Saturday, December 27, 2014

philosopher's physics

I have a guilty pleasure - a thing for novels involving religious intrigue, you know the kind: Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus and the true first pope kind of thing. Not only does this kind of fiction make for great summer reading, but the genre usually introduces us to a historical character (DaVinci, Dante, Galileo to name a few) charged with keeping the Catholic Church's secrets. And through their stories, we are reminded of the remarkable toolkit such men had to help them navigate life. These safe-keepers were "Renaissance Men." They were poets, painters, astronomers, philosophers, musicians and mathematicians in one. What a foreign concept! After all men and women are rarely afforded such knowledge in the 21st century.

Today's colleges and universities, even those built on the foundation of liberal arts, are designed to educate masters in their fields. Not only are students often asked to major in a particular discipline but general education is presented like a buffet menu: pick any two.

I think back on my own undergraduate education when I met my science requirement with a Physical Anthropology course. I adored the class and my instructor, but wondered, "What's the point? What does this have to do with my actual interests and goals?"

If only someone had helped me make a connection. Perhaps, instead of sitting in this New York coffee shop, I'd be off the coast of Madagascar leading an excavation. After all 20 years later, I discovered a genuine passion for the role of the performing arts in ancient and/or tribal religion. What an awesome thing to have uncovered as a twenty-year old theatre major.

Don't get me wrong, there are folks out there, folks with more letters after their names than me, that aim to re-introduce the renaissance man (and woman) into our working world. A few years ago I met a faculty member, an astronomer by trade, who created a science liberal arts course that was designed to marry the disciplines on his college campus. The course tackled questions such as , "How are astronomy, physics, philosophy and religion intertwined?" "How does a keen understanding of science help inform the artist's work; and vice versa?"

The course took years to make its way into the curriculum and was then balked by biology, chemistry and premed students (and in some cases their faculty mentors and advisors). After all these students were taking enough science as it was and didn't have time to take what I heard called "philosopher's physics".

But is there not more value in witnessing the marriage of seemingly unique disciplines than to have a base understanding of a particular subject? After all your every day undergraduate who asks, "What the hell does Latin have to do with my future as an account manager?" has a point. And it's the job of the college educator (faculty, advisors, resident assistants - everyone - to help students connect the dots.) Even so, their jobs would be a hell of a lot easier if the relationships between the disciplines and between careers and a liberal arts education were explicit.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

from the archives: a favorite "aha moment" story

Simply Defined: the cellist (or how to succeed at music by really ...: So I have a story for you... A few years ago I was working with a young musician. He was enrolled in a highly respected program where he c...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

your workspace should be a space that works

my boy at his workspace- because being a toddler is serious business
In my mind, one of the most critical components for success is being in the right workspace. Whether you're a student needing a space to study; an artist needing a studio to paint; or a writer needing a space to write, your environment has to be in line with your needs.

A few years ago, I was working in a multi-functional space that served as my office, reception, storage and an occasional faculty lounge. Located on the building's first floor there were two ceiling high windows that had been  covered up with foam board to protect the glass from wear and tear. So, like Tantalus who couldn't eat the fruit above his head or drink the water before him, I spent my days dreaming of sunshine that couldn't be seen. I was miserable. My office was over-crowded at times, unorganized, and lacked charm. I couldn't even keep plants alive in such a sad little  place.

I personally need warm light (preferably natural but anything besides the awful overhead lamps that are found in most work spaces will do); occasional quiet and solitude; a place for my tea or coffee; pictures of my husband and son; and something green to make my workspace a space that works.

One of my challenges right now is I'm working on a book - exciting right? - and trying to find the physical and head space to do my work at home, is tough. My husband, a writer by trade, seems to manage. But he also is happy working into the wee hours of the morning after my son and I have gone to bed and he at least appears to to be comfortable holed up in the little room we call "the study" or working at the kitchen table. I, likewise, need to find an at home workspace that actually works. I have ideas (I'm thinking a lap table in the bedroom: just the right size for my iPad, journal and a cup of tea), but I've yet to execute.

What about you? What kind of work do you do and what kind of space - ideal space- do you need to be your most creative, efficient, and/or productive?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

money talks

photo by angie
We've all heard the phrase, "Money talks." I, for one, find it a little obnoxious as it immediately creates an image of a well-manicured man in a pinstripe suit dropping hundreds of dollars on frivolous luxuries and over-priced toys. Movies like Wall Street make my skin crawl - if only because we witness the implications of misdirected greed and ambition on a daily basis.

But putting all that aside, money does indeed talk. In fact, how we spend money speaks volumes about what's important to us; what we value. And, realizing this, is radically changing my relationship with money. I've never over-spent (in fact quite the opposite) but I've never felt comfortable earning and saving either. And, as a result, I've never invited prosperity into my life. Sure, my husband and I have always had more than enough, even while living in one of the most expensive places in the world. But I think it's because we've been afraid of failure. Afraid to be the guys from Salt Lake City, Utah who couldn't make it in the bad big apple. For many years, I rarely took risks which meant there was little chance of failure.

But I've found, over the last few months, my relationship with money has changed. I understand that spending money and more importantly earning money isn't inherently a bad thing. I should embrace my potential and steer towards prosperous opportunities. And I should do this with one thing in mind: what I value - love, family, loyalty, integrity, beauty and compassion - can and will be reflected in how I choose to spend (or don't spend) the money I earn.

