I Close My Eyes And Smile

I close my eyes and smile.
Not because something amazing just happened.
Just because.
Just because I was thinking.
I was thinking about what makes me happy.

I close my eyes and smile.
You see, I was looking at old pictures.
Old memories.
Old memories of meaningful times in my life.
I was thinking about the people who are important to me.

I close my eyes and smile.
I hear music from my earphones playing softly.
Playing meaningfully.
Playing meaningfully through these memories.
I was thinking about how our senses are intertwined with memories.

I close my eyes and smile.
Not because someone just did something extraordinary.
Just because.
Just because they were, they are.
I was thinking about what makes me smile.

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Rosh HaShanah/Yom Kippur Reflections

Last night I went to see the movie 50/50. It was a fantastic and powerful movie.  I think what hit me was how real the story was – and how incredibly relevant it could be. I hope to never experience anything like that and I hope no one I know has to experience it either. Movies like 50/50 typically make me rather introspective. One of the things that I remembered was that I had yet to post some thoughts on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Jewish New Year.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. This period, including the days in between, is often used for reflection and exploring hopes for the year to come. Importantly, it is also a time of asking for forgiveness. So, I ask everyone with whom I have interacted in one way or another to please forgive me for anything I may have done, said, thought against you, whether intentional or unintentional, during the past year.

What a year it has been! I met some amazing people. I have gotten to be better friends with old friends and made new friends, some of whom I wish I had known much earlier. I have learned a lot. I graduated from college with two degrees. I traveled around the world. I explored my understanding and grew my experiences of diversity and inclusion. I started a new job and the next stage of my life.

It hasn’t been easy. I have had amazing people supporting me. Sometimes I have let them down or have done things I should not have done. I am and will constantly challenge myself to do better and to be a better person. I know that I repeat mistakes, but I am trying to learn from them.

This coming year has a lot of potential. The job is still new. I have the potential for a lot of travel – personal, in addition to professional. I am able to spend more time with family. I need to stay connected with my friends, wherever they may be. It will be a big challenge, but I hope my wonderful friendships can and will continue. I also need to meet new people and grow my community in St. Louis. Who knows where that will lead?

Steve Jobs recounted a quote in his 2005 Commencement Speech to Stanford: “If you live each day as if it were your last, some day you will most certainly be right.” He followed that by saying that he asks himself a question every day: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” This could be a little more of a negative outlook thank I like in some ways – but on the other had, I agree 100%. Life is short.  Make the most of it.  I hope that this coming year is one of life, happiness, health, success, and prosperity – filled with family and friends. I hope to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. But since I cannot know what my future holds, I need to do the best I can with the life I have.

G’mar Chatima Tova!

The Station: A Poem

Trains come rumbling through the station all day.
Nearby, roads are crumbling under tires.
Black locomotives glow from the sun’s ray.
Smoke fills the air blown by the coal fires.
Inside, the clink clank of change in machines;
A man waits on the chair, tears in his eyes,
Dressed in a flannel shirt and baggy jeans.
Dragging paper bags, he thinks of the lies.
So long ago he was sent to the street,
Left with nothing but the clothes on his back.
Never had money or enough to eat.
Ready for change he looks out to the track.
Black smoke rises, it won’t be a while.
Taken aback, he’s greeted with a smile.

Reflections on Graduation Cards

Tomorrow will be four weeks since graduation!  Wow, I don’t even know where they have gone.  I had been so worried that there would be nothing to do at home and I was certainly wrong.  It is strange – I don’t think it has entirely hit me that I will not be back at the University of Denver in the fall.  Nevertheless, I am working on those next steps in life.

I have gone through graduation cards and whatnot and was reflecting that some contain some really meaningful messages.  I want to share just a sampling of the thoughts and wisdom these cards are imparting on me.

Of course, this means that I did not write these things, and for some I really have no idea who did.  Nevertheless, thank you and the credit belongs to you.

What is Success?

Setting goals, but not in concrete.
Staying focused, but turning aside to help someone.
Following a plan, but remaining flexible.
Moving ahead, but not too fast to smell the flowers.
Taking a bow, but applauding those who had a part in your success.

Always stay true to your calling, and you’ll make the world a better place… changing lives as you go, showing what it means to live with devotion, integrity, and passion.

“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.”
– Joseph Addison

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

On a Stormy Sea of Moving Emotion

Today was the Diversity & Unity Retreat.  I know I have much to update on here (I have not really blogged in a few weeks), but I’d like to offer some of my takeaways from the weekend.  Some of these are related to the actual content of the event, but more than that is how the Retreat has/may set the context for where I am in life more generally right now.

