In Celebration: a tribute

I’m often asked why I got into fundraising. I’ve heard it all, from “I couldn’t ask people for money” to “fundraisers are just glorified car salesman.” What people don’t understand is that there is so much more involved. We make connections, share stories, get to know one another and if the affinity for our mission is there, we make an ask, but it doesn’t stop there. We’ve built a relationship.

Fundraising is not just about the money. Yes, the dollars are important if we want to provide for the organizations we serve. Sure, we have goals to meet, but if we believe in the mission, see the impact and know we are making a difference, then pursuing those goals is easier, even more so knowing the next person we meet might become part of our life.

For me, it’s all about the people.  Since I began in this field in 2006, I’ve met some incredible humans. They’ve shared their personal histories, their life stories and many have become friends. I no longer work at WSU where my fundraising journey began, but I still exchange Christmas cards, have lunch, email and catch up when we can with some of the most genuine people. They’ve become a part of my life mosaic and for that I am blessed. One such piece of that mosaic is Duane Smith.

My first interaction with Duane was over lunch at Bella Luna. He greeted me, a stranger, with a hug then proceeded to show me a framed photo of his beloved “May Queen,” his wife. He shared with me about their journey with Alzheimer’s and how he cared for her in their home except when he had an appointment, needed to run errands, or attended a Shocker game, at which time he had a nurse or family member stay with her. When he spoke of her, you could see his love and dedication, you could hear it in his voice.

And, he told me about his volunteerism. He volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, Meals on Wheels and the Alzheimer’s Association of Central Kansas where he was a guest speaker and helped other caregivers and in 2012, was honored when the Alzheimer’s Association created the Duane R. Smith Annual Caregiver of the Year Award.

He was inspiring, especially through the sharing of his motto, Continue to Celebrate! Duane told me he believed in celebrating life – all things, big and small. He told me we should not wait to just celebrate the big stuff and the milestones, or we might find ourselves holding a bag of confetti never to be tossed. He used to sign all his emails and cards in celebration of life and was tickled when I began to do the same.

After I left the WSU Foundation, we kept in touch although lunches were a bit harder to schedule. He moved his May Queen into an assisted living and soon moved himself into a retirement community. At every Shocker game (he was a season ticket holder for 50 years), he would come sit with me, my dad and husband and talk basketball, as well as catch up on dad’s golf game and ask about Brad’s business. But, a few seasons ago he had to move from his seat to the handicapped area and we would go to visit him at his seat, so he didn’t have to climb the stairs.

When I left WSU, a virus erased all my contacts in my cell phone and I was not able to call or email him, but he found me, sleuth that he was, at the Wichita Children’s Home. We had lunch on the day after his birthday and although he was no longer driving and was moving a bit slower, he was still sharp-witted, looking forward to the Shocker basketball season, and celebrating. We planned to have lunch again after the season started to compare notes.

Sadly, I discovered through an announcement by his daughter that Duane passed away on October 30 after an illness and hospital stay. I am heartbroken but take comfort in knowing he is with his May Queen, once again. And while I am saddened, my spirit also soars in having the honor of knowing Duane Smith. He inspired and more importantly, he celebrated. Duane always reminded me that people should be celebrated just as much or even more so than events or things. We don’t celebrate one another enough.

In his honor, I will continue to celebrate.  You cannot imagine the simple joy it can bring to sign an email or card with “Still celebrating,” “Continuing the celebration,” or “In celebration of you.” To celebrate means to praise, extol or eulogize, so I can think of no better way to pay tribute to Duane than to carry on his celebration, and I hope you will do the same.

Always in celebration,

Natalie, Your Mermaid of the Plains

For more about Duane, I’d like to share a story from the Wichita Business Journal when he was recognized as a Health Care Hero, as well as his obituary. Godspeed, Mr. Smith. Thank you for teaching me to celebrate all that life has to offer. Your champion spirit shall be greatly missed.

 

 

 

 

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Born to Lead – One Community at a Time

I spent Friday, September 14 at a conference, but this was not just any conference. It was missing the usual suspects: overly gregarious men in suits talking loudly into microphones; PowerPoints filled with statistics and twenty-year-old best practices; obligatory deli sandwiches or plated chicken; and the constant checking of time because surely, it’s almost over or at least time to sneak out.

This was a conference for and about women. It was about empowering women with the mindset to face and overcome personal and workplace obstacles, to see themselves in a different light and engage with like-minded women who share that inner voice whispering to them, “you can be the difference.”

The Know Your Worth Women’s Leadership Conference was founded with the vision of creating a “culture of empowerment among the women of our state.” The amazing women who created and initiated this conference “share in the aspirations for both personal fulfillment and opportunities to lead and engage in the workplace and community.” Born to lead is the mantra and it encompasses a woman’s personal and/or career path.

