Lean Out: What's Your Vision Statement?

Sometimes you've got to lean way out to get the whole picture. Xunantunich, Belize.

Sometimes you've got to lean way out to get the whole picture. Xunantunich, Belize.


This post is a play on Sheryl Sandburg's book title Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I want to propose that before we can fully and completely lean in--to take on more responsibility and lead others--we need to better understand who we are and question what we know about ourselves.

This past week, I was in Wisconsin for an Intercultural Personal Leadership workshop with KANI Consulting and was asked to really dive deep into better understanding who I am as a human, person, academic, administrator, teacher, and researcher. Three of the seminar activities were eye-opening and, perhaps, life-changing. Here are three things I learned that you can also try to better understand your interests, passions, values, goals, hopes, and dreams: 

1. Who am I at my highest and best self? In this activity, we spent about 10 minutes answering this question through keywords that came to mind. Writing furiously and without stifling myself, I quickly filled my paper. And many of those keywords were familiar: Real. Action. Generative. Paid my value. Research. These are all descriptors of what I love about being an academic. But many of those keywords were not what I expected: Swimming. Being outside. Inspired locale. Carefree. Laughter. Visioning. These keywords didn't neatly fit into what my life has been as an academic. I kinda felt confused. How do I balance all these keywords, I wondered. And how do I fully live my highest and best self? 

2. Focusing my best self. I was overwhelmed with all of my keywords. I didn't know how to analyze them or interpret them or use them as a mirror to uncover something I didn't realize about myself. Thankfully, our seminar leaders knew what to do next. We were asked to narrow down our top 5 keywords and then narrow down that list to 3 keywords. Those keywords would become our vision statement. 

3. Develop my vision statement. Using these keywords, we were asked to create a vision statement for the current position we hold:

As a [insert title] operating at my highest and best, I am [insert keyword 1], [insert keyword 2], and [insert keyword 3], so that [goal or purpose]. 

I ended up writing two vision statements: one for myself, as Genesea, and one as the Associate Director of Composition. Here's the one I wrote for myself:

As Genesea operating at my highest and best, I am paid my value, excited to work, and work at my own pace, so that my efforts are meaningful

Interestingly enough--or perhaps a sign that I'm in the right place at the moment--some of the keywords and goals overlapped in both vision statements. What I see emerging from my vision statements is an emphasis upon being valued. And that is worth sitting with and reflecting upon. 

I don't want to overanalyze my vision statements, as I am still processing the experience, but I know how important it is to continue thinking about what my vision statements capture about how I see myself and what I want of myself. Equally important to my personal and professional growth is reflecting upon and sitting with the keywords left on the page. Those keywords are still meaningful and are important indicators of what brings me to my highest and best self. Just because they weren't included in the vision statement doesn't mean they should be forgotten or minimized. At that moment, I used three specific keywords relating to my career and life focus. Other keywords will cycle in and out as I walk through the seasons, develop career goals, live out life goals, and experience life. 

Try It! 

If you try your own visioning, remember that vision statements can change. They may not even be the same from week to week. And this is okay. It's important to recognize that vision statements capture our emotions, thoughts, and experiences at that given point in time. Allow yourself to be flexible and open handed as you explore what your keywords are, how they fold into your vision statements, and how your vision statements change over time. 

Spaces, Productivity, and You

Now this space gets me. Grain Store Cafe & Bar inside Gatwick Airport, England. 

Now this space gets me. Grain Store Cafe & Bar inside Gatwick Airport, England. 

My last post about Writing Where You Are generated a bit of conversation on my Facebook page, mostly about where people can and can’t write: my sister likes writing on trains and planes; I cannot write on trains and planes (well, to be more specific, since I am writing this on a train: I cannot write academic pieces on trains and planes); my friend M cannot write on trains or planes either. (M and I both agree that we don’t like the small spaces or the notion of people looking at us while we write.)

My previous post and the ensuing FB conversation touched on something I’ve been thinking about for a while: what do I like about writing in some spaces more than others? And why do I like writing in some coffee shops more than my carefully curated home office or department office?

