You’re In Luck

“You’re in luck,” I said.  And with that, I turned to my second son and smiled.  “I don’t need my car tomorrow, and am glad that you can use it.”

It was a beautiful March evening; and, Timothy and I stood for just a moment in the driveway before he drove off.  As I handed him my keys, he thanked me and added just a little more. I knew the next phrase was coming well before he said it, but I looked forward to him saying it anyway.

“We’re both lucky, mom, aren’t we,” he said.  And I replied with a “Yes, son, we are.”

As he pulled away from my house with what he came to borrow, I began to consider all the times that he and I have uttered those phrases.  I tell him he is in luck and he tells me that we are both lucky – a mantra we have completed a thousand times a thousand.  But this time, I think I meant it a little more.  And I was hoping that he equally heard my words and delivered his with more meaning.

For during the early part of my day, I wasn’t feeling the luck in any way.

Though my daily work doesn’t bring me into direct, one on one contact with students often, this semester, a series of unusual events had caused me to work with three very different people for three very different reasons.  Each of these three students had challenges throughout their lives that I nor my children had ever experienced or imagined:  parents who at best could have been described as absent –  a lack of funding not only for school, but for basic needs like food and shelter – no reliable means of transportation – no steady employment of any kind – non-supportive family and friends – and in general, a day-to-day existence that was more difficult than ever delightful at every turn.

Lately, I had spent a great deal of time wondering about the what-ifs for these three young students.  What if just one thing was different in any one of their lives? Just one thing? What if one of their parents put effort into raising them?  Just one? Just a little? What type of difference would that have made?  What if each one of the students could say that they had never gone hungry – not for one day?  That they never thought about how they were going to secure their next meal? Wow.  What type of difference would that have made?  Or what if they never once had to worry about transportation to and from college, to and from work, to and from anywhere? What type of difference would that have made? If they had just had a little luck, in any direction, for any reason, at any time, what type of difference would it have made for any or all of them?

My work is not to sit behind a desk and wonder all day long.  But, there are days that wondering is the best that I can do.

For although I tried my hardest with each student and they tried their hardest, neither my effort nor their efforts has been able to provide them with enough success to eliminate all of their problems and challenges.  In fact, we hardly made a dent.  The road in front of each of them still seems long and bumpy with admittedly a tiny glimmer of light at the end  – but I wouldn’t call it a streaming beacon at this point.

Through my contact with these three individuals, I swiftly came to realize that all they really need is a little luck.  Somewhere in their frantic worlds, they need to come across a road block and suddenly be handed just a bit of luck and . . . voilà . . . the challenge is averted, the problem is eliminated, the story has a happy ending.  In fact, all anyone really needs is just a little luck.  Trouble is . . . getting to the point that such luck appears is often a journey of a million miles.

That’s why it is so important to recognize and realize when luck occurs. For when it does occur, we have normally waited a long time, planned a great deal, put in time and effort, tinkered around, and worked hard to reach such opportunity.  Benjamin Franklin said it well defining “diligence as the mother of good luck”.  Likewise, Tony Robbins calls luck “the meeting of preparation with opportunity”. Neither diligence nor preparation has a short time frame.  Both take awhile, a long while. Likewise, luck takes awhile, even for the luckiest of folks.  In considering how luck works,  I sincerely hope that the three students I have personally met during spring 2014 are in it for the long haul and are willing to persevere, waiting for their lucky moment.

Connecting all the dots in some fashion, I am grateful for the conversation between my son and me on that beautiful Wednesday evening.   He and I – in less than 100 words – acknowledged that luck had been a part of our lives and that we were and should be thankful for it and for each other.  Such a brief conversation between two people, but an important one – a conversation that gives me plenty to wonder about. A conversation that I am hoping that we will continue to utter and build on for years to come.

 

A flower seen on that Wednesday evening. Lucky me.

A flower seen on that Wednesday evening. Lucky me.

 

 

 

 

The View From Above

I work on a college campus, and I love it.

Though my days can be somewhat varied, most of the time there is a carefully plotted out routine to what I do. There are countless committee meetings, reams of email, tons of telephone conversations, numerous one-on-one discussions, lots of small decisions, and large decisions, significant time working with students – faculty – staff on problems, concerns, challenges. . . and the list goes on and on.

It’s normal, average college work and it’s what I do everyday.

