I started a sprint, then discovered it was a marathon…

Phew.  Y’all.  I’m breathing in-2-3-4-, and out-2-3-4.

How many weeks has it been?  We’re in week 4 of our Coronavirus response and adaptations here in Virginia – at Virginia Tech, in Montgomery County, Virginia specifically (though it kind of feels like a year already).  I had my first adrenaline crash about a week-and-a-half ago.  When was yours?  I’d been working feverishly and passionately to do my part in supporting our campus in responding to the evolving world health crisis and moving toward providing for our critical teaching-mission in a virtual environment.  And figuring out how to best support my own kids in shifting their educational experience to distance learning – a freshman in college suddenly back home for the remainder of her spring semester, a 6th grader, 5th grader, and 1st grader.  That initial adrenaline rush response to crisis can power you through some serious challenges.  But eventually it wears off, and you just crash.

The following week, I felt like I was back in the game. Only to reach Friday evening in a state of TOTAL exhaustion.  I’m past the adrenaline-powered functioning, but I’ve only just come to realize that I’ve inadvertently started this new phase of our lives in a sprint, only to find out I’m really in a marathon.  That I NEVER signed up for.  I’d wager I’m not alone.

I am not a runner.  By that I mean – I have run, I know how to run, I run in short spurts while throwing the football with my 5th grader… but I really dislike running, it’s just not my thing.  I do have a lot of runner friends though.  I know that rarely, if ever, is a sprinter also a marathon runner.  And starting a marathon without training – seriously training and working up to it for weeks if not months – is a terrible strategy.  As is sprinting at the beginning of a marathon.  Yet here we are.

None of us trained for this.  We are in uncharted territory.  And yet, our organizations, families, and communities need us more than ever to remain connected, contributing, and compassionate.  So – I’ve been talking to folks a lot about self-care… but also am now realizing that even though we know the importance of good self-care on an intellectual level, it’s so much harder to accomplish right now.  I suspect many of us feel like we’re trying to give 100% to our jobs, if we’re lucky enough to still have them; 100% to our families, whether they are near or far; 100% to our friends and communities, in whatever form that care and connection takes; and what percent then to good self-care?  Not to mention none of us has 300+% to give in the first place.  And a situation of this magnitude brings with it all of the emotion and related anxiety of the unknown, concern for our health and that of our families, friends, coworkers, students… How do we even know what good self-care is right now? And how do we find the time for it?

Additionally challenging is finding ways to maintain supportive community, and help others to do the same.  Humans are social beings and we benefit from being in community.  We need to find meaningful ways to not only care for ourselves, but to continue to connect with others. And perhaps to slow our own pace and adjust our expectations.  I don’t mean that in a way that would suggest we “settle” or start accepting mediocrity.  But this is truly going to be a marathon, not a sprint… so we could benefit from advice given to those training for a marathon and think about how to apply the concepts in our work, relationships, and life overall right now:

  • Starting early, starting small – in the current situation, we really weren’t given this option.  But we can make adjustments in how we’re approaching things now, adjusting for the long haul.
  • Base mileage – build your mileage slowly over time, running 3-5 times a week.  This is building capacity by pacing ourselves.  We can’t do everything at once, all the time.  We have to do what we can as we can, and build from there.
  • The long run – build up to a weekly long run, adding mileage week by week.  As we add capacity over time, we can add in some “longer runs.”  But not all the time – we can plan for these longer stretches, but they can’t be all the time, and we need to be sure to plan for recovery too.
  • Speed work – intervals and tempo runs help to build aerobic capacity and increase stamina.  Variety in the work and using approaches to build capacity on a variety of fronts are key to the long-game.  We need to vary our schedules and routines in ways that support the long-term efforts.
  • Rest and recovery – rest days mean no running; they let your muscles recover and help prevent both injury and mental burnout.  In our work and personal lives right now, we also need rest and recovery.  This may take different forms and a different schedule than it did in our “normal” life before COVID-19, but it is still immensely important.  Rest, recovery, healthy sleep – these all help with overall well-being, health, stress management, and more.  And this is immensely important right now.

In addition to these training-specific strategies, things like proper equipment, hydration, healthy eating, and in-run fueling are all critical to marathon success.  These same things are true in our current life situation as well.

So… I know we’re all juggling.  I know most of us are struggling at some level.  I know we all have different life circumstances and responsibilities.  But not one of us is alone in this, despite the feeling that we may be struggling with social distancing and perceived isolation.  I guess I just want to encourage us all to be a little gentler with our expectations of ourselves and others – bringing our compassion to the forefront and setting our sights a bit beyond today, next week, or even this semester.  We’re in this for the long haul, and we’re going to need every one of us working together and cheering each other on to cross that finish line.

