The Irreverent Professor

Unvarnished realities about life, teaching, learning, and change in this wild, wild world

Archive for the tag “transition”

Getting Unstuck: Sacrifice

I feel sure that there are a number of people out there who think I’m bat-shit crazy.  I’ve moved 17 times in my adult life (six times to where I live now – I kept at it until it stuck).  I’ve changed jobs 16 times in 26 years, often into a completely different career (for example, caterer to lawyer).  I have four college degrees.

IMG_3106

When I got engaged, I told my would-be husband that I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to stick it out for the long haul because I didn’t seem to stick with anything for the long haul.  I’m happy to say we’ve been married for 15 years…in no small part, perhaps, because he’s been willing to move six times (and sometimes the moves were even his idea!).

Now maybe I am bat-shit crazy, but here’s the thing: I don’t just tolerate change.  I crave it.  I thrive in chaos.  I loathe the status quo.

So when someone tells me they really want to change ____ (job, career, relationship, location, etc., etc.), I am baffled when the next words out of their mouths are…”But I can’t.”  Sure you can.  You always can.  The thing is, change takes sacrifice.  It’s not so much that people “can’t.”  It’s that they aren’t willing to make the sacrifice.

I can’t even tell you how much I’ve sacrificed to make all the changes I’ve made over the years.  But I’ll try.  Here are just some of the sacrifices I’ve made:

  • Damaged or lost relationships with friends or colleagues.  So many I’ve probably forgotten some people altogether.
  • Money (sometimes significant amounts) on the sale of houses and condos in real estate transactions (we’ve bought and sold six dwellings in 15 years).
  • Opportunities to be near and with family, sometimes during major life events and crises.
  • Stuff–mountains of stuff.  Stuff I’ve replaced and had to get rid of again. Stuff I bought, was gifted, was given.  Stuff I loved and hated and outgrew.
  • Space.  I’ve lived in a 3500 sq. ft. house.  I’ve lived in a 1296 sq. ft. condo.  I’ve lived in several in between. It’s all the same to me.  You know, except for the amount of stuff I can fit in it.
  • Career trajectory, upward mobility.  I could probably be a Chief Purser, law firm partner, Full Professor by now if I’d stuck with one of those things.
  • A passel of kids (but we did manage to acquire one along the way.  And by “acquire” I mean adopt, not snatch…just for the record).
We completely gutted and remodeled the kitchen in this condo...and lived there two years.  Next!

We completely gutted and remodeled the kitchen in this condo…and lived there two years. Next!

Of all the things I’ve sacrificed over the years, do you know what I’ve grieved the most? (And I’d like to say it was relationships because that would make me sound all deep and stuff but…) A chicken basket.  A white basket with a small ceramic chicken glued on it.  It was given away in one of many “Brutal Purges” that resulted in hundreds of “off to the local charity” trips.  I’ve grieved it because my mother-in-law talked a store clerk out of it when it wasn’t even for sale and gave it to us as part of a wedding gift.  She cracked me up, my mother-in-law.

I’ve known people who have made the sacrifice, decided it wasn’t worth it, and went back to their old job/relationship/town/whatever.  I applaud that.  Some sacrifices aren’t worth it.  I wouldn’t give up my husband and son for anything.  I wouldn’t give up chocolate for anything. (As aforementioned, I’m neither deep nor sentimental as evidenced again by giving my husband, son, and chocolate the same priority level. But it’s chocolate, for heaven’s sake.)

But those who say they want to change, but can’t?  I’m not buying it.  It’s just a matter of whether value of change > sacrifice.

Carpe sacrifice!

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I hate to do this, but we need to break up.  I need some space.  I need some time.  It’s not you.  It’s me.  We’ve just been together so long that I’ve forgotten who I am.  I’ve gotten lost in our relationship.  I’m not saying it’s forever.  I love you.  I do.  I just need to find myself.

Break-ups hurt.  But sometimes they are necessary.  So I’m breaking up…with my industry.

