Perseverance & Diligence Spiral

Summer Freefall Writing

For many years I went away for a week each summer on a writing retreat with friends. Those were special days filled with writing, naps, and in-depth discussions about plot, character, and story. Each day we aimed to write twelve pages before lunch. At first it was hard. Sometimes I’d cheat and start writing a day or two early so I could keep up with the pace. By mid-week I was fully immersed in writing, in expression, in freefalling into a story and seeing where it lead. In the summertime I crave intense arts experiences.

It’s the middle of July and I’m still dreaming of school every night. The last four mornings I’ve sprung out of bed to escape a dream about being unprepared, about being disrespected, about being wrong. I still haven’t unpacked the complexities of the school year and released them. Last May and June were the most intense for me so far in my career. Is the work getting more difficult? Or am I getting more easily overwhelmed?

A week ago I made a list of everything I wanted to learn before the end of August. I want to enter the 2016/17 with solutions to all the unsolved problems from 2015/16. I want to show up on my first day of work a new person, a refreshed person, a smarter, more capable leader. It’s not that I made a big mess last year. It’s not that I was bad at my work. It’s more that I lost my innocence as a new principal. I saw the scope of responsibility of caring for staff, students, and parents in its entirety. I felt the desperation of those I was trying to support and my own desperation in trying one thing after another to help. School leadership is hard work.

At the writing retreats we often engaged in  a type of writing called freefall. It’s a lot like it sounds, you figuratively lean into the page, and let the words appear as they must without criticism or censor. It feels like unleashing the wild animals within. It feels like bellowing from the top of a mountain. It feels like purging all the bits and pieces that are clogging up the path to inner peace.

I am freefalling now. I am using this blog as a way to reconnect with my voice, to reflect on the year, to move me into my artist-mind. Balance. When I think about balance I think about a couple I saw on America’s Got Talent who took their audition outside. The woman walked along a tightrope, high above the crowds, while her husband climbed onto her shoulders. She balanced them both on the thin wire as she walked across the area. When they were finished one of the judges commented about how precise they must need to be to ensure they don’t fall. Each step is made with intention. Carefully planned. I wonder if balance is about planning.

If I were to lean in to where my energy is right now I would end up back on Twitter reading about GAFEs or making notes on self-regulation or listening to the end of the latest Sir Ken Robinson book I downloaded. My energy is still at work. My mind is still all twisted around the issues there, seeking answers, reaching for ideas, knitting together possibilities. I could easily spend my whole summer ‘playing’ school. Working.

But I know that I need to cut school loose for a while. Let it drift into the background. When work is engaging it can be hard to detach. But I must. We all need to step away from the work. Writers know it creates clarity, shifts perspective, and changes realities. For example, we’ve all finished a draft feeling proud of its brilliance, only to return to it after a break to see gaps, areas for growth. Principals can learn from writers by putting school work in the bottom drawer for a little while.

I need some time to be a writer, a creator, a thinker. Some time to reclaim my voice and mind and compass. Some time to be free. Whenever I went on a writing retreat there was a profound sense of freedom. I gave myself permission to walk and dream and above all lean into solitude. And even now that’s where I’d like to end up at the end of this writing session…in a place of quiet and stillness and clarity and peace. I want to reclaim my voice and value whatever it has to say.

My list of summer activities is ambitious. There are so many things I want from this time. My time. It’s bigger than thinking of this time as a vacation. It’s a time of reconnection, reflection, rejuvenation, and redefinition.

I give myself permission to fully embrace my inner artist, to write a lot, and to check back in with work in a month from now…


  • estelle

    You are a very talented person Jessica and definitely need to let go of your job in the summer and release that creativity. Maybe adding in some Georgian bay art work will relax you. We miss your annual workshops from a more selfish perspective..we would get to see you! Keep up the good work.

    • Jessica Outram

      Thank-you. It gets harder to transition each year…and I’m sure this means the August to September transition will be tough too! It’s such a blessing to have this time off each year otherwise I’m sure I’d be one of those people who never take holidays. Hahahaha!

      Georgian Bay art is a wonderful idea! I miss our visits too.

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