I learn so much from the people with whom I interact.  I spent 23 hours with 130 Retreat participants who challenged themselves and each other on how to comprehend topics of diversity and inclusion, how to grow in their own identities, and how to transform this passion and knowledge into becoming allies for each other and towards creating positive change on university campuses.  I witnessed so many people who got out of their comfort zones and challenged themselves to engage differently.  Too often, we become complacent within our own safe zones, our own communities, our own knowledge.  I am amazed at how much we can transform in such a short period of time.  I hope that the new knowledge and understanding gained by participants will continue to fester and develop.  If that happens, I have much hope in the future.

Thomas and I worked with a group of 12 students (10 undergraduate and 2 graduate) to develop content for the Retreat.  We worked with them on curriculum development, event write-ups, training methodologies, and discussion/facilitation skills. We call this group the Core Team.  Mia and I began the group last year and we expanded upon their role for this year’s Retreat.  Our first Core Team included many of my best friends who also happened to be leaders of diversity work on campus.  Most of them graduated last year and I was unsure at first about how I might interact with this year’s group of students.  While I knew each of them from other activities, our relationship was different and for the most part, they were several years younger than last year’s group.

After this weekend, I am proud to say that we could not have had a better group of student leaders.  Their passion, dedication, hard work, and skills are an inspiration and I am so proud to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a group and help them develop as individuals.

Yet, it was also me who developed in the process.  I sometimes become frustrated at diversity events when people “don’t get it” or when I attend sessions that I “know.”  But I learn from the people with whom I interact.  And my knowledge and skill set are constantly challenged and transformed from the work that I do.  I am thankful for every person at the Retreat who has also helped me as I become the person I want to be.

We spent some time talking about identity development models – how each of our social identities develops/transforms overtime, at different levels, and at the same time as our other identities.  We had an incredibly diverse group of participants (and not just in the “usual” dimensions of the term).  This morning when I was standing in the middle of the circle of participants, I reflected on my whiteness.  I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me think this way, but almost as if someone hit a button, I was instantly aware that I was a white person leading the Retreat.  Would it be seen as though the majority person was trying to tell the minority people what “they” needed to do?  I hope not.

I certainly do not have all of the answers.  I just try to do my part to make the world a better place.  Hopefully I am able to impart some wisdom on other people, just as other people constantly teach me and challenge me.  In that process, I think it is important for each of us to recognize and own our own identities and engage ourselves as we try to discover who we are and how we interact with others.

Over the past year, I have filled out a lot of forms asking me what my career goals are and what my intended career path is.  Here is the short answer: it depends.  My long term goals are to be successful, both personally and professionally, and to be able to use that success and my position (whatever it may be) to create positive change in the world.  I want to do my part to make the world a better place, where each of us can be recognized, welcomed, included, and respected equally.  How I get there is yet to be determined. I have no set path that I feel a need to take.  Whatever field or industry I end up in, I will try to position myself for my long-term goal.

I had a conversation this weekend with someone about my goals/career path.  I shared that I sometimes wonder whether a MBA was the right choice.  Perhaps I should have pursued a degree in higher education so that I continue my work on student engagement and university development.  There is no right or wrong answer and I am committed to the MBA.  Hopefully, the business world will provide me the opportunities I seek.  And who knows – I could return to higher education sometime in the future.  The path leads in many directions.

In case you were wondering, the title of this post is a line from “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas.  It is a great song that offers opportunity for reflection on one’s place in life.  As I consider my experiences with the Diversity and Unity Retreat, I am well aware that my path is in flux.  The fact that I graduate with two degrees and have to move to the next stage in my life in ~13 weeks is still surreal to me.  Just as I offered opportunities for thought and reflection to event participants, I reflect on my own privileges and opportunities.  Hopefully, I am able to engage and challenge myself to use them for positive outcomes in the years to come.

End of Winter Break, Beginning of a New Year

[This post was written while on board a plane from St. Louis to Denver]

I am sitting on a plane again.  This time for domestic travel.  I’m on the way back to Denver from St. Louis for the beginning of Winter Quarter.  I’m also heading back to Denver at the end of my last winter break – and I have to say, I’m not a big fan of that one.  I cannot believe that winter break is over.  Simultaneously, I feel like winter break just began and has been going on for quite some time.  Of course, winter break has been about six weeks long and I have been to the other side of the world and back again – literally.