We’ve been together for 25 years.  Call it a midlife crisis, call it a mid-career crisis (although “mid-career” might be generous), but I need some time to think about whether I’ve done all I can with and for this industry or whether I still have something to contribute.  I feel spent, worn out.

There is a wonderful supplier who contributes “Has Been” ribbons to wear on conference badges.  I always look for them and wear one when I can find them.  I wear it as a joke, but beneath that joke is a serious concern.  Am I a “has been?”

I have been a member of a variety of professional associations.  I’ve served on committees, I’ve chaired committees, I’ve done research, I’ve contributed to the education, I’ve attended the conferences, I’ve been given awards I value greatly.  And I’ve loved it.  Until recently.  And recently, I’ve begun to think “been there, done that” a lot.

A "red carpet" shot of my husband and I at a Professional Achievement Award Dinner

A “red carpet” shot of my husband and I at a Professional Achievement Award Dinner

I’m seeing the same issues come around for about the third time since I joined the industry at the still-wet-behind-the-ears age of 23.  And I’m seeing many of the issues come and go again without resolution or significant progress.  It’s a little depressing.  I’m a huge advocate of “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”  And that’s the thing–I feel like I’m part of the problem because I don’t have the energy (motivation, wherewithal?) to be part of the solution.

It is difficult to figure things out with so much “noise” around, so this year I’m not renewing my association memberships or my magazine subscriptions (apologies to my journalist/editor friends who read my blog!), I’ve taken many of the industry people off my social media lists and tried to populate my Twitter account with more variety, and I’m not planning to attend conventions (this is  a big deal since my industry is meeting and event management).

What I am doing, though, is taking the opportunities that come my way–but ONLY the ones I really want to do.  The ones that allow me to grow and explore, professionally or personally: the opportunity to do presentations on fresh topics, to combine business with family time, to speak to groups that I haven’t spoken to before, to teach a class on a subject I’ve never taught.

Gaping Void always knows just the right thing to say

Gaping Void always knows just the right thing to say–I feel like I’ve gotten stuck on the jungle gym. I’ve got to get off and rest a bit before I jump back on.

Some people think I’m crazy (they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong).  I’ve spent 25 years networking and building a reputation in this industry.  They say now is not the time to say, “Meh, not sure it’s for me.”  A wise friend told me I just need to find a new way to do what I’ve been doing.  Freshen it up but don’t lose momentum.  And that may be exactly what I do.

But for now, I need to step away from the noise.  Get quiet.  Spend some time listening to the voices in my head (see: crazy comment) and in my heart.  This scares me (not the voices – they are my friends).  It scares me to get off the train.  I’m scared if I stop, I’ll never get started again.  I’m scared I’ll be forgotten.  That I really will become old news.  But I still have to take this break.

I may come back in a week, a month, a year and jump right back into what I was doing…but if I do, it will be in a reenergized, revitalized, reassured way.  Or I may do a stint as a starving artist.  Or go into a completely different field.  Or a related one.  Whatever I do, it will be the next right step for me.  As this one is right now.  No regrets.

Carpe diem.

To Endings…and New Beginnings

This weekend I attended a college graduation.  It wasn’t my graduation.  And it wasn’t my first graduation.  As a professor (and serial student myself), I have attended a few graduations.  What made this graduation different is that it may have been my last.

Look at all the shiny, happy almost-college-graduates

Look at all the shiny, happy almost-college-graduates!

I resigned from my professor job to move to the place where my heart is and has always been.  The place I call “home” even though I haven’t lived there in 20 years.  The place I grew up, learned to ride a bike, had my first crush, my first love, my first heartbreak.  My first prom, my first…well, nevermind.  You get the gist.

I resigned from my professor job because…well, I’m not really sure why.  My husband said, “Why don’t we move home?”  And I said ok.  We move about every three or four years at the suggestion of one or the other of us, so this wasn’t a shocking idea. But for the first time, we are moving for the quality of our lives and not for our careers.  And that makes it very different.  But home is the where of our happiness so it must be a good thing… right?