I don’t know. I mean, I kinda know, but I don't know how to replicate that feeling in my own spaces. 

Here’s what I know I do like about the spaces that inspire me to write:

  • Firm but comfortable chairs that don’t squeak or wobble
  • Warm tones (a bit of brick really gets me going) make me feel cozy
  • Hints of bright yellow, vibrant pink, turquoise (all my favorite colors); but not too much of my favorite colors
  • Just cool enough temperature that where I can feel the coolness on my face; I also love the cool enough temperature where I can wear my scarf (again, I love that cozy feeling)
  • Warm woods, either as accents or as tables
  • Some green plants to add life
  • The whirrrrr of background noise, not loud enough to draw me into a conversation or distract me

What I don’t like, and which don’t inspire me to write:

  • Metal chairs and tables
  • Overly sterilized, modern design elements
  • Baristas who chatter too loudly about their personal issues and workplace drama (this happens A LOT in coffee shops)
  • Overly cold or overly hot temperatures
  • Lack of natural lighting
  • No windows
  • Abstract and modern art
  • Blank, textureless walls
  • Too many bright and bold colors that feel cooling instead of cozy

Basically, and I’ve used these adjectives before, I like to feel “cozy” and “warm” in my writing space, which is interesting because I don’t normally wear warm colors; I tend to wear bright, cooling colors like fuchsia, electric pink, aquamarine, daffodil yellow, and grass green.

When I was a graduate student, I was so excited to get my first job and have money to rent a place with a home office. I wanted to make it my own, so I bought art that really inspired me, and a bold red desk from Ikea that was speaking to me, and I planned how to design the space in a way that would make me productive, motivated, and happy. I did all of that when I got my first place after graduation, and I found that I didn’t want to be in that space. I’ll blame it partially on my cat, Alice, who always wanted to sit on my lap (I cannot work with a cat on my lap—sorry Alice!); I’ll also blame it on the small window without much light and the brown carpet. Despite all my best efforts, the room didn't feel cozy. It felt small, dark, and confining. 

But, the same thing happened with my work office, too, and then I began wondering if (a) writing my dissertation in a coffee shop meant that I had trained myself to work in a coffee shop and would now need to untrain myself, (b) I didn’t actually know how to create an inspired, happy space, and/or (c) I was too overly stimulated with a new job, new state, and new colleagues that I couldn’t sit in peace and quiet in my home and work offices. Maybe I needed some kind of distraction, which coffee shops do provide.

And I don't have answers to why my home and work offices weren't productive, happy, cozy places for me. What I do know is that I would really like to figure out how to cultivate such a space. And I also know that I want a daffodil yellow wall. A big, daffodil yellow wall. I don’t want a daffodil yellow painting or a daffodil yellow frame or a daffodil yellow pillow. I want a wall. (Which is probably not possible in my department office.)

So, what to do, what to do? Basically, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I want to hear about your experiences learning what colors, textures, temperatures, light, etc., make you happy, productive, and motivated. Do show and tell—take some pictures and tag me, @GeneseaC. Because I need all the help I can get. 



Right Where You Are, Write Where You Are

Somewhere near Brick Lane, London.

Somewhere near Brick Lane, London.

For the past two weeks I have been in London and the Netherlands with my husband, who is doing dissertation research. It feels like we're hopping from one cheap AirBnB to the next, from one train to the next, from one Underground line to the next.

Before I flew to London to meet up with him, friends back home asked me what I wanted to do. “Sit in a park and drink tea” and “just be and enjoy being” is what I replied. I haven’t been able to do either.

The crush of London—culture, people, history, expense, language—is overwhelming. And I’m the kind of traveler who wants to do it all, which doesn’t bode well for sitting in a park and being.

The first week we were in London, we walked over sixty miles. This in part to the expense of traveling on the Underground, but also because I wanted to see it all. So my way of being was being constantly on my feet walking everywhere. I loved it. I still love it. And I have my blisters to show my love. Really, get out and walk a city if you want to experience that city—the sights, sounds, smells, architecture, cats, dogs, bikes, babies, languages, music, menus, fashion. The hustle bustle pace of trains, tubes, buses, and cars don’t let us fully experience a place. And the walking pace slows us down: our minds, our senses, our paces, our thoughts. Walking reconnects you with the pavement and the grass, the sun and rain, the space and place.