I’ve never considered myself a leader. Perhaps this comes from my continuing struggle with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Accomplished individuals and high achievers often suffer from this psychological phenomenon. Depending on your background, personality and circumstances, the pattern may vary, but the result is the same – we feel our successes are undeserved and eventually someone will find out we’re not smart or talented or worthy and call us out.

My pattern of imposter syndrome stems from my childhood feelings of not quite belonging and it gained pace when I returned to college as an adult. While I excelled in my classes (graduating with honors), I was usually the oldest student in my classes which then lent itself to believing I was behind in my career. Imposter syndrome has been a loathsome bedfellow, one I’ve yet to completely overcome. I still tend to refer to myself as a late bloomer when receiving any accolades or acknowledgement for my successes, never fully appreciating my own worth.

I needed this conference. I needed these women. I met women who were transplants from Dallas and Atlanta, women who were from western Kansas, and women who had always lived in Wichita. I met women who worked for the government, nonprofits, small local businesses and large corporations. I met educators, biomedical and psychology students, executive directors, a photographer, an IT assistant, and a scientist. I sat next to women who believed in the power of handwritten cards; I spoke with women fearful of losing their jobs if they questioned the status quo; shared lunch with women who found their calling after volunteering for a local nonprofit and quit their higher paying jobs; and women in transition.

Some women arrived in their power suits while others found confidence and comfort in t-shirts and jeans. Some came in groups, some with a friend or co-worker, some of us alone. None of it mattered: where we came from, where we worked, what we wore or who we knew in the crowd. We were all there to learn, inspire, be inspired, listen, engage and support one another. The energy within the Kansas Leadership Center became palpable – buzzing through our bloodstreams and emerging through our laughter, our voices, our handshakes and hugs, our questions and our cheers.

The conference provided three Know Your Worth tracks: Workplace, Community and Personal. There were two sessions for each track and you could stick to one track or mix and match. I chose Rebel Thinking and the Art of Why Not with Janet Federico (workplace) and Breakthrough to be Extraordinary with Kara Hunt (community). What I soon discovered was that I wished I could have attended all six sessions!

We started the day with an informational and eye-opening morning address by Wendy Doyle, President/CEO of The Women’s Foundation, and we ended the day with a panel discussion from two of the most admirable and revered women in our community, Myrne Roe and Lavonta Williams, and two young women who are blazing their own inspiring trails, Lacey Cruse and Luisa Taylor. These women had us cheering, laughing and on our feet. Myrne stole the show.

The day went all too quickly and as I previously stated, I wished for more time, so I could experience each track, hear each speaker and add to my already burgeoning portfolio of takeaways from the day:

  • “When we are asked, women serve.”
  • When it comes to CEOs, there are nearly as many named John as there are women
  • Women = 51% of Kansas population, yet only 25% in legislation
  • “We always say why, turn it into why not.”
  • “I don’t need a title to be a community advocate.”
  • “When all else fails, start your own business.”
  • “If you want to have 50, 60 and 70-year-old white men decide what your city is going to look like, then continue to meet here and do nothing.”
  • “I want someone on our council who looks like me and understands me and the people in my neighborhood.”
  • “What you fear has mastery over your life.”
  • “I am who I am. I’m good at what I do, and nothing can stop me.”

Most importantly, I learned we were all born to lead. Even me. Whether it’s in our workplace, our homes, our communities. It’s time to not just make the change, it is up to women to be the change. We’ve tried it the other way for too long. So many women have already lit the trail, but the journey is long, and we have much to do. 189 women attended the Know Your Worth conference. These women are at the ready. These women are on the cusp of their own great histories.

Grab your torches, ladies. Meet us on the path.

 

The Story and the Advice Mosaic

This has been a tumultuous year.  Back in May, I wrote a post about finding our identity and our story – our life story. I asked the question I often ask myself, which is What is your story and where is it guiding you? I had no idea that a few months later I would be making my fourth career change in one year. One more life rewrite.

Always one to be open to opportunities, when this position was brought to my attention I felt I had to continue to take my own advice and be open, once again, to the possibility of change. It was nearing my one-year anniversary of leaving Wichita State University and I felt a creeping doubt within me. I knew that while I was enjoying writing content for a local business, there was still something amiss. I didn’t feel like I had found my true purpose. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference.

As I engaged in the interview process, I kept hearing the words of a longtime mentor who told me during my “career hopping” that my path would always lead me to where I belonged. He even told me he believed my path would lead back to nonprofit fundraising where my compassion, empathy and need to make a difference would make the greatest impact.

I knew in the first minutes of my first interview that I would be making yet one more change. I felt comfortable, the people familiar, the mission close to my heart. Plus, I was provided a small reminder by a young woman I’d once hired as a student assistant when I was at WSU. A brilliant young lady I’d mentored and who has now become a dear friend and one I consider my “spirit daughter,” repeated my own words to me over Great Expectations sandwiches at Watermark Books: “I always remember the words you said to me, ‘Listen to your heart and follow your gut. Don’t be afraid of change because it could lead to the place you are meant to be.’”