I have no regrets about this winter break.  While I would have liked to have had more time in St. Louis to spend with people, I had some amazing experiences that I would not have wanted to pass up.  In my time at home, I spent a lot of time with family – something I am very happy about.  As well, I got to catch up with friends all over St. Louis.  I traveled to Israel where I saw new and old sights, reconnected with old friends and made some new ones, and attended an amazing wedding.  I traveled to England where I traveled the country with a friend and saw some of the most amazing (and old) places I have ever been to.  I was able to experience England and what it has to offer.  I spent time looking for and Interviewing for jobs (hopefully with some results soon).  I did a bit of reading and time to reflect and prepare for the new quarter.

The past few weeks have taught my several things.  I can rely on my instincts.  I know more that I realize sometimes.  It can be okay to go with the flow.  While planning is necessary, some adjustments may be necessary.  Change is okay and can be a good thing.  Relationships may change and morph.  We have to be okay with this.  Friends and family are important.  Treat them as such.

I graduate from the University of Denver with a BA and a MBA at the beginning of June.  This June.  With two degrees.  Wow!  I cannot believe that 2011 is here; 2010 just flew by!  The first half of this year will be filled with what promise to be the most difficult classes I have taken in college.  This new challenge should prove to be of benefit to me and I plan to rise to the challenge and exceed all goals and expectations.

This year will also contain a major decision that will likely affect the rest of my life (the next few years, at a minimum): what job to take and what city to live in – the two are linked.  Everything I have done these past 23 years was effectively preparing me for this moment.  This year I will need to make a decision based on my past education and work experiences that will set me up for my future – work, friends, family, etc.  I do not take this situation lightly and I hope to make the right/best decision possible.  I pray that will indeed be the case.

Other than what I have written here, I do not really have any new resolutions for 2011.   I generally have the same goals for each year that will hopefully lead me to being a better person:

  • Try my best to understand people – i.e. increase my empathy and open-mindedness
  • Rely on my values
  • Do my best
  • Learn
  • Talk less about people behind their backs
  • Do what I can to make the world a better place
  • Be the best friend and family member that I can be and trust my friends and family
  • Be happy and healthy

I have no doubt that 2011 will be my best year yet.  They each get better and better.  Every year also seems to go by faster.  I hope that I will be able to create new memories and relationships and value and retain them all.

Happy 2011!

Personal Leadership Reflection/Vision Paper

Below is a paper I recently wrote for my Essence of Enterprise class.  I was pleased with the reflection that it caused me to do, as well as with the feedback I received.  I figured I would share, in case anyone is interested.

Personal Leadership Reflection/Vision Paper

In first grade I joined an organization that would influence and shape me in every facet of my life.  At that time I had no idea that that Boy Scouts of America would become my education, serve as my passion, and form one of my largest social circles.  I progressed through the ranks, serving as every major youth leadership position, earning leadership, rank, and religious awards, and even developed a youth leadership course for the University of Scouting.  I got involved with Scouting’s national honor society, the Order of the Arrow, and worked for five years on our council’s summer camp staff.  When I received the Order’s Vigil Honor (highest national honor) in April 2006, I spent the night in the woods, alone, keeping a fire going while challenging myself to reflect on who I am and who I want to become.  Throughout all of this, one quote by the founder of the Order of the Arrow, Dr. E. Urner Goodman, stands above all other lessons and has influenced how I act, how I learn, and how I interact with others every day: “Things of the spirit are what count: brotherhood – in a day when there is too much hatred at home and abroad; cheerfulness – in a day when the pessimists have the floor and cynics are popular; service – in a day when millions are interested in getting or grasping, rather that giving” (Order of the Arrow).

I would not be where I am today without the help of countless individuals.  Whenever I see someone in a leadership position, I try to learn from him or her.  Whether the example is positive or negative, there are lessons I can learn and apply (or not apply) to my own leadership style.  Peter Senge writes in his description of the “Shifting the Burden to the Intervener” system that in some cases, it is most effective to “teach people to fish, rather than giving them fish” (Senge).  I have had mentors throughout my life who have taught me how to fish.  When I was getting involved in planning large scale events for the Boy Scouts, I met someone two years older than me and began following his path and having conversations with him about how best to interact with people who would “know what’s best” for me to do, how to lead younger Scouts, and the best ways to give instruction to volunteers who were sometimes five times my age.  I ended up taking what I learned from him and built the largest district camporee in recent history.  I subsequently worked for him at Boy Scout camp.  He now works for IBM as a Business Transformation Consultant and we have had regular conversations about how I might pursue a career in the consulting field.