Despite my inability to sit and drink tea or coffee in a park—I’m going to make it happen, believe me!—one of the ways to “just be” might seem a bit counterintuitive: I’ve been taking my laptop everywhere. You see, I also want to finish writing these two articles I’m working on, and if you’ve read my previous post on productivity, you know that finding the space to write and think, think and write, can also be a challenge. So what have I done? I’ve blended my “just be” intention with my “just write” intention.

Just being and just writing are a perfect match because I can’t write if I can’t be. And I can't be if I can't write. Being and writing happen in stimulating spaces: parks, museums, coffee shops. Too much silence shuts down my creativity. I need inspiration through color, texture, sight, sound, temperature.

I love writing in coffee shops or public spaces that have bumping tunes, just enough background noise, and the smell of coffee and pastries. Even better is a coffee shop with open windows and doors, where I can smell the waft of cigarette smoke or street food. Even better? Lots of natural light, so I can look outside and see the old brick buildings, the trees waving in the breeze, the hollyhocks and lavender growing in-between sidewalk cracks or in flower boxes. Spaces like these help me sit with my thoughts, sit with my being, and sit with the moment. They also inspire me to write.

Carrying my laptop everywhere means that, when the mood is right and the place is right, I can sit and be. I can think about my articles, revise paragraphs, look out the windows, people watch, and be. Ultimately, I’m a happier writer, and a happier traveler because I’ve allowed myself to be inspired by the space and place. Here's where I've been most inspired to be and write, write and be:

  •  Wellcome Collection, London
  •  British Library, London
  •  Parliament Cafe (not open to the public, unfortunately), London
  •  Cafe 1001, Brick Lane, London
  •  Anne and Max, Leiden, Netherlands
  •  A bench overlooking a canal, Leiden, Netherlands

In what ways are you right where you are where you can write where you are? Share you tips and thoughts with me on Twitter @GeneseaC. I’d love to hear about your being and writing experiences.


Simmer Down and Listen More

Someplace between Utah and Minnesota. 

Someplace between Utah and Minnesota. 

I want to shift the conversation from a focus only on you…to a recognition that your own performance is either improved or diminished by the other people in your scenario. They hold power.
— Dr. Henry Cloud

As a graduate student, I received training in writing program administration, which simply means that I was trained, as much as is possible when in graduate school, to serve as an administrator in charge of a several writing courses, such as freshmen writing courses. This administrative role typically includes everything from teacher training to course curriculum development.

But after graduation, I got a job not as a writing program administrator, and I really struggled with adjusting from my graduate program leadership role to department contributor. Part of my struggle was wanting to put my graduate school knowledge and experience to good use. And I thought that "good use" meant a more visible leadership position. (You can read more about my journey to that realization here.) 

But in my excitement to contribute to a department (and frustration/annoyance that I wasn't contributing in the right ways), I got caught up in the end result and not the process: building  relationships with the people who were vital to the end result.

In my head I was impatient to start the process of “making things better.” I sought out those opportunities to get involved in curriculum development or teacher training. But I was resistant to accepting that change is slow. I’m a get-things-done kind of person, that getting people involved and on-board is more than just making policy changes. It’s about building relationships.

Dr. Henry Cloud, a clinical psychologist and leadership expert, explains the importance of relationships in his new book The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have On You, From the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond. He writes about the power of people this way:  

"The undeniable reality is that how well you do in life and in business depends not only on what you do and how you do it, your skills and competencies, but also on who is going it with you or to you” (9).

So what does this mean for me? It means that getting ideas implemented or getting conversations going depends on the people who are involved. I cannot require or force people to trust me, but I need their listening ears to share my ideas. I’ve realized this past year that building relationships with my colleagues is the most important goal, and my excitement to create change needs to simmer down. Way down.