Unseen in Our Times: Leading Through Crisis

As I sit at my kitchen island at the beginning of “Week 2: COVID-19 2020”, juggling responding to my school-aged children who are now completing classwork online (1st grade, 5th grade, 6th grade) while managing my own work responsibilities – I am compelled to share some thoughts on leading through crisis situations.

We are in a new reality that none of us has experienced in our lifetime – an international health crisis the scale of which the world hasn’t seen for over 100 years.  Our global connectivity is providing us with more real-time information than we’ve ever had access to, there is a greater penetration of inaccurate information and consumer-aimed scams, as well as greater opportunity for sensationalism and panic… and yet we are still called to carry on with important work and personal responsibilities as best we can.

So – some compassionate advice for fellow leaders:

  • Good self-care – Remember that analogy about the air masks? It’s more important than ever now.  Recognize your own stress responses, and respond accordingly.  Make sure you are getting fresh air, exercising, taking mental breaks – whatever you do to keep yourself healthy, mentally and physically.  Your people (colleagues, staff, family, friends) need you now – in order to be present for them, you need to stay healthy yourself.  Keeping your stress in check is of utmost important in this health crisis, as excess stress compromises your immune system and may also put you at greater risk for physical illness.
  • “Strength of Calm” – This may sound like an oxymoron.  But as a leader, you can greatly help those you lead by demonstrating “strength of calm.”  Maintaining a calm approach and outlook requires strength, resolve, and consistent commitment – it has to be intentional.  Your calm can inspire calm, trust, and resilience in others.  We all need that in a time of crisis.
  • Flexibility and resilience – The one thing we know this week is that tomorrow will be different than today.  The situation is evolving quickly and our national, state, and local leaders are having to make difficult decisions on a daily basis to keep people as safe as possible.  We will need to continue to adjust, and we won’t have much notice.  This rapid evolution is uncomfortable for a lot of people – continue to remind yourself that this current norm will require your flexibility and resilience on a daily basis.  Being ready and as optimistic as possible about our ability to adjust and be successful will ease things for those you lead.  Encouraging them will help more than you know.
  • Check in often – Frequent check-ins with those above you, your peers, and those you lead are truly helpful.  Especially with those you lead, remember some will be vocal about their needs and questions while others won’t.  Don’t assume that those who aren’t vocal are okay and have all that they need.  You can’t over-communicate during times like these – share what you know, check in to ask what they need, and ask for what you need from others as well.
  • Focus on the work – In our workplace (higher education), the mission doesn’t sleep or wait for the crisis to end.  Our work is too important, and we have so many stakeholders still depending on us: students, colleagues, our communities, and the world.  Our education and scholarly missions do not take a break, and service to the university and beyond is critical at this time.  As leaders, we need to prioritize our focus on the work – which may be largely supporting those we lead in making the adjustments required to continue their critical work.  Investigate and share helpful resources, be available, answer questions, and pass along the questions you don’t personally have answers to.
  • Keep perspective – Remember, we are all dealing with this crisis as WHOLE PEOPLE.  Those we lead remain committed to our important work, but also have concern for their own health and personal responsibilities, as well as care of their own friends and family members.  Practice compassion, understanding, and flexibility in your leadership during this time.  Acknowledge the personal and human concerns of your people, and be empathetic to their experience.
  • Maintain good boundaries – While as leaders we may need to be more actively engaged in our work to be responsive to rapidly changing information and directives, it’s still incredibly important to maintain good boundaries for the sake of our personal lives and personal time.  Working remotely can make this challenging – but remember, working at home doesn’t mean you are working or available for work 24/7.  Preserve time you will be attentive to yourself and your personal life. Be deliberate about times you will spend checking email on the weekends if your role requires you to still be responsive during those times.
  • The value of community – Community is still important, especially on a relational campus like ours.  Being in community with others will look and feel different now, but it’s still crucial.  Be creative about connecting with others virtually, coming together with others individually and in groups, still finding ways to serve, and supporting the broader local communities.

Perhaps above all, remember that we are not experiencing this crisis situation in a vacuum.  We are not alone, and can leverage our personal and professional networks for ideas, resources, support, and encouragement.  There are no problems we’re navigating here that other universities are not also reckoning with.  We will get through this, we will become stronger on the journey, and we as creative humans will see great ingenuity and innovation in responding to the needs of our communities and those we lead and serve – through this, as all things, we are stronger together.

