Monday, December 29, 2014

PLN: Professional and Personal

Great Wall of China, 2014
A while ago, I blogged about my family, and shared it on my social media communities. Because it was family/personal in nature, I naturally expected more feedback and interaction from some networks such as Facebook, because they tend to be more "casual" or  "family" focused than some of my others like Twitter and Google+. Much to my surprise, a few individuals, who I know primarily through connections made in the Ed-Tech-sphere, read my blog, and commented. I was grateful, and moved that they took the time to not only read my post(s) which for the past 6+ months, have been predominantly family focused and more personal than professional, but they also replied and offered sincere words of encouragement. During one such interaction (on Twitter) I found myself apologizing for the nature of my most recent blog posts, because they were not "Ed Tech" focused. My gut level explanation was that this was "just where I am right now." These and similar exchanges on social media reaffirmed what I have been forcing myself to adhere to the past couple months. But that doesn't mean that I have not been wrestling and struggling with trying to find a place to "fit in" professionally, while being present for my family first and foremost. It was those few "professional" based relationships, that have turned into friendships that really got me thinking.

I happen to have an addictive personality. When I discover something that I like, or care about, I go full throttle, pedal to the metal, 110% (sorry Math people) sometimes to unhealthy levels. Sometimes I catch myself, and sometimes I need a gentle reminder. I'm a little compulsive that way. Most of the time this is OK because I am able to figure out ways to make it all work together. A few years ago, I was finding myself feeling a little bit burned out. I really didn't feel like attending conferences or making connections & I found myself merely going through the motions at work. I made a decision to use Twitter more actively & to stop having 2 online "identities." The positive impact on my professional career was immediate and encouraging. In less than a year, I made meaningful connections that revived my passion for educational technology. Becoming a Google Education Trainer, and Google Certified Teacher were fun bi-products of those connections and inspirations as well.

I have really enjoyed making connections, and have grown tremendously the last 2+ years as a result of ramping up my PLN and social media presence. Admittedly, most of my growth and connecting has been professionally, but also personally as I have also enjoyed making new friends via those professional connections. So the dynamic has been fulfilling in many ways. But despite all the connections, inspiration, and new friendships, I have been finding myself at times mentally tired, physically tired, and sometimes just plain worn out. I have found that times like these, I wake up in the morning and wonder if I can keep up this pace. Despite sharing mostly positive experiences online, I still have lots of times where I struggle, both personally and professionally, perhaps more often, recently.  I use those moments to continually reflect (mentally) and try to put things into perspective.

Despite the positive rush felt with each new follower, retweet, or like, I've had to refocus and focus on what really matters, meaningful connections. Although accomplishing goals and reaching milestones like Google Education Trainer and Google Certified Teacher are great, I have vowed to not let them "define" who I am or what I stand for. I've found the connections formed as a result of these are more meaningful and valuable, and there have been some highly encouraging and influential people I've met along the way. I'm grateful for that and I very much appreciate those who strive to balance professional aspirations and goals with family and friend based endeavors.

So as I reflect on another year, I am not making any proclamations or resolutions, but I am reaffirming a few things that I feel strongly about, as I keep connecting, learning, failing, and sharing.

1. Family always comes first: I will not sacrifice family time for a Twitter chat or Google Hangout. Educational Technology will always be there, but my daughters will not be young forever, and I happen to think my wife is pretty rad.

2. Brand is not important to me: Some work hard to create a brand for themselves, and that is OK. It just isn't for me. I don't have the time or energy to write a book, do a weekly podcast, or publish how to videos/tutorials.  Please understand this... Those things are all great, I just have too many other interests to do these things at a high level. My career doesn't define me.

3. Ed Tech isn't magic: I love technology. I love teaching. But technology won't save education. I need to remember this and not get stressed out about it. I can't revolutionize education by myself, but I can connect and learn as much as I can, & share that with others.

4. Pushback is OK: I still struggle with this. I think it is mostly because I didn't apply myself like I should have in college. My strength was and is that I love kids and teaching. I am good with people. So my pedagogical knowledge was minimal at best. Just good enough to get through. So I'm playing catchup now. As I learn, I need to be OK with pushback. Just because someone disagrees with me doesn't make me inadequate or wrong. I need to embrace this as part of learning together.

5. Work isn't everything: I've focused heavily on my professional growth and career the past year or two, almost neglecting the personal part of social media. As these social media tools continue to evolve (Voxer anyone?) I want to value and emphasize the friendship aspect of growth as well as professional.

6. Enjoy the ride: Life is too short to stress out and worry about whether or not we are making a difference. I need to focus on what really matters (relationships) and let passion and connections take priority. The rest will take care of itself.

I'd like to conclude this reflective post by mentioning some people who have been really influential, inspirational, and helpful to me. There are so many, but some make an extra effort to connect on a more personal level. Laurie Roberts, Tammy McMorrow, Dave Guymon, Jeremy Macdonald, Sean Williams, Dave Childers, Jon Samuelson, Zach SnowAlison Anderson, Tim Lauer, Darren Hudgins, Melissa Lim, Rachel Wente-Chaney, Carl Lindgren-Streicher, Curt Rees, Dean Shareski, Shawn White, Diane Main, Amy Fadeji, Catina Haugen, Darren Massa, Lisa Delapo, Ryan Archer, Mark Rounds, David Theriault, Jon Corippo, Reuben Hoffman, Craig Yen, Amy Mayer, David Roberts, Jim Windisch, Sarah Windisch, Edcamp Idaho team (Janet Avery, Marita Diffenbaugh, Tim Rocco, Tami Rigby) and many, many more... too many to name them all. But thank you all. You've impacted me greatly.

I'm excited to face the future and the challenges that come with it, with people who share my passion for education, technology, family, friendships, and connections.