random blitherings turn productive

Did you ever sit down to write and find that you have nothing to say?  I'm doing that right now.  I have nothing to say. 

Just yesterday, I had lots to say.  In fact, I had at least 5 topics that spewed out of my brain.  Can I recall them now?  No.  What to do?   Well, this is what works for me.  I sit down and I write anyway.  That's right.  I write.  Whether I have anything to say, whether I am coherent, or whether I know for sure that this isn't in any way similar to what the end result will be.

Sometimes, I write a bit and take a break.  Like now, for instance.  I put a laundry in the washer right after eating lunch.  And there it sits.  This is a perfect time to go hang it up. 

I can even mention that my family is pretty darn energy conscious.  So we hang up nearly all our laundry on a drying rack.  Since it's nice out, I'll put it outside on the clothes line.  But we also have several indoor drying racks, including a large one that will hold nearly two laundry loads… and a nifty device — composed of a clothes hanger, string, and clothespins — that works just great for socks, underwear, and other small items that don’t need to be hung “just so.”

So let me go do that.

Back again. 

I've been noticing that it’s been a good while since I wrote anything on this site.  I had a great summer, working less and marketing even less, and now that my wife and child have headed back to school, it’s time I really got myself in gear.  But getting myself in gear is, as they say, “easier said than done.”  At least that is what has become obvious to me.  Perhaps it’s true for you, as well.  I feel a bit like an old tree stump: rooted, but with nothing growing… except some fungi.  (You’ve heard the story about the mushroom that goes into a bar, right?  Well, this is the same thing.)  So I need to find ways that will allow me to engage once more with my work, my audience, and my passion for coaching.

It’s pretty dramatic to say that there are as many ways to connect with one’s work, audience, or passion as there are people out there.  So I won’t.  I couldn’t prove it, anyway, right? But it’s the idea that matters here. What works for me, might work for you… but there’s no knowing it until you try.

And, of course, there’s another caveat (Isn’t there always another caveat?).  What opens the door on my creativity or passion today might not be the key to the door tomorrow.  So your curiosity matters here.  And your patience.  And your gentleness.  Gentleness with yourself, I’m talking about here.  Believe me, there’s nothing more counterproductive than beating yourself into creativeness.  Or don’t believe me.  It’s just something I’m spewing out, anyway.

OK, I’m going to tell the truth now.  I didn’t go hang up the laundry.  I meant to when I wrote it.  But then I had this thought that I figured I’d forget if I didn’t quickly write it down.  So I did… and the rest is history.  Anyway, now I’m going to go and hang up my laundry.  Hopefully, when I get back up here I’ll still be in the mood. 

Another Take-Away: Don’t mess with the energy.  Or: Go with the flow.  Or something else.  What would you call it?

OK. Now I’m really going.  Note to self: remember to save this before leaving the computer.  Done.

Laundry’s up.

So what’s the point here?  Well, there are several points, actually.
One point is that when you’re stuck, you need to find your way toward action in whatever ways you can.

When you create from where you are, rather than from where you want to be, you will probably be more successful in moving off the dime.

Another point: Showing yourself, oddities and warts, can be freeing, and can allow others to connect with you and your work.  Yes, this is also true in many places in academe.  Unfortunately, it is also not true in many places in academe.

Not surprisingly, this is much like the way it is in the “real” world, too.  In some places in your life you have much more freedom to show yourself than in others.  Those other ones can be brutal environments to be in.  Perhaps you make a lot of money, perhaps you don’t, but either way, you just know that if you show yourself, sometimes even just a small part of yourself, you’re walking in dangerous territory.

I’m going to stop here.  If this jives with something you know to be true — and you’re in the mood – send me an email or login and make a comment.  If you want some help to deal with it and are interested to know whether I can be of help, let’s talk.

7 Faculty Types Who Should Hire a Coach NOW… and why!

This may seem like a shameless plug for coaching, and perhaps it is. But folks really need to know that help is available and that, despite so many cultural messages to the contrary, getting the support you need is a good thing.  It could help you keep your job, for one thing.  And you can find yourself a whole lot happier, too.  You'll notice that I'm writing to folks in the tenure track, in particular; but this list applies to faculty at any level.