It was then I realized another aspect of my story has always been to encourage others to write theirs. Sort of a subplot, if you will.  What follows are the lessons and advice I find myself giving to others, especially those trying to find their path and either just beginning to write their story or tackling that rewrite:

  • Be open to possibilities. Something you never imagined yourself doing or experiencing could be the undreamed dream of a lifetime.
  • Never fear change. Life is always changing – the path always twisting. Listen to your heart, follow your gut and have faith.
  • Do not build your own obstacles. Never let age, experience, gender, race or any other self-made brick of doubt stand in your way of trying something new, accepting an opportunity or taking that leap of faith. We tend to be our own worst walls.
  • Nothing is given. You must work for what you seek and work hard. The benefits of a strong work ethic may not be visible in the beginning – be patient.
  • Remember, we all have wings. Some are just more aware of their ability to fly and cannot wait to try; others have been told for so long they could never take flight, they’ve folded their wings in fear; while some just flat-out refuse to believe. Always believe.
  • It’s your obligation to encourage and lift up others along your journey. No one succeeds on their own. No one. We are all in this together.

All of these have been a part of my journey—a chapter in my story. No, I am no sage. This advice is a mosaic born from shiny, multicolored and fragile bits and pieces of guidance offered to me through the years, which I molded and revised into mantras that move me onward. This encouragement I now offer to others after learning hard life lessons, facing my own fears and doubts and finally learning that the greatest battle I ever face is the one within myself. Each failure is a lesson learned. Each journey a highlight on the map.

Sure, there are times I forget my own advice, as we all tend to get caught up in daily stressors and lose focus of the story. What I have found in this past year is that the story is never truly finished. While there will never be pages torn from our life-books, there will always be rewrites, there will always be plot twists. And, there will be times we tuck our wings in self-doubt, find ourselves standing with a self-made brick in hand, believe the whispers of frustration by our own egos, fail to bring others along in the journey and overlook open doors.

Yet, if we are true to ourselves and our faith in the journey, we’ll find ourselves living the undreamed dream of a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Stories, Our Rainbows

At my current workplace, I offer a weekly inspirational email each Wednesday. Words & Wisdom Wednesday offers a bit of push toward the end of the work week, a much-needed “we’re halfway there” in the form of prose, quotes, poetry or insightful thought.

I’ve found it has accomplished what I’d hoped in that a few co-workers felt inspired, took pause or saw a reflection of themselves, if even for a moment. Plus, I confess it helps me tremendously to think about what to write and while I write it forces me to reflect on where I am, not necessarily during this particular week, but where I am in my journey.

A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts, as well an excerpt from a book I’d read recently, Story Driven by Bernadette Jiwa. The book is about the difference between being a competitive-driven company and a story-driven company. The following is the opening paragraph of the preface:

 Every one of us—regardless of where we were born, how we were brought up,               how many setbacks we’ve endured or privileges we’ve been afforded—has been           conditioned to compete to win. Ironically, the people who create fulfilling lives and           careers—the ones we respect, admire and try to emulate—choose an alternative           path to success.They have a powerful sense of identity. They don’t worry about               differentiating themselves from the competition or obsess about telling the right               story. They tell the real story instead (Jiwa, 17).

A powerful sense of identity. Knowing who you are is key in finding success, but more importantly, in being proud of who you are and to stop comparing and competing with others.

Personally, it has always been my thought that we are all a collection of short stories. Each one of us made up of vignettes from our lives—stories of where we started, what molded us, and the stories we share with others. My collection is filled with stories of family, women who inspired, mentors, friendships, unconditional love, and the treading of dark waters to get where I am. Our collections are infinite because even after we are long gone others whom we touched continue the story, adding to the epilogue. In knowing our stories, we know ourselves and our own story.

On April 4, the birthday of Maya Angelou, I shared her intention about being the rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Many responded, touched by her powerful words. What they took from and what they chose to do with those words adds to the story of this fierce, yet gentle lady. Maya Angelou’s story is infinite because we continue to share her collection while adding to our own and others. Maya might say we share our rainbows.

Maya Angelou knew her story. Most of the time, I know mine. There are days I need to remind myself by rereading these stories, but I also know my story is only in its earliest drafts.  Knowing who you are and embracing your identity is truly the key. Knowing your story determines the life you lead, the successes you obtain, the legacy you leave. Everyone of us has a story. For some it is the simplest of stories, yet the most impactful. Some are stories of service or stories of the nurturer and the provider. There are stories about a life of action and a life of humility, while still others are of sharing the word and stories of faith. There are even the stories of the storyteller. And yes, there are the dark stories of the wanton, the lost, the empty and the forgotten.

Maybe I am so fond of stories because of the books I clutched against the beatings of my chest as a child. I was captivated by books and the worlds and characters within them. As I grew older, I became captivated by the stories and characters around me, especially my family. Or, maybe it’s because I found my sense of identity when I opened my eyes and heart to those stories—the stories that made me who I am. The real story.

