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

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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.)

Sophomores
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.

Juniors
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:)

Be Unconquered, pt. 3

Beyond this place of wrath and tears,

Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years,

Finds and shall find me unafaid.

What would you do if you were not afraid? What could you do if not bound by the possible pitfalls life has laid before us? Fear guides so much of what we do, or choose not to do. The continuing analysis of this poem instructs us on how to handle fear. In fact, part three of this historic poem gives us some perspective on fear that I hope you all consider in your academic, personal, professional, and spiritual lives. As we approach the finals season, and the close of 2011, many students are afraid of what will be – others are afraid of the possibility of failure, or having a tough conversation with their parents/loved ones about their future. Some of us are afraid to approach that person we have been eyeballing all semester from across the room. We know full well that the end of the semester marks the end of what could have been with that person, as we may not ever see them again. Yet we sit afraid to say, to do, or to act in any way that will move our future forward with intentionality and purpose.

The power of Invictus lies in the common theme of overcoming despite trouble ahead. In fact, much of the poem states clearly the trouble that is to come, recognizes it, and then claims victory anyway. That’s the attitude we must adopt in every walk of our lives. Notice also the desperation in the current moment being experienced by the author as he lives in a current “place of wrath and tears.” Looming ahead is nothing but the “horror of the shade.” Some of us understand how this feels. Despite your current station in life, be it failing at school or work, unemployment, bad economy, or sick loved ones, you have to dig deep and  look beyond that. Now visualize yourself on the other end of whatever hand you’ve been dealt. See that until it comes true. Do not be afraid, be unconquered.

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Be Unconquered, pt. 2https://drmichaelanthony.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php#

In the fell clutch of circumstance,

I have not winced, nor cried aloud,

Under the bludgeonings of chance,

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

In my continuing application of this classic poem by William Ernest Henley, I want to remind us all to wallow for a time in our self-pity…and then get over it.  How many times have you heard “someone” (that someone may be you by the way), complain all the time, about everything? Even worse, that someone complains as if their problems are somehow bigger than your problems. They say, “my major is harder, my class load is tougher, my job sucks.” To those folks I say, “you chose your major, you chose your class load, and at least you have a job.”

As I see it, it’s good to be busy, it’s good to feel tired, it’s good to have trouble sometimes. And what’s more, it is inevitable that things happen, good and bad, whether or not you are good or bad. Take heart though, because what you can control is your response to your particular circumstance. The poem says it all; “in the fell [read ‘cruel’] clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud.” The author didn’t plan on his leg being amputated, but it was; he was indeed caught in the cruel grip of circumstance, but refused to even wince! That’s resilience folks! He goes on to say that even after getting bludgeoned by chance, his admits that he is bloody, but refuses to bow down.  Pay attention to the beautiful diction here, and look up the word bludgeoned – it’s not just getting “beat up.” This is the type of resolve that we must have despite what chance might send our way. I can imagine the author holding on to the fact that he was at least still alive. Can you honestly tap into that inner strength and resolve to get past the circumstances and random chance in your life?

Several years ago I had the pleasure of hearing the incomparable Maya Angelou at a public forum. She told us of a time when her son called her and asked her to recite Invictus to him over the phone, very slowly and deliberately. After she finished the poem her son thanked her, and told her that he had just underwent an extremely painful procedure at the doctors office that required him to remain conscious – and he needed those words to get through it. Use your pain, circumstance, and chance situations in your life to build strength, character, and resilience. Do not complain. Be unconquered.

Be Unconquered, pt. 1

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be,

For my unconquerable soul.

At the age of 12, William Ernest Henley contracted tuberculosis of the bone. A few years later, the disease progressed to his foot, and physicians announced that the only way to save his life was to amputate directly below the knee. It was amputated when he was 17. Stoicism inspired him to write the poem Invictus which in Latin translates as unconquered.

Over the next four weeks I will post my reflection using a different stanza of this poem, the first of which is above. For students, the next few weeks leading to winter break are most trying. Finals, fear of grades that don’t quite meet expectations, the specter of not returning, or returning to new and more challenging coursework looms ahead. For those not in school, the holidays bring joy to many, but fear and anxiety to some. The fear that they won’t be able to celebrate as others due because of their economic situation; the loneliness of not having loved ones to share the holidays with; the uncertainty of whether friends will return from tours overseas.

I have leaned on Invictus as a reminder of how to overcome fear, doubt, and oftentimes pain. Since I was 19 years old I have learned to find refuge in the words of this poem and many others as I attempt to manage my own insecurities. This first stanza reminds me that trouble will always find its way to your doorstep, and that you can always find your way out of it. In fact, if you’re not in a storm right now, you are heading towards one, or coming out of one. This poem picks up at the latter, coming “out of the night that cover me, black as the pit from pole to pole.” This first stanza reminds me of the power of faith and gratitude as “I thank whatever gods may be,” and remember that I’m not in this alone – even when I’m by myself. The syntax of “whatever gods may be” helps the faithful and the faithless reflect on something outside of themselves, and something bigger than their circumstance. And finally, this stanza reaffirms that which I already believe; that despite whatever I’m going through or am facing, no matter how scary –  my soul (i.e., my core, my essence, my spirit) remains strong.

As you go into this holiday / finals / new beginnings season…despite your circumstance, hold your head up – prepare for what’s to come, and be unconquered.

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Dr. Anthony