Finding Your Genius

“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. We are nearing the end of the first month of a new year. Students are settling into new semesters, and some folks are settling into new jobs and/or resolutions.

I’m going to give you the some advice I was sharing with two student leaders earlier this month on a trip to the Twin Cities. In talking about their future goals, I wondered if they and other knew how much I love what I do? I literally make a good living AND live my passion. So often people assume those are mutually exclusive goals. I have heard students 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.

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 authors of the StrengthsQuest works, 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. Life is too short, and life is too long to live it out of your purpose.

Stop.

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.

You Are Stronger Than You Think

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I want to slightly modify and repost something I wrote a few years ago. I think it’s important to share a quote that resonates when doing tough work. Tough work in these times is sometimes just living. Such death in the world, and uncertainty, and fear. Politically things are uncertain (which is always the case with a change in new leadership), but in particular on the tail of such a vitriolic election campaign. It is also the start of a new year, and in my world students prepare to start a tough new semester on their road to commencement. This comes with its own fear and anxiety. Facing uncertainty, being afraid and 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

What the master poet Maya Angelou reminds us, 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 anxiety and fear right now – take some ownership in your great strength, 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.

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Purpose

I had an amazing opportunity to speak with a group of student leaders at DePaul University over this past weekend. I spoke with them about finding their “why” and what they should be doing/thinking at this phase in their life to do that. It is a message I have valued and personally held close for a while now, and I find myself continuing to refine how I talk about it.

In short, finding our why is about creating habits that position us to learn about ourselves, create and sustain powerful relationships, and pay attention to both small and large choices we make. Finding our why is also about not focusing on the “what” we do (or degree we earn, or the job we have). Those things are how we do our why, but definitely not the why itself. Finding our way is a discipline – one that requires commitment throughout life – not just through college, or the military, or parenthood. This is how people can live full, rich lives across a number of jobs and experiences. They know their why, and so how they live their why takes so many shapes. I believe I know my why, and it feels amazing. I want that for everyone.

Yesterday a member of our team at my college shared this powerful post. It is good – and says what I know to be true so clearly. Thank you for sharing my friend, and I hope it helps clarify how others can find their why.

Read post Everyday Calls HERE.

Dr. Anthony

Rights and Responsibilities

RightsAs I meditated this morning I came across a scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:23 and 24 that reads,

“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.(NIV)

In my daily work as a chief diversity/inclusion and senior student affairs officer at a public institution, the notion of rights and responsibilities is always on my mind. In our world, and in the United States in particular, we use our rights as a hammer and permission to do whatever we want. The debate about gun control, also relevant to college campuses, is one such example. The right to be be biased, or hate, is another. This scripture, Christian in its context but clearly applicable to us all regardless of our beliefs, states some obvious facts, “not everything is beneficial” and “not everything is constructive.” It applies standards to our rights, and asks us to ask if what I will do will add value to others, or should I do it just because I can. And notice these standards are not simply “good or bad,” those are too simplistic. Beneficial and constructive is the goal. I have the right to buy an AK-47, but is that beneficial (literally: favorable or advantageous; resulting in good.) I have the right to use most any names I want to refer to someone else, but is it constructive (literally: serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.)

As individuals we have rights, as a community we have responsibilities. The whole thing we call civilization falls apart if we don’t keep that in mind, and remind others to do the same.

Prounouns and Posture

The Situation

This latest action taken at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is so outrageous it warranted a blog post. Please read Fear of Pronouns before reading on…I need to make a few large points about what I consider the most important aspect of being “diverse and inclusive.”

Diversity and Inclusion

When I ask my institution, friends, family, and perfect strangers to be “diverse and inclusive,” it is not a static request. Being diverse and inclusive is not a destination, or a place in which one simply finds him/her/their self at a moment in time. Rather, it is a dynamic state of being, one in which you posture yourself such that you allow difference in language, being, understanding, and meaning each and every day. It takes work,and consideration from each of us, every day. I would go as far to say it is a discipline, not just a course. Like leadership, it takes practice and intentionality to get it right. I’ve come to learn that you can never be “done” with this work. By definition there will be some other way of being or knowing that emerges from either scholarship or the lived experience, that challenges us to think differently (diversely) about people, places, and things. Thus my call for a posture that we must take. As the outfielder postures him/her/their self to be ready for whatever may come, so must we posture ourselves. If that posture is needed in a game, how much more is needed in life? Statements such as the one below smack of exclusion, status quo, and the need for things to stay the same.

