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Ivan's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

#beatburnout #engagement #focus #grit #leadership #persistence Nov 21, 2023
Ivan walks in the woods

When I was a new parent, I came across a book by Judith Viorst called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It was about the adventures of young boy for whom, from the moment he got out of bed, everything went wrong. He tripped on his skateboard, accidently dropped his sweater in the sink when the water was running, and it just kept getting worse and worse into a series of misadventures. Recently, I had one of those days- weeks.

It was Ivan’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week!  

A complaint was filed against me for my conduct during discussions about the Middle East conflict. Despite my earnest attempts to maintain peace on campus, misunderstandings arose. A faculty filed a complaint about a joke I made to a friend about his hairline--never mind I’m bald and my friend was not offended. They were offended on his behalf. I left for a speech and forgot my notes adding two hours to my trip by turning back. An innovative partnership I have been working on for months was falling apart. It was a tough week. I could feel the pressures at work, at home and in life squeezing me. I just wanted to quit. My thoughts were screaming, “I’m done!!!  That’s it. I don’t need these headaches.” I imagine lots of us have been there before. 

I drafted my resignation letter but followed my own advice and waited for the emotions to subside before hitting send. This pause granted me clarity, and a strategic perspective to chart my next steps emerged.

I must admit it was hard to get out of my own funk, until Friday came along and helped lift my soul. I started off the day conducting a mini-workshop for an amazing corporate group of professionals. Their energy was infectious, and their gratitude for my contributions in fostering team cohesion and innovation lifted my morale.

On that same day, I received an email from a professor of a class where I had been a guest lecturer for students who were in a last chance program. They had struggled academically before, and they were on the edge of being asked to leave. I could certainly relate and shared with them some strategies for success from my own journey.

Here's what that professor’s message said:

I write today to thank you once again for the incredible sessions you delivered to the SAS (Student Academic Success) Program a few weeks ago. Our students are still buzzing from the motivation you provided and are still talking about just how impactful the session was. I can also confidently say that your words resonated with our entire SAS team, myself included. We are truly humbled you were able to find time in your busy schedule to fit in our students and be so open with your own story which undoubtedly rang familiar for so many.  

What a great way to start my Friday! I could feel the bounce in my step and the song in my heart.  

Later that day, I went to the Black Faculty Staff and Student networking social. It was great to mix and mingle with folks from my community. I was asked to share a few words. I spoke to the power of community, the importance of representation, and how even I, in my role as VP, experience bias at work. Several staff, faculty and students sought me out after to thank me for speaking my truth openly and shared compliments about the work I was doing. 

To polish it off, I attended the annual awards banquet for a soccer team I volunteer coach at. I was so proud of the team members’ accomplishments and was pleased to be able to convey genuine compliments to their parents and humbled to receive some from them. It was a great moment of savoring the work we put in together during the season.

It’s nice to receive affirmations and feel connections with those you serve when you have had a tough week. By day's end, the affirmation of making a difference rekindled my sense of purpose, leaving me rejuvenated.

I reflected that others might experience a similar sense of dwindling motivation after tough days or weeks at work. Instead of feeling disillusioned and getting angry, I devised a new initiative called ‘Catch Them When They are Good’ for my departments—a platform to commend outstanding work. Both the nominee and the referee will receive a small token (like a coffee card) and be entered into an annual grand prize draw (like a trip). Publicizing this praise aims to promote and incentivize behaviors that align with our objectives, fostering a culture of recognition.

When I’ve had a series of tough blows, I can become bitter and withdraw. I can leave in anger and indignation, or I can lead the change I want to see. After all, …

I am the Captain of my Ship and the Master of my Fate!

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