A Fish Out of Water

“Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Einstein
This quote (and that picture) gives me chills. I’ll tell you why in a minute, but have you looked at your calendar lately?! We are near the end of August again, which for many in the world, means that its time to start school. Side note, this is an especially big year for me; my daughter AND my mom are starting school!
On one end, my baby girl  is starting her lifelong journey of formal education (she has already started her education prior to school). On the other end, my mother, the one who raised me to be the PhD that I am, is re-starting her formal education. Let’s not forget she already has some college, and she earned her PhD in the school of Hard Knocks. Hell I think she taught a few classes there too! But what does this have to do with those of you reading this?
I’m going to give you the same advice I give two of the most important women in my life. I wonder sometimes if people know how much I love what I do? I literally make money AND live my passion. So often people make those mutually exclusive goals. People say, “I love playing piano and making music, but I’m going to medical school – I have to make money somehow!” Or I love this one…”I’ll go be a business person and make a lot of money, then I’ll do what I want to do.” I have an idea, what you should do is sell that time machine you have. You know, the one that gives you the foresight that you will be alive long enough to spend your whole life working “and then” do what you really want to do. Let me suggest that you don’t have time for that. None of us do. And what happens in the midst of foregoing your true talent, passion, and genius? You get beat down, worn out, and spend your entire life trying to climb a tree, when you were meant to swim. The entire time believing that you are stupid, less than, or somehow broken.
There are philosophers studying engineering; engineers studying psychology; great architects studying to be economists; and business women studying pre-med. There is something to be said about being “well-rounded,” but I personally believe, as do the founders of the strengths philosophy, that the best of the best leaders and professionals are not well-rounded, they are sharp. They know that they are fish, and they swim better than the rest. They reject the belief that what they did well in high school (an infinitesimally small moment in time) or in some random summer camp has set their path in stone. The best of us are explorers, willing to take risks on themselves to find and live their true genius.
Going into this new semester, or job, or experience, know that it is a new day.
Ask yourself if you are pursuing what you know you should doing. Either affirm that and be excellent, or stop the madness, and go be who you are called to be.
P.S. – Ask me about resources that can help you start to figure that out…

Strong Man, You Gotta Leave

In her famous song, Strong Man, The Rev. Shirley Caesar, a legendary African American Gospel singer, sings the following words:

“There’s a strong man, in this house, with my spiritual eyes I can see,
Just what this strong man, is doing to my whole family
He’s got a grip on the feeble, and the spiritually blind,
Strong man, you better leave here, because you’re wasting your time,
Strong man, you gotta leave here, because you’re wasting your time.”

Who is this strong man to whom she references? In some world religions, Christianity being one of them, we believe this to be an evil spirit, presence, or being, that is very real and very dangerous. Quite literally, the devil. If you’re not Christian or a believer in a particular religion, think in terms of negative/bad energy, thoughts, or feelings. Bad mojo in and around you. Ok, we all on the same page? Good.

Do you have a “strong man” causing confusion or angst in your life? I ask because this strong man tends to pop up in my life and in my house often, and despite my vigilance, “it” finds a way to shake my confidence, replace love with fear, and just plain ruin my day/week/month. I’m going to suggest something to you that I have to remind myself – words are powerful. They can start and end wars; they can drive people to take their own lives; and they can keep someone alive who may have no other reason to live. Use your words to take back whatever situation the “strong man” may try to disrupt.

Here’s the leadership lesson – the most productive leaders and managers are those who articulate their goals. Those who literally tell themselves they are going to be successful, and somehow will it into existence. The thoughts, ideas, and the words we have are the beginning of what will be the next big thing. Just as we speak our goals into existence by writing them down, or sharing them with others – we must do the same thing to speak trouble out of our lives. When the strong man shows up in your life or organization, call it out for what it is, and then politely ask it to leave. And declare, “you’re just wasting your time.”

Own Your Stuff

I will preface what I’m about to post as such: I am a DIE HARD and ardent NC State Wolfpack fan. Oftentimes I have thought to myself, “they can do no wrong.” Period. I will admit, that sentiment can be reckless. I also, at the same time, value loyalty: to things/places, causes, and people (in that order). I value family a great deal, and within my community loyalty to family and our people is sacred. A rapper I used to listen to (and still secretly do) said, referring to his brother, “even when he’s wrong, he ain’t wrong, cause he’s my brother.” That pretty much explains how I have felt about my family through time no matter what; but to NC State, not so much. It is an organization; it, and the people within it, make mistakes. And when they are wrong, they are wrong, and should be held accountable.