While Story Driven focuses on those entrepreneurs and companies whose stories drive the narratives and successes of their business, many aspects of Jiwa’s book pertain to our personal stories. If these individuals did not have a strong grasp of their personal identity, they would not have the ability to know the identity of their companies nor lead by their company story. Something to think about.

As I am in the middle of a rewrite of an early draft of my life, I found two sentences from her book to be especially profound. In Part One, she references our “narrative compass” and states, “Our story illuminates the dark corners where only we can go. It’s our story that guides us.”

Which leaves me to ask of others what I often ask of myself. What is your story and where is it guiding you?

*If you would like to be added to my Words & Wisdom Wednesday email, please provide your email in the comments or email me at natolmsted@gmail.com

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easing a Restless (Writing) Heart

I have prided myself in staying with a job or career for a length of time. I’m not one to jump from job to job or change careers on a whim. I worked in retail for eight years, as an office administrator in the dental field for fourteen, and in higher education for eleven. So, when I took the leap into teaching, which proved an erroneous choice, only to return to education and fundraising, I thought I’d made the right choice by returning to a familiar path. Possibly, this is the path I was meant all along, or is it? Suddenly, I am faced with a restlessness unknown to me. Where has all of this come from? Why this insatiable need to discover the right path?

Is this restlessness a symptom of mid-life and all those nagging questions that arise when we are faced with the brevity of our lives? Do we truly need to secure the answer to the question—what is my purpose? Yes. At least for me, that answer is yes. I do believe we all have a purpose and are placed upon our paths for a reason, but it is up to each of us to know our path and be content in its geography. Whether our paths lead us to worldly fame, community celebrity, or a profound contentment within our family or circle of friends, to have a purposeful life is deemed the goal. I do not fear death, but what I do fear is drawing my final breath with the thought of not fulfilling my purpose or questioning if my life was enough. Life is a gift and to treat it as such is the catalyst of my purpose.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t quite understand this sense of purpose. I chalked it up to “what do I want to be when I grow up” and tossed in on a back-burner.  No one has time for purpose when ones only goal is to have fun, be daring, and memorize when and where the two-for-one drink specials are in town. I’m sure I thought my only purpose was to attend as many concerts, have as much fun, and drink as much beer as humanly possible before I turned thirty. If that was my purpose, well I can honestly say I was quite successful.

It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I began to question my path on this earth. Why am I here? What am I supposed to accomplish with this life? Throughout my twenties, I’d rarely written a word let alone a poem or short story. Once a large part of my being, putting pen to paper had all but disappeared except for the stories I created in my mind, counting characters instead of sheep, etching them upon the right hemisphere of my brain until they exploded in word stars above my bed at night. It wasn’t until I began my pursuit of the long-eluded college degree that my writing returned. After my first English class, the graduate teaching assistant asked me if he could use one of my papers as an example of good storytelling, then proceeded to question why I was majoring in health administration. But, it wasn’t until my second and third English professors asked me the same question, followed by “you should be writing.”

One would think that would be enough. To have your passion encouraged and somewhat validated should set you on the path with a vigor and with fire, and it did as I switched my major in the middle of my sophomore year to English. My new career goal became to teach in higher education, but by the time I earned my bachelor’s degree and began the pursuit of my master’s in creative writing, life threw some large and life-changing obstacles in my way. Those hurdles lead to my newfound career in fundraising and eleven experience-gaining and incredible years with Wichita State University. I wasn’t teaching at my alma mater as I had once dreamed, but I was learning, growing, and making my way.

If you’ve been following my mermaid path, you know where it went from there—to secondary education. I’d continued to feel strongly I was meant for the path of teaching, only to discover this was not my purpose. I returned to fundraising and management, but the restlessness did not go away. It intensified, kept me up at night, bore holes in my confidence and left me anxious and feeling as if I’d misplaced something. It was like losing your favorite pen and spending weeks upon weeks sticking your fingers between sofa cushions, turning over laundry bins, and noticing you need to do a better job of vacuuming under the beds while all the time knowing it had to be someplace you were forgetting to look, somewhere right in front of you.

Then, I attended a session as part of college readiness workshop for juniors in high school. I’d been wanting to hear the facilitator speak. The session was “Leading with Purpose” and as part of the session the highly engaging young man brought up a PowerPoint slide with one word on it: Purpose. He asked everyone in the room to close their eyes and think about what their purpose might be and what first comes to mind. I decided to join the students. I closed my eyes and without hesitation, as if spoken aloud—tell and share stories. Tell and share stories. Not teach, not nonprofit fundraising or community engagement, but tell and share stories. Just as I was coming to the realization I’d possibly remembered where I’d last placed my favorite pen, the facilitator had us open our eyes and encouraged a few of the students to share what first came to mind. He forwarded to the next slide: Passion. He had us close our eyes one more time. What is your passion? You can guess what first came to my mind: writing. I had found my favorite pen. It had been where I’d placed it all along, in the drawer of my writing desk for safekeeping.

