Word of the year 2016

I have a confession to make, and as a graduate of a liberal arts university (with a minor in religion and philosophy), this is truly crawl-under-a-rock worthy. I made a classic Christian mistake. I interpreted a passage of Scripture (Nehemiah 8:10) a) entirely out of context and b) in light of—wait for it—a contemporary Christian worship song rather than the context of the passage itself, the Jewish culture, or anything else reasonable or helpful.

OneDay 2000

At OneDay 2000 (and yes, those are scrubs I’m wearing)

The embarrassing fact is this happened some time in college, and I’ve been running on the fumes of my lazy interpretation ever since. Has it caused me any major harm? Has it harmed others? Not necessarily.

At least one good thing came this Scriptural interpretation error for about 18 years. It opened my eyes to the truth that I’ve probably made similar errors numerous other times in my walk of faith over the years (incredibly humbling). Yikes—gotta keep my mental antennae up now every time I read the Bible for sure. What the heck was wrong with me? Were my emotions leading my brain or what? Who knows.

Here’s the problem.

I missed so much goodness by failing to see the big picture.

Each year since 2011, thanks to the prompting of my friend Denise Felton, I select a word as my focus or theme rather than making resolutions or setting specific goals. This helps me to stay centered and gives me something positive to meditate on; the appeal of choosing a word of the year also appeals to me since I’m a writer and have degrees in English—word nerd to the max, for sure.

This year, I felt compelled to focus on the word joy. If you read my previous blog post, you probably understand why. 2015 presented many challenges, and if I had to select a word in retrospect to represent my emotional state of being in 2015, it would likely be grief.

Who wouldn’t like a little relief from THAT? Joy hot fudge cake sundae with a little extra joy on top, please. And joyful cherry, too.002

I began researching joy and its word origins, reading articles online about the differences between happiness and joy, searching for quotes online and famous folks defining “joy,” and reading Scriptural passages about joy. All of this reading and research was helpful, but what stunned me—and quite frankly moved me to tears—was Nehemiah chapter 8. I knew I’d love verse 10 because, as I mentioned, I already felt attached to this verse because I’d belted out Matt Redman’s “Trading My Sorrows (Yes Lord)” more times than I can recall.

And I meant it—well, I meant that I WANTED the joy of the Lord to be my strength. Until the past few years, I didn’t even know how to allow God to be God in my life—I was my own god, managing and controlling and answering all my own questions and only turning to the real God as a last resort. So the whole “Trading My Sorrows” song and saying “Yes, yes Lord” thing was, at best, me paying desperate lip service to a noble concept I wanted to apply but simply couldn’t.

I recently purchased Sara Groves’ new album. The title track is Floodplain. I understand the song so well; the first time I listened to it, I gasped. She was describing the former Bethany.

Some hearts are built on a floodplain
Keeping one eye on the sky for rain
You work for the ground that gets washed away
When you live closer

Closer to the life and the ebb and flow
Closer to the edge of I don’t know
Closer to that’s the way it goes
Some hearts are built on a floodplain

And it’s easy to sigh on a high bluff
Look down and ask when you’ve had enough
Will you have the sense to come on up
Or will you stay closer

Closer to the danger and the rolling deep
Closer to the run and the losing streak
And what brings us to our knees
Some hearts live here

Oh the river it rushes to madness
And the water it spreads like sadness
And there’s no high ground
And there’s no high ground
Closer to the danger and the rolling deep
Closer to the run and the losing streak
And what brings us to our knees

Closer to the life and the ebb and flow
Closer to the edge of I don’t know
Closer to Lord please send a boat
Some hearts are built here

What happened to move me off the Floodplain is similar to what happened for God’s people, the Israelites, in Nehemiah chapter 8–God ultimately comes in for the win and fills them with more joy than they’d ever imagined. If I had taken time to read this chapter for myself slooowwwllyyy rather than rushing through it, latching on to the portion of the verse mentioned in the catchy Christian worship song all the cool kids were singing at the time, maybe I would have taken note of this as an 18 year-old kid… But maybe not. As Sara Groves states, “Some hearts are built here.” Mine certainly was.