I am concluding a week long academy for student conduct administrators on college campuses. There are folks here from all over the country, from California, to Texas, to Pennsylvania. In fact, there are several people here from Penn State, and many alumni of Penn State. Of course as we are discussing conduct matters, the scandal at Penn State was obviously going to come up on more than one occasion. After each mention of Penn State, and subsequent snicker, discomfort, or “oh yea – Penn State” comment, some employees and alumni acted like they wanted to be upset! Some playfully, others playfully but kinda serious. They would respond with, “hey now,” or “watch it,” or as one of our speakers apologetically said “I’m a graduate of Penn State, so don’t get me wrong, that’s my school,” before she went on to leverage criticism.

Simultaneously this week, I began reading the Freeh Report, detailing the Penn State abuse by Gerald Sandusky. It also details the appalling lack of accountability, responsibility, and empathy of several in the Penn State community for years and years. My question is, why are people so reluctant, offended, and outraged at the notion of saying anything bad about Penn State? This is exactly the reason they are in this position now; blind allegiance to an entity at the expense of rational critique and ethical protection of innocent people. Pen State messed up…no if, ands, or buts. I teach Educational Leadership to graduate and undergraduate students, and have been in higher education for 10+ years – but a first year freshman can tell you that Penn State messed up. We all should be able to say that without apology. This does not take away the fact that PSU is a great educational institution…but they messed up. Let’s leave it at that for a while.

The leadership lesson: own your stuff. Each of use will fail. Each of us will fail those we love and care about; our family, friends, constituents, customers, etc. Our goal should not be to hide or obfuscate the truth, or to show blind and reckless loyalty to ourselves or others. Rather, we can admit what we did, apologize for what we did, attend to those to whom we caused harm, and commit to act in ethical and consistent ways moving forward. As leaders, it is paramount that we act with integrity at all times, as much as humanly possible. The funny thing, though, is that humans are fallible, and we make mistakes. When we do, we need to own our stuff.

You Are Stronger Than You Think

It has been about two months since I last blogged, and I have missed it a great deal. I have much to say about my life and my ah-ha’s over the last two months, but I want to start with focusing on those reading this. I am preparing to do a webinar on responding to bias incidents on college campuses tomorrow, and due to some other student crises I’ve been managing as of late, I think it’s important to share a quote that resonates when doing this work. It is also particularly powerful as students prepare to tackle finals and face commencement. Facing uncertain job markets and being unsure of yourself can be debilitating, even for the most accomplished of us. So these words are for you:

“I can be changed by what happens to me. I refuse to be reduced by it. In the face of such uncertainty believe in these two things – you are stronger than you think, and you are not alone.”

~Maya Angelou

To all those recent initiates into fraternities and sororities I know you understand the value of these words. What the master poet Maya Angelou reminds us of, is that we can do so much more than we think. And that if we just take a moment to look around, there is help everywhere. So despite your trials and struggles right now – take some ownership in the great work you have done thus far, and take a moment to count (literally count) your blessings and friends. If you are short in the “true friends” category, then it’s time to make some new ones. In the meantime lean on me and others like me to be a sounding board and word of encouragement as you transition yet again from one chapter to the next. Take care people, of yourself and each other, and never forget your own strength.Image

Inspiration and Information

I have one of the best jobs on the planet. I am surrounded by people, for the most part, who are hell bent on improving themselves, and oftentimes the world around them. Students, faculty, staff, community partners; almost all of them approach life with possibility and positivity on the mind. Sometimes with this positivity, however, comes blind optimism, and with blind optimism, the crushing force of reality when all the dust settles.

Before I get to my point, let me say that I am an avid believer in the notion of “radiating possibility,” coined by a great conductor and his partner up in New England. Ben Zander is under a bit of scrutiny right now, but nonetheless, his message sits well with my soul. I believe we too often spend our lives in the world of what we can’t do, rather than what we can do. I believe a healthy disregard for the impossible (shout-out to the LeaderShape Institute!) is good for all of us. In fact, I’d rather err on the side of being overly optimistic than overly pessimistic; and I  do not subscribe to the belief that realism is tantamount to pessimism. The power of positive thinking and action is powerful indeed.

