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I Slipped, But I’m Back Up

It really shouldn’t be that big a deal, but it has been for the past three summers. And recently it has taken away too much of my positive energy. You see I am currently a vice principal, and for the past three summers this has been the time of year when I have been anxiously awaiting to hear if I will become a principal.

This year I did not even get an interview. It should not have bothered me so much because there weren’t even any openings in the counties to which I applied. And before you read any further you must know that this is not a “woe is me” tale. No, this is a short tale about opening one’s eyes, one’ ears and one’s heart to once again realize what is important in life and what is not.

It all started two weeks ago when I was called into the superintendent’s office for a  meeting with the Executive Team. When I got the call I thought to myself “this is it, you are finally going to be offered a principal position you’ve been so anxiously awaiting.”

Mind you, I hadn’t had an interview but I had been hearing rumors that I was going to get a position. Now I spend my days explaining to children that they mustn’t put any stock in rumors and yet here I was getting my hopes up. So when I sat down I was fully expecting to be receiving my coronation. But to my surprise no such ceremony occurred. Instead I was told that I was being laterally transferred to a different school. A great school! But at the time it didn’t matter to me because all I could think about was that I was not receiving a crown.

I stormed out (not really, but in my mind I was angry) and took the rest of the day off. I got in my car and drove to the nearest three counties hoping to speak to someone that needed a principal. I was ready to take on the world. I was gong to take matters into my own hands. I wasn’t going to sit back and wait for someone to hire me, I was going to go get a job.

Needless to say at the current moment I am a vice principal and that is okay. Because since that day I have had four experiences take place that have helped me to refocus and have helped me to learn what is really important in life.

An Invaluable Long Distance Mentor

There are some people who come into our lives without reason and yet we later realize that it was not by accident. Ben Gilpin has been one of those people for me. He has always been a source of encouragement and inspiration to me whether it is through his blog or whether it is through the personal comments he makes in response to mine and others’ blog pieces.

Recently, when I was mired in my own self-pity, I turned to Ben via Voxer. He was always there to give advice and pep talks when I needed it. Ben did not simply tell me what I wanted to hear, but instead told me what I needed to remember. I can not thank him enough for being there when I needed him most. Hopefully I can do the same for someone else some day because I know that is what he would want more than anything. Thank you Ben.

A Born Again Miner

Recently I attended a workshop with a colleague of mine who is always, and I mean always, happy and upbeat. As we were sitting through the workshop we spoke of the upcoming summer and what we each had planned. I shared with him that I was going to Aruba to vacation with my family, in fact we fly out of the country tomorrow. Then he shared with me what he was going to do with his summer. I could not believe the words that came out of his mouth.

He said, “Jon, my wife and I are working at Frontier Town this summer. We have always loved being around kids and it is such a happy place.” For those that don’t know, Frontier Town is a small amusement park right outside of Ocean City, Maryland. Needless to say I was floored. Here is a man who is over 55, an elementary school vice principal, and a college professor who is getting ready to publish a book and he is going to spend his summer dressing up as a miner and panning for gold at a children’s amusement park. Wow! The smile on his face and the joy in his voice when he told me were infectious! And here I am with my head down because at 43 I was not yet a principal. Shame on me!

Five Year Old Cancer Survivor

Just last week my family and I had to go the local Target to purchase groceries and get some things we needed. Anyone who has children under 10 knows just how difficult it is getting in and out of Target without buying half the store. But we did it! And as I was racing to the check out aisle we happened to pass an old tennis buddy of mine with two of his kids. They were both about five years old and full laughter and energy.

My friend, who I had not spoken with in a few years, told me how it was his one son’s birthday. He also told me that they had just gotten word from the doctor that his one son was cancer free! I did not see this one coming. Both kids were happiness personified. They were both sitting in the cart and they were having the time of their lives. Despite the fact that this child had just been through treatment after treatment he could not have been any happier. Wake up Jon!

My Three Year Old Son

So this past Monday it hit me that I was getting ready to be out of the country for a week and I could possibly miss an opportunity to get a principal position that might pop-up while I was away. I decided to email the appropriate people just to inform them that even though I would be out of the country, I would still be checking email in case they needed to reach me. I received emails from the first two counties thanking me for my interest, but also letting me know that they did not anticipate any principal positions opening up this year.

Then I got the email from the third and final county that I thought could possibly have an opening. The email I received was polite, but similar to the previous emails, let me know that there would probably not be any openings this year. I hung my head a little and actually heard myself let out a little pitiful sigh.

As if on cue, in the next instant, my son, who was playing with his toys and not even looking at me, said, “Daddy I love you.”

I’m back!

It took a long distance mentor, a born-again miner, a five-year old cancer survivor and most importantly, my son, to help me refocus on what’s important in life.

Putting all this down in writing was not easy, and to be honest, embarrassing. But not putting it down would have been worse. My hope is that maybe someone reading this will take something from what I have shared and avoid the same slip in perspective that I temporarily had.  At least that is my hope. That and for me to never lose sight of what’s important in life.

Have a great day!

I promise you that I will!



22 comments on “I Slipped, But I’m Back Up

  1. Great post Jon and something that many of us in leadership go through. It’s totally ok to want to be a Principal and continue pushing for that position…but like you put so perfectly in your post: It’s not ok to have that desire run your life. Thanks for these words and the reminder! Have fun in Aruba!

    1. jonharper70 says:

      Thank you for the kind words AJ. I am very fortunate to have such an amazing life.

  2. @8amber8 says:

    Jon! I love this post!! I love your transparency and recognition that yes, we can get disappointed, yes, we can have days where we are bummed…but mostly, we are positive people who can bounce back!! It’s ok to be sad, just don’t stay there, 🙂 The world needs your energy!!