I have mixed feelings about this ending.  Although I’m excited to be moving “home,” I’m not sure what this new beginning means for me.  Sure, it means living at the beach (yay!).  And it means raising my son in the place where I grew up (yay yay!).  But what does it mean for ME, you know, professionally?  My husband teleworks, so he takes his job with him.  But I’ve been working at a brick and mortar university.  And now I’m…not.

Beach boy

Beach boy

People keep asking, “So what are you going to be doing?”  Some persistently believe I’m retiring at 47 despite my efforts to dissuade them of the notion (it probably doesn’t help that my flippant answer to the question is occasionally “be a kept woman.”  It’s a joke!).   Answering “I have no idea” seems to make people uncomfortable (including me) and if I’m not mistaken, I’ve gotten a few pitying looks…and a few envious ones.  🙂

My goal is to relax, get quiet, and spend a few months figuring out who I am.  I call it a self-imposed sabbatical, in keeping with the professorial mindset.  Marlo Thomas (whose awesome webcast I attended last week) would probably say It Ain’t Over and Jane Pauley (whose book Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life I am reading now) might call it a step toward reimagining my life.

Endings are difficult…but exciting, because they mean new beginnings.  New beginnings are scary…but exciting because anything is possible.

Carpe new beginnings.

Finding Meaningful Work…or Finding Meaning in Your Work?

I had an “aha” moment recently.  I was pondering why I get “itchy” every three years or so and change jobs (and usually, cities).  (To see some of the jobs I’ve held, see the post “A Bibliography for Job Hoppers Like Me.”)  It could certainly be that I am a Scanner, as Barbara Sher describes.  I have a lot of interests and the thoughts that constantly run through my head go something like this:

Oh! I want to be a caterer!

Now I want to be a lawyer!

Ooooh, let’s move to Las Vegas!

Let’s live at the beach!

Etc. Etc.

But my “aha” moment was this: I tend to lose interest in a job when it no longer feels meaningful.  I don’t mean (necessarily) like a ministry or saving the planet (I guess I don’t aspire that high).  Just feeling like my day is spent on worthwhile things.  Not TPS reports. (Office Space?  If you haven’t seen the movie, do.  Then you’ll get this reference.  More importantly, you’ll laugh.  A lot.  Hopefully.)

By Hugh MacLeod www.gapingvoid.com (genius, artist, and King of Irreverence)

By Hugh MacLeod http://www.gapingvoid.com (genius, artist, and King of Irreverence)

One of the things I love about being a college professor is the opportunity to help young adults (or not-so-young-adults) figure out professional and personal things that will help them live a meaningful and fulfilling lives.  I’ve taught at several different universities in my life.  The experience has been pretty much the same – I start off excited about the students, the opportunities to help them learn about what I think is a fun and exciting career area, and teach them information and skills they need to know to succeed.  The first year is fabulous.  I’m in hog heaven.  The second year is good, but I feel a little frustrated that I’m not “getting through to them.”

By the end of third year, I am downright depressed and worn down because SO many students don’t seem to be interested in learning.  Some don’t bother to show up in class at all.  Some show up, but sneer at me all through class [I’ve actually kept two students after class to ask them if they know what their facial expressions look like (both said they didn’t)…and explain that this may be a detriment in an interview or work environment.  Then again, they may just really not like me.]

In other words, I can’t find the meaning in the work any more.  I’m not blaming the students.  They are who they are and they do what they do.  And it could certainly be that I’m a lousy professor, although I have some kind former students who are nice enough to say otherwise (thanks, y’all!).  Plenty of professors stay in the job for years and years.  Clearly, they find something I can’t.  Maybe they find meaning in research (I don’t – not the academic kind, anyway) or administration (I’m a worse bureaucrat than sales person…and I’m a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sales person).  I don’t know.