In my work with the aforementioned positive people, I find myself frustrated. Not by the abundance of optimism and inspiration, but the scarcity of the necessary information needed to move forward and do great things. People (students in my experience) want to change the world, but have no idea how to do that. They want to take on leadership roles, and go after them with gusto, but have no idea what the position entails or how to make the most of the experience. Departments want to create change for students and faculty but have no data to support the decisions they make. If there was a “formula” for success and change and awesomeness (which there is not by the way), then it would go something like this:

Add three parts Inspiration and three parts Information. Mix together and let sit until it’s ready. You’ll know when it’s ready. Serve and enjoy!

My point here is that too much inspiration with no information lulls us into false possibility and endless failure that only disappoints in the end. Too much information with no inspiration can lull us into a monotonous, joyless, seemingly hopeless space that doesn’t excite or motivate us. Whether it is starting a business, or going back to school, or getting that major promotion or scholarship that you want; make sure you take time to collect all the information you need before jumping in. If you have to find the inspiration, think about whether your heart is in it or not. It will make your life and the victory that much more enjoyable.

The cures we seek to our greatest social and medical problems are trapped in the minds and hearts of uninformed and uninspired people. So the world needs you to be inspired and be informed.

If you need help with either of those, let me know!

Take Your Medicine

Earlier this month I traveled to the beautiful twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Though the trip was amazing, its what happened before I traveled that inspired this post. You see I still have my tonsils…which means that I am particularly susceptible to strep throat. I could take them out, but I have been told that as an adult it is particularly unpleasant, so that’s a no for now.

At any rate, I went to the emergency room and was prescribed antibiotics to clear the infection. On the bottle and in the instructions, which is pretty standard, it instructs the patient to be sure to take all of the medicine. If you don’t, you run the risk of feeling, looking, and sounding like you’re OK, but underneath it all the infection is still there. So whether I felt better or not, I committed to taking the full dosage, as instructed. Beyond not wanting to be sick again, I didn’t want to be “that guy” complaining to the doctor that I’m still sick – only to hear him ask “did you take all of your medicine,” in which I would have had to reply – no:( How then could I complain, be upset, or otherwise have any reason to be confused about why I’m still sick when I clearly didn’t follow directions.

I constantly look for leadership and success lessons in the mundane occurrences of life. So naturally I got to thinking about what else in my life could I apply this medical lesson – and of course academic success came to mind (me being an academician and administrator and all). So let’s apply this same logic to academic success, and beyond that to success in general. As part of a number of posts that I will refer to “getting back to basics,” I want to explore how students and others can benefit from this seemingly common sense principle of following directions.

Every semester, and every year, institutions across the country give their students tips, strategies, and advice on how to be successful students. And each year, students, some more than others, fail miserably and end up becoming academically ineligible and/or feeling completely deflated by their poor performance. Egos are hurt, careers fizzle before they start, and money is wasted all in one swoop. But why? Were the timeless research-driven strategies and tips not good? Were the students not listening or writing down what they should do? Was there a problem with understanding what was said? I don’t think any of this is the reason. I think it is a fundamental problem with the nomenclature we use when giving this information, and the perceptions of the students’ who receive the information.

The doctor does not suggest medicine for you to take. She does not give you tips on how to get better, or strategies on how frequently you could take a certain type of medicine. No, she prescribes you something, with the full expectation that you will take it – ALL of it – if you plan on getting better. I believe that students perceive the information they receive as just that; information. Take it or leave it, do it or don’t, apply it all or apply some – but its up to you. And therein lies the problem. When someone tells you to:

  • Go to every class, not some, but all
  • Meet your professors/teachers/instructors and get to know them
  • Go to tutoring before you need tutoring
  • Find a mentor
  • Get involved with an organization or peer support group

These should not be confused as tips for success, rather as a prescription for success. Can you see the difference? Not doing these things fully for the entire time you are in school is tantamount to you not finishing the antibiotics prescribed to you. You may “feel” OK after the first few weeks of school, and “think” you are OK because you have been going to class and met some of your teachers, but the reality is that you won’t know for sure you are well/on the right track until you take all of the medicine and get a clean bill of health (i.e., an A!) Here is a typical convo with students after a rough semester:

Me: You didn’t do too hot, this semester. I know you were shooting for a higher GPA, what happened?

Student: I don’t know.

Me: Did you do X-Y-Z, all the things I mentioned above.

Student: No.

Me: Ok, so what are you going to do now?

Student: I don’t know, what should I do?

Me: Do X-Y-Z, all of the things I mentioned above. All of it this time, not some of it, then call me at the end of the semester.

Zoom out now and apply this to almost anything at all. Anything that you have been given instructions on how to do: being a better leader, running a marathon, writing a book, building a successful business, etc. There are “self-help” books and guidebooks EVERYWHERE on EVERYTHING. Success is within your grasp. You can reach your goals, you can overcome, you can be better; you just have to take your medicine (even if you don’t want to!).

