Productivity & Motivation

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.


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.

How to Update Your Personal Brand Without Losing Your Mind

Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal, Guatemala

We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.
— Tom Peters, “The Brand Called You"

This post is about personal branding, but I take a different route to get there: from the academic’s perspective on publishing. Publishing is part of our job, and we’re expected to do it. And publishing is like sending out into the world a 30-page article or 300-page book full of SEO keywords—through the sources we use, the stories we tell, the analysis we do. Everything we publish essentially becomes a SEO list of who we are as researchers, teachers, and citizens. Our personal brands helps get us jobs, grants, speaking engagements, consulting gigs, and the like. 

So what happens when an academic (ahem, me) realizes that s/he has to re-evaluate her/his brand? And what happens when that realization is painful because maybe, just maybe, s/he doesn’t want to change? Well, that’s my story.

Early in the month of May, I met with a colleague, who I greatly respect and admire, to talk about my academic identity and career trajectory. After a long and productive conversation, he asked me if I wanted the truth. Of course I did. (Maybe?) Then I learned that, somehow, my publications and conference presentations might be marketing me as not-as-hip. From his perspective, if I wanted more career movement, I needed to explore the hot stuff. The popular stuff. 

Hip: technology, design, networks, systems, robots, ecosystems, objects (which I wasn’t excited about).

Not-as-hip: discourse communities, literacy, discourse analysis, genre theory (what I was excited about).

I won’t deny it: a part of me crumbled when I heard I wasn’t hip. I didn’t not want to be hip. It stung. But it stung me into action. 

As an early career Assistant Professor, I know that I have to shape my brand. And I also know that the personal brand that I have also impacts the job opportunities I’ll have. Sure, I am getting articles published that didn’t incorporate the hip theories—which means that people don’t necessarily have to be using hip theory to get published—but getting my colleague’s perspective gave me pause. It gave me another perspective of how I was viewed in academia. And that is really useful information.

Yes, I could have taken my colleague’s perspective with a grain of salt. And, yes, I could have written him off. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to let his perspective inspire me to grow as a thinker, teacher, researcher, and writer. I used his perspective to pivot.

sometimes the greatest moments of insight happen when other people tell us what we don’t want to hear about ourselves. And it might sting. 

we shouldn't get defensive and retreat.

Instead, we need to use that insight to move us into deeper inquiry and exploration.

So here’s what I like to call the “Genesea 3.0” upgrade, which happened over the course of a few months:

Embrace Feeling Stuck
Yes, I shed a few tears of frustration. Yes, I felt stuck and overwhelmed. Yes, I felt conflicted about whether or not I should take my colleague’s advice. So I sat with those feelings and let them be. 

Explore the Hip Stuff
After I stopped feeling so sensitive, I read as many books and articles on the hip topics—postcomposition, post humanism, systems theory, Actor-Network Theory—to get a baseline understanding of what the excitement was all about. Sure, it was challenging. I was learning new content that had been off my radar completely. And it was mentally exhausting, illustrated in this Facebook update I made when I was in the thick of it: “I read three words by Bruno Latour and promptly had to take a nap.” (Which is true.)

Talk it out with People Who Know   
When I attended a Computers and Writing conference the end of May, I knew many of the attendees would be be able to fill the theoretical gaps for me. So during social events I mustered the gumption to ask fellow attendees (and mostly strangers) if they would explain to me the importance of the hip theory. Because I’m a questioner, I asked “why...?” a lot. And they were cool with that. Talking with friendly academics who were happy to help me through my confusion made all the difference. I don’t think I would have been  as willing to explore a different personal brand without their insight. 

Return to the Material
During the month of June, I picked up the books and articles again. They were easier to read at this point. And the concepts were starting to make sense—and even applicable to what I was already teaching in my classes and exploring in my research. But the crux of my shift was being able identify small nuggets of content that made sense—a word, a phrase, a sentence or two. My thought process went something like this: Okay…human agency, technology and objects, power, unstable and fragmented, beings being shared…these are things that make sense. I think I might get it. Eventually.

Look for Common Threads
While hashing this out with another colleague, he explained that my beloved concepts and frameworks weren’t dead, per se. But they have evolved to include how technology and humanity interact. Looking at it from that angle, it was easier to see the common threads between my not-so-hip theory and the hip theory: both are about relationships, communication situations, and audiences. But the hip theory includes technology a central part of the conversation, which makes sense given the technoworld that we live in. So, upon seeing the common threads, I knew that updating my personal brand was a smart move: I’ve learned new concepts that will positively impact my teaching and research, and I’ve embraced the personal brand pivot that comes with insight and inquiry. And that’s the kind of person I want to be.

Thinking about re-branding your “Me, Inc.”? Here are four steps to get you started with process:  

1. Ask your yourself who you want to be and why.   

2. Does that new you require a brand pivot? 

3. Be open to change by looking for common threads between your existing self and what's hip. You might want to journal the connections or do a mind dump brainstorming activity. 

4. Be patient with yourself. You don’t have to change overnight. 


Let’s talk! What’s been your experience pivoting your Me, Inc.? Or how do you know when it’s time to update your personal brand? Let’s connect on Twitter @GeneseaC and on Instagram @CattingWithAlice.