“That has the appearance of neutrality, but it is not neutral. It is not neutral because it does not say that men should be called by masculine pronouns and women should be called by feminine pronouns, which has always been the unwritten standard in our country,” ~ Family Action Council of Tennessee

This confuses me.Was it not the stated point of this guide – to assert that the “unwritten standard” is no longer appropriate? Have we not made other changes to language, pronouns, customs, and names because of changes in society? I’m pretty sure we have – as we don’t called Black people colored anymore, and it’s no longer acceptable to call women (or anyone) dames and broads in the workplace (or anywhere for that matter). Even assuming “Mrs.” as a title is no longer appropriate. The quote above is anathema to diversity and inclusion.

Gender PronounsDon’t Tell Me What To Do

At the core of so much of the backlash around topics such as this is the strong belief from dominant* cultures that “you can’t tell me what to do!;” in particular when it comes to language, change, and making space for others to be who they are. I honestly believe that’s why non-Black individuals hate when they “can’t” say n***er, or other in-group words used by some cultures. The outrage is not because there is no real utility in the word, or that they even want to say it. It’s that they can’t; and some of those individuals aren’t used to being told no. It is un-American. I can say what I want. But many of us in this country can’t say what we want. Can’t do what we want. Some of us can’t even be who we are without serious consequences.

What is most perverse about this double-standard is that it uses the language of the oppressed to find its strength. Think about that. Oppression – the very thing that creates a need for a guide like the one at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, is the very same thing dominant cultures also use to say that they are somehow threatened or being mistreated. The very language of the White Power movement and similar hate movements is one of “we want our country back,” or “we are being wiped out,” or “stop censoring me.” Well there are others who feel they want their country back too (i.e., Native and indigenous populations) and who feel they are being wiped out (i.e., Black and brown and trans people) but their attempts to stand up and fight against that is met with hostility, lies, and #alllivesmatter. People lack an ability to really hear and see the “other” in our country. People lack the ability to make space for people to redefine what is our America. Not only do they lack the ability – they use everything in their power to undermine the good efforts of those trying to widen the circle. They actively sabotage the efforts.

You want to know how supremacy and privilege works – just look to the Volunteer State.

A guide;

put on the office of diversity website;

to help people know how to better include people who have been systematically excluded or ignored or killed;

to make them feel more comfortable;

at an institution of higher education;

was ordered taken down by highest chief executive of the system;

because of pressure from the State Legislature…

That’s power. That’s frightening. That’s a problem. If you don’t agree – look HERE at the site before it was taken down. The language is welcoming, instructive, and in no way mandating anything. Was this really worth the threats and attention from the legislature? This is Tennessee’s biggest problem? This is the University’s biggest concern?

What Can You Do

  1. Educate yourself on the “others.” Whoever they may be to you. You can’t care about something/someone you don’t know or understand.
  1. Get to know an “other.” I mean really get to know that person. You can’t care about something/someone you don’t know or understand. No I didn’t make a mistake by repeating that.
  1. Share your outrage about this – or engage folks in dialogue about why you should be outraged – not over social media. You need a face-to-face for this one. If you don’t know anyone – see #2 above.
  1. Challenge others to do #1 and #2. I am convinced this is the start of any healing or progress.

#translivesmatter #blacklivesmatter

*in the U.S., dominant culture = white, male, Christian, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, English speaking, middle-upper income, to name a few.

Dr. Anthony

When It Don’t Come Easy

Tuesday May 26, 2015

I spoke about “going places and doing things” in one of my previous posts. It’s good to get out and about, in the world, your community, or your neighborhood. One thing that inevitably happens when you travel abroad – is that you hit a bit of a wall at some point in your trip. The tenor of this post may sound more subdued, but learning is learning, even when its hard.

