November 22, 2006

Giving Thanks

It sounds pretty straightforward and probably cliche, but it is the time of year to give thanks. Regardless of what you feel about Thanksgiving and why we celebrate it, at least once a year we should take some time to pause and think about the good things we got in life. We are a society where we often think of what we don't have. Take a count of what you got; consider what you need to work on.

The beauty of stability is that it takes away our worries from daily things which some do worry about. Consider that the next time you get upset because someone caught you off in traffic or because you didn't get a specific gift for your birthday. There's a great book which came out about a decade ago called "The Celestine Prophecy." One of the ideas in the book was taking to time to enjoy eating your food. Savoring it. Appreciating it not just because it tastes good but because it's fuel for your body.

I remember my two Thanksgivings in Arizona. The first year I was surrounded by a great group of students whom I made Thanksgiving Dinner for (yep that's right: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, homemade pumpkin pie). The next year my friend Papa invited me to his family's house for Thanksgiving. Any occasion to celebrate with the fam is always a time to appreciate the people who helped raise you. And any occasion where friends 'pinch hit' for the fam is a chance to celebrate the people who keep you centered.

Thanks to the ability to try different activities. My friend Jim recently decided to get his bartending licence. The story's a longer one but in short he's looking to find a way to involve himself in some outside of work regular activity. He'd be a great bartender too. He's a great listener, udnerstands the social scene at bars, is very cordial toward everyone, and enjoys the bar type atmosphere. It's a great hobby for him.

Even though there are bad days, and days where you come home exhausted, let's be thankful for our jobs. It's regular activity. Our jobs keep us mobile. They provide new challenges or a chance to accomplish something. I realize that it's a part of a daily grind but at the same time our jobs provide for extra support in many other areas of our life without which we would not be complete people.

Finally, I want to give special thanks to the ability to write. Writing has and always will be a passion of mine. Ever since 3rd grade the ability to entertain folks through writing has become paramount to my identity. And I'm even more appreciative of my creative writing class, the MMLA conference I attended last year in Milwaukee, and looking toward the future of being a full time student in a PhD English program.

It's no coincidence, if you've been a regular reader for the past few months, that these five areas which I suggest we give thanks to, are also the five priority areas which make up the Priority Web. This nice thing about this weekend is that there is some time to pause and look at the big picture of who we are. Remember that these priorities (Stability, Family/Friends, Hobbies, Job, Career) will have different outcomes and goals and needs and expectations for different people. Some of us may be gifted in socializing so attaining close friends may not be a problem. Some of us are naturally discplined to maintain a hobby no matter how stressful our life is. No matter who we are maintain our priorities takes three very important things: Hard Work, Passion, and Perserverance.

I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving, thank you for being supportive and enjoy a big honkin' peice of Pumpkin Pie.


November 16, 2006

Black Cats and Green Clovers

This week has been a bizarre week.

Earlier in the week it was chicken nugget day at the cafeteria. I strolled in line, got the standard portion of nuggets, went back to the end of line to receive a second helping (which is lunchroom policy according to the workers) and then got denied. The workers was a newbie and several other 'lunch ladies' informed him of the policy. Nuggets were awarded but not without some trial.

Tuesday was no different as I was about to buy a muffin and some milk and a juice only to find out I had no Titan Dollars left on my card. Unbenknowst to me my Titan Dollar spending went unchecked by myself and I actually did run myself out of 'cash.'

Today, my good friend Ryan's car did not start, at all. Although it was nice to have him visit for another night, the poor kid awaits repairs to his car, stalling him from returning to work and getting stuff done.

String that stuff together and you got some bad luck. A series of unfortunate events without orphans and a crazy dude named Olaf. It's easy during moments like this to look inward and wonder the classic "Why me?" though aloud, as if, A. you're the only person this happens to, and B. some higher power has it in for you.

