Emotional Anorexia

Emotional Anorexia


William Sommers

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”

Peter Drucker


I ask you a question, “What are we waiting for?”  Working in schools for over 40 years I keep hearing professionals (teachers and administrators) whining about not feeling appreciated.  Yes, in many schools I have been a principal, we have developed a positive culture with kids, colleagues, and community.  It isn’t easy work.

If we are waiting for the public, government or business to say “thank you,” I might as well stay home.  In a recent presentation, I mentioned the concept of emotional anorexia when talking about how people want to feel appreciated.

In one school, where I was an interim principal, staff would come in during the summer to see who the new guy was.  They would tell me what they liked and didn’t like, how their program was the most important in the school, and what they wanted me to do as a principal.  I would ask each one, “who are the best teachers or staff members you work with at this school?”  Most would respond and invariably one or two people’s names would surface.  (I always find it interesting that those named were not the ones coming into my office to talk to me).

I would always try to get into the classrooms of those named first to get a read on staff members that colleagues thought were the best.  I always observed why very quickly.  In these classrooms, students were engaged, they knew the teacher cared about them and was ready to help any individual student understand more fully.  I was always impressed and most times would leave a note in their mailbox thanking them for a great class and for what they do for kids.

A couple of times, the next morning the teacher would appear early in the morning.  One teacher appeared with tears in her eyes and said that was better than a box of chocolates or a bottle of booze.  She had not heard a kind word from an administrator for years. (She was the best writer on the staff.  I subsequently asked her to edit all public communication from me.  I ain’t that good of a writer)

Another staff member came in, sat down, and started to weep.  I told him how many people had told me how good he was and that I agreed.  He said no other staff member had ever told him they thought he was a good teacher.  What I find troubling is he is good, everyone else believes he is good, and nobody says it out loud.

I made three requests at this presentation.  We have to do this for ourselves, not waiting for others to notice. As an outside person, I have no control over whether or not those attending will do what I asked.  I offered it as a request.

My request is this:

  • Think of a person who helped you in your life. A person who was there for you when you were ready to give it all up.  The one who kept you going toward your goals.  (Many times this was a teacher).  My request is within 24 hours, call them, email them, or write them a letter telling them ‘thank you.’  Tell them why they meant so much to you, especially during those discouraging times.
  • Think of a second person who helped you overcome difficult times. My request is within 3 days call, email, or write to tell them ‘thank you’ and how meaningful it was to you for their counsel.
  • Think of a third person who was there when you needed someone. My request is within one week you call, email, or write.

If the person is deceased, write the letter anyway.  You could mail it to their family.  The important thing is that you write it expressing your appreciation.

The research on gratitude is clear.  Those who express their appreciation make a big difference in others.  AND, you, who deliver the message, get a large dose of dopamine too.  Barbara Fredrickson, in her book “Positivity” uses Losada’s number.  It takes a 3:1 ratio of good comments to every negative comment to stay even.  How about we go for 4:1 plus.  Let’s get the energy turned positive.  Education is hard under the best of circumstances.  Let’s do our part in assisting others.  You will get more back than you give.

Now, it is your turn.  I make the same request of you, the reader.  Make someone’s day.  They deserved it, AND SO DO YOU.