As I drove in to work this morning with Jerome, I felt more foreign than I have since arriving. The traffic patterns, the people and faces, the bikes, the lack of the kind of coffee I want when I want it…even nature betrayed me. The trees and grasses looked different, and unfamiliar to me. I was taxed trying to follow what Dutch words I could on the radio, and I wanted to be back with familiar people, sights, and sounds. This is the cost of traveling, particularly abroad. I imagine that our students feel like this after they have started college. The language is different, the people, the expectations, the rules. And despite their preparation via orientation, websites, and talking to folks – they still feel like strangers. I also prepared for my trip here. For over a year! Even still, I find myself well into my trip – feeling lost and alone. What gets me through it is the love, counsel and support of others, connecting with my routines, being resilient and knowing that it will pass. I wonder how I can apply this same process of coping to our new students. Those first three – six weeks is so critical to student success for the entire semester. We need to empathize more with what our students are experiencing – put ourselves in their shoes to discover new insights into their lives. And we need to ask them – then ask them again – then ask them again, until we get better at helping our students feel that the college environment is familiar to them. Success can then flow from familiarity and belonging.

That passed for me, and I found my joy again at work (that didn’t take long did it). Arriving at the Sports College in Amersfoort I was able to meet with the students in Jerome’s mentor group. Each teacher here has a group of students with whom they mentor throughout the year. These teachers meet with their students as a group and 1-1 once a week. Talk about student support! I met with two of the students afterwards and heard from them about why they were there, what they hoped to do in life, how much they felt supported (or not) by the college, and just generally about their lives and journey to Sports College. I was going to talk more about the stories they shared, but decided not to, for their privacy. Let’s just say this group of students (in this cohort/class/etc.) are really going through some things outside of school. Again, without going into detail, this is some heavy stuff that would tax the most capable and well-adjusted person. But many of these students are not capable and not well-adjusted. Of course they will be, that’s why they are in school, but the journey is a long one. Jerome and I agreed that here and in the U.S., the “stuff” that is going on in our students’ lives have everything to do with how successful they are or are not in school. I believe some in my circle at Oakton think that being a student is the end all be all of our student’s purpose – yes they are students, but it is not all they are. I also think we forget just how important  those things are that happen outside of classes. I am not talking about co-curricular and extra-curricular activities – I’m talking about life. To complicate this fact, is that within a community college space (and in the ROC here), and increasingly in four-year spaces, students have a very utilitarian view of higher education. They are going to school to learn something, that they can then apply in very visible and rewarding ways afterwards. Do we engage students understanding this reality? Are we fighting to make them want to value education for education’s sake as in days of old, or at our elite universities? I know what we say, but do our policies reflect that? Do the courses students take and the teaching in the classroom reflect that? Do we have this conversation with our students on a regular basis? These are the questions I want to press upon my colleagues. There are no right answers, just different ones. And these questions deserve our attention on both a personal and institutional level.

While there are many students struggling, there are many students thriving. I had the opportunity to sit in on an English class (where they are learning to speak English that is), and students were giving presentations that day. They were of course nervous with a native speaker in the room, but they were fantastic. I had a chance to learn about their work experiences in their internships, while also providing feedback about their presentations and English. It was good to be in the classroom again in that way – and to interact with the students in that way. Later I traveled to the Tech and Bouw & Interieur (Building and Interior) Colleges.

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Colleagues from the U.S.
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Built by students

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Here they do a number of things, electrical, plumbing, concrete, woodworking, automotive, flooring, upholstery; basically anything in and out of buildings. Once again, I saw students on state of the art equipment doing real work, learning their craft. It is fascinating to watch this system of vocational education at work – and these students are quite young. They enter their ROC experience at 16/17, when many of our students are finishing high school still. It’s too early – as I expressed in an earlier post – but we don’t get it right either in the U.S. And many of these students seem so focused and mature for their ages. None more than those I met at the Horeca & Travel College (Hospitality and Travel).

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Much like our culinary schools, these are the cooks, facilities managers, and hospitality experts. We were greeted by a level 4 student, who served a the facility manager for his lower level peers. He was 19. After touring the grounds and meeting with the ROC Academy (which is their faculty professional development center or teaching and learning center in four-year spaces), we had a world-class dinner in the restaurant. The food was prepared by students, served by students, and the manager was a student. He was 17 – and he was good. Each student has this potential when coached, trained, and trusted. I love to see it in action – much like I love to see our students taking on leadership roles and student work experiences at our campus.

Dr. Angela Neal, Volunteer State Community College, and our Student Manager
Dr. Angela Neal, Volunteer State Community College, and our Student Manager

I’ll end this post with some fun shots from my holiday on Monday March 25 – which was also Memorial Day in the U.S. I visited Den Haag (The Hague), which is the political seat of power for the Netherlands. I went with Sandra (my host), and her brother-in-law who works for the government and is very knowledgeable about the city Though Amsterdam is the capital, Den Haag is where the parliament, prime minister, ministries and justices do their work.