Luck is luck. It's an uncontrollable force proved only by the Peter Brook's Law of Averages. Take a six sided die (or if you're a D&D kid, 20 sided) and roll it the same number of sides which exist. I will even do it right now as I write this article:

1st roll: 2
2nd roll: 1
3rd roll: 1
4th roll: 4
5th roll: 2
6th roll: 5

2 and 1 came up twice. 4 and 5 once. 3 and 6 never. What does that mean? It means that on average that's probably going to happen throughout life. It's the same force behind professors seemingly mystical ability to schedule all papers and tests for the same week. It's less likely that everything will spread itself out evenly as time goes on. Also it means that everyone has something that will happen frequently and something that will rarely ever happen. Some people may be really lucky at cards vs. board games. Some people may be really lucky at sports video games vs. strategical games. Some people never get pulled over by the cops, some all the time. Point is, it's different for everyone. Bearing all of this in mind here are my suggestions for 'overcoming' bad luck.

1. Everyone's Different
I always love the stories about students who hear other students brag how they got away with policies. Do some students get away with policy violations? I'm sure of it. I've gotten away with speeding at times. There's just no reason to invest time and energy into monitoring all action. The mistake most folks make is when they think they can retain that same person's luck. Know that you're luck is not going to be the same as someone else.

2. Change Your Odds
There may be a 'definite outcome' of sorts for our life dice roll but that doesn't mean you can't change your odds. If you never speed, you're not going to get a speeding ticket. That's kinda how it works. If you practice shooting the basketball a lot, you're going to get better at shooting the ball and more than likely going to make more baskets. Healthy risks are good, the more you take, the more likely you'll succeed. Unhealthy risks should be avoided since, just like the good, the more you do it, the more there's a chance of getting caught or receiving a consequence.

3. "Chance Favors the Prepared Mind"
This was from a fortune cookie I once got. But it makes sense. You can't control the fact that you're gonna have tests and papers in the same week. But you can control when you're going to study for them. Spread that out. Will the week still be stressful? Sure, but probably not as much if you start planning three days out for your week of hell. That's you practice or stay disciplined to a hobby.

4. Perspective Controls Luck's Value
Does it suck that my friend Ryan has to pay to fix his car? Yes. Did he miss a day of work? Yes. Does life move on? Yes. Did he get a chance to hang out with his friends another day and go see people whom he hasn't seen in a while? Yes. I'm sure Ryan's not thrilled about the car needing repairs, but he made the most his day today. This also ties into:

5. Broken Vase Theory
Neo breaks a vase in The Matrix. Then he discovers the secret of The Matrix. Not enirely a direct correlation but life is about a series of fortunately/unfortunately (a great children's book by the way). You combine this with #4 then you're winning all the time.

Luck is neutral and will always exist. But when you focus on those things that can 'control' how luck is perceived and established, you're more than likely to feel more in control about your life.

So, from the bottom of my heart: Good Luck!


November 08, 2006

Day by Day

It is my favorite time of the year at College. This is when the dust settles in our jobs and classes. Opening has passed. Homecoming has passed. The first month has passed when folks are figuring out their transition issues. Student teams have started to figure out how they work with each other. You have an idea what you need to do in your classes. The major conferences are over. There's not too much planning occuring for the future, or second semester. And Thanksgiving is still weeks away.

Yet life is not on pause. There's still the day to day work that we need to accomplish as students or professionals. You may have an exceptional problem here or there, but with everything else reaching a plateau, there's no need to feel overwhelmed. For the longest time I used to think of this period of time as a time out, when I could get the rest of my life in order. I could concentrate on those hobbies left behind, or work on writing for my career, or head off to see friends I haven't visited in a while. And yet, I realized that it's a lot easier to ensure that those other things are being done, WHILE my job is going on.

Let's face it: the job is always there.

For the fifth and final part of the Priority Web/Wheel we have the one thing that is more of a constant than any of the other priorities: The Job.

We all have different health cycles; there exist different relationships with our friends and family; our hobbies are controlled by the time and energey we spend on them; and our career is a dream waiting to be actualized. But, we're always working (for students that means we're always going to school). The job is by far the trickiest to dissect yet just as vital as the other four priorities since it creates money for stability which then filters into the other areas. It can be a stepping stone on our career path, or provide a social oppurtunity for new friends. It probably commands our attention the most (do we structure our jobs around our life, or vice versa?). That's where the great paradox comes in for us: it feels as if it is MOST important to us, yet there are times where we feel a disconnect to it, relief when it's Friday, dread when it's Monday.

Truth is, it's just a job.

