The school year is coming to a close and leaders are crawling towards the finish line, thoroughly depleted by the onslaught of end-of-year activities that comes on the heels of an impossible year of leadership.  Some will be able to get on a plane and visit family/friends they’ve not seen for a year.  Many are ‘stuck’ in their current locations due to COVID restrictions.

Whatever the situation, this will be a summer of recovery.  And it will likely feel all too short.

I’ve been hearing the word ‘resilience’ way too often for my liking these days.  I truly hope that leaders are not getting the message that a few weeks off will help them re-set; that a few hugs from loved ones will get them back to their old selves for when school starts again in August.  In these circumstances, resilience is a cheap and shallow mantra to adopt, implying as it does that one can simply ‘bounce back’ from extraordinarily stressful circumstances through sheer force of will.

I’d like to suggest NOPE as an alternative to resilience.  I take my inspiration from Naomi Osaka, the professional tennis player who was penalized for opting out of post-French Open press interviews.  Osaka realized that these interviews created anxiety for her that depleted her ability to focus on her game and keep herself mentally and emotionally stable.  She received criticism from some quarters for turning her back on a practice that ‘comes with the territory.’  What is heartening, though, is that her NOPE to these interviews won her great praise from professional athletes and others who also struggle with mental health issues, and for whom these interviews or their equivalent seem an extraneous activity that deplete focus, energy and stability.  My hope is that Osaka’s courage, and the support from fellow athletes and others, will lead to reflection on activities that ‘come with the territory’ and idea-generation on how that territory can be changed.

It is in that spirit that I encourage all you exhausted leaders out there to find yourselves a ‘hidey-hole’ (a great term that came up in a recent Sidecar Rally, implying a personal hiding place) at some point this summer and, after a long bout of doing nothing, begin making a mental list of the key things to which you will say NOPE in the coming year.  This might include: issues that challenge your core values; activities that are not essential to performing your job well; behaviors that get in the way of key stakeholders taking you seriously and treating you with respect; ways of being at your school that are not in alignment with what your school stands for.  You may get pushback when you attempt to put your NOPEs into action.  At that point you’ll have the opportunity to consider whether this is a sign that the territory you inhabit needs to change, or whether you need to change the territory you choose to inhabit. 

My hope is that, when the school year starts again, you’ll be fully grounded in your NOPEs so that you can clear up space to say “Hell YES!” to things that bring you positivity and joy, and help keep you focused on the work that really matters.  That, to me, feels more proactive, realistic and sustainable than ‘resilience.’

On a personal note:  I’m heading off to the US for several weeks to spend time with family and friends.  My main ‘hidey-hole’ will be Montana, and my NOPE is to maintaining a schedule of weekly Sidecar Stories.  This will free up my time to begin other writing projects, and to be fully present where I am.  This is also with the expectation and hope that you all will be in some version of a ‘hidey-hole’ yourselves, which may include no Wifi or smartphone coverage.  I expect to have lots of fodder for future Sidecar Stories after these weeks on the road.

Yours in practicing full-throated NOPEs from our hidey-holes, 

Bridget

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