By Ben Gilpin

Four years ago today Brad Gustafson and I had our first UnearthED podcast published. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed interviewing friends, leaders and change makers. But towards the end of the year a conversation changed me.

We had just concluded recording a show and our producer, Errol, had a “coming to Jesus” moment with us. Even as it was directed to both of us, I felt him talking to me. Since that conversation I’ve done a lot of reflecting and soul searching. I’ve asked myself:

  • What do you stand for?
  • Who is the real you?
  • If you could say or do anything what would you say or do?
  • What are you afraid of?

The truth is complicated. The circle of people who know me best would probably say, “Ben has a story to explain every decision/choice.” Funny thing is…I do. So here is my story on why the truth is complicated.

It all begins with a question. Do you consider yourself a risk taker? Outwardly I would tell people absolutely yes, but upon further inspection maybe I’m not. I enjoy trying new things, but most of my risks are calculated and I’ve already determined worst case scenarios in my head. This then begs the question, is it really a risk?

To be clear, I’m not reckless. However, I believe it would be beneficial to be more loose. But this is actually very hard for me. I pride myself in being professional, consistent, reliable and trustworthy. But what this can project is, plain, boring, conservative and safe. Is that bad? Inwardly, I don’t think it’s bad, but it can feel stiff or uptight.

Do you ever have moments where you really like your frame of mind? The moments you feel you can say anything and there is a sharpness, a clearness to your thinking. Every so often I find myself in this spot, but can’t seem to figure out how to emulate it. I share that because it is in this state of mind I feel free, witty, and a better version of myself.

What is the Truth?
The truth is when I can’t control the outcome or I fear being negatively judged I will always go into Uber Professional mode. This is safe. It’s also predictable and boring.

What I need to improve on is a willingness to fail. Too often fear of failure causes me to revert into a shell of cautiousness. I have a growth mindset but also despise failing and am definitely my own toughest critic. I often compare the 25-year-old me to the current me (who does that?).

Moving Forward
Some time ago a good friend introduced me to Brenè Brown. For months I read her books and listened to her talks. All along the way I learned the value of vulnerability. But, I’m still learning. I’m still on this journey. It makes me think of the quote by Jim George, “It’s not how you start that’s important, but how you finish.”

Last year I challenged myself to improve at serving others. I pushed myself to get into better physical shape. I committed to being more vulnerable. And so here’s the truth. I’m still working at all of it.

I’m tirelessly working to be a better version of me. I need to take the handcuffs off and be okay with stinging criticism, with a willingness to not be so guarded, with a daring mentality that I can recover from failure.

The conversation with Errol was one of those moments that rarely happens. You hear the truth, you feel hurt, and you know you’re at a crossroad.

  • Choice A) Feel resentment and anger.
  • Choice B) It’s time to get better.

I’m choosing to not fear the truth. The truth can be complicated but my goal is, courageously be the best version of me.

Ben Gilpin is principal of Warner Elementary in Spring Arbor, Michigan’s Western School District. He is a student-centered educator who is focused on collaboration, teamwork, student engagement and leadership. Learn more on his blog.

Reprinted with permission © Ben Gilpin. The article originally appeared on Ben Gilpin’s blog December 31, 2019.

TEPSA News, March/April 2020, Vol 77, No 2

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