Saturday, February 09, 2008

SPIRITUALITY AND LEADERSHIP - part one: The Journey

SATURDAY, JANUARY 19, 2008: a day that will live in my memory for years to come.

Back in June of 2007 when I was hired to work in the Office of Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, I well remember the initial discussions that took place at the start of my contract about several of the leadership opportunities that we were planning on offering for the undergraduate population here at the University of Miami. Oh, sure, there were a few well-established weekend retreats that had historically been done for years on end, but they – the “higher ups” and director of the office – were looking at ways to augment and increase the number and frequency of these opportunities to the students. Adding something new to the mix, as it was. Among the new initiatives was something called a “Leadership Summit” that was to be held in January. 

For months on end, the title was pretty much all that had been done as far as planning went for what was decided upon as a one-day event to be held on the weekend. Ideas were infrequently tossed about as to what it should look like, and – as always happens in academia – a committee was eventually formed to shape this thing up, charged with finding meal sponsors, arranging locations, and determining the flow of the day, including who would speak and on what. Since the woman in charge of all defined aspects of leadership development in my office literally shares the same office space with me…and because at the suggestion/insistence of our supervisor she ask me…the inquiry was made of me if I would be interested in presenting.

“Sure,” I said. – and then, I made a slight tactical error in my position. I asked the absolutely wrong question: “Is there anything you need for me to present on?”

Now, for those of you not versed in the world of academia, lemme clue you in to something: almost NEVER will you find a professional in this field – be they in Student Life or in Academic Affairs – who will open themselves up like this. 99% of the time, we love to speak on topics we’re knowledgeable or passionate about. We love to talk, and if it’s a chance for self-promotion to illustrate how I might be an expert on something – well, then. Step back and let me go at it! However, this individual in charge of the leadership development programs and I have had…and continue to have…a somewhat rocky working relationship and a non-existent social relationship. There’s some bad blood between us, and this was my attempt to kinda run a white truce flag up to show how I was willing to try and assist. 

Her response? “Oh, we could use something along the lines of communication, conflict resolution, time management – those kind of things.”

My heart sank. Not because I wasn’t WELL freaking versed in these topics and had never presented on them before (hello? Three years spent JUST as a training specialist for new staff members for the Department of Housing at UGA.), but because they were so…bland. Dull. I mean, how many ways can one punch up yet another talk on time management, without falling back on to old tried-and-true curriculum? Plus, really – who would WANT to sit through yet another presentation on a topic they as a listener might find disinteresting – especially when the presenter was disinterested as well?

So, with my vague direction in mind about what I would be presenting on, I started dusting off and trying to polish up the various presentations I had done throughout the years, hopefully trying to find a way to “punch them up” to where they’d be – I don’t know – interesting.

Fast forward to November 2007. One of the students who was serving on this committee to shape up the event was sitting in the office adjacent to my own, and she was working with the other individual in question on what topics should be considered and who should be asked. Now, this student and I have forged a fast friendship since my arrival here in Miami, and I recently freaked her out a little bit by making the off-the-cuff comment about how I might move to California after speaking to some of the guys who work for Mosaic & the IMN out on the West coast. Yeah. THAT went over like a lead balloon in her world. Anyway, somehow – and I swear I can’t remember how – the subject of spirituality and leadership came up. This student immediately chimed in with a comment that froze time: 

“I think Sonny would be a great speaker on that.”

Seriously. Time froze. Like, in that “I-hear-the-screeching-brakes-and-holy-cow-that-car’s-about-to-hit-that-other-car” kind of way that everything just slows down, with the world still racing to that eventual collision that you KNOW is going to happen.

Me? I smiled. The woman in charge of the day-long leadership summit didn’t. I’m fairly certain her entire stoically-voiced response was “We’ll see.”

Now, those of you who know me know that struggle I’ve been having for MONTHS over why I’m still in this field of mine. You know the tears I’ve learned to have to live through, and the frustrations and heartache that I have on an almost daily basis. But on certain occasions, God just likes to smile and life the veil a little to show me some of the cool plans He has in store for me. And I think that what He was tipping His hands towards in this one divine instant was to tell me that even though I didn’t want to be in the place I was in, HE was there, and if He was there, I could be there as well and be used by Him for Him. 

So, when this moment to take my passion (umm…that would be Jesus, kids) and combine it with a “talent” of mine (I’m not really that awful at speaking in public) to present an aspect of what I’m passionate about in a completely new and radical way…well, I was moderately excited about it. 

Now, one thing to keep in mind was that the initial “discussion” about me talking about spirituality and leadership was in November, just before Thanksgiving Break. This meant I would have a good six weeks to pull a presentation together for this. “Not a problem,” thought I. We have a fairly sizeable break coming up (Christmas), and Ashley and I will be traveling for some time during this break, so I should have a chance to read over a few books, read some magazine articles on the matter, and come up with a nicely solid outline on what I was going to present on. So, just before the break, I emailed my office mate, and informed her that I was in fact willing to present on spirituality and leadership, and that I just needed to hear back from her that this was going to be my topic so that I could start researchin’ and writin’. 

Little did I know about the journey that lay ahead of me…and the struggle to actually be ABLE to present on this…

END PART ONE

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