I’m not going to lie to you. In recent weeks, I’ve been a little down. Powerful, potential presidents acting like middle-schoolers, the horror of the Orlando shootings, humidity that qualifies Georgia as a living sauna. And to top it off… we moved. The good news is I’m still married (Or I at least have not received the documents at this point, but it was a severe test). Days without sitting down, straight sweat for 72 hours, countless trips (literally and figuratively) up and down stairs. You know the scene: kids eating numerous Chick-Fil-A meals and drinking Capri Suns because you can’t find a pan or spatula; random men taking all of your possessions and driving off in a truck. Sure, I had some paperwork but there’s still that conspiracy theorist in me that wonders if they aren’t headed for the coast with my pint glass collection…
But things turned around three days later when I rose early, dodged all the boxes, boarded a plane and flew to Oregon (You know–the way caring, devoted husbands do.)
So now I’m in Eugene at the University of Oregon. If you have never been to visit, put it on your list. Amazing town with lots of running trails, excellent restaurants, and incredible pride around their college (as evidenced by more green and yellow than anywhere above the ocean’s surface).
I am here for a conference. Each year the Directors/VPs from major public universities gather to discuss major issues in our field. These are some of the finest folks in our country and thankfully some of my best friends. Our time was spent talking about legislative issues like the Fisher vs. Texas case and Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the Fair Chance Pledge. These are practitioners. People who are charged with seeing their campus, American higher education, and the lives of the students and families they work with improve.
There are always little jabs about missed field goals or a coach or president who just left one school for another. But that is typically over dinner where the majority of the conversation surrounds how to continue to serve our schools by bringing in a class that is diverse in every sense of the word, or the rising cost of tuition, or the increased media focus on ROI or “product” versus the collegiate educational learning and growth experience. Deep concern was expressed about how best to reach and engage under-served communities where counselor:student ratios are well over 500:1, or where many single parent homes, first generation families, or low socioeconomic conditions greatly impact a young person’s educational experience, and yet talent and potential exist.
I always walk away from these meetings encouraged– not just because my understanding of the higher education landscape has been broadened– but because I know that literally tens of thousands of students that I will never meet or work with are in the hands of these tremendously talented, bright, and passionate folks.
PLAN THE WORK
It also serves as a touchstone for me. Because we meet at the same time each year, I am able to reflect back over the last year: What we have accomplished? What are my peers doing better or more creatively that we need to build on? What have we failed to implement or accomplish? And what do I want to achieve in the year ahead?
It’s easy to ask these questions and consider solutions while running on trails along the Willamette River or enjoying a local beverage thousands of miles from home. But taking these ideas back and putting them into action requires a solid plan.
So to borrow from the great track tradition here at U of O, I encourage you (as a high school junior or senior, or as an entering college freshman), to look at this as a race.
WORK THE PLAN
1- ASK: Where is the finish line? What is the one thing you want to accomplish in the year ahead? Maybe that is to earn a certain GPA, or to score a 4 or higher on an AP test, or earn a spot on specific team. WRITE IT DOWN.
2- WRITE: What needs to happen in the next 3 months to accomplish this? Within 6 months? By 9 months?
3- CONSIDER: Continuing the racing analogy, what are the hurdles that could keep your goal from coming to fruition? We all know the race to the tape won’t be smooth. Distractions, other priorities, bad weather, ruts on the track, variables you can never predict.
4- STAY FOCUSED: At your 3, 6, 9 month hurdle ASK: Am I still on the track? If yes, what needs to happen before the next one to clear the bar? If not, why did I crash into that last hurdle? How can I correct this and still finish strong?
5- TEAM UP: Even in track, individuals succeed because their team and coach surrounds them and pushes them in practice. If you are going to win, you will need encouragement and accountability. And this goes back to my time at Oregon with my friends and peers. They ask great questions about my work and care about my success, even if technically they are competitors. They remember what I am working on and check in with me. So WHO IS YOUR PERSON? Share your goal with them. Tell them you need them to check in with you along the way.
On my last night in Eugene, as the sun was setting, a rainbow emerged on the horizon. It was a reminder that despite the last few weeks of turbulence, better days are ahead. You just have to commit and plan to bring them about.