Nehemiah, a servant of God who was serving as governor on behalf of King Xerxes, felt led to lead the Israelites who’d returned to Jerusalem out of exile to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He appealed to Xerxes, who granted him permission to oversee this task, and over a period of several months, Nehemiah worked tirelessly to make it happen but not without encountering numerous naysayers, some of whom threatened his life and tried to attack Jerusalem. While reading Nehemiah today, I felt exhausted at times—so I’m pretty sure he must have felt this way, too. There were times when the men did not even disrobe and disarm while sleeping for fear of being attacked at night. All this occurred while the people worked non-stop rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

When the Jewish people finally finished rebuilding the walls, Ezra, the priest, gathered the people together to read the Book of the Law. The people listened attentively, and Nehemiah and the priests said to the people, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law… “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated like this. And their joy was very great.  (Nehemiah 8:9-10, 17)

I never knew the back story—that the priests commanded the people to stop grieving and to find strength in the Lord via the avenue of joy that day.

And the back story goes WAAAYY back. These people returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to other nations, enslaved to nations and forced into God-knows-what kind of bondage. Many of their babies died from starvation before having a chance at life. I could go on and on. I’m not making this stuff up—read the books of the prophets in the Old Testament—it’s all there, and the atrocities committed against the Jewish people are horrific.

These people—the ones having difficulty holding back tears while the Book of the Law is being read for the first time after the walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt—these people are the survivors. But the priests see the big picture, and while they empathize with the mourning of the survivors, they also want to help the survivors thrive and move forward. They don’t want the people’s spiritual feet to remain stuck in the muck of grief. They want them to move into the clear, clean dry land of joy.021

This story—the story of the completion of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah chapter 8—occurred in the seventh month on the Jewish calendar during the Feast of Trumpets. This is the Jewish New Year.

It’s my New Year now.

This story resonates with me because it’s a beautiful depiction of what God has done for me, and it’s what I’m asking Him to do for me again.

After a long, hard year in 2015, I certainly relate to the overwhelming feelings expressed by the Israelites in Nehemiah. Like the people of Jerusalem, I am ready to celebrate like I have never celebrated before in 2016. I want to say at the end of this year, “And my joy was very great.”

As the wise king Solomon once said, there certainly is a season and time for everything. And there has been enough grief.

Excuse me, please. I must go heed the words of Nehemiah 8:12.

“Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

I know, I know… I’m taking the words out of context again… but for the love of chocolate…

 

THIS is networking.

Working as Director of Career Development, 2005

Working as Director of Career Development, 2005

The interview process for my new job began 10 years ago.

My new boss, Steven Rothberg, President/Founder of College Recruiter, presented the keynote address at the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers Conference in 2005. I’d just entered the world of higher education as Director of Career Development at my alma mater. At that conference, I met two people who later proved to be crucial in my career—my new boss, Steven, and my career mentor, Samantha Hartley.

My boss, Steven Rothberg, circa 2008. :)

My boss, Steven Rothberg, circa 2008. 🙂

While listening to Steven speak at the AACE Conference, I soaked up his enthusiasm and insight like a sponge. His passion for College Recruiter made quite an impression upon me. I became a fan of College Recruiter’s work.

True to my networking-is-all-about-genuine-relationships mantra, I kept in touch with Steven over the course of the past decade. When I learned he was the keynote speaker at the AACE Conference this June, I had to be there, even though my role as an English faculty member didn’t afford me the opportunity to participate in AACE any longer. Thankfully, many of the speakers and workshops pertained to curriculum, so I made a case for my attendance and was able to drive to northwest Arkansas for the day.

At the AACE Conference in June 2015 with my friend and former student, Kelsey Lavigne

At the AACE Conference in June 2015 with my friend and former student, Kelsey Lavigne

When I began teaching as a faculty member, I truly never planned on doing anything else. I felt I’d arrived. However, some switch flipped in me when I reconnected with Steven at the AACE Conference. Feeling inspired, I immediately came home and wrote a blog post, which Steven shared on Twitter. A few weeks later, he invited me to participate in a webinar with College Recruiter. The right doors kept opening, and I kept walking through them. I had a gut feeling that if I were ever to do anything other than teach, working for College Recruiter would be my dream job. What would that look like? What exactly could I do for them? I had no idea. I just prayed for God to work things out as He saw fit.