Now begins another journey, albeit familiar. I’ve accepted a position where I will spend much of my time creating and revising content. I’ll be writing and pushing the right hemisphere of my brain into overdrive, something I’ve not done since my days in graduate school when the writing spilled forth on the page and the stories in my head pulsated and pushed to be born. Plus, I’ve volunteered for a community project gathering the stories and history of an entire neighborhood, which I am hopeful will result in my being able to tell and share a few. We shall see. What I do know is I feel confident, hopeful, and somewhat at peace with myself. I will be telling and sharing stories. I will be writing for a living. The restlessness has subsided.

Lesson Planning Became a Lesson Planned for Me

We live and we continue to learn moment by moment, day by day, and choice by choice. These lessons we learn are not lost, not futile, if we truly learn from them by gaining experience, recognizing who we are, who we are not, and who we can be and grow. At the end of the lesson, especially if it was difficult or unexpected, we must give pause to self-reflection, acceptance, and an understanding of the importance of keeping the lesson within us always as a reminder. It has been a while since I’ve made choices that put me in a situation to learn something about myself, who I thought I was, and where I thought I was going. It’s funny how it all works, how we ready ourselves for the path we knew lay before us only to discover we’d forced ourselves, and sometimes those we love, down a path never meant for us. How did we get there? For me, I was lost and failed to recognize it.

I spent nine weeks learning a valuable lesson about myself and what I thought was best for me and what I thought was my destination. My drive to give up a lucrative career with WSU and follow a long ago dream turned out to be just the latter: a long ago dream. The dream to teach was the dream of a different mermaid, a younger, less experienced, somewhat selfish and naïve mermaid. I am not the same woman who dreamed this dream while pursuing her degrees in English. I have changed in many ways, and yet I failed to adjust the dream to the woman I am at this moment in time. Pursuing the path of a classroom educator was in actuality dreaming the dream of someone else.

Sure, my circumstances were not ideal, from my choice of school to the lack of support and preparation, plus there were additional questions I should have asked and situations I should have better recognized. For seven weeks I continued to push forward, refusing to fail while stumbling on a path not mine, squinting through the glasses of an idealist, and forcing myself to live a dream I knew in my heart no longer belonged to me. As I prayed for guidance and searched my frustrated heart, I faced myself in battle, brandishing weapons of self-doubt and torturing myself for my foolishness. Finally one morning I heard whispered in my ear, “Patience you need to find. Selfishness you need to lose. Look upon your life and see.” Clear as the church bells during weekday Mass with my sixth grade class, this whisper helped me to recognize and accept my lesson of humility.

The lesson was difficult, but needed. In my headstrong pursuit of a career change, I was blinded to many aspects, such as how this change would affect my most significant relationships, specifically my parents and husband, and the life I loved to live. Most importantly, I was blind in recognizing how the dream no longer fit the woman. The dream had become that garment we keep in our closet, the one that hangs there year after year in hopes it will one day adorn our bodies, all the while knowing we are only clinging to a memory. The dated garment will never truly fit us because we have changed and not just physically. It was time to place the garment in a donation bag to be discovered and worn by someone else.

It was then, through the brambles of my decision, I discovered a quiet trail which led me to a path I’d seen and even set a timid foot upon only to deny its journey. A path revealed to me exactly one year ago, but I was not prepared as there was still this lesson to be learned; the path patiently waited for me.

I’m at peace with the lesson because I needed to acknowledge how I’d begun to take people and circumstances for granted and how the gifts I’d been given had grown in ways I’d not even understood. I am not a classroom educator, but I am a one-on-one mentor and advocate for students. I love to write and read and allow words to fill my days, but I am not a teacher of grammar and reading comprehension, at best I use my words to help and encourage others. I am a daughter whose everyday life is filled with the friendship of her parents and not a daughter who is good with only seeing them once a week, if that, due to inflexible work schedules. I need them as much as they need me. I am a wife and best friend to a man who supports my ups and downs, but relies on my infinite ability to look for the good to keep him at balance with hope, just as I rely on his ability to not always look on the bright side to keep me in check with reality. And I love my community and draw strength from its relationships, its ever-changing inner borders, its willingness and struggle to grow in diversity, and I need desperately to be a part of it, completely. I can give much more to my community in return for what it gives to me.