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Ministry of Education
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Parliament Building
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U.S. Embassy (not so hot huh lol)
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Me and Sandra (she’s so photogenic!)
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Embassy of Pakistan (now that’s an embassy lol)
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Peace Palace

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There is also a great little attraction known as Madurodam, which is basically a model village of all the major attractions across the country! It is one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Such amazing detail and attention to the many wonders of this place. Enjoy!

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Ritual, Innovation, and Change

Friday May 22 and Saturday May 23

Blogging at the end of the night is impossible when my nights end late, which they did on both Friday and Saturday. Friday ended with these now regular chat with Sandra and Jerome over some wine and light snacks. I’m in love with the rituals this family keeps, and am taking notes as I think about how to be a better host. Rituals, like traditions, create a sense of belonging and purpose. A lesson for all of us is the power in daily routines to help us center ourselves, reflect, and prepare for the next day. With a child of my own I’ve learned to appreciate the power of routines. It is vital for her health and well-being. Of course once we get older we seem to drop our routines, and because we are so “busy” we accept the chaos that comes with everyday. I am going to think about my routines more at home and work – which ones are healthy and which ones should I ditch. Oh, and I saw a hedgehog! A real life, in the “flesh” hedgehog. I told my hosts that I’ve never seen one outside of a zoo – and never thought about why. But as it was crawling around their back porch I looked them up on the internet and found out they are not indigenous to the U.S. So there you have it – a hedgehog.

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A hedgehog – on the back porch!

I did have an opportunity to sit with two more staff members at the ROC Sports College in Amersfoort. One of those men was Bas (Sebastian), who was the Director of the college. He is equivalent to a Dean in the U.S., and he is responsible for reporting to the Chairman of the ROC and managing the affairs of the college. He actually started the Sports College almost 10 years ago, along with others I’ve met, including Jerome, of whom Bas speaks very highly. I learned more about the higher education system, and with each meeting I learn something new, gain clarity, and lose some as well! Understanding all of this takes time, and will take more time even after this exchange to get my head around. Bas and others started the college, so I began to think about how at Oakton we have some who have started the college 46 years ago still exerting influence in the college. There are others who have been there a really long time. I think how hard it is to change something that you’ve been so immersed in since the beginning. Part of my interest in doing this exchange is to examine how higher ed is administered, how the organizations are structured, who leaders are and how they lead, and how change is managed. When asked about how change is perceived and managed here, Bas commented that they were excited about change. At least within the Sports College change is welcome as a new opportunity from what I can tell, and because of the involvement of the teachers and others in the execution of change, there seems to be buy-in early in the process.

I mentioned in a previous post about the involvement and care of the teachers. After speaking with the Director, it seems that the teachers’ involvement is encouraged and insisted upon from the highest level of the organization. The teachers and other staff are the decision makers. Yes, the Director gives the larger goal to achieve, but all the details of how that will happen flows up from the rank and file. In fact, the Director said “my dilemma in leadership is to not interfere with how the team achieves its goals.” There is an inherent and well-earned trust among this team, one that lacks in some of the spaces where I work. I believe I can do better to develop trust in those around me, and also trust the people around me more. This trust-building process takes time. Time that we often sacrifice in the name of efficiency and “getting things done,” while in fact our ability to get things done is compromised by our lack of relationship building. I tell my students this all the time – but alas, I don’t always practice it.

There is an “Invocation and Education” team that I have to find a way to model at Oakton. It is something I have thought about a lot in terms of how we institutionalize creative problem solving using the talent within our division. This team is designed to do that for the Sports College. New ideas and ways to approach problems are discussed in this group, and the ideas can be generated from his group as well. At the end of the day you have well vetted ideas and solutions that can be attempted. I need to learn more about this team as I think how to apply the concept back home. I hope to see more people take ownership in the affairs of the College at all levels. I think that is missing – it’s my role as an institutional leader to create space for that culture to emerge.

Saturday was my triumphant return to Amsterdam! Very good day. Lots of walking and lots of sight-seeing (unstructured),

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the Amsterdam Dungeon,

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a canal tour,

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and some good drinks at Irish pubs and a steakhouse. The pictures say more than I can say – but it was a great day. Today is my day off – I won’t blog tomorrow about today as I’m mostly going to be at the house until dinner tonight with the family.