At the beginning of August, I saw opportunities for improvement in content on College Recruiter’s website. I felt torn about whether to mention this to Steven, though, since he was my “ideal boss.” My career mentor asked me if my ideal boss would be offended by my suggestions for improvement.

“I guess not.”

“Well, there’s your answer.”

So I emailed him. Several emails and phone calls later, Steven and his wife Faith, CEO of College Recruiter, offered me the position of content manager.

Morning view from my soon-to-be office

Morning view from my soon-to-be office

This morning, as I drank coffee on my back porch to the sound of a few chilly birds chirping in the distance, I realized that still, soft forest would be my vantage point every single day. In January, I’ll be exchanging my office on campus for my office at home, which is currently being constructed and greets the sunrise.

I won’t go on and on about the variety of ways my new employer rocks. I won’t tell you about how funny Steven and Faith are.. I won’t yack about how amazed I am each time they remind me how important it is to maintain balance and prioritize my family. I won’t brag about the flexibility, the support, or the leadership… okay, maybe I will… just a little bit.

This process has proven these three things to be true.

  • Networking pays off.
  • When in doubt, listen to mentors.
  • English majors can do much more than teach, and earn a great living, too.

Although I do not practice the Jewish faith, I did find it cathartic to give my official “I’m leaving” notice today, the day after Rosh Hashanah began. I have a feeling this will be a particularly good and sweet new year. Shana tovah u’metukah, my friends.

I can’t wait to get started.

When will you be satisfied?

Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, in his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech, that people always asked him the question, “When will you be satisfied?” His response was “We can never be satisfied… no, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like mighty waters.”540503_531704289042_1276471307_n

A year ago, I met a student with tremendous financial need, matched only by his sheer determination to overcome his impoverished background and limited opportunities for advancement in life. He walked to campus four days a week to attend class without asking for rides, never playing the martyr. He applied himself academically in class, and when provided with the chance to work on campus, he jumped in with both feet even though the situation may have proved intimidating at first. He grew personally and professionally.

When it came time for this student to move on to his next big academic adventure at a four-year university, I learned of some obstacles in his path. Faculty and staff rallied together to help him overcome these obstacles. Still, there were some hang-ups and huge boulders that seemed insurmountable, expensive, and impassable.

I literally had a dream about this student in May. I woke up the next morning feeling a little silly about the dream and about what God had told me to do to help this student. Like Jacob in the Old Testament, I wrestled with God over the ins and outs. Surely you don’t want ME to do that. There has to be someone else on campus who knows this student better than I do who can do that. I am not really the best person for this task, and also, that’s a little extreme. Plus, I’ve never even taught this student. I’ve just casually mentored him on a few things here and there. Really, God? Come on.

For two months, God did not relent. The idea continued to haunt me each time I interacted with the student online. In God’s subtle but persistent manner—God is a gentleman, you know, and not a dictator—He didn’t let it go. God is a lot like Martin Luther King, Jr., too, I guess. He will not be satisfied until justice rolls like might waters.

One July morning, I woke up and took action. It worked.

Something you should know about me is once I decide I’m in, it’s over.

I’m in. There is no going back, and I will not stop until I believe I have accomplished whatever it is God has asked me to do.

In my spiritual life, I believe in the concept of doing some things for fun and for free—and doing things without the left hand knowing what the right hand is doing. So I won’t share with you details of the actions I’ve taken and am taking to advocate for this student.

I share the gist of this story with you because maybe my dream wasn’t as grand or world-changing as King’s. Perhaps it won’t change the course of history. But I’m hoping it will help change the course of a student’s life, a student who deserves a chance in this world, a student who’s already proven himself worthy of assistance, attention, and love.

We all have a miracle or two waiting for us—what if we quit before the miracle happens? What if all the people who have believed in me, encouraged me, and been God with skin on for me over the years had shirked that responsibility? Where might I be today? Certainly not writing this post, and not able to reach out to help someone else, I can promise you that.

“When will you be satisfied?”

When I die.