  1. The tenure clock is ticking and you’re not doing what you know you need to do. You do lots of other stuff, but not what it’s going to take to be successful in this venture. The deadline seems far away, but each day that passes without your having taken care of your most important business is yet another day lost. You can’t get it back to do over. And with each lost day, your ever-descending sense that you haven’t done what you promised yourself you would do that day reinforces your sense that you probably are not capable, after all. Of course, you are capable. How to get you moving and stay moving is a coach’s expertise.
  2. You’re not showing up how you know you need to show up. Perhaps you’re not performing well in your classes. Maybe you’re not speaking up… or speaking up too much. Maybe your fear of being blackballed has squelched too much of the style that makes you interesting to others. Perhaps you haven’t figured out how to relate to your students. Showing up more fully will not only serve to make you appear more interesting, it will make you more interested.
  3. Expectations for tenure are unclear. You aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be doing. Maybe they don’t want to tell you what you need to do. Perhaps they think you should know what to do without being told. Maybe they don’t even know what it is they want you to do. The problem is that, sooner or later, you will be judged based on some criteria, explicit or implicit, fair or not. The bottom line is that you need to know. Maybe they’re telling you and you’re not listening. Maybe they expect you to ask. A coach will make sure your activities are founded in the reality of your situation… and will help you take the steps to achieve your goals
  4. You are distractible or disorganized. Or both! A coach will help you put systems in place to minimize distraction, help you stay on track, and get yourself organized. And your coach will bring you back to your agenda when the other systems fail to do the job.
  5. You beat yourself up for your shortcomings. That you have come so far might be an accident, contributing to your belief that you’re a fraud. Probably this is not the bigger truth. The bigger truth is that we all have shortcomings. And despite this reality, we all are stronger and more gifted than we are comfortable admitting to ourselves. Your coach will remind you of who you are, what you are bringing to the world, will “champion you” as you take on more than you believe you can.
  6. Writing. Oy! Can’t get those words onto paper. Don’t ever feel good about sending them off. It is, in fact, possible to write more easily. Less drama. Some satisfaction, even.
  7. Unhappy with your situation. You are doing just fine, getting your work done, moving forward, on track to success. You just don’t know why you are doing it… ‘cause you don’t really like either where you are, who you’re with, or what you’re doing.

If any of these describe you, give me a call… or give another coach a call.  But don't just assume things will change for the better if they haven't so far.  That's not likely to happen.  Remember: You have nothing to lose by calling me and the possibility of real gain if you do.  Here's how to contact me .

passion and productivity in academic life

My Passion

I just got back from city hall, where a Bike to Work Week Proclamation was declared by our mayor.  As a believer in the many benefits cycling offers to individuals and communities I have worked to bring my city, Syracuse, several steps closer to being bike friendly.

I would say that I'm passionate about cycling (some might even say that I'm obsessed… and we know there's always a fine line between the two).

I love to be on a bike!  I love the exhilaration of moving at speed, the wind in my face, the feeling of propelling myself from place to place, covering long distances if I choose, and struggling up hills (well, I don't really love that part, but I appreciate it).  I like that it helps me keep in shape.  And I believe that getting people on bikes to replace short trips in cars, by creating safe bike routes for folks to travel on, can help make a dent in what may well become climate chaos.

Passion into Action

How this is transferred into action:

  • I am involved with an organization called BikeCNY (CNY for Central New York) and am the webmaster for the website. 
  • This year, we have moved into regular conversations with the Mayor's Office and DPW, moving forward each time.
  • I recently signed up for a charity bike ride, a 300-mile jaunt from Saranac Lake in the northern Adirondacks of NY State, to Preble, 25 miles south of Syracuse… in 4 days.  The ride benefits Special Olympics New York.  (Hey, if you are moved to donate to this cause, I would be grateful for your sponsorship.  You can do that at the firstgiving.com/stevereiter.)
  • I ride for transportation, as well as for fun and exercise.

Passion and Effectiveness

Passion can be distracting.

  • I really would rather be riding.
  • What's the weather out there?  And tomorrow?
  • Oooh. A link to a new online video.  And it's only 8 minutes long!

But passion can also enhance effectiveness.

  • My challenge of riding 75 miles a day for four days has inspired me to be faithful to my weight-loss goals, now 20.5 pounds since the start of the year.  That much less to drag over the mountains!
  • I get to go out and train for my upcoming ride, but first I need to [fill in the blank].  I use riding as a reward to do motivate me to do the harder things first.
  • I am reminded of my strengths, as well as the sinuous course leading to success. Riding is not enjoyable every moment.  Much of the time, it takes concentration, concerted effort, and, when going up long, steep grades… against the wind, a definite willingness to endure discomfort.  Aside from making me "a better person," which I no-doubt need, my triumphs over these adversities remind me that I have "more in me" than I tend to think when the going gets rough in the rest of my life.
  • By "walking my talk", putting my energy into creating bike friendly roads and riding for transportation, I am living what might be called my true nature, living more "on purpose."  Being in creation mode contradicts pessimism and despair.

Passion and Academic Success 

Passion needs a home in YOUR life, too.

  • Do you wonder why you're still doing what you're doing?  It doesn't matter whether you are writing your dissertation, working for tenure, or teaching or doing research 20 years down the road.  If you're not connected to the passion that resides within you, your project — and your life — will suffer from mediocrity and boredom.
  • Does the spar of passion present in your creative life?  Do you know what it is?
  • If you do, great!  Take a step in that direction.  What can you do this week that will bring you a nudge closer to that passionate place?
  • If you don't know where your passion lies, it's time to find out.  And the best place to start is in your own past.  What juices you… outside of your work?  What used to get you excited (in a positive way)?  Where is that spark?

Beyond Academic Success

Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?  If so, I'm hitting the button I want to hit. It is my belief that the world needs you to be living a big life, stretching, taking on bigger projects than you think you can handle.

Tell me about your dreams, your projects, your passions.  

Creativity and the “F”-word. Strange Bedfellows.

I have this deck of cards.  It’s called the “Creative Whack Pack”, by Roger von Oech, the guy who brought you A Whack on the Side of the Head and other creativity-enhancing products and methods.  You open up the pack, ask a question or state a place in which you’re stymied, then pick a card, sort of like with Tarot.  But instead of finding an obscure reference about your life, you get a mini-whack to your process.  It could be a whack to your frame of reference, your starting place, or to the way you go about approaching the problem.

I really liked the idea of these cards when I bought them.  Perhaps you bought them, also…  or maybe you will.  After all, we all need a whack on the side of the head once in a while.

The interesting thing is… I don't use the cards. And I never have!

What's up with that?

(Wait!  News flash! I just lost 3 paragraphs because I was working online and hit a combination of keystrokes which took me away from the page I was on… and, naturally, I hadn’t saved my work recently enough prior to hitting that keystroke.  Now, as you might guess, I’m working offline.  While I could use this creative opportunity to write an article on the smart use of technology, I will leave it to you to stop for a moment and make sure you have saved your work.  And backed up your work.  And your hard drive!   And hey, when you’re finished, please come back and finish reading this article, which now continues.)

So this is what’s up with that.  Fear. 

I am afraid that if I use one of those cards, it will shift something that will force me to go back to the start of this page, or the start of today, or this project.  Or maybe even my career!

Yeah, I know this feels like a stretch, but go along with me for a bit.  Because there is this place where I feel like a fraud.  Where I feel like not only don’t I know what I’m talking about, but that I don’t do good work.  That my coaching is lackluster, that my clients don’t benefit from working with me.  And just perhaps I need to start all over again, build up my expertise in a different field, or go get a real job.

Perhaps you share this feeling of being fraud.

If so, I’m wondering where it holds you back.  What aren’t you producing or publishing or saying?

Please write me or leave a comment. Share with others how this shows up in your work, what you’ve learned about this particular “demon,” and how to circumvent it or at least temporarily put it out of commission.  You don't have to be a student or a professor to contribute. We'll all thank you for it.

To Your Success –

Tenure Reform: The Time Has Come

For those of you interested in the issue of tenure reform, check out this article in Inside Higher Ed written by Hank Brown, president of the University of Colorado.  They recently completed a full scale review of the tenure process and came up with 40 recommendations which not only affect how one comes to be granted tenure, but how one may be removed from a tenured position. 

You can find the full report here


Am I working efficiently?

A Method to My Madness

I have had the joy of struggling with transforming my computer life from the Windows world to the Mac OS X world.  While the transformation is not in any way painless, I do notice a difference between the way I move into relationship with new technology and the way many others do so.  And, while there are those who think my method ventures into the realm of the compulsive, I find that it is quite effective for me, and, ultimately, saves me time in the long run.

So when I get a new piece of software… or in this case, a new computer, operating system, keyboard, keystrokes, programs, and… well, just a whole lot… this is what I do.  I delve into whatever I have the time for. 

I search for and learn the keyboard shortcuts for most every operation I’ll be running more than a handful of times.  Which keystrokes shifts between programs, which strokes switch between screens or documents already open within a program, which will bold, or italicize?  How do I move to the beginning and end of lines, or to the next word, paragraph, screen, or page?  What’s the fastest way to move images or text from one program to another?

What resources lie out on the net?  Who can I ask?  How can I continue learning in a painless way, so I will come in contact with better ways to do some of the things I’ve been doing?

Trade-offs

My wife, who doesn’t operate this way, finds my strategy to be annoying, as I often get distracted from other tasks when focused on my investigations.  True enough.  Most times, my method works well for me (except when I'm particularly obsessed, of course). 

My experience tells me that when I haven’t spent time learning what I need to learn first, I am easily frustrated.  My process is repeatedly disrupted by having to search for how to do what comes next. 

My clients frequently will report uncertainty as to how much time they should take to get themselves “up to speed” on new systems or for new activities.  This question may resonate with you, as well, around other issues you might face.

For example, it is analogous to the question of how much time you should spend in preparation before you feel comfortable to begin writing for submission to a journal or creating a presentation or lesson plan.  But more mundane dilemmas abound: How does the disorder of my desk, room, or files impinge on the ease in which I can do my work? How much time do I spend getting new systems in place to support my work with my students (for example, in learning and preparing online supports to augment classroom activities)?

So what’s the answer?

It would be dandy if there were simple rules around this.  I could lay them out for you below and you could tack them up on the bulletin board above your desk and that would be that.  But, as you already know so well, life is complex… and this is yet another example of where the answers must come from trial and experience.  Your experience.

Still, there are some suggestions I can offer here:

  • Don’t assume that the way you are going about it is the best way for you… though that might be the case, after all.
  • If you’re feeling inefficient, there’s probably a reason why.  Where is the flow of your work (or of your day or of your thinking) disrupted?  What’s going on there?
  • Explore with openness and candor the truth about your situation?  Are you learning a time-saver for the long haul?  Or is this merely a clever form of procrastination?
  • If it’s even possible that it’s based in procrastination, mix in doing some of what’s being put on hold while you’re in “preparation” mode. So, if writing is being put on hold while you gather more and more information, do some writing on the project every day.  Write what you can and put "markers" into the text where you need more information or don't have a clue what to write. For example: [See if results from Joseph 1997 are relevant here.]
  • Ask yourself “What am I avoiding?”  Listen openly and carefully to what you hear.
  • Ask for help… from colleagues.
  • Ask for help… from friends.
  • Ask for help… from mentors and coaches.

Asking for help is usually the hardest thing to do: we don't like to admit we aren't perfect, don't know everything, can't succeed independently.  But asking for help is perhaps the most useful thing to do when we're stuck.

Remember: You're not the only one to experience befuddlement.  It is often exceedingly difficult to know what is really the cause of the problem.

To remain true to ourselves, it is easier and more reliable for us to get an outside opinion from a trusted, non-competing colleague, friend, adviser, mentor, or coach.  What you want here is someone who will tell you the truth, challenge you, and still hold you in high regard. (Shameless Marketing Message: If you want to know what this feels like, give me a call.)

So far, I’ve just been talking about what’s going on.  What you do about what’s going on really depends on you and what is discovered in this search.  I will tell you this: it is not your intelligence that will stop you.  If you are truly committed to your success, and you harness the power of the right tools and support, the barriers in front of you will fall away.  Wouldn’t that be nice? 

Learning

What's one thing you're "taking away" with you from having read this article?  If you'd like to share it, write a comment, give me a call (315-472-0504) or email me