Get Out of Town

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Since I just made one of the biggest decisions in my life, I’ve been pondering this principle quite a bit.  The most compelling argument against committing my life’s savings to buying a house in a town I imagined living in for five minutes is the formidable list of reasons to leave.

August in the world of academia is exploding with those reasons.  Students are at the height of hysteria and faculty members are flustered as they readjust to new faces and a formidable amount of paperwork.  Requests that would have been reasonable even one month ago are simply out of the question now that classes have started.

I am most perplexed by the lack of preparation or even interest some of the students who come to see me exhibit.  For whatever reason, these students believe I know more about what they want than they do themselves.  It takes patience born of perpetual practice not tell them to return when they’ve got a clue. 
I remind myself I was once an undecided major.  I remind myself I am often clueless about things – my smartphone, for example.  I also remind myself of a request made by a much wiser teacher, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Surely it is the plight of prophets, professors, parents, and puppy owners to be frustrated.  (As I write this, Marley, a rambunctous blue heeler puppy, is biting my ankles and jumping up on the keyboard between bouts of dragging undergarments out of my suitcase unbeknownest to me and leaving them in conspicuous places for all to observe.  Something tells me she, however, knows exactly what she is doing.)

In any case, when I mentioned to a good friend who’s been in the business much longer than I have how Newton’s third law was manifesting in my life, he reminded me of two things.  1) The first week of school is not representative of the entire year.  2)  In approximately two weeks, all will return to controlled chaos, at least at school. 

In the midst of all this activity came the call to participate in a leadership program.  Once a month I will travel to other community colleges and learn about leadership with others who have been selected from their campuses to do the same.  The concept is brilliant.  The timing of this month’s session, however, was not.  What kind of leader abandons her troops during the first week of classes?

A leader who could use a time-out to think about her behavior is a perfect candidate.  I hadn’t quite convinced myself of that as I threw anything and everything in my car and made the three hour drive to the hotel late Wednesday evening.  I was sure a different week would have been a better choice for all concerned.  As is often the case, I was wrong.  A change of venue was precisely what was needed.

Over the course of a few years my world has gotten smaller and my focus has gotten narrower as my mama bear tendencies have taken root in my efforts to support our satellite center.  This makes the big picture much harder to keep in perspective.  What happens when I am catapulted out of my comfort zone is that suddenly the big picture is evident once again and I am left with the certainty that I need to get out more.

While my relatively quiet and predictable life in a town where I know almost every student is better for me on a daily basis than battling traffic, getting lost at every intersection, and dealing with people who don’t know or care who I am, often it takes experiencing one extreme to appreciate the other. 

Because I’ve always been a bit of a fringe dweller, I tend to forget there are others out there who might feel the same way, struggle with the same issues, appreciate knowing help is available, and embrace the opportunity to connect.  As Barbara Sher, author of Wishcraft and many other life changing books for independent thinkers, says, “Isolation is the dream killer.”  I believe she is right.

As uncomfortable as it may be to orchestrate, every now and then I need to get out of town and find my  place in the larger community.  Then I can return bearing the gifts the adventure afforded. 

In the past few days I’ve gotten to tour a beautiful campus in Des Moines. I got to spend time with  funny, smart, and insightful people with similar jobs across Iowa. I am now a student as well as an administrator and got to celebrate what’s right with the world as well as discuss what could use some fixing.  I got to witness how I behave in new situations with people of all ages and backgrounds and integrate what I know with what I have yet to learn.   At the same time I came up against my limitations, possibilities that had been dormant for years were ignited. 

So here’s my advice for this autumn.  Whether it’s a learning opportunity or simply a chance to explore an area of interest, get out of town.  If that’s not possible, test your ability to see familiar landscapes with fresh eyes.

Bon voyage!

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