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” –Esther 4:14

Making the magic happen

I’m constantly keeping my antennae up for eye-catching bits regarding retention, the workplace, professional development, and careers. I came across an article by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt in Harvard Business Review entitled “How to Keep Your Top Talent” which identifies six common mistakes employers make in retaining employees identified as “top talent.” The article defines top talent as ideal employees with three primary characteristics—ability, engagement, and aspiration—and describes the magical sparks that fly when employers foster all three calling cards rather than focusing on one or two.

As a faculty member, I plan to use the article as a class exercise (spoiler alert for my Comp I and II students this fall) because it’s a great piece, is recent enough to be considered relevant to the world of work, and is interesting enough to avoid inducing lots of yawns and eye rolls from my students.

At the 2015 AACE Conference in Springdale, Arkansas

At the 2015 AACE Conference in Springdale, Arkansas

I benefited professionally as an instructor from reading the article. But I also read the article because as a former director of career development who is still enamored with the field, demonstrated by my choice to spend a day of my summer vacation at the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers conference learning from experts in the fields of recruiting and career development, I must also think about how this applies to me, my journey, and my career circles in higher education.

I do believe there are some corporations, and perhaps some universities, with excellent recruitment strategies in place and with even better retention plans. These organizations value their employees and can afford to spend time recruiting great employees, training employees once hired, and then building the morale of their employees on a regular basis through various means. Perhaps these types of corporations read the article “How to Keep Your Top Talent” and belly laugh, point fingers at the other corporations with problems, and go enjoy a game of pool after work together.

Based on my experience—having worked in a fairly wide variety of non-profit organizations, large corporations, small businesses, and private and public universities—I’d guess the number of corporations able to react to “How to Keep Your Top Talent” in this manner is teeny tiny.

All companies and organizations have problems and are, whether we want to admit it or not, dysfunctional on some level. They’re just trying to do the best they can with what they have.

So if you’re top talent, what do you do with THAT? What’s your part in it, if you’re holding the three magic cards? Just accept that you’re part of a screwed up organization, and deal with it? Accept that the company you work for sucks, will never pay you what you’re worth, may never provide you with opportunities for growth or advancement, does nothing to boost the morale of its employees, and keep suiting up and showing up?

Not exactly, but sort of…

I know. That’s not what you were expecting me to say, is it?

First, as a disclaimer, let me state that I self-identify as top talent. I believe my current and former employers will cosign this statement. I have great ability, am highly engaged, and aspire to accomplish great things. I’m always labeled as the over-achiever (okay, super nerd, maybe). The “highly engaged” part has varied depending on the organization and its level of ethics and commitment to me. I’m probably most engaged with my current employer… and more on that later.

So back to the question at hand. If you’re top talent, and you’re in a not-so-ideal situation with a corporation making at least a few of the mistakes mentioned in this article, how do you deal? What are your options?

  • Get out. Pack your bags, give your notice, and go on vacation. Or at least begin searching for gainful employment elsewhere. I’ve gone this route before—multiple times, actually. It’s not a terrible plan. The problem is that wherever you go, there you are. If you think you’ll find a better fit, you might be right. However, having run the gamut of work environments as previously mentioned over a decade and a half, let me gently warn you that you might also be wrong. But go ahead and find out for yourself. Some of us—if you’re anything like me, anyway—have to learn things for ourselves, even if that means doing it the hard way, over and over and over again. And really, the worst thing that can happen is you wind up with a resume full of short stints you’ll have to explain later and lots of interesting work experiences. Join the club.
  • Look at ways to grow within your organization. Does your organization offer opportunities for professional development (which are often free or at reduced rates)? Many employers encourage employees to take courses, even on the clock, or go to graduate school. My employer, for example, will reimburse a certain percentage of college tuition if I attend a school within the University of Arkansas System. The AACE Conference I mentioned earlier? This is a professional development opportunity, too.
  • If you have ideas and feel your creative juices flowing, take that good stuff to your leader. If your leader isn’t receptive, take it to your leader’s leader. What do you have to lose? You’re bored anyway, and you were thinking about packing your bags and taking your talent elsewhere. You might as well try to utilize your ability and creativity where you are right now before moving on. Who knows what changes you could implement? My old approach when I took a new job was this: find the holes and problems, and fill them and fix them, and then move on. That typically took me one year to 18 months. I got bored very quickly. My new approach is to dig in and dig deep. I teach three courses. I might teach the same three courses for a decade or even longer. How can I become a better instructor within those constraints? How can I collaborate with other departments? How can I create better assessment tools from semester to semester? There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to teaching or interacting with students.
With one of my former students on awards night, spring 2015