The lessons we learn are vital to our inner and outer survival. I discovered the following quote in my social media feed the same day I heard those whispers in my ear:

A mistake which makes you humble is much better than an achievement that makes you arrogant  – unknown author

 Which then led me to recall this quote by C.S. Lewis: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

 Inner and outer survival is bound in humility. Once again, lesson learned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Change

It is August and I am no longer an employee of Wichita State University. Eleven years ago, I thought I would remain on that campus until the day of retirement, complete with the obligatory reception and WSU Today announcement. But, the time came for me to change paths and follow a dream. And, what a path it has been. I made it through eight weeks of graduate school, taking three classes for a total of eight credit hours while working full-time through July 14. Not to mention, my final two months at WSU were my busiest as I helped transition the outgoing and incoming residents, coordinated the dental career day for high school students, prepared for my departure, and trained two individuals in some of the aspects of my job. Whew.

In what seems like eons ago, I was recently married, helping to raise two boys and working full-time when I earned my bachelor’s degree. When I earned my master’s degree I was learning a new full time job on campus, still happily married, but with a teenager at home. I guess I figured eight weeks of classes with it just being me, my husband, a boxador and cat would be a breeze. Either I had repressed a lot of memories from those earlier pursuits or I just was not prepared mentally or physically for multiple late nights, a rendezvous at midnight with a 19-page human development theory paper, and lost weekends with poster board presentations and classroom management studies. I’ve yet to return to a normal sleep pattern.

But, I made it through the eight weeks and have spent the last three days preparing my classroom. Let me type this one more time…my classroom. On Monday, after I unlocked the door and snapped on the lights, I set down my tote bags and box on the dusty desk and just looked around at the empty canvas around me. The aged, eggshell painted brick walls stared back at me, not quite welcoming, more like they were too tired to care. As always, I have to settle in and get organized. I always need to create my space when I begin a new job, only instead of just my space I had an entire room to inhabit. I always begin by cleaning. There’s something therapeutic in wiping away the dust of previous tenants and scrubbing away the residue of the past, plus it helps me get to know every desk drawer, every bookshelf, and every cupboard. All becomes familiar and hopeful under the careful swipe of my sponge or dust rag. The previous tenant did not share my penchant for alphabetized order and concise configuration, so I have spent two full days lining up, counting and taking inventory of books, creating space for curriculum guides and study materials, and straightening and tying up bundles of computer and Ethernet cables. Other than the lives of thirteen spiders I had to end, it’s been a satisfying getting-to-know-you week. Oh, and don’t worry about the spiders. I razed their condominium of stacked papers, old notebooks, even older Christmas gift bags, a few desk-sized American flags, broken keyboards, a deflated volleyball, and about a million photocopied study guides from 1996 that had become their tri-level home in what is now an empty cabinet.

I soon will embark on reorganizing the first shelves and cupboards at the entrance of the door, then focus on classroom set up and adding some life to the walls. Rest assured, my “Steps to a Great Essay,” “Examples of Figurative Language,” “Punctuation Saves Lives,” and “Reading Strategies” posters are en route. And, if I can organize the desks and tables strategically, I may have room for a throw rug and a few bean bag chairs for a reading area. I have plenty of windows and wonderful natural lighting, so I may have to try my hand at a few plants, although I’m leaning more toward artificial since I’ve not inherited so much as a green thumbnail. Oh, and let’s not forget my ode to WSU corner along with my Wichita flag, and sunflower artwork which has already found its place in the sunny corner behind my desk.

Once the space is finished I can set my brain to task creating lesson plans and classroom guidelines or as I like to call them Classroom Habits. Get it? Habits? Catholic School? I must be tired. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The reason I’ve made it this far is because I’ve remained focused on the task at hand, whether it be a quiz regarding behavioral psychology, my Farewell Tour of WSU, or reawakening an empty classroom. I’ve forced myself to be present in the current moment, the current day, the current mission. If I had for one minute thought ahead to actually handing over my keys, carrying my boxes out to the car and driving away from WSU or standing in front of my students on the very first day of school…well, let’s not go there. Change is rejuvenating, but change is hard. Scary hard. I’ll take it one step, one breath, one shelf, one desk, one motivational poster, one class period, and one day at a time.

 

 

 

Swing Sets, Fear and Faith

As a child, I used to love to swing as high as I could, my butt rising slightly from the warm, rubbery sling, the view beyond my dirty Keds alternating between speckled sand and blue sky. And then, as if on a dare, I’d let go of the grimy chains and fling my birdlike body into the summer breeze. For a moment, a very quick moment, I could feel myself suspended, hanging in the air like a lone seed from a cottonwood tree seeking a Kansas wind. It was in that millisecond I felt exhilaration and fear. Would I land securely in the divots of the sand or had I misjudged, ankle-breaking myself on the concrete. The fall was even quicker, pushing my tummy upwards toward my rapidly beating heart as I searched the ground and focused on keeping my appendages from windmilling me into certain death or at the very least, a mouthful of playground.

That is what I am feeling at this moment, exhilaration combined with fear. I’m changing my career path. I’ve just been accepted into the Transition to Teaching (T2T) program at Wichita State University, an alternative licensure program which will allow me to be a classroom teacher of record while earning my Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT). I’m leaving a secure position with Wichita State University to pursue a long ago dream to be a teacher and mentor. Some call it brave, while others call it crazy. Either way, I’ve set my feet on this path, a path I’d once stood briefly but was obliged to walk another, and while my inner being soars knowing I’m finally taking this step, I am scared.

