Life & Happiness

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. 



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?







Working With People, 80/20 Style

Van Gogh, "Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun," Minneapolis Institute of Art. Close up.

Van Gogh, "Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun," Minneapolis Institute of Art. Close up.

In a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, where I love to aimlessly browse through books, I was drawn to the section on business management and start-up ventures. A fan of Shark Tank, I picked up Robert Herjavec’s book You Don’t Have to be a Shark: Creating Your Own Success and thumbed through to a chapter on the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule is a mathematical principle that Herjavec describes this way:

Eighty percent of the effects of any activity comes from 20 percent of the cause.

Or, put another way:

Eighty percent of a company’s business is made from 20 percent of its customers.

Right now the 80/20 Rule is hip. Thumb through any food or fitness magazine and you'll see the 80/20 Rule applied to anything from eating in moderation (focus on what you're eating 80% of the time; don't worry about the 20%) to exercise (80% of your results comes from the 20% that you do). 

But I want to apply the 80/20 Rule to working with people.

Earlier in Herjavec’s book, he wrote that while working as a bill collector, he realized that 20% of people would never pay their debts, so he focused on the 80% who would.

Lightbulb moment: focus your energies on the 80% of what you can accomplish and who you can accomplish it with

So what does Herjavec's story have to do with my life?

You see, a large part of my job is working with people. As a professor, I teach over a hundred of students a semester, I work in a department with over thirty instructional staff and faculty members, I am part of a campus with over 10,000 students and hundreds of employees, and I attend conferences where 300-3,000 other academics attend. Needless to say, I’m around people all the time. And part of my job is to win people over to my point of view: whether that’s teaching freshmen about the importance of writing, or explaining to faculty members how to more effectively teach and grade writing, or talking with department colleagues about an improved grading method.

Focus your efforts on the 80%
Herjavec’s point about focusing on the 80% was an important reminder for me. When time and energy is short, I need to focus my efforts on the 80% of people who I can shape and influence—the willing 80%. In the classroom, this translates into those who take my feedback seriously, those who come to my office hours, and those who are hard workers. As a colleague, this means finding people on campus who want to be my ally, who want to share teaching techniques, and who want to discuss research. 

Don't get discouraged by the 20%
Herjavec could have easily let the 20% who wouldn't pay their bills frustrate him. He could have also let the 20% color his perspective about how good he was at his job. But he didn't. He took the long view: he won't be able to collect 100% of accounts. And that's okay. What does this look like for me? Well, I often expend my energies on the resistant ones: the ones who aren’t sold on writing or communication, or the ones who aren’t sold on writing and communication from my point of view. And I often get discouraged by the 20%. But, instead of letting the 20% get me discouraged, I need to focus my gaze on the 80%. 

As a teacher who loves teaching, I will always be drawn to the tough cases—the students who don’t want to be in my classes and the faculty who aren’t interested in my perspective about writing and communication. And that’s okay. I don’t need to convert everyone. I can’t convert everyone. And maybe I’m not the person to convert them. Focusing my efforts on the 20% means I’m going to get burned out expending my energy, time, and emotions on people who aren’t interested. Instead, I need to save the best of me for the 80% who want my help and knowledge and let go of the 20% who don’t.


Let's connect! I'd love to hear how you're applying the 80/20 Rule to your life to increase productivity, motivation, and happiness. I'm @GeneseaC on Twitter and @CattingWithAlice on Instagram.  

Finding Your Best (Productive and Motivated) Self

Monet, "Grainstack, Sun in the Midst," Minneapolis Institute of Art. 

Monet, "Grainstack, Sun in the Midst," Minneapolis Institute of Art. 

One of the things I’ve learned about being as career-driven as I am, is that I need to refine my personal productivity. Being productive, for me anyways, means either getting the time to work on articles and conference presentations or getting the time to discover who I am and who I want to be. You know—the kind of work that gives you meaning, satisfaction, and joy. My intellectual and personal happiness means having time to research, read, write, and think.

But how do I harness the best time of the day or time in my week to be productive?

When I was working on my dissertation, my university’s graduate academic support center offered dissertation and thesis boot camps. Basically, a graduate student would sign up for a 40 hour a week commitment or a 20 hour commitment on the weekends with the goal of getting as much research and writing completed. In order to keep the motivation going, the boot camp staff had short writing activities at the beginning and end of the day, and staff were always available to discuss ideas, look at drafts, or troubleshoot. I signed up for seven of these week-long boot camps—the most boot camps anyone had followed through with at the university. And I learned four important things about myself that significantly impacted my productivity, and, as a result, made me a happier writer and thinker:

1. Although I’m a night person, I did my best thinking and writing from 9:00am to noon. Regardless of how hard it was to get out of bed to be on campus by 8:00am, and regardless of how many times I silently asked myself how I was going to get through the day, I always had my best ideas and most productive writing before lunch.

2. Developing the habit of journaling my tasks before starting the morning and after finishing the day helped me process my work. In the morning, I wrote down what I wanted to accomplish that day, or at least by lunch time, and then at the end of the day, I reflected on what I accomplished as a way to celebrate what was accomplished (a sure-fire way to stay motivated) as well as note what new questions or ideas emerged.

3. I learned to multi-task between multiple projects when my brain was tired. While the boot camp organizers didn’t want us to fill up the time with checking email, grading students’ assignments (if we were teaching assistants), or doing research for professors (if we were research assistants), they encouraged us to have multiple back-up assignments in case we got stuck or bored of the dissertation or thesis work. So, I would come prepared, each day, with at least three different kinds of projects I could work on to cycle through if I felt bored or stymied in my dissertation work. Having multiple projects to work on allowed me to treat each boot camp like the 40 hour a week job that it was. I don’t think I’ve been as productive since.

4. Being in a space with people focused on the same kind of goal—a steel will to complete as much work as possible—kept me motivated. There’s something about being in a space with 10-15 other people who are all wanted the same thing: to be productive. There’s a buzzing energy that happens in this kind of space. Coffee shops and collaborative workspaces provide similar kinds of energy, which is why aside from writing my dissertation during the boot camps, I lived at one coffee shop, Satellite Coffee on Carlisle and Central, the rest of the time. That particular coffee shop was a satellite office for many professionals, and over hearing the work meetings or phone interviews or seeing the projects people were working on also kept me motivated. 

My current challenge is replicating those ways in which I’m most productive. Because I teach in the morning, and because I’m still a night person, I’ve found it impossible to wake-up at 5:00am or 6:00am to have time to write. And I also haven’t found a coffee shop that provides the motivational and productivity buzz that was at Satellite Coffee. But my goal is, each and every day, to try to make it happen. And maybe finding that productive space is a never-ending battle. But I’d really like to find that sweet spot, once again, that I had in writing boot camp and at Satellite Coffee. And every day I’ll continue to look for it. 


Let's talk! What roadblock are you dealing with right now? Or, what did it take to get to know yourself enough to know when you'd be most motivated and productive? Let's connect on Twitter @GeneseaC or on Instagram @CattingWithAlice.