As expected, I am generally busy. I come early and stay late.  Sometimes I stop at noon to eat, but more often, I use the lunch hour to catch up on reading, signing things, thinking.  I find my college activities quite interesting.  But, for those on the outside looking in, the picture might not seem so exciting. Instead, it might be viewed as . . . tedious . . . tiring . . . a little too much of the same old – same old, and not enough of the knock your socks off, type stuff.

Admittedly, I spend most days in my office or in conference rooms.  I listen . . . I talk  . . . I read . . . I jot something down . . . I confer with others. I squint my eyes, looking up just in case an answer to whatever problem being discussed floats through my mind. (Rarely happens, but I look anyways.)

Sometimes the day passes without me ever standing up and moving from behind my office desk to the doorway. The two chairs in front of my desk are like seats on a merry-go-round that bring all kinds of folks into my office to chat. Suddenly, I look up and the day is over. I head home. I eat, sleep, wake up and start the process over again. It’s been this way for many years.

Most of the time.

For this is a college, and I know that college life is full of both the expected and . . . the unexpected.

As was the case on December 5th, 2012.

The sun was shining, the weather was perfect, and I was ready.   I slipped out of my regular work attire and into worn-torn jeans, work boots, and a college sweatshirt.  The faculty in the West Building had invited me, and I jumped at the chance.  I was – flat-out – super excited about the opportunity.  It was as if the world leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder for a great, great adventure.

In a few moments, I met my partner-in-crime.  Joe quickly ran through the must-do rules, and I suited up.  One hard hat. Check. One pair of leather gloves. Check.  One cell phone and one camera. Check, check.  And one safety harness with tons of carabiners. Big time check.  And I stood – at the ready – waiting for more instructions.

Joe looked at me and smiled.  He and I both knew that this day wasn’t going to be the usual.  This day wasn’t going to end with me turning out the office lights, shutting the door, and carrying my shoulder bag out to my nearby car.  This day was going to be different.  It was going to be a memory in the making.  This day was going to be one of those crazy-funny college days.

Our campus is a proud one and like other locations, we are becoming more energy-efficient. We have hundreds of geothermal wells throughout campus and several solar panels perched on building rooftops. We recycle everything, drive energy-efficient college cars, collect dead batteries, drink water from the tap, and turn the lights out when we leave our offices. And, most important for this occasion, we have two brand new wind turbines strategically placed on our college farm.

And I was in luck for It was my turn to climb one of those turbines.

The time came, and Joe started to climb first.  Once he was a healthy distance ahead of me, he peered down, motioned for me to connect my safety latch, and begin.  For just a moment, I hesitated.  I was delightfully excited, but from the bottom rung, it looked like a long way up.  I could hear him telling me to take that first step, but my boot seemed glued to the ground.  It was like my mind said go, but my feet said no.

I glanced up and Joe, who was already about fifty feet ahead of me, glanced down.  He smiled and called out my name one more  – and most likely the last – time. And finally, I started to climb.  What I thought I couldn’t do and wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to do, I began to do.  And it was fun – crazy fun.

One step at a time, one foot at a time, rung by rung, I climbed.  I have no idea how long it took me to reach the top.  I only know that it took me longer than it took Joe.  He coached me through the last trap door and onto the top platform enclosure – where there was just enough room for the two of us to stand.

He opened the top hatch, and from that vantage point, the view was stunning.  Farm fields, nearby highways, barns, lakes, silos, the college buildings, athletic fields – the best word to describe it was magnificent.

Oddly enough the only thing that had really changed was that I was no longer at ground level.  I was seeing the same sights I saw everyday – the same farm fields, the same nearby highways, the same barns, the same lakes, etc., and it was like I was seeing something completely different.

I changed my perspective and everything changed.  Everything. Everything.

Today as usual, I sit at my desk with paperwork and people swirling around me, with a routine that feels safe and comfortable, with my shoulder bag waiting to go home right after I click off the office lights at the end of the day.  But I know that if I take the time to look at my world from a slightly different perspective, I will see something totally different  – something very interesting and exciting.  Just depends on where I am standing.

College is crazy-funny that way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pause On / Pause Off

Pause on.

This past September weekend was a very busy one.  For five days straight, I spent time with many, many – say it again – many family members and friends, met with tons of acquaintances, and completed all kinds of activities that brought all walks of my life together.  People were in and out of my home.  We served meals, refreshed the laundry, and arranged and re-arranged our home as needed.  The purpose of all the activity was pure enjoyment with every motion made set to encourage positive results.  And I honestly believe that at the end of this particular stretch of time, fun was had by all.