The first time in my working life that I realized the importance of having meaning in my work was when I worked as a front desk clerk at a hotel during college.  It was a revelation to realize the effect I could have on someone else’s mood, just by being friendly.  After a long day of work, a flight, and a life-threatening taxi ride from one of the D.C. area airports, they would arrive at the hotel, bedraggled and tired.  And find me, a 20 year old college student, at the front desk.  If I gave them the key to their room, fine.  They went up and their day was no different.  But if I smiled and joked with them or found something in their profile to start a conversation with (e.g., “You’re from Dallas? My brother lives in Dallas!”), it sometimes seemed to make their mood better.  And I helped!

That’s how public speaking is for me.  When I do a good job boiling what I think is important information into understandable chunks and use those to ignite a conversation with and between the participants, it feels meaningful.  It’s information that will help them in some way.  And I was able to help give it to them.  Meaning.

Still I wonder sometimes…is there really no meaning?  Or can I just not find it?  Or do I stop looking for it?

How about you?

Carpe meaning!

Should You Go to Graduate School? Probably Not.

Every few months I get an e-mail from a former (or current) student and the uncomfortable exchange goes like this:

Student: Dear  Dr. Tyra, Would you be willing to write me a recommendation letter for graduate school?  I really enjoyed/learned so much in (insert other flattery here) your class and now I want to go back and get a master’s degree in (usually the same field).

Me:  Dear Student, I would certainly consider writing you a letter for graduate school if I didn’t think that by doing so, I would be doing you a terrible disservice.

Student: …..?

I know it’s not what they are expecting to hear and it’s probably not what they want to hear, but for 99.9% of them, it’s what they need to hear.  Too many people go to graduate school (a) to extend the period of time “in college” before they have to deal with the real world or (b) they can’t get a job and so they figure they may as well stay in school.  Bad, bad, bad reasons to go to graduate school.  Plus, in many instances, this strategy just results in being over-qualified and under-experienced for even an entry level job.  Not to mention further in debt.

UA graduate 2012

One of my recent rock star students who graduated and who is (wisely) working for a while post-graduation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for higher education.  I didn’t get three graduate degrees for nothing.  And I’ve used every one of them…although not always in the way I thought I would use them (but that’s for another post).  Grad school is not a summer camp for the Peter Pan set and it’s not something that should be undertaken lightly.

There are exceptions, certainly.  In some fields a master degree is the minimum education needed.  Those fields are not the ones I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about the liberal arts, hospitality, marketing, whatever majors.  The fields where the combination of education and experience are necessary to even get in the game.

My advice for undergrads and recent grads is: stay out of school after graduation. Work a few years, figure out who you are and if what you think you want to do really is what you want to do.  Then find out what skills/knowledge you need to do it better…and then consider graduate school.  Ideally, not at your alma mater, where you may have some of the same professors you had for undergrad (and in some cases, the same classes plus an extra “graduate level” project – snort!).

It’s also important to choose the right graduate degree.  My husband got his MBA several years ago because…well, that’s what people with IT degrees who weren’t going to be IT guys did at the time.  He was told it would open all kinds of doors for him.  It didn’t.  So he went back and got a Master in Library Science (MLS).  And despite frequent ribbing from me about being married to a librarian, it’s been just what he needed.  But he didn’t know it until he knew it.

Carpe education (or not)!

The Mad Crushes I Have and How They Are Changing My Life

It’s time I just confess to some mad crushes I have…on people I’ve never met.  But I hang on their every word.  And they don’t even know it.  But maybe they will someday.  And maybe you’ll crush on them, too, if I tell you about them.

1. Marcus Buckingham – I have had a crush on Marcus since I first read “Now, Discover Your Strengths” which he wrote with Donald Clifton (may he rest in peace).  I sooooooo believe in the Strengths movement.  So much so that I foist it upon my students (and anyone else who will listen).  My students tend to look very confused because it conflicts with what they’ve been told most of their life, which is “find your weaknesses and focus on improving them.”

Handsome devil, isn't he?

It’s really his brain I crush on…well, mostly

Which, by the way, is a bunch of crap.  There are a number of things in life that I am not good at and never will be better than mediocre (or “middlin'” as my Granny would say) at.  There are a few things I consider strengths and I enjoy using those and find it fairly effortless to use them.  More about them in another post, perhaps.