I’ve never been one to allow my age to deter me from anything, but I am aware most people are etching out their retirement years, not jumping their career ship at the age of 51. But, I’ve never considered myself “most people,” so that’s not what is frightening about this change. And, I’m a nerd at heart, so the idea of taking classes and having homework makes me giddy, so rule out returning to school as a reason for any fear. Is it the swift drop in salary? A little. I confess we’ve grown accustom to eating out more than once a week or buying those concert tickets on a whim, but we were also much happier and more relaxed before my higher-paying, stress-inducing current job. So, what is causing this fear?

Rustiness. I have this haunting fear of being the Tin Man of teachers. It’s been ten years since I earned my graduate degree in English-creative writing and while I continue to write, it’s obvious some of the basics have gone by the wayside. I find myself over and under-punctuating or having to look up grammar rules I once knew like the proverbial back of my hand. As a blogger, grammar has not been at the forefront of my posts, as I’ve focused on thought and ideas, but not if I used too many complex sentences or overused sentence fragments. I picture myself standing at the head of a classroom, frozen in grammar and language rust. But, I do know one thing, I have heart. Lots of heart.

When I began graduate school in 2006, my goal was to teach. I applied and accepted a graduate teaching assistantship (GTA) with my sights set on completing my thesis (my short story collection) and securing a teaching position in higher education. But, life is far from easy and an obstacle was thrown in my path when my husband lost his job after the “new” manager decided his salary was too high, plus wanted to move his inexperienced son into the business. With a mortgage and two boys at home, we would’ve starved on my $9,000 a year stipend. I was fortunate to be offered a full-time position with the WSU Foundation, an opportunity I am so grateful because it opened the door to a ten-year career with my alma mater. But, I never forgot about teaching and whenever a moment arose to mentor or advise young people, I took that moment. From coordinating dental career day with high school students to faculty/staff advising for the Pre-Dental Student Association at WSU, and especially one-on-one mentoring with my student workers, I relish those times when I can advise, encourage or just listen.

I researched the T2T program more than a year ago, but it was shortly after the new year I decided it was time. We decided it was time. I know my husband has harbored guilt for altering my course those many years ago, although it was no fault of his own, and has been encouraging me to take the jump, to let go the grimy chains and fly. No words can express how it feels to know the person you share your life is willing to jump from the swing with you and from the same heights.

And so, it begins. My new journey down an old, somewhat familiar path, one I thought was overgrown with the native grasses of missed opportunity and littered with should’ves and could’ves is now beckoning. I’ll hold tight my compass of faith, find my focus point, and imagine what landing lies ahead. I can almost feel the sand beneath my feet.

woman jumping from swing

(I’ve been unable to find the owner/photographer of this image to properly give credit)

 

 

The Mix Tape of My 50thYear

My 51st birthday has come and gone. Not sure if anyone remembers my goal for my 50th birthday year, but it proved to be quite the task. What I thought would be an easy and exciting journey of live music became a fun but formidable challenge. 50 live shows in honor of my 50th year. It seemed doable right out of the gate, what with Arlo Guthrie, Black Sabbath, Robert Plant and The Who leading the charge. But soon, and very soon, the choices became harder, the time between shows grew lengthier. By September, my purchase of concert tickets stalled and the voices in my head grew louder, “I told you it wasn’t feasible… I told you it was crazy.” The voices were wrong.

No, I didn’t hit my goal of 50 for 50, but it wasn’t crazy. It was amazing. And my goal was feasible, because what I truly wanted to accomplish was to spend my 50th year basking in the marquee lights, the beat of my heart one with the bass and drum, surrounded by sweating bodies in sync with the sounds and the feel of my body releasing itself the burden of every day stress and boredom. Live music. The healer.

It wasn’t until this past year that I realized how much live music was missing from my life. If anything, this goal I set encouraged me to go to shows I might have talked myself out of the previous year. Don’t get me wrong, I did excuse myself from some shows since I’d made a promise to myself not to go to a show simply to be going. There had to be an attraction, a desire, not just a “yeah, sure, I’d like to see that show…maybe…whatever.” No, it had to be a OMG decision complete with too many exclamation points and at the very least, a YES!! proclamation before scheduling in my calendar. I kept to my promise of seeing old school, new school, up and coming, and scratching bands off my music bucket list, as well as big arenas, intimate theaters, and a few outdoor pop-up stages and bar patios. My list also included many local bands from the ICT music scene, a handful we’d seen numerous times and a few first-timers. It was a whirlwind of diversity. So damn fun.