I often think of the movie Mr. Holland's Opus when it comes to this topic. Mr. Holland started teaching in high school because he was going to use it as a stepping stone to become a composer. As the movie goes, he achieves his dream at the end (sort of) after spending over 30 years teaching. The movie is meant to inspire those to see that changing and inspiring lives is just as important as achieving your dreams. Decent movie. Ok message. But what if he quit? What if he tried another avenue to achieve his dream? Does it make him less of a person because he wouldn't have inspired those people? Or more of an inspiration because he took the risk to break out of his comfort zone to achieve his dream?

It's tough to say.

I think the true message about jobs that we need to consider and realize is: why do we have our job in addition to knowing that it supports us fiscally?

My friend John Purdie once said to me that job searching in student affairs is like dating. Metaphorically this has proven sound to me. A job interview is like a date. You're presenting the best you are for a quality first impression in hopes that it leads to a more detailed second and third date so the department hires you, engaging yourself in a long term relationship. You socialize, you ask questions. Professionals in student affairs often talk about 'fit' when asking where's the best place to work. What department fits with your values, passions, ambitions, etc.

Just like dating, we really don't understand what it's like until we're actually working in our new job. Then we see the cracks. We're exposed to random bouts of discontinuity. We wonder what went wrong at times. We're delighted at those moments of professional zen when something goes right. But just like a relationship, it's day by day. And it can grind on you. It can wear down on you. If it's a bad relationship, you debate about ending it. You're faced with: am I going to be in a better place? You're worried about losing those job things that come with every job: money, day to day purposes, good references for another future job.

I talked earlier how in other areas of the priority wheel if one area is lacking then the rest is pulled down. We've cultivated the job to the same status as a relationship with those other priorities. There's a social stigma if we're jobless. Parents are curious to know just as much as where you're gonna work when you graduate as when are you going to settle down. Moreover, it's a double edged sword: if our job sucks it pulls the rest of our priorites down. If we quit it, how do we fuels the other priorities?

"Try not to bend the spoon, that's impossible; realize that there is no spoon."

Yep, it's from the Matrix and it's a little out there but that's how you need to view your job priority. At all positions of a job there are things you can control, there are things that control you, and there are the fires you need to put out. You can control how you do your day to day responsibilities, your atitude about your job, how you interact with those you work with, etc. Your bosses, budgets, policies, expectations, and general work environment controls you.

And then there are fires. Fires are those incidents when no one can control what just happened. It happened. And it's usually big and it usually ripples through everything you do. They suck, usually requiring extra work. There's always that freak out period about what we could have done to stop it, then, at times, freak out about preventing it in the future.

Knowing that you really can only control 1/3 of your job, you should realize that you can control all of how you view your job. That goes back to my earlier question...why is your job there? Once you've answered that question here's some additional things to help you out:

-Create an environment, as much as you can, that's comfortable for you without making you complacent. As you progress on your job, processes become easier. Make them more efficient if you can. If you can't, then realize you can't and move on to the next thing. Don't waste time beating your head against the wall. All new employees always want to do that. They want to create a system or policy that was comfortable to them elsewhere. Then they get frustrated when they can't change it.

-Be ready to let go. You should always give it a shot. And be a hard worker. But if it turns into a 'bad lover" or you're getting complacent, then start to let go. I have a friend who's job searched a total of 4 times in the last 6 years. Does that mean he's a quitter? No. He took risks quitting safe/secure jobs due to his happiness. I have another friend who has worked at the same place (different positions) all his life. He's feeling good because he's challenged himself every year with something new.

-Spend time doing other things. Do not make your job your sole focus of your life. Make time to do your hobbies or hang out with people. The more dynamic you make your life the less your job takes up your cranial capacity with worries and frustration. Especially your career. Give as much attention to your career as you would your job.

-Finally realize that shit happens. Something bad is going to occur on our jobs that we cannot control. We can't worry about it, and we can't always prevent it. You can always try to be proactive, but doing that is a matter of strategic common sense planning vs. overreacting when something bad has happened.

In a future posting I will discuss all five of the areas now that they are present. For now, make the most of your job. Realize that you can move on when you need to. And create a vision for yourself of how it fits into everything you do.


PS Big shout out to all the folks I met at GLACURH this past weekend in Eau Claire. I got a chance to hang out with the UW Lax delegation and the WURHA president. All classy people and I wish them the best.