Or put another way:

My expectations about my role needed to be adjusted. I am not the missing link that will miraculously usher forth change. 

Instead, my role is to be the connector of people who starts hallway conversations; who listens to people about their experiences, challenges, and successes; who finds ways to build relationships.

When working with people—and needing their support to create sustainable change—the relationships are the most important element to that change. There may always be an end goal in sight, but sometimes (usually?) that goal will happen in baby steps, which is okay. Real change cannot happen without also changing people’s hearts and minds. But to do that, the one with vision must also take the time to support and listen to the other people in the scenario. 

Ultimately, it's not all about me, my ideas, or where I feel most valued. Sure, those things are important to job satisfaction and overall happiness, but I'm now part of a team that has, combined, over 100+ years of academic administration and teaching experience. My colleagues have experiences, stories, and wisdom worth listening to and learning from. The wise thing to do would be to simmer down and listen more: more lunch dates, more coffee dates, more questions. 

This year is the year of listening for me. 

What about you?







On Being Fulfilled in the Workplace

Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal, Guatemala

This year I am starting my fourth year as an assistant professor. As a new semester starts, I've found myself reflecting on the transition from graduate student to assistant professor. In particular, I've spent a fair amount of time these last few years evaluating the hopes and dreams (and expectations) I had as a graduate student versus the realities of being a colleague.

Graduate student hope and dream: 
There's so much knowledge I have; I cannot wait to use it once I get a job. (Also known as "recent graduate overeagerness.")

My new colleagues don't know me, and I shouldn't come across as too overeager. I need to sit back, observe, and learn. (Also known as "learning and patiently waiting.") 

It's true that deep down, I was overeager to share my knowledge and expertise. It's also true that, in the first few years on the job, it was incredibly frustrating for me to sit back, observe, and learn. I felt, somehow, I was wasting my talents.  

What I wasn't able to see a few years ago was this: I could still use my expertise, talents, and interestsjust in a less direct, less obvious way.

It was my own expectations getting in the way: that I wouldn’t be completely fulfilled if I wasn’t using all of my talents and passions in the ways that I envisioned I would use them. As a new hire, I was itching to get started and use all of the knowledge and expertise I had acquired while in graduate school. But anyone who knows anything about starting new jobs or joining a new organization knows that the process is slow. Relationships must be cultivated. The department culture must be learned. In other words, patience must be acquired. A genuine, willing-to-learn patience is one that cannot be faked.  

Being fulfilled requires adjusting the ego
It’s hard to take the ego down a notch, but learning to settle in—happily so—is the first step to finding your place. It wasn’t until I stopped thinking about what I could or should be accomplishing and contributing that I started to embrace the opportunities that came my way. And, these opportunities were (and are) relationally based.

Being fulfilled requires a genuine interest in others
Being fulfilled at work requires a genuine interest in focusing on the others around you. I had to want to build relationships with people. It took a shift in my attitude from being me-focused to being other-focused.

So this is what I did: I found opportunities to have lunch with the new hires. I organized a research and writing discussion group with colleagues who had similar interests. I reached out to a more established colleague to discuss my curriculum vitae. I organized a welcome dinner for a new hire. I made efforts to listen, listen, listen. And I made efforts to be genuinely interested in what other people were doing, what their challenges and successes were, and how I could help support them.

The effect: new opportunities and new conversations
And these are the doors that opened: because I was interested in others’ work and teaching experiences, natural conversations began in which I could engage with topics that I was passionate about. I was willing to take the time to figure out where I could naturally fit in to the existing department culture and conversations. Additionally, shifting my gaze away from me to the others around me created opportunities for the conversations that I wanted to participate in.  

If you’re in a space where you want more, or if your expectations aren’t being met, be willing to change. Pivot. Discover which colleagues are interested in and where your interests match. Slow down. Embrace your surroundings. Find and create those conversations and opportunities. You'll be more satisfied, happier, and fulfilled. 


Let's connect! I'd love to hear what you're doing to be more fulfilled at work. I'm @GeneseaC on Twitter and @CattingWithAlice on Instagram.