What about you? What does your relationship with money say about you?

you have to find time before you can manage it

photo by kojotomoto
The fact is you can't manage time that doesn't exist. Over the years I've had countless conversations with individuals that are spiraling out of control because, from their perspective, they just don't manage their time well. And in some cases they're right. Time-vacuums like television, social media, clutter and poor-decision making are taking up far too much real estate on their calendars. But in some cases, quite frankly, people just have too much on their plate.

Before you can successfully manage your time, you must first ensure that you have enough time to manage. Which requires you to do a little self-assessment.

Ask yourself the following questions:

How do I think I spend my time?
Question number one requires some brainstorming. Take five minutes and write down the things, activities, people, problems that take up time in your day-to-day life. Try to be specific. Don't just write down "work" but rather the actual activities at work that take up your time (i.e. answering email; attending meetings; returning calls)

How should I spend my time?
Next, take five minutes and brainstorm the most important things, activities, people and problems that should take up your time. This isn't a list of what you would necessarily like to do, but rather the things you need to do to be effective in your various roles. 

How do I really spend my time?
Answering this question is going to take a bit more heavy-lifting. Over a one-week period I challenge you to log your time-spent. Leave nothing out. For example, on Wednesday nights, my husband and I watch Modern Family - that's a half hour that should make its way into my log.

So, where's the disconnect?
Why do this exercise? It's important that you compare what you perceive (how you think you spend your time) with the truth (how you really spend your time). Once doing so, you need to weigh it all against what you value most (how you should spend your time). There may be things that are taking up serious amounts of real estate on your calendar that don't need to be there. Likewise, you may realize that there are activities or priorities for which you've left little room. If you find that the latter is true, you may need to actually find time, rather than manage it more effectively. You have to make some tough decisions. What gives? What can you evict from your calendar to make room for what's most important?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

the cellist (or how to succeed at music by really trying)

So I have a story for you...

A few years ago I was working with a young musician. He was enrolled in a highly respected program where he concurrently attended both a competitive ivy league school and an elite music conservatory. He was an equally fine cellist and young scholar.

About three months into his sophomore year, he walked into my office panic stricken. He had just returned from a music lesson where he was told that it was time to take his music to the next level and he needed to find an additional two hours each day to practice. "Two hours!" the young cellist exclaimed while throwing himself into the chair across my desk. "Where will I find two hours?"

It turns out he was asking a fair question. The young man was using every free hour in his day to either eat, study, practice, perform, bathe or sleep. It was only every other week or so that he broke away for a bit to catch a movie or dinner out with friends. And the work was paying off. He was a 4.0 student, pursuing dual majors in math and philosophy. But there was not room to give.

After reviewing his daily routine, trying our best to scrounge up an extra 20 minutes somewhere, I finally asked, "What if you just studied less?"

The kid looked horror stricken. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, what if you studied less? What would happen?"

He sat in  his chair silent for a few minutes, picking away at his thumb nail. Finally he answered, "I wouldn't get As."

"What do you think you'd get?" I asked.

"Bs?" It was a question.

"Probably so." I said.

"But I don't get Bs."

"But what if you did?"

He had never earned a B in his life. And the thought of a B as "okay"was liberating. The thing is, he had every intention of being a professional musician and everyone (his faculty, mentors etc.) agreed that his intention was not only realistic but likely. Truth is, he didn't need the degrees in math and philosophy, much less a 4.0. He was in the dual program because he loved to learn and thought, "why not get a B.A. while I'm at it."

The moral of the story is this: sometimes we need to examine our goals, and re-think our definitions of success. We might have the goods to "do it all" but why should we? And at what cost?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

sometimes you earn the minus

art courtesy of
My grandmother became ill during my first year in grad school. She was (and fortunately, still is) a funny, generous and wickedly smart woman who had been partly responsible for not only showing me what was "out in the world" but for convincing me that I could be in any part of it I chose. I was devastated when I received the call saying she was undergoing emergency surgery. I had never missed class, but couldn't imagine sitting through a discussion about financing American higher education while my family's matriach was holding on by a thread. So, I left my faculty member a voicemail and headed to the hospital. It was the first time I earned an A- in grad school.

A few years ago I was sitting with one of my students, let's call her "Lisa." She was in tears. It was the end of her sophomore year in college and she was looking at her first "A-" on an otherwise pristine transcript. Lisa was the perfect student on paper: stellar college exam scores, flawless homework, spotless attendance record, but she was the lab partner from hell. I knew this because I had been talking with her classmates all semsester. The problem was, Lisa's strive for perfection made it impossible for her to give up control. She not only micromanaged her team-mates but became rude and condescending during times of stress. And finally one of her instructor's grading policies reflected this aspect of her work. Students in the class underwent a peer evaluation; an evaluation which Lisa failed. As a result her overal grade dropped from an A to an A-. Lisa was furious and I imagine, even years later, would still say the grade was unfair. But I might disagree because I'm hard on students who say, "I got a 'C' in the class." Or worse, "Dr. so and so gave me a 'C'." In my mind class grades, with few exceptions, are earned not received.