Throughout high school and middle school, I was part of my synagogue’s youth group.  Most of those years were spent on the board trying to rebuild our membership base and develop creative programming.  I started getting involved in this thing called “social action.”  Our youth group regularly raised money for food pantries, supported assisted living homes, and volunteered at a youth shelter.  This was all inspired by the Jewish notion of tikun olam or “repairing the world.”  Judaism teaches that the world is not perfect so each person must work to change that reality.  Social justice has informed my volunteer and work involvement with the Boy Scouts of America, Hillel, and the Center for Multicultural Excellence.  As well, when looking for an internship this past summer, I very seriously sought out companies that understood corporate social responsibility.  Build-A-Bear Workshop certainly has that understanding.

Personal values inform professional values.  The two are truly inseparable. Our Oxford team discussed this in length when discussing Benjamin Friedman’s quote that “Economic growth not only relies upon moral impetus, it has moral consequences” (Friedman).  In order to be truly successful, one must be happy.  For me, happiness is gained through helping others.  Whether through social justice activities or personal connections, I am constantly striving to improve the world around me.  In my short lifetime, some of the best/worst examples of corporate greed have occurred.  Rather than devoting one’s life to making money for one’s self, one could make a difference in both the corporate and civil spheres.  Through such actions, it is possible to be recognized monetarily and non-monetarily, and thus gain true happiness.

As I have sought paths down which to proceed (or create), I have taken a number of personality and career tests and surveys.  I tend to be skeptical of the results as they rarely fully embody who I am.  It was with that attitude that I received the results of my Insights Analysis – yet, I have never had a more accurate synopsis of how I operate and communicate.  Due to my interpretation of its accuracy, I can actually learn about myself from my Insights profile and work to improve and become a better person and leader.

My Insights profile, lists my “Personal Position” as “Supporting Coordinator” (Insights Learning and Development).  I have often wondered if business is the best place for me to truly make a difference to people.  I enjoy making connections with people, deconstructing and understanding problems, and solving such problems.  My self-reflection did not end that night in April 2006 and clearly, I have chosen to pursue a path in business.  Through this path, I hope to blend my interests and skills and make a difference in the lives of my co-workers and the people affected by the organization in which I am employed.

I often seek out people in whom I see potential for leadership.  My “Supporting Coordinator” characteristics have been utilized in both professional and personal situations.  Four of my five years on staff at a Boy Scout summer camp were in the Business Manager position.  I missed the regular connection with the Scouts in camp that had enveloped my first year on staff so each week of the summer, I found a Scout with whom I would meet regularly to discuss the possibilities for learning and leadership that existed for him.  I might teach him about opportunities within the organization or give him advice on situations outside of Scouting.  Similarly, each summer I worked with one or more first year staff members to provide guidance, experience, and advice.  Each of these staff members subsequently ended up in manager or director positions.

In Good to Great and the Social Sectors, Jim Collins writes of his “Hedgehog Concept,” that your business must find the best of three circles: what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what best drives your economic/resource engine (Collins).  I’d like to apply this concept to my leadership vision.  I will be someone who is passionate about what I do and who I am, who excels at tasks in which I use my talents, and who is resourceful and able to utilize my own resources to ensure success.

Yet, leadership is more than passion and hard work.  Leadership is about learning, applying, and implementing.  I do not think that I will ever be “the best leader”.  That is not said pessimistically; rather it is to imply that I may be “the best leader at any one time.”  My leadership is not a set goal or a science but a continual process that I will work to develop by learning from others and from myself.  I will seek to be the embodiment of best practices of leadership theory and leadership exercise.  Success will be gained not by some career or personal goal post being met, but by the recognition of others.  Throughout the Leading at the Edge Weekend, our group offered each member the ability to serve as a leader for a different activity.  Sometimes though, leadership occurred by offering an idea that the “leaders” or other group members had not thought of themselves.  The same scenario is true in business when lower-level employees offer ideas and advice to managers or when someone steps up while the rest of the group is struggling.

Leaders set the example.  I will be honest with myself and with others.  I will seek feedback and utilize this information for personal improvement.  Leaders are also dedicated and hard working.  I will be a servant leader utilizing a “deeper connection with [my] work” to find happiness and think beyond myself in my actions.  As such, I will embody James Autry’s “five ways of being”: authentic, vulnerable, accepting, present, and useful (Autry).  I will engage my weaknesses to transform them into strengths.  All of this is applicable and true in both personal and professional spheres.  As mentioned, I subscribe to the notion of a “whole person” (Grant).  In this case, the whole person means that who I am as a leader in business involves the same characteristics as my personal life – family, organizations, etc.