With one of my former students on awards night, spring 2015

I often plop myself down in my Vice Chancellor’s office (when he’s available to talk, of course) and share my brilliant visions with him (I’m sure he’s thrilled to see me coming each time). He’s actually really supportive, encouraging, and motivational. If I bring him a bit of a concept for an event, like our first ever Summer Institute for Teaching Excellence (SITE) event I created, which we’re hosting next week on campus, he doesn’t balk and start rattling off reasons why it won’t work. He normally asks what is entailed, tells me to go for it, and asks how he can help.

This is one reason I have finally drawn the magical third card, with no tears or tatters this time, completing the top talent trio for myself and reaching what I believe is, for myself, the most fulfilled professional pinnacle. I am fully engaged with my division, fully engaged in academics, fully collaborating across the lines of staff/faculty, and fully engaged with my students. I’m also fully engaged outside of campus, attempting to maintain connections with recruiters, employers, and other contacts in order to better serve my students. Is my campus perfect? Absolutely not. I’m just making the choice to engage anyway.

So back to my personal response to the question: “What’s your part in it, if you’re holding the three magic cards, and your organization isn’t perfect?”

You get busy. You do something about it. You stop whining and gossiping and belly-aching and sitting on your tail in your office and doing the same old-same old-same old day after day. You accept the things you cannot change and ask for courage to change the things you can. And by all means, seek wisdom to know the difference. You smile often even if others don’t. You spend your time around elevator people who bring you up and avoid basement people who drag you down. You pour yourself into what you love.

The choice is ultimately yours. Sure, those around you will always make mistakes, including your company or organization. But are you going to let those mistakes determine and affect your daily choices regarding your own ability, engagement, and aspiration?

That’s your mistake to make—but since you’re top talent, I’m sure you’ll focus on making the magic happen.

Move

The good old college days

The good ole college days

One dark, starry, windy night—not unlike tonight, with temperatures drastically dropping, warning of winter storms approaching—I crouched alongside dozens of my campus ministry friends during the week of final exams as a college student, creating Christmas cards for shut-ins and hospital patients, humming along to familiar Christmas carols. Suddenly That Still Small Voice rang out clear as a bell.

“Go see her in her dorm room right now.”

I kept humming and coloring and designing my card. I also began arguing with That Still Small Voice. It made no sense to stop what I was doing—because what I was doing made perfect sense—to go make an unannounced visit to a fellow student whom I had barely befriended. This particular student knew my name, and we joined the same student organization simultaneously, but in truth, we barely knew one another. To show up at her apartment uninvited seemed not only rude but also a little nuts, quite frankly.

“Go see her right now, I said.”

I felt my heart pounding this time. I capped the Sharpies and stood up, pulling my best friend, Kelly, aside. I felt slightly irresponsible about leaving the card-making party since I helped plan it, but what could I do? When you get The Call, you answer.

“Kelly, I think God just told me to leave and go do something. I have to go.”

She looked at me quizzically but didn’t inquire about the details. Having lived with me for one year at that point, I guess she’d grown to accept that my brand of spirituality was untraditional, at best.

“Okay—is everything okay?”

“Yes. I’ll see you later.” I zipped up my grey wool car coat and headed in the direction of the student’s room, the wind whipping at my back.

When I arrived, I knocked on her door. A scruffy-looking male answered. I immediately attempted to bow out, apologizing and offering to come back another time, but she asked him to leave.

So there I was.

“I don’t know why I’m here. God just told me to come see you.”

And then her tears fell.

And her truth came rushing out in waves. And I listened.

Mostly, I cried. And we hugged one another.

And she told me that she felt she was on the verge of death, and that God must have sent me to her that night.

And ever since, we’ve remained friends, even when we aren’t able to see one another for long periods of time.

A few weeks ago, I reread 1 Samuel 3 in the Bible. It reminded me of my own life, of the many opportunities—just like this one moment in time when I made a choice to listen to That Still Small Voice—to either listen to God or to blow Him off. I wish I could say I’ve always listened, but I haven’t.