What are you finding most useful, inspiring, or supportive during this challenging time?  What advice would you offer to other leaders?  We’re on this expedition together…

Reimagining Balance…

boycott the scales!“Balance”…  A word we all toss around in multiple contexts, and yet I’d wager we spend far too little time actually thinking about.  It’s time to reimagine it.  What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think “balance”?  Scales? Toss it. Real-life balance is far more complicated than that.  And thank goodness – because it can also allow us to integrate and achieve so much more.

Balance is not just about mass or weight – though that’s one component.  It’s not simply about getting things to rest or hang or be steady – though that’s also one component.  Balance is about form and function, understanding the properties of things and how they relate to one another, where the points of strength are and what areas need reinforcement – AND taking into account the surrounding conditions and monitoring for change.

I started practicing yoga about a year ago.  Reflecting on balancing the body into a variety of poses and contortions while still being able to breathe and just “be” is a powerful way to think about balance.  Some things I’ve learned: artful balance requires:

"Flying Pigeon" pose

Note: This is not me! And I have not yet attempted this pose…

  • Imagination
  • Strength
  • Patience
  • Trust
  • Intelligent awareness of how the various parts of the system work
  • Willingness to take risks, to try something that may initially appear as though it would never work
  • Attention to changing conditions
  • Awareness that you can’t hold the same pose forever


How often do we think about “balance” in these ways in our day-to-day lives – whether at work, at home, or across all areas of our lives?  It’s so much more than putting things of equal weight on opposite sides of each other.  It’s about recognizing different areas of strength, weight, size, composition – knowing which things can bear more burden for a time, which things can lean on others – and making micro- or macro-adjustments as parts of the system get fatigued or the surrounding conditions change.

So – some questions as you may begin reimagining “balance”…

  • What can you release or let go? Determine if there are things you’re holding tightly that are not serving you well… Perhaps there are things you can let go of, that don’t need to be there at all… Perhaps there are things that are valuable, but belong somewhere else, as part of another equation…
  • What could you ADD into your equation to better maximize the whole or take stress off of some parts? Delegate and empower others to become a more meaningful part of your system… Make an investment in yourself that enhances your well-being and productivity or reduces stress…
  • How can you pay more mindful attention to the conditions around you? Notice reactions from others, levels of engagement, what drives and excites people, where the fatigue and stress is… Realize how and when expectations and needs of others are changing or shifting… Acknowledge the forces in play, and integrate them into your approach…
  • How can you be more agile and responsive to changing conditions? When you notice things changing around you, actively investigate the needed shifts in the system… Think about redefining priorities, shifting the focus, leveraging different strengths…

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HR8Ww94Zms0]

True balance in real life is not static, it is dynamic.  It is not passive – we don’t set things in balance and leave them to stay that way forever.  It’s active – we experiment and find what works for now, then pay attention to how things change around us and make adjustments. Things are not kept “in balance” indefinitely, they are “balancing” for a time.

So – in what areas of your life has your approach to “balance” gotten static? How is that serving you?  What adjustments can you make to fully involve and leverage all of the pieces you have to work with? How can you maximize the situation?  Reimagine…


Core Values – Will Your Anchor Hold?

So one of the things that’s challenging about being a leader…  Wait a second; now that I think about it – one of the things that’s challenging about being a person in community with others is navigating the balance between others’ needs, perspectives, and desires and our own.  How do you hold firm to your own goals, vision, and passion while being open to hearing and valuing others’ perspectives and approaches – and not wind up swaying to every new flavor-of-the-month while leaving people wondering who on earth you are and what you stand for? Continue reading

Wisdom… Choosing Your Battles and Showing Off Your Scars

“Battle scars” have been on my mind a lot lately.  Whether catching my eye in the form of scratches all over my minivan, visual echoes of my injuries past, scraped-kneed offspring, or wounded spirits – I see battle scars all around me.  It has brought me to ponder the wisdom in “choosing our battles,” and all that’s to be gained from showing off those scars. Through the battles and with the scars, we grow in our selves, our roles, and the stories we bring to share. Continue reading

This one’s personal…

I’ve been contemplating (and subsequently avoiding) this post for over 24 hours now… Reflection on another anniversary of the tragic shootings at the university that stole my heart some 25 years ago, in the most amazing town I’ve had the pleasure to live in.

534dbbb6f3c67.imageIt’s been seven years.  This year’s April 15, the weather was eerily similar to the weather on April 16, 2007 – Continue reading

Work-Life… It’s all about the weave…

boycott the scales!I’m trading in the scales for a new metaphor.  Managing all the facets of who I am, my varying interests and commitments, the people who want and need my attention in various arenas, my own needs and interests – is just NOT simply a matter of breaking off a piece here and putting it on this side, and breaking off another piece there for the other side… and keeping it “in balance.” Continue reading