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Getting to Work

As 2022 gets underway, I'm reflecting on the nature of starting something vs. building it.

I recently put together a letter for all our clients, summarizing 2021 and letting them know what we're looking forward to in 2022. In doing so, I promised that the new year would see me return to more blog posts. This is the start of me fulfilling that promise, although this post might be a bit less traditional than what you might be used to...

When I was an undergrad, I remember someone teaching me about institutional infrastructure. I attended Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (a college that technically doesn't exist any more). As many mid-sized state universities are and were, Edinboro dealt with a heterogeneous mix of quality. Some aspects of the university were top-notch, while others... not so much. As we were breaking ground on a new building, I asked one of my professors, "why are we building that when so many other parts of the university need work?" They explained to me that it's much easier to get funding for something new than for renovating something old. "If you're an administrator, state senator, etc., it's much cooler if you can point to a building and say that you built it than to say that you renovated it."

That was some twenty-plus years ago and I still remember the conversation. It's a thought that has stuck with me all these years, particularly as our country struggles to update a crumbling infrastructure. I keep thinking, "it's really hard for us to get money to maintain roads because legislators just don't think it's 'cool' to put their name on that."

Then, just the other day, I was watching the new movie Tick...Tick...Boom on Netflix. If you like things musical at all, I'd tell you it was a phenomenal film. Set in 1990, it tells the story of a yet-to-be discovered Jonathan Larson (the man who would ultimately go on to write the acclaimed musical Rent) and his struggles between choosing a career in the arts or taking a "real job," all while confronting the burgeoning AIDS epidemic. Andrew Garfield is absolutely fantastic in it, and while I don't know anything about criticizing movies or acting, he gets my vote for an Oscar-nod.

In any case, much of the film focuses on Larson's anxiety about his upcoming 30th birthday. As many of you can either relate to or remember, he worries not only about the social norms of what he should have achieved, but if what he's done to this point has been a complete waste of his time. Moreover, what does that mean for his future path?

In May, I am also approaching a birthday that ends in a zero. As I watched Garfield portray Larson's dilemma, I recalled my own anxieties about turning 30, and how those compare to the anxieties I feel at this new decade of my life. Here's the hypothesis I developed...

Turning 30 is a big challenge for most people because of concerns about becoming an adult. Have I started becoming an adult yet? What path should I choose? This is the anxiety: what lies ahead and have I prepared for it?

By no means do I think that turning 40 is old. I don't think my life is over and I'm incredibly excited about what's ahead. BUT, turning 40 is quite different. The choice has been made. Certainly we're not excluded from changing careers or any other aspect of our life, but it certainly feels that way. The biggest difference (again, according to my hypothesis) is what lies ahead.

When you turn 30, what lies ahead is new. It's opportunity and - of course - potential failure, but in many cases that's unknown. Turning 40 (or, I would also imagine, turning 50) is different because what lies ahead is not new - it's more of the same. We are not concerned about whether or not we will be successful, but if we can continue to put in the necessary work.

It reminds me of a time when, while working for a former employer, I was offered a new job. Telling a friend about the opportunity, I demonstrated some excitement. My friend gave me some very wise advice: "you're not excited about the new job, you're excited about the change. If you take that job, it's a transition and that's fun and interesting. If you stay where you are, it's just continuing to work to be successful at this."

So why am I telling you all this? Well, for one, I feel compelled to share what I feel is a novel observation on the human condition. (I figured you wanted to hear that because you're the one who clicked on the link.) But moreover, it reminded me of the year(s) that lie ahead for DIA Higher Education Collaborators. People always say to me, "You started your own business? That's amazing!"

To which I always reply, "Starting you're own business is easy; it's keeping it going that's impressive."

The upcoming year for our organization is much like the upcoming birthday. It's not necessarily the excitement of the new, but the challenge of the continued work. Don't get me wrong, I love what we're doing here, but honing our craft, tightening our operational practices, and exploring growth don't carry the same excitement as "starting a new path."

In the end, I'm taking this reflection as an opportunity to generate excitement for that. I love where we are and am even more interested about where we will head, and 2022 will be a great preview of that. Thanks for following along...

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