Academic Horoscope

To all my students out there; new, old, beginning, veterans, non-traditional, on-line, commuter, university, community college, and everything in between I wish you a good start to the new year! What a glorious time – a fresh slate, new opportunities on the horizon, and a new season to celebrate. I hope your break, however you celebrated, was restful. Now shake off the cobwebs and let’s get to work.

I have some thoughts about how each of you (freshmen – seniors) can make the most of this spring. Is this rocket science? Absolutely not, but the answers and solutions we seek to success elude us all the same. And it’s funny how the path to success is found in the “basics.” Read all of this, as it can be a nice prep for some of you, or reminder for others. Consider this your Academic Horoscope for the first of the year:) If you have other ideas – send them my way and I’ll add them!:

Freshmen/New Students
Go to class – sound familiar? There is much to do in your academic career – and don’t think your first semester success entitles you to second semester success. Be vigilant about using the resources available to you (academic support, TRIO,  Writing Center, Academic Advisors, coaches, etc.) Go visit them now, not after you get in trouble. If you don’t have a peer support group by now (e.g., residence hall, student org, parental support group, intramural team, study group, etc.) get one. You will need them to get through this semester. You will also need them to compete with the thousands who will graduate from around the WORLD with a strong GPA. Simply being a good student isn’t enough to propel you to success post-graduation, it’s just a prerequisite. Start building your co-curricular, extra-curricular, and research portfolio now. You should also have at least 1-2 administrators or faculty you know by name and who can vouch for your talents, academic abilities, and character. If you don’t…find a few. I know one who’d love to get to know you (HINT: he wrote this.)

Go to class – yep, you too. This is the semester where you may think you have this college thing “down.” I mean you’ve completed 3 whole semesters! And guess what, you have several more to go – don’t let your own arrogance blind you to your limitations, or knock you out of your learners’ stance. Stay vigilant, redouble your study efforts. Consider finding a mentor if you haven’t already to start coaching you for your last two-three years. Also start thinking about what you are doing for the summer. I love me some fast-food (clearly), and going to the mall (again, clearly), but some of those jobs won’t prepare you for your inevitable CAREER. Focus your efforts on finding a job that adds value to your bank account and your experience. As you did when you were a Freshman, continue to build on your involvement and research agenda.

Go to class – yep, you heard me. Even more than before this is vital. At this point you can almost see the end of the road, and that can be extremely tempting. You can began to rest on your laurels and think the worse it behind you. It may be in some ways, and maybe not in others. Pay attention to what’s going on around you – and take on an active leadership role if you can in the coming months. Your final year is approaching, and people will expect you to step up and lead, showing others how to go out in style. Believe it or not people look up to you, and are going to take your lead on setting priorities for the student body, your discipline, or your organization. Think about prestigious scholarships that you may want to shoot for (Fulbright, Rhodes, Truman) or other powerful experiences (Foreign teaching, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, or Teach for America). Get your references and resume tight, as you’ll need to use them big time in your last year. Don’t wait until August to start those things. Many deadlines for the top schools, scholarships, and programs are in the fall. Finally, you should have a really powerful experience lined up for the summer – hopefully one that builds on what you did last summer as a sophomore. A job, cultural immersion, or paid internship will give you a lot of leverage and valuable experience going into your final year(s).

Seniors/Final Year
Go to class – of course I was going to say that. This is not the year to mess up. This is the year to lock down those grades, secure your position in the graduate/professional school, post-graduate experience, or the job of your choice. Tighten up your resume, you never know when it will be needed. Consider service or study domestically or abroad, even if its short term (i.e., spring break, 4-5 fives days, etc.). This will help clarify your goals and ambitions as you move through your last year. Build strong relationships with professors and administrators, these are your future colleagues and friends; to not do so is foolhardy and lazy. Have fun – this is the last dance folks – make it count and then dance across the stage for graduation. Work on setting goals, managing your time, balancing your priorities, and thinking about the transition from an undergraduate student to a graduate student, or professional. A new setting requires new tools, attitudes, and behaviors. Start thinking about that now.

