The Florence Journals: Reflections on Visioning, Career, and Multi-Tasking

So friends, I’ve been in Florence, Italy for 1 week. I’ve been a professor my entire (post undergrad) working life. I have loved it. I have lived my passion. I have grown, developed and shifted my interests throughout my career. I have become achingly aware of the fact that in moving at the speed of light it may, at times, be difficult to do several things: 1) acknowledge the accomplishments which will help feed future work, dedication, and commitment, 2) plan for the future – I don’t know about you, but I typically spend so much time on the “fire of the day” that feeding my own passion happens less than I would like. Don’t get me wrong. I DO feed my passions. I just sometimes get caught up in the demands of the moment and attend to them less than I might like. I also realized recently that I don’t make long term plans any longer. For years, I had 5 year plans. That changed when I was promoted to full professor. Then my strategy shifted to taking whatever “cool” opportunities came my way. Opportunities had to most importantly 1) benefit my students and/or 2) allow me to work consistently with my beliefs and values. The best projects did, and still do, both. I refused to do anything that was not consistent with my beliefs and values.

More and more, that has meant grant funded work that emphasizes community-based participatory research, specifically, working with communities to help them identify issues of interest to them and maximize their outcomes. That said, sometimes that has also meant taking the money for the students rather than the passion. These strategies have found me working over the past decade in public health preparedness (my first foray into CBPR); identifying barriers for minority populations of accessing help in paying utility bills (one of the most insightful projects I’ve ever undertaken), while at the same time helping the utility provider improve their reputation following a disastrous stint with ENRON; health promotion for older adults in rural and frontier areas of Kansas; community-based decision making around wind energy; working with an interdisciplinary team to create a toolkit to help older adults in a Kansas County to reduce falls called Falling LinKS  http://webs.wichita.edu/?u=AGING&p=/FallingLinKS/Page1/, and hunger awareness and activism. Perhaps my most fulfilling work over the last decade has been launching the Hunger Awareness Initiative as Wichita State University. You can find us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/WSUHungerAwareness, on Twitter at @WSUHunger or #WSUHunger, and visit our website at: https://wsuhunger.wordpress.com.  I wrote earlier about what got me into the hunger space: https://dballardreisch.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/who-am-i-on-this-hunger-awareness-journey/. I have a number of blog posts on this issue, but this is my “Who am I?” post.

3) I have also recognized that none of us do “this” the same way. There is a great deal of writing, thinking and lamenting on the downside of multi-tasking at the moment. I could not disagree more! Multi-tasking is not a myth and it is a godsend for those of us who think 24/7 and who are highly productive. (I plan to write more on that later, but for now, suffice it to say, we are all differently abled. Somehow we have lost track of that in recent years and anything that is not “normal” has become problematic. I would argue that there is no such thing as “normal” and that striving to be so keeps many of us from recognizing our unique gifts – but I digress.) That said, even the best multi-taskers might at times need to take a break and just “be”, just reflect, plan, breathe. That is, among other things (I AM a multi-tasker after all), what I am doing on this sabbatical.

While I love my life and my career, I also have a strong desire to do something different. I have no idea what that will be. I do have faith that I will find “it”.  On September 2, 2014, my first full day in Florence, serendipity stepped in and I met a woman I wrote about in an earlier post, Lauren Haas, who 1-1/2 years ago sold everything she owned to become a traveling writer. She takes gigs that pay $30-$150 which generally have nothing to do with where she’s living, and she travels the world. How cool is that?! Her adventure reminded me of this cartoon. I love meeting people who are following their dreams! http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/what-if-money-was-no-object/

I’m not yet sure what my next dream will be, but for now the streets of Florence beckon, and I will answer. I love walking these hills. More later, dear readers.  

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