But, at the end, I paused . . . and I am still pausing.  After all was said and done, I knew that I needed to do a little self-check on the lens that I use to see everything.

Through my usual lens, my life is rather rosy.  I have four wonderful children –  who are all well-educated, who are doing well financially, and who have fairly rosy lives themselves.  I live in a very comfortable home – and want for nothing.   I am surrounded by all that is good.  I travel . . . a lot.  I spend a couple of weeks in the mountains, a couple weeks on the beach, time in various metropolitan areas, and time in great Americana spots.  I have favorite breakfast spots that aren’t just at the area covered by my kitchen table.  Two very nice folks clean my home on a bi-weekly basis.  I don’t mow the lawn.  I have easy access to health care. My cars are bright and shiny, are parked in a garage, and when broken are repaired by someone else.  I have money in my checking account at all times.  My retirement plans are going well.

I exercise everyday – because I have time and the means to do so.  I use a dry cleaner who brings my stuff to my house when it is ready.  A young person delivers the newspaper to my doorstep, daily.  I own and display seasonal decorations, and have storage space to keep them looking new and organized.  I have a big, giant family.  And all of my brothers and sister have homes that have at least four bedrooms, countless bathrooms, two car garages, and extra refrigerators. And of that group, several of us have advanced degrees, all of us have undergraduate degrees, and all children among us have gone to college or are planning on going to college; and, all have parents and relatives who are totally and passionately involved in their lives – supporting them every step of the way.

I have more than one pair of tennis shoes – just for running.  I save one dollar coins on a whim, wear matching underwear just because, and have a ginormous backyard deck.  My home has air-conditioning, tons of extra toilet paper, a pantry full of food, high-speed internet, and kitchen gadgets for every and any purpose known to humankind.  My wardrobe changes with the season.

And due to all of this  –  coupled with all the motion and commotion at my house during that five-day period in September –  I paused.  For quite awhile.  For, there is another more challenging lens that is often obscured by my rosy one previously described – especially when I am in the middle of such frenzied activity.

I paused because I know and needed to remember that there are thousands and thousands of folks who are hoping to find food for tonight’s dinner meal.  They don’t have homes or cars or educational opportunities.  They certainly don’t have decks or seasonal decorations, or storage space, matching underwear, or kitchens.  They struggle with family and friends.  In fact, there are children begging for attention from anyone – any family member – any friend – and there are adults begging for the same.  The only clothes they have are the items they are wearing.  They can’t save coins . . . they can’t save anything for their immediate needs are too great.  They use pencils because they can’t afford pens.  The only vacations they take may be those taken during their best daydreams.  Newspapers aren’t delivered, garages aren’t attached to their homes, and they have no need for extra refrigerators as they have a tough time filling one, let alone two. Healthcare is a challenge.

So I paused.

Through the summer of 2012 in another part of my world,  I have been intentionally pondering  over the term creativity.  What does it mean?  Where does it come from?  How can I learn to open myself up to becoming a more creative individual?  Where is it most prominent?  Who are the experts?  How is it reflected in me and how can I strengthen my focus on it.    And suddenly – because I took a moment to pause – I may have gotten closer to the answers.

In all my wondering about and wandering with creativity, I might have been on an erroneous path.  While pausing, I had a moment to reflect, to consider the other side.  And I learned that I have examined creativity using only one lens. . . instead of many.

I am finding that when I look through the lens that is not so rosy, I see the creativity that people use just to make it to tomorrow.  I see folks finding solutions to problems that I can only imagine.  I see folks doing things differently not because of want, but because of need.  I see folks making their worlds keep spinning in any way possible, and hoping to affect change in their lives by doing so.  Their creativity is ingenious.  And as far as I can see, their greatness in this area has to come from their ability to face adversity and survive.

For me, I learned that the source of creativity is more than just one lens.  It is more than just two, and very likely it is found in hundreds of lenses. I just need to make sure that my eyes are open and ready to see.

Pause off.

The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Omaha, NE, is a great place to ponder the intricacies of creativity . . . or any other subject!

Gotta Love Winter Break

I love winter break.

And, I am happy to report that I have had a winter break every year of my life since I was in kindergarten.  Really – what’s not to love about it –  ten days off each winter from sometime before December 25th to sometime after January 1st.  A brilliant idea in any world.  It can be called winter break or winter holiday or semester break or just plain vacation; regardless of the name, it is still grand.