Super Seniors
Go to…the career center, haha. Graduation is imminent for you, and by now I don’t have to say go to class – in fact going to class and liking it so much may be why you’re still here! I took a victory lap in college as well folks, so no love lost here. I’m not judging, but my victory lap was PACKED WITH PURPOSE. That stellar work experience, world class cultural immersion/travel abroad experience, internship, intensive language training, senior leadership role on campus, or something else significant should be setting you apart from the rest. People should see the seasoning fall off of you – you are a veteran, act like one. Get good grades, to not do so is a joke. Mentor others to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do, to not do so is selfish. Build strong relationships with professors and administrators, these are your future colleagues and friends; to not do so is foolish. As I said to the seniors, have fun – this is the last dance – make it count and then dance across the stage for graduation – you’ve paid your dues (plus some!).

To all of you, be a great student, not a good one – whether you have a part-time job or not…this is your priority. Do it well, or find another way to use your time. I’ve attached some other related articles for your edification:)

Why Ethnic Studies Courses Are Good for White Kids Too

Why Ethnic Studies Courses Are Good for White Kids Too.

Great commentary that I classify as “Diversity 2.0” thinking and reasoning. Certainly a shame that history will judge Arizona poorly for this.

Go Places and Do Things

Happy New Year to all, and I hope your holidays were safe and fulfilling. I’m happy to get back to blogging and hopefully helping whoever reads this have an “ah-ha” moment that will get them through the day, week, month, or year. I believe we reap what we sow, so this continues to be my attempt to sow good seeds of positive change.

I don’t do resolutions, not anymore at least; but what about a “proclamation?” I laughed when my brother JD said this to me, because proclamation sounds a lot like resolution to me, but hey, I figured I’ll play along. So as we went around the room talking about our proclamations – my partner said something so profound and so “her,” which was that she hopes 2012 brings more blessings and growth in all aspects of our life. She wasn’t knocking 2011, it was a great year in many ways for our family, in fact. I’ll count some of those blessings in a second, but let’s think about my partner’s proclamation for a minute…it’s beautifully simplistic, and a great way to approach your new year! You are proclaiming (meaning it is going to happen) that your year will be better than the last! And how cool is it that you can purpose that in a way that it will come true. So first let me rattle off some of my many blessings (not in order of importance) to model what you need to do right now (and I literally mean you should WRITE THEM OUT):

  • Appointed to my permanent position
  • Expanded my business
  • My father-in-law is still here! (he wasn’t expected to make it to Thanksgiving 2010 due to cancer – alas, he is here!)
  • My daughter turned 2 and my partner, me, mom, dad and a whole lot of others are a year older!
  • We celebrated 4 years of marriage
  • DADT was repealed
  • NC State won their bowl game! (sorry Cards)
  • My partner graduated from college
  • Both of my brothers got new positions and moved up in their jobs
  • I led TWO LeaderShape sessions and had two amazing co-leads
  • We had another great Wilson family reunion (and won the Bid Whist Tourny – BOOM)

The list goes on and on…

Throughout this year I will take time to encourage you all to count your blessings, not for bragging sake, but because it can reaffirm the good work that you are doing in your life, and maybe remind you of what gaps you have yet to fill. Now for 2012…if you need help proclaiming what you will do this year, maybe I can help. Its a fair assumption that people may not know what they want from the year, or they dare not say it because it seems so out of reach. In a leadership class I used to teach, in our class about sustaining relationships, I would tell students that they needed to GO PLACES AND DO THINGS. Wow! How important is that! Not only for sustaining relationships, but for building new ones, appreciating your own existence, learning about others, feeling connected to the world that is so vast and wonderful. So your first proclamation is to GO PLACES AND DO THINGS. Whether you are a seasoned traveler or a first time flyer/traveler, it is good for the soul, trust me. Here are some tips to get started and get the most out of your “going and doing”: 

  1. Locate a place that is “culturally” different from you (e.g., another part of town, another city/state/country, place of worship where no one talks or looks like you, etc.). Notice these don’t require an expense account to do this.
  2. Before you go, read something (objective/academic) about where you are going. This will help you a great deal in appreciating the “going and doing.”
  3. Tell people about it! You never know who may want to help you get there, go with you, or have experience in that culture.
  4. Meet someone while there and exchange information with them. Follow up with them on a regular basis. Wanna know how to lead and follow in diverse environments? Build relationships with people different from yourself – you’ll be forever changed:)
  5. Write about it. Don’t let the feelings, the ah-ha’s, the anxieties escape you. John Maxwell said that reflection is like the crock-pot of the mind – let the thoughts simmer until they are ready. You have to capture those moments if you are ever to make meaning of them.

So there you have it, your first proclamation for 2012. Now share this with people you care about, and set out to do it. Look at that, you’ve already made 2012 a better year than 2011!

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