He changes the way I think about my life.  Every single time I read another one of his books or watch one his videos.  Even if I’ve read or seen it before.

And his tall, dark handsome good looks, U.K. accent, and the wonderful fatherly way he incorporates stories about his son Jack into his work don’t hurt either.  *swoon*

2. Hugh MacLeod (a/k/a @gapingvoid), the cartoonist.  I have no idea what he looks like, but he’s irreverent, sometimes crude, and incredibly thought-provoking.  And he has made a living drawing cartoons.  Gotta love that.  Although I’m not a particularly visual person, I rather dig his scary little monster figures.

From @gapingvoid's blog.  This particular cartoon resonates.

From @gapingvoid’s blog. This particular cartoon resonates.

But it’s more the very, very irreverent words that are attached to his cartoons that make him one of my crushes.  There was a short time there that I understand he was in a relationship (he may still be for all I know) and he lost a bit of his snarky “edge,” imho.  But it is back in full force in his latest genius piece, “The Art of Not Sucking.”  A must read–for college students or anyone who is trying to figure out this thing called Life.  (Not the game or the cereal, though.  It won’t help with those.)

3. Josh Groban – this one will be of no surprise to my husband.  Why this kid?  Have you heard him sing?  Voice of an angel.  And he’s pretty darn funny, too (on Twitter, I mean…it’s not like he calls me to chat).  So I confess to being a music cougar.  Love his music, have seen him in concerts(and this introvert doesn’t GO to concerts…but I went to his), watched him on Ally McBeal way back when, on Kelly & Whomever more recently when he was a guest co-host.

Handsome young man, isn't he?

Handsome young man, isn’t he?  Geez, I sound old.

As with the visual thing, I don’t have much of an “ear” for music.  Music’s music to me.  I turn on the radio and I’m done with it.  But Josh’s music reached me when no one else’s did.  So much so that I went out and bought the CD (ok, it was a few years ago – when he was 12 or something).  It was my first music purchase in about a bazillion years.  I own them all now (yes, as downloads…I’m not THAT old).

So there you go.  Strengths, irreverent cartoons, wonderful music.  And for my sweet husband of 13 years…thanks for understanding, honey.  You’re still my biggest crush.

Carpe people who change your life for the better.

Fear of Change–College to the Real World

It’s that time of year here at the university when students are (a) excited about getting close to graduating, (b) dreading/fearing graduation or (c) both.  What I can’t quite figure out is why anyone would dread or fear graduation.  Maybe it was because I didn’t enjoy college.  That is, I didn’t enjoy the institution.  I enjoyed the learning, but that certainly didn’t stop when I left.

I’m hypothesizing that students who fear/dread graduating fall into one of several categories:

1) They are party animals and don’t want the party to stop.

Life is one big party...for some in colelge

Life is one big party…for some in college

2) They are comforted by the cocoon of their group of friends, sorority/fraternity, sheltered microcosm of college in general.  The idea of going out in the big, bad world all alone is terrifying.

3) They have no idea what the real world is about and they don’t want to think about it.

The folks in Category #3 are the ones rushing to my office to talk about “graduate school” – a way to extend the college experience so they don’t have to go out into the real world.  And here’s what I tell them…

If you want to go to graduate school, don’t go now and don’t go here.  Go get some work experience before you go further in debt (or better yet, wait until you can afford to pay for grad school) so you can be sure you are getting your graduate degree in the right field.  And don’t go here especially if you want to get your master’s degree in the same field as your undergrad (or think you do).  Go somewhere else where you can learn from different people who have different experiences or perspectives.

The Category #2 folks are the ones that just need to be pushed out of the nest and learn to fly the hard way.  Sink or swim, baby!  Oh, mixing animal metaphors there.  Oh, well.  Swimming birds, flying fish, whatever.

And for Category #1 folks, all I can say is “Grow up, dude.”  (Or dudette).  It’s time.

The Real World is awesome.  Really.  Sure, there’s an adjustment period, but it is awesome.  Trust me.

Carpe the Real World.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: