaining high expectations. I can’t count how many times I have shared a personal experience related to a teacher, that has slightly cracked the door open a little more to a better relationship with that teacher. Those interactions are what feed the energy around us. This is precisely why we need to remind ourselves that we are in control of the energy that we allow into our lives. Energy matches energy. Good energy often begets good energy.
We don’t have to take on negative energy into our lives, no matter where it comes from. Everyone has “stuff” going on in their lives. But deciding to invite positivity into our spaces, to celebrate small wins, to find joy in day-to-day tasks, to practice gratitude opens up our mental spaces to be filled with energy that revitalizes and refreshes us. You can say no to getting involved in that conversation that is insistent upon tearing down a colleague. You can remove yourself from situations that have the potential to make others question who you are and what you stand for. You can place boundaries on your time and not answer that email late at night. You can take that sweet note that that student who is struggling behaviorally gave you as proof of their progress and the impact you are making on their life. You can decide not to take that phone call from a family member who knows just the right thing to say to make you spiral downward. Find ways to protect your emotional energy that do not ignore the realities in your life. Choose your energy. Don’t let it choose you.