It reminded me that each time I’ve chosen to listen and take action—particularly when what I’ve heard from God requires me to take action—I have NEVER regretted it. I am always the beneficiary or witness of some type of miracle.

What if I had kept foolishly, stubbornly, and selfishly coloring Christmas cards that night? Well, I guess a few more shut-ins would have received Christmas cards that year.

But my friend—MY FRIEND—might be dead. Or she might have struggled for a longer period of time, feeling more isolated and alone, knowing that not one person understood or knew about her pain. My faith in That Still Small Voice would not have grown tenfold that night. I would not have shared in her sorrow and later in her joy when God renewed her spirit. I would have missed a miracle. I would have missed out on love.

Let me never refuse to move when That Voice moves me.

2014 gift list

Over seven years ago, I started a painful journey toward becoming myself.

217491_505060962482_4965_nLately I have been contemplating some things I’ve learned since beginning this journey in 2007. So, in truth, my gift list this year is a compilation of lessons I’ve learned over the past seven and a half years but maybe only fully realized within the past year.

I consider these lessons learned to be great gifts I received from mentors in my life who are on the same journey. I get to place my feet in their footsteps, to ask them for help when I stumble, and to humble myself and ask for prayer when my own prayers seem insufficient and when my own faith feels feeble.

I have learned to be honest.

I haven’t always had the capacity to be fully honest with others, not even with God. I tried, rest assured, but I somehow seemed to come up short. As Sara Groves says, “Only the truth and truthfulness can save us.”

My inability to share my secrets kept me sick—really spiritually sick—for years. I was only hurting myself, but I couldn’t even see this realistically. I thought I was protecting people I loved from painful truths, in some cases, and in other situations, I thought I was sheltering the image of Christ or Christianity from being tarnished because of my sins and awful mistakes. The truth is that I was incredibly egotistical and unable to come clean with even myself regarding reality.

Bethany Dana 5 28 14Thankfully, because of the journey I began in 2007 and the mentors who’ve guided me every step of the way, I don’t live this way today. I live an honest life, even in the moments when it’s still hard today. I find people I trust to spill my guts to, and though they are few and far between, I do have people I trust with all of me today. I am who I am, and I make no bones about it, for better or worse. I work every day to keep a clean slate between myself and God, and as my main mentor says, “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It only matters what you and God know.”

I have learned to be faithful and consistent.

This ties in with learning to be honest for me, and this was a hard lesson to learn in multiple areas of my life. Fidelity is a valuable commodity in a fast food world. Until very recently, I didn’t even understand that for many years, I was afraid of being alone, and because of that fear, I replaced people, jobs, and even cities and homes at an alarming pace.

Last year, my self-selected word for the year was “still.” Part of my focus for the year, related to the concept of being still, was to practice spending more time in reflection and meditation with God—ultimately, to wake up earlier and to spend more time in the morning in prayer, meditation, and reading. I reset my alarm for 5 a.m. and began to up my coffee intake. This helped offset the lack of sleep. Becoming more consistent and faithful regarding my time with God led to numerous positive outcomes, too many to write about in one measly paragraph, but one of these is that I began to understand that if I showed up morning after morning, God was always going to be there waiting on me.

During all of the years when I had replaced people, jobs, cities, and homes repeatedly and quickly due to fear of being alone and fear of being unwanted, God had been there all along, waiting and wanting me. As Jennifer Knapp reminds me, “You’re the only One who’s faithful to me.” I know, I know… but I didn’t KNOW.

I hadn’t been willing to slow down long enough to look and listen—not long enough to let it sink in deeply enough to change the patterns of my behavior. Until my personal journey to becoming the real Bethany helped me see the truth about this matter, I just had to keep doing what I was doing for a little while longer.

I have learned that I have more to learn than I have to teach.

Kaleb and Mrs. WallaceI’ve learned this truth in the context of my personal life as a mentor of other women and in the context of my professional life as a college English instructor. This year, I had the privilege to teach approximately 230 students, both in the traditional classroom and online. Sure, I helped them to meet learning objectives, to improve their listening skills, to become better public speakers, to learn to write personal narrative essays, to compose their first research papers in MLA format, and to do all sorts of academic projects in class. I hope I helped them to accomplish much more than that, though.

