Start Where You Are

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Regular readers of this blog may have discerned that I have subscribed to a lot of newsletters. Some of them are new – I just subscribed to Matthew Dicks daily newsletter. Others, like the Ripples newsletter and A.Word.A.Day, I’ve been reading for many, many years. Daily, weekly, monthly they appear in my inbox and bring me different perspectives, ideas, books to read, or interesting people and things to learn about.

Today’s quote from Nikki Giovanni was in Monday’s A.Word.A.Day and it caught my attention immediately. I knew I wanted to share it and to write about it in some way. What came to mind was the phrase, “start where you are.”

One advantage we had when the world shut down last March was the immediacy of the situation. It was a crisis, choices were limited and we had to make the best decisions we could in the moment. Everyone understood that we were making the best of a difficult situation. It was hard, but the shift was made.

Now it’s time to make another shift and strangely enough this one isn’t any easier. In many ways, it may be more difficult. Limited choice isn’t always pleasant, but it’s easy. Choosing between vanilla and chocolate has always been easier than sorting out 31 flavors at Baskin-Robbins. After all, ‘I don’t like pistachio’ only gets you so far in narrowing the choices.

Of course, our choices aren’t unlimited, they’re still defined by a number of different boundaries, rules, and procedures, but we have learned new ways to do our work so the list of possible options looks different than it did a year and a half ago. I’ve talked with several people recently who are concerned about staff morale, and who are caught between individual preferences and institutional expectations. All of them are struggling to navigate the decisions they need to make to move into the coming year. A year that is both unfamiliar and normal at the same time.

Then I saw this post from Anne Lamott on her Facebook page. She writes that she is “existentially exhausted” but says this is what she tells writing students who are overwhelmed:
“I would tell writing students, start where you are, start where your feet are. Maybe breathe every so often. Look around, look up, look inside, but look, and more importantly, see.”

And that seems like pretty good advice for all of us. Nikki Giovanni reminds us there will always be more to do. She lists several big things to do. And even if we narrow our focus to campus, the list is, to use Anne Lamott’s word, ‘daunting.’ But we don’t have to solve it all today or even this week. And most important we don’t have to solve it all alone. Reach out for help. Stop and look around at the amazing things that are happening all around you everyday, even on the toughest of days. Remember that, even if your organization tends toward the dysfunctional right now, its fundamental purpose is valuable. Remember that, even if you don’t get to hug your colleagues and students, you’re still doing good work that supports them and their goals. Choose what you can do. Breathe. Ask for help. Give support and care. There will always be more to do. For today, start where you are.

Take care,


Quote of the Week

“There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world, I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary, and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair, and disrespect.”

Nikki Giovanni
“Poet Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on June 7, 1943. Although she grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, she and her sister returned to Knoxville each summer to visit their grandparents. Nikki graduated with honors in history from her grandfather’s alma mater, Fisk University. Since 1987, she has been on the faculty at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor.”

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