Leading is Lonely

Another week has flown by, and I’m sitting here with my Chrome book atop my lap, Theraflu on my left, tissues on my right, and I’m reflecting on the adventures of the past week that have come and gone. It was a good week if I recall correctly. Somewhere along the way, I managed to catch a cold. I had to catch it because I move too quickly for it to have caught me — always walking with a purpose and logging 10 – 12 thousand steps each day. I slow down occasionally to snack, and on a good day, I get to eat a full lunch with a couple friends.

At some point on Thursday, I recall stopping to eat lunch, but everyone had already eaten by noon. It was 3:00 PM, so I ate alone in my office. I sat at my desk, removed the privacy screen from my monitor, and stared at the 97 remaining unread messages in my box. I was reluctant to start the arduous task of reading and responding, but I did it anyway. By 4:30 PM, I heard the sound of a rolling trash can. Like clockwork, Nate was on his way to clean the office — earbuds in and singing something unfamiliar in falsetto. He knocked on my door before entering (as usual) and started chatting about football (as usual). I finally had to confess that I don’t really like football. This charade had gone on all season long, and I had to put a stop to it. “I love the New Orleans Saints, and I love to trash talk. That’s the extent of it.” He looked a bit befuddled when I admitted it.  He had a look of Say it isn’t so! I assure you, Nate: It is so. I know enough about the teams we play, but if you challenge me to go deeper, you’ll know that I’m a fraud. I think I broke his heart that day, but I just didn’t have the heart to talk about Superbowl 50, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, or Beyonce. Nate left in silence for the first time all year. Perhaps while breaking his heart, I had also unlocked the door to our next courageous conversation — explaining to him why he will never become the next American Idol.

A little before 5:00 PM, I took my final stroll around the building to chat with the night time custodial staff. I do this three times per week to clear my head before heading home. It’s always nice to touch base and hear what’s going on in their lives. Very few people get to know them unless they work late in their classrooms. For me, it’s a special treat because I get to laugh and be Mizz Malone for a little while instead of Mrs. Malone.

As I circled back to the office to grab my coat and keys, I heard the doorbell ring.  Someone was at the door after 5:00 PM. It was a student who had forgotten her homework in her locker. I let her in and told her she had three minutes. She hustled out of the office and made it back with seconds to spare. Just as she left, someone else must have been at the door and waltzed in as the student left. I was still within earshot and heard someone knocking on the locked office door. Though she had gained entry to the building, she couldn’t go any further. She was stuck between Scylla and Charibdis (a rock and a hard place) — either go back into the frigid outdoors or rap on the door in hopes of someone hearing her. Today was her lucky day. If I had already exited through the cafeteria, I wouldn’t have heard her desperate rapping, nor would she have made it to the in-service for which she was 30 minutes late.

I finally made it out around 5:30, and I didn’t look back. As I drove home, I realized two things: Our students think we live at school, and leading is lonely. Apart from those who lead alongside you, you don’t fit into any other group. I noticed that years ago when I assumed the role of English Department Chair.  I wasn’t one of the girls in the department anymore. When I moved to a new school with a different department, I made a few friends that I now consider family, but even in that case, I wasn’t just one of the girls. I had to seek those who understood my struggle — other Department Chairs. We had a special kinship, and I’ll be forever grateful to them for that.

As an assistant principal, the struggle is still true. Although I’ve made quite a few friends here, I’m not one of the girls. I’m Mrs. Malone or Michelle (not to be confused with Mizz Malone who pals around with the custodial staff). I can’t let my hair down. I can’t have a bad day. I can’t misspell a word in my e-mails. I can’t hug a kid who’s having a bad day (I break this rule often.). I can’t lose my cool, and I can’t complain about my tough days. Who would listen? Who has time to listen? Can anyone else relate to my struggle? Only another school leader can relate. Those we lead only get to see a snapshot; we see the big picture. That, too, is part of the struggle that divides us.

When I pray for our leaders  as scripture urges us to do in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, I also pray for God to comfort us and allow us to feel his presence so that in our loneliness, we never feel alone. Many of us didn’t choose this path; we were called to it knowing that the way wouldn’t always be easy.

I know I’ll never be one of the girls in the English Department again, and I’m fine with that, but parting is such sweet sorrow. I also realize that I’m no longer Just Michelle; I’m Mrs. Malone.

What’s in a name? A rose by another other name would smell as sweet.                           ~William Shakespeare~

Finally, I know that leading can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. I may not be able to share the intimate details of my day with anyone except other administrators at the occasional Happy Hour, but I can still share my story with those around me as they share theirs with me. Though our roles may divide us, our stories are the glue that binds us.

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10


29 Thoughts

  1. I came upon your blog from Mostly Blogging, and I’m so sure these connections happen for a reason! I love the phrase you use “courageous conversation” and the realization that while roles may divide, stories remain the glue. Thank you for your insight! I look forward to reading more.

  2. I enjoyed reading this. Yes indeed leading can be challenging, lonely and at times you feel like an outsider except when you develop some cohesive relationships with others. You have your fitness sorted out with all those steps you put in.

  3. It can be lonely or it can be enriching. You get to set the example, lead others down the right path, be the one they want to be like, be their Guiding Light and cherish the opportunity to be able to do so. Embrace the role you’ve been given, you seem to have a caring and thoughtful soul, others can feel that, don’t ever let that go! And when you do get lonely…we’re here!! 🙂

  4. Hi Michelle. You have such a wonderful gift! I miss you at school. You such an uplifting presence. Thank you for taking the time to know the custodians. They often feel so “invisible” and they most certainly are underappreciated. I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

  5. “… stuck between Scylla and Charibdis …” that describes me to a tee lately. Michelle, this is one of your all time best posts. Thank you for the insight, and for making me understand why I sometimes feel so lonely. 🙂 this is really a superb post.

  6. Hi Michelle! So nice to meet you here. I came across your blog as recommended as one of the featured bloggers on Dream Big/Dream Often. So glad I stopped by. I sooooo can relate to this article. In fact it reminds me of a couple I wrote (Alone in a Room & You are so Weird!) Was glad that others could relate to be so unique, needing to hold it together and put on a certain image in certain environments and accepting it all. Truly is by the Grace of God. I thought it was me you were writing about when you wrote about breaking the news to Nate about your true feeling towards football,. I could not help but to LOL literally! Blessing to you my dear and I will following for sure:-)

        1. Hi Michelle! I thought I was putting a silly sad face but it went through as question marks from my cell phone. Lol! Was looking for new blogs and came across your and it looked familiar. I saw I commented on a post weeks ago and was the only one who responded that did not get a comment back so I thought I sent a sad face. Like I’m feeling left out! Lol! I was just being silly is all! Hope you’re having a blessed day!

        2. Trust me, it was an oversight. Charge it to my head and not my heart. 🙂 I’m so grateful that you stopped by. I promise to visit your blog. Forgiven?

        3. Absolutely! We serve the same awesome creator and this is the least we must do! I am sure I have done the same a time or two myself! Now the Missed Notification button is my friend! Lol! Blessings always!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment, Chanel. Someone had to break it to Nate…lol. Also, it’s interesting how our lives are so similar — how complete strangers can bond over a series of experiences. I look forward to reading your future posts.

  7. I think I understand that…especially true when we are in positions of authority. Or, when we are independent souls who like friendship but also need our space.

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