I will be remembered as someone who was knowledgeable and who cared, someone who always did his best.  I will not accept the status quo when the status quo can be improved.  In order to create progress and growth (personally and professionally), I will change the systems and frames in which we operate.  Are we asking the right questions?  Whether or not we are meeting a goal, is it the goal that we really need to meet?  By changing one’s frame of mind, it is possible to think creatively and lead others to do the same.

In addition to engaging my past experiences, I must understand where I currently am in my leadership development in order to achieve my vision.  After lengthy reflection, I believe that what follows are honest highlights of my strengths, limitations, opportunities, and threats.  Some of these characteristics have been informed by my Insights profile.

I love learning and seek professional and personal development.  I excel at understanding problems and breaking down the details to allow for effective solutions.  I work well in teams as well as by myself.  An understanding of others informs my decisions and I work to be fair and realistic in all of my interactions.  I smile, am optimistic, and keep my “feet firmly on the ground” (Insights Learning and Development).  I am organized and have excellent time management and multi-tasking skills.  Simultaneously, I sometimes get frustrated when I find the working methods of others to be unrealistic or when compromise is not seen as an option.  While I can establish great working relationships with others, I do not automatically trust others and rarely show all of my true emotions.  I sometimes seek structure more often than I should and may rely too heavily on rules or procedures.  Confidence in some of my ideas is sometimes lacking, even when I should be sharing them.

I am also a good administrator and can focus on task and people issues simultaneously.  My experiences have included business, non-profit, and higher education work.  I appreciate the importance of cultural understanding and I am often successful in shaping my worldview to be non-United States centric.  I will shortly have a master’s degree and I am often viewed as a safe and competent person to confide in or bounce ideas off of.  As I move into the world outside of education, I am well aware that my past experiences and skills are not all directly related to the fields in which I am seeking a professional position.  I have grown in the organizations in which I have been a part to be a recognized leader.  It may be a struggle to start at the bottom of the pyramid in new structures/organizations without being recognized, as I have been the past few years.  I sometimes like to have my own workspace or quiet space that may not exist in new work positions or new living situations.

I strongly believe that all of my limitations and threats can be transformed or overcome while I work to make use of my strengths and opportunities to become a better person and subsequently a better leader.  Most immediately, I am taking feedback from the Leading at the Edge weekend to become more confident in my ideas and actions and more willing to share them.  Additionally, I am joining new student organizations to learn about industries that interest me and in which I do not have professional experience.  Especially when my formal education ends, I will need to take proactive steps to ensure that I continue to develop the qualities necessary to achieve my leadership vision.

I am currently working on improving my communication of expectations for my working relationships.  I will ask specific questions during interviews to best understand the working environment and culture of potential employers.  In that I hope to have a job secured before graduation, I will continue to have similar conversations with class project teams and subsequently understanding and adjusting to the environment immediately upon starting a new job.  The effects of this new understand should be immediate and evident in my working discussions.

By the end of my first month of employment after graduation, I will seek out a mentorship with a leader in my new company.  Within whatever framework exists for such a program, I will position myself to best benefit from such a relationship.  If a mentorship program does not exist, I will approach the appropriate individual (in human resources or someone I would like to develop a relationship with directly) to create such an opportunity.  In the mentorship, I will work on understanding the company, my role and career path, and the structures and systems in place.  This will allow me to work with less restrictions (in terms of self-imposed limitations due to not understanding details of the company’s operating procedures) and progress through a career path more quickly.

During my first six months (and of course continuing into the future), I will work on developing close relationships with co-workers.  I will seek professional development opportunities to gain in depth job knowledge.  This combination will increase my comfort level with sharing new, potentially unconventional ideas and allow me to work with co-workers to support their goals.  In so doing, it is likely that I will receive reciprocal support and thus be able to become a leader in my team.  Within two to three years of progressive job experience and team support (depending on my starting position/company), I plan to achieve a promotion to a formal leadership position.

I will continuously push myself to learn and observe so that I can become a highly effective leader who supports others and myself in all that I do.  My leadership will constantly be developing and show up in who I am and how I am in both formal and informal relationships.

 

Bibliography

Autry, James A. The Servant Leader. New York: Random House, 2001.

Collins, Jim. Good to Great and the Social Sectors. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.

Friedman, Benjamin. The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

Grant, Bob. Profiles in Leadership Joel Portman. 2 October 2010.

Insights Learning and Development. “Insights Discovery Personal Profile – Joel

Portman.” Dundee: Intergistic Solutions, 24 August 2010.

Order of the Arrow. OA History – Shawnee Lodge #51. 20 October 2010

<http://www.shawneelodge.org/History/oa/index.html&gt;.

Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learn. New York:

Doubleday, 1994.