Winter break is one of the joys of the United States educational system.  Everyone and everything stops – halts – pauses for a holiday.  No one misses anything because there is absolutely nothing happening to miss . . . for ten days . . . at the end of one year and the beginning of the next.  There are no classes scheduled, no meetings to attend, no educational dilemmas to solve.  The phones may ring and email may be received, but all of it waits until the holiday ends and the next semester begins.

Winter break is one heck of an educational tradition.  Sports-metaphorically, it’s halftime for folks on both sides of the classroom.  Officially, we claim that its purpose is to re-invigorate ourselves, recharge our brains, and prepare ourselves for what follows in January.  Of course, those reasons are all true; however, behind the scenes, winter break is also a time to simply goof around during what can be the gloomiest time of year – in particular for those living in the colder and snowier climates.  Some say why, while those in education say . . . why not take a break.

Not only is winter break an educational tradition, but so, too, is spring break, and fall break, and of course, summer break – with the last being the longest and strongest both in tradition and duration.  Obviously, education isn’t shy about its official pauses.  It’s a glorious schedule . . . work a little, rest a little, work a little, rest a little, work a little, rest a lot.

There are serious challenges to working in education, (and I will leave those issues for discussion by someone else at some other time); but, taking and enjoying break time isn’t one of them.  How to holiday is an art form that has been heartily practiced and universally adored by students, faculty, staff, and administration throughout all education.

This winter break, I have noticed two distinct reactions by folks outside of education.  The first I take as a compliment – although it generally comes in the form of questions with twists of sarcasm:  When do you work?   Are you still off?  When do you go back?  Is anyone manning the ship while the students are away? Who is paying for all of this?

And, truly, from the outside, it must look like education is break-happy beyond belief.  In fact, I am careful not to contact my dad too much during winter break, as he is old-school.  Prior to his retirement, he worked from dawn until dusk without even as much as a fifteen minute break.  Lunch was on the fly and a vacation was earned and given during the summer months only.   So, regardless of sarcasm, this reaction to winter break is well understood and well deserved.

The second reaction I also take as a compliment, but it is much more quizzical to me:  I wonder why I am not off?  Why isn’t everything closed for a winter holiday?  Shouldn’t it be a part of world tradition to take scheduled breaks? 

Here I can only empathize and whole-heartedly agree.  These questions seem to be directed more internally towards those who are not partaking in break time rather than externally towards those who are.  Yes, everyone should pause.  Yes, everyone should re-invigorate, recharge, and prepare.  And yes, everyone should have a length of time in the middle of the winter to goof around.  The only challenge is convincing the entire non-educational world to institute the winter break system immediately each and every year.  A possibility?  Yes.  A probability?  Hmmm . . .

My itinerary this winter break was typical for me, I think.  I spent time with family and friends near and far; I completed household projects put on hold throughout the fall; I caught up on day-to-day tasks, wrote thank you cards, worked out at the gym, cleaned closets and cars, read my backed-up reading list, wrote a new bucket list, watched basketball games, went to the movies, ate too much, and slept too little.   In reality, the list of my winter break accomplishments is a lot of nothing plus a little of everything that could have been postponed if it weren’t for the great winter pause.

Yet, I love winter break.

Regardless of how mundane and inane my accomplishments have been during break, it is crazy fun.  It is crazy fun to rejuvenate and recalibrate in any way, even in ways small and silly –  especially when facing the dark days of winter.

Interestingly, one part of my winter break activities included being in a car during the early morning hours on December 25th. From my bird’s-eye view, most – if not all – folks appeared to be on break at least for the day. All businesses were closed and a true winter break seemed to be in full swing. The roads were quiet and calm with no traffic in sight and no sounds to be heard.  Everyone was on pause.  For me, it was a surreal moment thinking that more than just the education population was taking a winter break . . . together.

My take-away? As a nation, we should seriously strive for the winter break concept.  Take what happens in the halls of academia and generalize it, so that those whose fortune hasn’t led them to work in education are able to experience the true meaning of holiday.  I have no clue as to whether I am a more productive and/or effective educational employee because of winter break.  It is hard to measure as there is no control group inside education to use for comparison!

However, it is easy for me to know that winter break is just a plain good idea.  So, here’s hoping that we all pause for ten days next December/January . . . together.

It doesn’t hurt to hope!

This photo was taken moments before the official start to winter break!