    1. jonharper70 says:

      Thank you Amber. I look forward to learning from/with you this year. I promise to stay positive and lean on my PLN when need be.

  3. Colin Wikan says:

    Thank you for sharing that story…I’m sure it wasn’t easy. I too battled for a long time just trying to get my foot in the door of administration. I was told no many more times than yes and I was often frustrated. I was always quickly reminded of the important things in life just as you stated in your post. You still have a great opportunity to impact many people in many ways. Keep improving, keep sharing your stories, and keep doing great things…thanks Jon!
    ~ Colin

    1. jonharper70 says:

      Thank you Colin. I will be coming to you for advice this year on how to share my new school’s story. You guys do a great job of that!

  4. schink10 says:

    Excellent post. Your ability to use insight to reflect and put things into perspective is awesome. Do not take that skill for granted. That is a true gift! I think that the overall message in the post is an important one. It is so easy to get caught up in our own goals and dreams that we often lose sight of how good life really is! I know this helped me to have a better day already. After this I am going to stop working and spend some time with my kids. AWESOME!!!

    This is another angle….. the following quote is by Pablo Picasso:

    “My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”

    No matter what ever happens with a job title, you are Jon Harper…….and Jon Harper has helped 100x more people than some principals I have known. I know you have been an inspiration to our family.

    Oliver Schinkten

    1. jonharper70 says:

      Thank you so much Oliver, that means so much to me! You are truly one of my heroes for all that you do!

  5. MathNeil (Tammy Neil) says:

    I thought I had been missing something in my life. It was you! Your posts have always brought insight, and happiness to me. I know it is difficult to hope for something only to have it just out of your grasp. Thank you for being honest and sharing with us.

    I fully believe that we are placed where we are needed. There is a reason for your lateral transfer. Perhaps you will discover that reason. Keep spreading the joy of education and of life. There are many in education that need to be uplifted as you continue to uplift me.

    Your friend,
    Tammy Neil

    PS. Don’t forget your PJs!

    1. jonharper70 says:

      Thank you Tammy, your kind words do my heart well. And yes I even wear PJ’s in the summer.

  6. Ben Gilpin says:

    Jon, I admire you for being so transparent. That takes a lot of courage to share.

    As we’ve discussed, I believe you are in a perfect spot to transform the AP role. I encourage you to focus on your strengths, build strong relationships with staff and students and be willing to try new things.

    Jon, you are very kind to mention me in the post, I have been grateful to have multiple mentors and friends help me throughout my journey. I value our friendship and I always try to pay it forward. Any school would be lucky to have such a caring gentleman leading the way.

    Stay positive,


    1. jonharper70 says:

      Thank you so much Ben. Your positive energy and long distance mentorship mean a lot to me.

  7. Jimmy says:

    Jon – one of my favorite posts you have written so far. Hang in there my friend. I often share with others that your impact will be the greatest wherever you are at that moment. It reminds me of the movie “A Few Good Men” when Tom Cruise tells the soldier at the end of the movie in the courthouse that you don’t have to have the stripes on your uniform to be a leader. Jon, you may not have all of the stripes, but you are a leader and your impact goes ways beyond the hallways and walls of your school. You are changing lives every day through your modeling, reflection and your writing. I am honored to be a part of your PLN and call you friend! You are awesome! – jimmy

    1. jonharper70 says:

      Jimmy thank you so much. You don’t know how much that means to me! The honor is mine!

  8. Cristina says:

    Thank you for your generosity in sharing. Everything comes in due time… I’m sure yours will come when least expected.

    1. jonharper70 says:

      Thank you so much Cristina, that means a lot.

  9. Thank you for your post. I needed to hear this message as well and appreciate you putting yourself and your story out there. After two interviews that didn’t go my way this spring, I have realized that there must have been some reason why I need to stay in the position I’m currently in, even though at the time I could only see it as a failure. I’m going to try to make this year, my 20th year, the best year ever. Thanks again.

    1. jonharper70 says:

      You are right that things happen for reasons often unknown to us. We will stay positive together.

  10. Andy Rinki says:

    Your time will come. We’ve all been there eagerly waiting for “the call.” Take stock, strengthen relationships, build professional assiciation, and work your craft. Andy Rinko

  11. Dennis Schug says:

    Your transparency is admirable. Your ability to put thoughts…or rather, feelings…to words is not only A gift, it is YOUR gift. You have to appreciate that, and why your perspective does for others.

    Life and leadership, we know, is oftentimes about stamina, endurance, and perseverance. Our families teach us this and so do our school communities. In the end, know you are making a difference.

    Remember, leadership is action, not position. Stay strong, and know you are a powerful influence on those around you! Thanks for sharing this post, Jon!

  12. Susan English says:

    Jon–I have so enjoyed your blog! As I read each post, I can see a glimmer of DCPS each time–a time I treasure with fondness. I encourage you to continue to do your best–and good things will come your way. As I have discovered, we don’t always know what our ‘good things’ look like! We hope for position, a title, a salary–but the fact is, we are placed where we are for a Godly purpose! Take advantage of each day, each position, each school–enjoy the hard working colleagues and precious students we serve where ever we are!
    Thank you for your transparent message!

  13. Jon — Keep pluggin’ away. Great things will happen for you; I have felt a similar feeling this summer looking to move into a school administration position ( Reflecting, we sometimes forget there is a greater “crown” that we are wearing as a parent and role model for our students.

    You will do great things this fall at your new school, and I’ll be excited to read about those experiences as well.


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