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Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Need to Unplug and Be Completely Present


It is amazing just how difficult it is to find balance in the life of an educator. I am sure many people within many different professions struggle with this as well, yet in the educational world I live in...the search for balance is often elusive and distant.

Why is this? Why it is so hard to be able to balance faith, family, friendships and work?

Here is what I know...the answer to finding balance is not time. After all, if given the ability to structure our days around what is most important, the day for many would look like this: Time in our faith would take the largest portion, family next, then friendships, and finally work. Yet for most of us, work takes the largest amount of our time, and for those in education, it’s extremely hard to shut down at the end of the day. The reality for most of us is that trying to use time to find balance just isn’t possible.

So how can we find balance? How do we find the ability to truly focus on what is most important, while still making the best impact possible on our students and school community? For me, what I am learning is that it takes two things: The need to Unplug and Be Completely Present.

Why is it so difficult to unplug from our devices? Why is it so hard to turn them off? Even for just a little while…The next time you go out to dinner look around. The next time you are at the mall, while driving, heck - even a sporting event, look around...what will you see? Faces, lots of them, looking down at the devices in their hands. It is not that uncommon to see a family of four, all out to dinner, all looking down at their own personal devices. Yet it's not just at home, for many, our devises are beginning to find their way into the classroom, while on a school duty such as recess or lunch, or even when our kids are silently reading.

In a world where we can’t find balance, can’t find time to focus on what is most important, it’s amazing how much time we spend plugged into the digital world, but not the physical world around us.

It would not be uncommon for me to leave work, come home, make dinner, and even before dinner is over with my family, have my phone out checking emails, checking voicemails, just to make sure everything is alright. Then in the playroom with my children, checking ESPN scores, Twitter, Voxer or Facebook...all the while missing the opportunity to plug into my family, and unplug from my device.

Let me be clear, I am not stating that our devices are evil. That Twitter, Voxer, Facebook, or anything else is the problem with society. In fact, I have learned more, and made stronger connections with educators, because of these tools, not in spite of them. However, when trying to find balance in life, when trying to find a way to stay connected to what is most important, there is no doubting a need to unplug, even for a little while.

Yet, unplugging is only the first step, the second can be even harder...being completely present.

Here is the challenge: In each moment, whether at work or at home, with friends or with family, be fully present. Give each moment the undivided attention it deserves, and don’t allow outside thoughts or pressures to enter your mind. For me, that is one very heavy challenge, and one that is not easily accomplished. My mind is always racing, and all it takes is something shiny, or a squirrel, to get me off track, yet it’s a challenge I take very seriously.

I wish there was a way to turn off my brain. A simple switch I could flip that could take all the stress, all the anxiety, all the problems, and just make them stop running through my mind once I left school. Of course, life doesn’t work that way, so in order to be completely present in the moments I am gifted, I need to be diligent and intentional with my thoughts and actions. Whether it is praying to my Savior, reading the word, playing with my daughters, talking with my wife, or visiting with a friend - my attention needs to belong to that moment. A concern can wait, I can return that email the next day, and worrying about something has never made things easier in the end.

Of course, being fully present at school can also be challenging. After all, how many times has your mind wondered while at the teacher table hearing the same story for the fifth time? While going over an assignment? While watching that historical background video for the upcoming unit? I often wonder how many opportunities I missed as a teacher because I failed to be fully present in each moment. Relationships are so vital in our profession, and our students need to believe that when they are with us, they have our undivided attention. The same of course goes for our teammates and many times have you failed to look up from your email when someone comes to ask a question? How many times have you expertly said things like "Uh huh, yeah, totally" yet failed to comprehend a word they were saying because honestly you just don't want to make time to listen? We are all busy, but here's the thing...doesn't giving our undivided attention completely represent how much we actually care? I would argue that it does...

Unplug and be present...two things that are beginning to create balance in my life. Life is amazingly short, and time will never be on my side, but if I can fully commit my attention to each moment...well, then I might just find some resemblance of balance after all.


  1. Ryan, I read this out loud to my husband and he couldn't agree with you more. This is something that I sometimes struggle with. My husband constantly reminds me that I need to disconnect to connect.

  2. Thanks for the reminder Ryan! :)

  3. Ryan, thank you for a beautiful blog! I work in the field of psychology as an author, speaker and workshop presenter. For the past six years, I have been researching and presenting on "Cyber Bullying". One of the key aspects in the "prevention" of cyber bullying is for individuals to work towards balancing their online life (indirect communication) with their real life (direct communication)with the goal of restoring the human empathic spirit. In order to feel empathy for another person, we must connect face to face and experience the essence and presence of him/her.