"Don't Just Do Something; Stand There!"


Yesterday, on my way to school, I was passed on the bike path.


Now ordinarily, there would be nothing particularly noteworthy about that fact.  Given that many riders are fully outfitted in the latest cycling fashion and are poised atop 18-speed machines that look like they cost more than my car, this 50-something sometime exercise enthusiast on his dad’s three-speed Schwinn tends to get passed a lot.


But this time was a little different.  I was passed by a jogger.

And the reason this occurred is the subject of this post.  I was passed by a runner because I was thinking. And thinking-really thinking- is a luxury very few of us our afforded these days, what with on-demand access to entertainment of all kinds, kids to ferry hither and thither to this or that activity, and the nearly constant call of our cell phones.  (“Did you get my email?”)

In his essay entitled, Five  School Leadership Lessons I've Learned from the Seat of My Bicycle, George Swain shares some of the thinking he has done while pursuing his hobby of endurance cycling.  Among the simple lessons that Swain discovered in long hours crouched atop his bike:

  • Set High Goals. (“We are capable of far more than we realize as both athletes and leaders.”)
  • Pace Yourself. (“Success comes from careful and deliberate pacing rather than speed alone.”)
  • Sweat the Small Stuff. (“Noticing and solving small problems before they become larger ones.”)

But the one that resonated me whilst in the process of being passed by my jogger was “Solve problems by NOT thinking about them,” because that afternoon though my muscle memory was indeed directed toward the essentials of navigating my Schwinn down the Shining Sea Bike Path, the rest of me seemed to invite in thoughts about Falmouth Academy and the process by which I would come to know the school and its people and, with your help, shape its future.  To how I could execute my stewardship responsibilities such that new generations of FA graduates, as eager and equipped as those who preceded them, would go forth into the world and “be the change we seek.”

My head, as they say, was in the clouds and what a glorious place the clouds can be to spend four miles worth of time each day thinking and breathing and being.   As a new Head of School, I am anxious to do my part, to prove myself, to fix everything yesterday before I even know if it needs to be fixed. That particular afternoon, I concluded that sometimes the better tack is to just look, listen, and learn.  At the first rehearsal of Irwin Shaw’s play, “The Assassin,” Producer Martin Gabel was said to have noticed a young actress gesticulating wildly instead of remaining motionless. Gabel shouted: “Don’t just do something; stand there.” Not a bad piece of insight to have won on my bike that day, perhaps even worth the indignity of having to hear my jogger’s gentle warning: “On your left.”


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