Friday, October 12, 2007

Troubled and Thankful - in the same place?

I love being challenged to look more critically at my own experience and views. While I profess and embrace this a good portion of the time, I sometimes face challenges that I didn't expect and that I subliminally dismiss. That's been happening to me quite a bit this last week. I have found myself floating into a critical place that sees the problems but does not recognize my own opportunity to control my reaction to it - thus the title of this post "Troubled and Thankful - in the same place?"

As I prepare to leave Miami and to join the Qatar Foundation, I've noticed things in my current experience that have irritated or troubled me. It's not important to go into the details but let's just say that it has been primarily about the variety of responses I've had to leaving Miami and the new opportunities ahead in Qatar. Some colleagues and friends share the excitement I have and others are reserved, skeptical, or worse. Mind you, my emotional intelligence filters are probably set on "hyper-sensitive" right now so I recognize that my reactions have to be carefully examined. I have been aware of the need to monitor my own perceptions and to double-check them at every turn. Monitoring my reactions allows me to sort between what is about them versus what is about me. So, as an example, when someone reacts to my move by telling me about a visit they made to Qatar when in fact they actually visited Dubai (and this has happened a troubling number of times), and when their reaction dismisses the vision and purpose of Education City, I have to sort out what about the reaction is them or me. Further, if my conclusion is that at least a good portion of the reaction is about them, what will I do? Is there an opportunity to inform or to educate? Are there assumptions that will prohibit authentic discovery and exploration of our mutual questions?

If you've taken the "Darbi's Experiences Abroad" link, you know that my daughter has begun a process of more consistently finding and expressing thanks. This is based on a pretty cool area of research on thankfulness and how it impacts our lives. What I've realized from her posts and from this article is that looking for insights stimulated by thankfulness, we can actually turn many a troubling moment into an opportunity to know ourselves and to become more fully authentic in our interactions with others. As a very simple and pretty revealing example, I've reacted negatively on a couple of occasions when topics of interest to me and have been part of my work at Miami are carrying on without me. I was prepared to know that these conversations would take place after I was gone but not right under my nose - now! This kind of thing could have eaten at my soul until I began to understand the opportunities in thankfulness. It's actually very easy to do and it creates an alternative reality that is so powerful. When the conversations go on without me, that means that things I've valued actually mean something to others. It also means that capacity has emerged that will keep topics of deep interest to me alive. And, it also allows me the incredible luxury to spend this moment blogging about my reactions and it also affords the opportunity to think forward to the next step in my life in Qatar.

Woe! All of a sudden, a troubling feeling is replaced with thankfulness. The greater bonus is that the thankfulness opens yet unexplored opportunities to do things that really matter! What a lesson, stimulated by a little reflection and tempered with thankfulness.


DEBH said...


I empathize with your mixed emotions. I am sure everyone has an opinion about your new adventure. I'd say the negative or obscure ones stem of their own fear of the unknown. How and if you are able to show your own fear seems to be rightly placed in your ability to be thankful for the opportunity. And having faith to "jump and grow wings on the way down."

When I left UT, I told my students--well, my boss made me tell my students--that I was looking to leave in April. I didn't actually leave until July. At their May retreat, the student president handed out a org chart of the group. Where my name had resided as Advisor was now blank. I felt like they were totally kicking me to the curb. In some ways I realized they felt I was doing the same to them.

I have finished the Introduction chapter of your book. I like how your account of the history of higher ed is tailored to your premise. I also really appreciate you focusing on the unsung female pioneers of my profession. In an institution of good ole boys, I am grateful for these role models you credit.

We have an infamous student who is on the quest to discredit Student Affairs and especially leadership programs. His premise is that he has never been to an effective leadership program because he already knows the answers. I might invite him to read with me...if I can handle that can of worms once opened ;)

See you soon in Vancouver.


Denny Roberts said...

Dear Deb - Thanks for your perspective on troubled and thankful. This really was a turning point for me and thinking/writing about it helped to clarify my reactions.

I'm glad you're enjoying Deeper Learning in Leadership. One of the primary reasons for writing the book was to renew the legacy of Esther Lloyd-Jones and Peg Smith. To have you recognize that reassures me that this purpose was fulfilled.

Engage your "discrediting" friend. I think it would be fascinating to see what would happen if you simply said, "You know, I'm intrigued by your perspective and I'd love to spend some time understanding it and you better. What do you think...?"

Best always,