As Albert Einstein once said, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Having finished my first semester as a full-time instructor, I am thankful that I can say with a clear conscience that I did my absolute best to ensure my students learned well—not just about writing and speaking, but also about living.

I know one thing for certain—I learned at least 230 unique and beautiful lessons in 2014, and I’m grateful for each one of them.

The best part of the journey I’m on to becoming myself is that it has no end. There’s no graduation ceremony, no “I have arrived” moment. I get to keep growing as long as I’m breathing, because as long as I’m breathing, there’s hope.

“His mercies are new every morning—great is His faithfulness.” –Lamentations 3:23

Dream come true

A few weeks ago, in the stagnant heat of our storage building in July, I dug through boxes and crates. I hoped to find every last binder containing pertinent academic information that might help me teach college courses. I looked for the cute desk decorations I’d packed away in 2012 when I quit working at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) as an advisor mid-pregnancy in an attempt to focus solely on finishing graduate school. I searched every nook and cranny for books I knew I might want to reference or quote in class. I wanted to be prepared for anything. 

In my frenzied search for all things that might ever be of use to me at work, I came across a small white note card, a note card I’d  used while serving as Director of Career Development at Lyon College in 2006. The college emblem and my former name and job title were embossed on one side of the card. On the other side, though, was something of much greater significance. 

Samantha Hartley, Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing

Samantha Hartley, Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing

When I worked at Lyon College, I attended an event hosted by the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers; Samantha Hartley, the Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing, was the keynote speaker. I remember being completely energized by her presentation about social media and its benefits (and drawbacks). I felt compelled to share the information with other leaders on campus and to put into action her suggestions. 

After relocating to central Arkansas a year later, and finding myself somewhat disillusioned by the corporate world, I remembered how inspired I felt listening to her speak. I wondered if she would consider talking to me one-on-one about her ideas. As someone who takes the concept of networking seriously and doesn’t simply exchange business cards with people and move on, I sent her an email (thankfully I had maintained contact with her on Facebook and LinkedIn), and invited her to lunch. 

She accepted, but she suggested breakfast instead. It was a great suggestion–I’m still a fan of the place.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with Samantha to talk about goals and career ideas. I knew she was a very busy entrepreneur and felt grateful for the chance to pick her brain. I needed help. Specifically, I needed guidance from someone I admired, from someone whose career path I wanted to emulate. I did not want to remain stuck in a job or career I disliked. I knew that Samantha had been there, done that–and she’d done something about it. In fact, she’d been hugely successful when doing something about it. So she was EXACTLY the kind of person I needed to talk to.

My "vision card"

My “vision card”

Samantha listened to me. And she offered extremely helpful feedback based on what she’d heard. She suggested that I create a vision board. Since I’m an English major, and a word nerd, I created a list instead of a vision board. 

That’s what I found that day in my storage building, tucked inside an old binder. When it fell onto the floor of my storage building, I picked it up and read every item on the list. I gasped a little and felt my chest tighten as I finished reading the list as I realized that the list has come to fruition.

Every single item on the list has been realized in my current position as an English instructor at UACCB. I have more flexibility with my schedule than I’ve ever had before. My job is about making a difference in students’ lives, not about numbers and dollar signs. There’s tons of room for creativity; I design my courses with very little input from others. My boss is kind, supportive, and serves as a great mentor, too. I believe in the organization I work for; I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say that wholeheartedly about any other employer, ever. Most importantly, I know that every day when I leave my house, I am going to do work that matters, work that impacts lives in a positive way. I’m doing what I am meant to do. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do it.

20140812_152712After I found my “dream come true” list, I sent Samantha a message and thanked her for her help and guidance. She reminded me that her own teacher once did the same for her; she believes in mentoring because “there have been pivotal people in my life who maybe said just one thing, but it was the breadcrumb that connected me to the next step on the path.”

She’s right. 

I had the chance to share this story with my Chancellor, Debbie Frazier. She encouraged me to share this story with my students. I think I will, and I know that by giving back to my students and by encouraging and supporting and teaching them over the years, I’ll be showing my gratitude to Samantha and to others who’ve encouraged me in the best way possible.