What does it mean to be an Underdog’s Advocate?

by Daniel Bauer

Recently I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Art of Charm. I was intrigued by the guest, Amy Morin, a psychotherapist, college psychology professor, and author responsible for writing the viral blog post “13 things mentally strong people don’t do.” This post has been shared millions of times. You can read the post here and list to the podcast here.

Here is a summary of Amy’s points. Mentally strong people don’t:

  • waste time feeling sorry for themselves
  • give away their power
  • shy away from change
  • waste energy on things they can’t control
  • don’t worry about pleasing everyone
  • fear taking calculated risks
  • dwell on the past
  • make the same mistake over and over
  • resent other people’s success
  • give up after their first failure
  • fear alone time
  • feel the world owes them anything
  • expect immediate results.

These are not my ideas. Again, you can read Amy’s entire list and her description of each of the ideas in the original blog post here. Amy also turned this list into a book you can purchase here and is releasing an e-course on mental toughness available in November 2015. At $97 this course seems like a steal if you are interested in developing your mental toughness.

But if you don’t want to fork over $97, let me share a few of my own thoughts on developing mental toughness absolutely free!

As an Underdog’s Advocate you need mental toughness. This is a key advantage that you can bring to work with you every day. Underdog Advocates need this edge on the front lines of our schools because our jobs are really hard. The physical, mental, and emotional toll that school leaders go through is incredibly taxing.

Only the strong survive.

Mental toughness is natural to some, but in my case it had to be developed. My family of origin made life easy for me so early in my life (and sometimes to this day) conflict and obstacles seem a lot larger than they actually are. Maybe you can relate.

Here is how I developed mental toughness.

Develop a sound core.

If you work out enough you know that the core is the foundation of all strength. The same is true in mental toughness. My core was established through my faith which I “work-out” every morning. Each morning I read a devotional and pray. Therefore, each morning I start off feeling “centered” and have the right kind of perspective to bring to the school where I lead. This daily discipline helps me develop compassion and empathy.

I also use an app called “Calm” regularly. I have yet to use it everyday, but I look forward to making it more of my daily routine. I like this app because it is teaching me how to meditate and in my view, this bolsters my prayer life. It has helped me develop more self-awareness, but most importantly, it helps me recalibrate and slow down as the day’s busyness fights for my attention.

Finally, I also like to journal. I stole the idea of the 5 minute journal and applied that to my morning and night time routines. Journaling helps me stay focused and develop an attitude of gratitude.

I encourage you to explore faith, read inspiring literature, pray, meditate, and journal. These actions will develop mental toughness.

Develop close personal connections

This idea is also heavily influenced by my faith and I believe we were meant to do life in intimate relationships with others. Real relationships founded on shared interests, trust, and vulnerability help leaders develop a strong core. If you are like me, you can struggle with thinking your stuff don’t stink. The antidote to this illness is through intimate relationships.

For married folk this is easy, our spouses can act like a mirror and help us identify weaknesses and blind spots we need to be aware of. For singles and marrieds alike, it is important to develop additional close relationships where people express both love and truth.

Developing relationships can take blood, sweat, and tears, but the key component is time. One way this process of developing close relationships can be accelerated is by harnessing the power of technology. Now with the internet and social networks it is easier than ever to connect to amazing people.

How do you think I got to guest post on this blog? I don’t live in Tennessee nor have I met Ryan in person. In early 2014 some of my colleagues visited his school and were wildly impressed. They shared with me a YouTube video he made capturing some of the great things happening at his school. From there we connected via Twitter and LinkedIn. The next thing I know we’re doing an interview for my podcast, and now I’m writing on his blog!

I encourage you to develop great relationships harnessing the power of technology. Just by creating a blog and podcast myself, I am now connected to hundreds of amazing people from 84 different countries. My thinking and mental toughness has no choice but to develop even stronger.

Do Hard Things

Being an Underdog’s Advocate is tough and if this is the toughest thing you are doing right now it will be hard to win.

@MrRileyjo practices what he preaches -- Do hard things!
@MrRileyjo practices what he preaches — Do hard things!

People develop bucket lists to identify what will help them feel fully alive with the short amount of time they have on this earth. While I fully support people maximizing their lives I believe that it should be done in a way that is others-focused.

What if we took bucket-lists and added a socially conscious component?

One guy I heard on a podcast mentioned, “the easiest way to make a million dollars is to help a million people.” That is when it clicked for me. Of course I would like more money and nice things in my home … heck, I’d even like to own a home!

However, my focus needs to be on helping people. The financial rewards will follow, but most importantly I will be rewarded intrinsically and will truly be emotionally and relationally wealthy.

In 2013 I ran my first marathon. I had no desire to do this even though I had been invited numerous times. Each year, my church partners with Team World Vision who trains average people like you and me to run marathons. Now this is cool enough on its own, but the beauty of Team World Vision is that they provide clean water for kids in Africa that lack access to the clean water you and I take for granted each day.

Now in 2015 I’ve trained for 3 marathons and completed 2 (my sports doc pulled me from the starting line this year due to a stress fracture in my foot). What I’ve learned over the last 3 years and completing 2 marathons is that I am capable of anything.

No one in their right mind runs 26.2 miles straight. Who really wants to run or work out for more than 4 hours? This is crazy, right?

The key take-away I’ve learned from these marathons is the development of a “toughness” muscle that just won’t let me quit! I’m now working on a the complaining muscle, but that’s another story …

Over 3 years I’ve had just over 80 high school students complete the marathons with me and together we’ve provided around 600 African kids with a lifetime supply of clean water. You can help me provide more clean water to kids here (and it’s tax-deductible).

Whether it is marathon or some other challenge, I encourage you to commit to doing something extremely hard this year. You will be a better leader and develop more mental toughness as a result.

In summary, those looking to develop more mental toughness should

  • develop a sound core
  • develop close relationships
  • do hard things

This blog post was written by Daniel Bauer the founder of Better Leaders Better Schools a blog and podcast made for you, the school leader. Daniel helps school leaders create winning cultures, focus on the essential, and lead with courage and integrity. You can read his blog here and listen to his podcast here. Daniel is also an AP at a top-performing high school in Chicago, IL.

Daniel has created a special gift for free for readers of the Underdog’s Advocate blog: 15 questions guaranteed to unlock your leadership potential. You can get this free download here.

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