Back to School

August is upon us and the energy has shifted in the US and other locations where school begins in August/September.  You and your family are winding up the holidays, readying for orientation, preparing yourself for the onslaught.

Back in April, I wrote about how our work often feels like a sprint in the fall and a marathon in the springAugust is here.  August is the warm up – you’re at the blocks, stretching, adjusting your shoelaces, focusing on the path in front of you.

August is alive with orientation.  Students are slowly arriving to campus from all over the world.  Others are returning home and working through re-entry from a recent study abroad experience. Parents are worrying about sending their “babies” down the road or across the world.

How do we prepare for the onslaught? We are task masters and will be ready when it is time to start the sprint. But how do we mentally prepare for the excitement, exhaustion, occasional injury and the podium that we want to be standing on with our students?

How do we run this sprint in a budget year that feels like we’re being asked to run at top speed with one leg in a cast?  How do we make this sprint feel fresh and exciting when we’re in our tenth year of working at an institution? Where do we find the inspiration?

1) Cultivate Creativity:  When was the last time you simply watched a child tackle something new?   How did they approach this new task? Did they fear it? Have a tantrum?  Ask about consequences? Worry?  My guess is that in most cases, the child dove right in and played around with the possibilities, made something work and smiled a lot as a result. We can cultivate our creativity by not over thinking our work.  Take an idea and run with it. Don’t think about where the money will come from or how the operational challenges will surface.  Be child like and play with the possibilities. Act out of character.  Cultivate your creativity and you’ll be surprised how resourceful you can be.  It is certainly a lot more fun than pulling out that .doc from the depths of your computer folders and slapping a new date on it, right?

2) Collaborate:  My business was founded on the simple idea that collaboration is much more effective than competition.  Collaboration makes us better at our work because we hear different perspectives, learn about ourselves in the process, access more resources and ultimately educate more people in the process. As you’re thinking through events and activities over the next few weeks, think about who else you can work with.  Maybe it is a colleague in an office you never imagined having a chance to learn from. Perhaps it is a student who has access to resources on campus that you could not have imagined.  I often have people contact me about Melibee Global speakers for campus events, International Education Week, trainings and keynote presentations – and they often worry out loud about not being able to afford the speaker’s fee.”  Nine out of ten times I am able to help them brainstorm who they can collaborate with to co-sponsor a speaker and open up a learning experience to even MORE people.  Collaboration is the reason why I’m here and why you will be able to run that sprint – because sharing the baton is much easier than carrying it solo!

3) Reflect:  We are in this field because we have studied and traveled abroad and we know the value of the experience.  But how often do we take time to reflect on the emotional aspects of our cross cultural interludes and bring that feeling and energy into our work?  Reflection is a powerful tool for our personal and professional lives.  Think about how that 18 year old who is packing in Ghana to study for a degree at your university may be feeling right now.  What is she packing? How does she imagine her time abroad?  Who is excited for her?  What keeps her up at night with worry?  How can her time on your campus be memorable, engaging, empowering and transformative?  What emotions come up for you as you think about these questions?  How does this motivate you to find the strength to do more with less and to stand up to your budget masters and say, “No, we need more?”  Use the power of reflection along with the power of data/metrics to make sure you are prepared for the sprint.  That kid in Ghana is counting on you.

4) Balance:  The sprint requires a lot of energy, focus and stamina.  We give it year after year, we are exhausted by December and then the holidays fall upon us and our family is asking for more.  This is where we learn that balance is our backbone.  Balance is what makes passing the baton go smoothly. Balance is what makes us effective in offering sage advice.  Balance is what keeps us sane enough to prepare for the marathon called spring semester.  Balance is about taking lunch off campus from time to time.  It is about hitting a yoga class after work or during lunch.  It is about laughing heartily whenever possible – because when you do, you will set off what I call the “James Leck Effect” – you will put people at ease and bring a certain joy to the work that you’re doing.

Wishing you all a wonderful semester!

(This post is in honor of James Leck who passed away this summer. You weathered many sprints and marathons, doing so with grace and humor. Thanks for keeping us smiling and inspired all of these years.)



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