Each show was memorable in a unique way and many were shared with people I love. There was even a forfeited show (Amos Lee at the Stiefel Theater) when I chose to stay home to watch my Cubs win the World Series. I figured I’d get another opportunity to see Amos, but not live another 100 years to see the Cubs capture an MLB championship. But, I’ll never forget those first shows. Honestly, Black Sabbath, Robert Plant, and The Who should’ve been worth triple points, shouldn’t they? I mean, really. Black freaking Sabbath. The King, Robert Plant. Bloody Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey. Now that I think about it, The Who should’ve been worth quadruple points since my brother and his wife joined us for the show in KC. A lifetime of memories in one year, set against the backdrop of stage lights and blue haze.

So, I might be 20 or so short on my goal, but overall, the soundtrack to my 50th year was like a really diverse and incredible mix tape your best friend would make just before a road trip to see one of your all-time favorite bands. Or the mix CD with the title only the two of you could appreciate and the songs that made you smile, laugh, and say, “No way…yes” with each opening chord. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

*Arlo Guthrie*Black Sabbath*Robert Plant*The Who*Aoogah*Dave Matthews Band*Cherokee Maidens*The Mischief Makers*Andy Frasco & the U.N*Wild Adriatic*Moreland and Arbuckle*Fishbone*80-proof Engine*Fun Girls*Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy*Bad Mother Hubbard*Mountain Sprout*Los Lonely Boys*Klondike 5 String Band*Calamity Cubes*Split Lip Rayfield*Lalanea Chastain & Alex Nordine*Haunted Windchimes*The Cult*Tom Page Trio* False Flag*Rosco Del Rio*Elvis Costello*Black Violin*Anthony Gomes*

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Remove the Blinders, Take Your Eyes From the Path

January has come and gone. And with it, a lot of reflection mixed with determination and hope and always with a side of turmoil. The beginning of a new year always instills a sense of hope as we review our past year, even our past life, to understand and plan for our future. We are determined to face change or make change, as well to renew old promises or kick those aside for newer, more attainable ones. But, all of this comes with those nagging fears of change.

I spent the holiday break resolving to rediscover my purpose and to be even more open to possibilities. Now, I’ve always been someone who is open to possibilities, as it is something I encourage in others, especially young people. Remove any blinders as you walk your path. Blinders can be the goals and expectations others created for you, which you may somewhat agree but don’t necessarily see yourself obtaining, yet you continue down the expected path. Or, blinders can be the degree you worked so hard to earn, which you now forcibly follow down a narrow path, unaware of differing roads you could and should take. Blinders can be pre-conceived notions about who you are, the religion in which you were raised, or the stereotypes you’ve grown accustom.

It took me until I was thirty years old to realize I was wearing my own checkered set of blinkers. There is nothing more freeing than removing those blinders and seeing all around and along the path and especially the ability to recognize there are other paths available in which to travel, even if just for a moment. Without those blinders, I discovered it was not too late to earn my degrees. Sans blinders, I discovered a different career path other than the one I thought my degrees would govern. And with my peripheral vision extended, I was able to walk beside or join others on their paths and be open to the mosaic of humanity.

Our lives are short. And to move through this gift we’ve been entrusted while wearing blinders seems wrong, not to mention bleak and somewhat cowardly. Yes, there are many who find comfort in their blinders. The job of blinders is to help focus on the simple path ahead and not to be spooked or distracted by what is passing alongside the path. Blinders maintain control, better able to ignore what is beside us or behind us. Stay the course, no matter what.

Blinders work well for and are essential to the successful outcome of a racehorse. Those leather patches are fitted on troublesome horses for their own safety as well as the safety of their jockey. But, there is no jockey determining our course. We are determining our course. The blinders we find ourselves wearing are those created, patched, and attached to us by society, our families, our environments, and ourselves.

Secretariat, considered the greatest race horse of all time, wore blinkers, but the majority of his life was  contained, either by fences or centered on an oval race track. If we consign ourselves to one path, where is it we are truly going? A quote I keep in my personal “Quotes of Thought” list is by Marcus Buckingham, the man who founded the Strengths Revolution in the workplace, and while the quote is referencing a career or work path, I feel it is relevant to life:

“The best way to find out if you’re on the right path? Stop looking at the path.”

If our focus is only on the path in front of us, we may discover we’ve been on the wrong path all along. While some may argue straying from the path leads to temptation, corruption, or getting lost along the way, I believe if one has faith, that faith will remain steadfast no matter the path. Unless you’ve chosen a path void of kindness, compassion, and love, and if that’s the case, your faith was never guiding you to begin with. Faith will always be tested, but it will never completely abandon you.

So, have faith and remove the blinders. Free yourself from running forward, eyes focused only on the path in front of you. Be brave. Be willing to take paths strewn with rocks and debris, especially the dirt roads, as those can be the most challenging, but the most fun and enlightening. Be curious of other roads, look around, enjoy the different views, and join others on their paths. Life is vast and should never be limited to one, narrow, blinders-on, path.