Last week marked the conclusion of my first year being a principal. People keep asking me, "So how was your first year? How do you like being a principal?" And I keep just staring blankly at them, having no idea how to respond to these questions.
It was like nothing I've ever done. I feel like dough that's been kneaded into a ball, thrown on a cold counter, and rolled out thin. A bit thinner with each passing day. I feel like I've been dancing with an angry swarm of bees for 10 months. Like I got dropkicked into the ocean and have maybe just now started to learn to swim. I feel like a fierce mother, determined to let nothing harmful near my child. And like I've ended up in the middle of a cosmic joke; not as the punch line, but definitely part of the comedic plot.
I've never felt this weak before.
I've never felt this strong before.
I learned what if felt like to peel myself up through fatigue and fear and illness and just keep going. Somewhere amidst that is a strength, I know. But I also feel like someone has been kicking the shit out of me in a back alley for the better part of a year. I'm terribly exhausted, but not as scared as I was.
A year ago I ran a half marathon for the second time. It really didn't go very well. The first half was fine, and then my iPod unexpectedly died, and my feet hurt, and it was so hard to keep going. I was in a bad mood and just couldn't find my groove. During those last six miles, I so appreciated the people cheering on the sidelines. A mile from the end of the race a man had posted himself to encourage runners. He was a competitor himself who had finished and jogged back to the 12-mile marker to cheer on the rest of us. Had you asked me before the race, I would have said that his presence there would be irksome -- he'd finished, he had enough energy to run another mile and then casually hang out. But I was wrong; that man was the reason I was able to finish the race. He looked me in the eye, gave me a high five, and told me to keep going, that I would make it. I held that with me during that final mile.
This year I had everyone telling me I could do it, that I could hang in there, that I could make it to the end of the year. And I needed every single voice, needed to cling to the belief others had in me.
I think the tough part for me now is that the race is not done. It's just beginning, and I have to keep running. In fact, I'm not even sure how long the race is. When will it stop being uphill? When will the scenery become welcoming? When will I hit my stride? I've been told that at the very least next year will be hell on wheels, too. And I believe it.
Somewhere in there, though, it's okay. Because I'm starting to see the change -- in the school, the staff, the kids. We have so far to go, so very far. But my dreams for this place are beginning to take root. This growth is difficult for all of us, and the progress is often subtle and elusive -- but it is there, and I'm determined to cultivate it. And I'm honored that any number of adults are willing to put their faith in my vision and leap with me.
In the meantime, I'm still waiting for the punch line of this joke I fell into. I bet it's a doozy.