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Last week, I suggested to newly tenured faculty members that it’s important to sit with your new professional reality: that you have power, you cannot be fired and you are now a leader on your campus (whether you choose to step into that role or not). That bit of truth telling generated a wide range of intense responses.

That’s great! I’m writing this series to make you uncomfortable, because that’s what is required to change the mind-sets and behaviors that served you well as a tenure-track faculty member but will lead you down the path of overfunctioning, overworking, ineffectiveness and exhaustion as a tenured faculty member.

If you’re reading this column series, I assume you want to identify your posttenure pathway and make a thoughtful and intentional transition from probationary tenure-track professor to tenured faculty member. That means you must be willing to ask hard questions, challenge your limiting beliefs and push yourself to remember who you were before you started down the tenure track while also imagining who you will become as a leader in your campus community and beyond. I know it’s hard work. You’re not only shifting your identity from assistant to associate professor, but you’re also now in a position to be the author of your next chapter.

What Do You Love?

We’ve already looked at the primary challenges and traps newly tenured faculty face, redefined leadership, and done some exercises to get in touch with who you are and what you desire. This week, we’re turning to a fundamentally different question. But it’s a question that will add to the body of data you are collecting on yourself: What do you love?

Now let’s be clear about a few things. Often people hear the superficial advice “Do what you love” and “love what you do.” That's not what we’re talking about here. I’m asking you to get clear about what you love not as way to force yourself to enjoy work you genuinely dislike, or to suggest that you should shirk your responsibilities and only do the aspects of your job that bring you pleasure. Instead, I understand “what you love” as an indicator of the best direction for your energy, gifts and talents moving forward.

For example, I know that, first and foremost, I am a mentor. That’s not just what I do, that’s who I am in the world. I am a voracious learner and I don’t feel complete until I share with other people what I‘ve learned. That’s important, but what gives that general self-understanding a specific direction is knowing what I love. And I love helping faculty members reach their full potential. I’m obsessed with supporting faculty. I live and breathe faculty development, and even in my spare time, I’m studying about human potential. It should be no surprise that when I selected my posttenure pathway, I started by creating a campuswide mentoring program for underrepresented faculty that did away with the ineffective mentor-match model and instead taught people what they needed to know to have explosive research productivity and a full and healthy life beyond campus.

Since we are all unique human beings, what you love will be different than what I love. Some people love the big, unresolved questions in their field of research, others love a specific aspect of their job (such as teaching or administration), others love a value (social justice, freedom, creativity), and others love supporting specific groups of people (first-generation students, graduate students or off-campus communities). The key here is getting clarity about what you have an unquenchable thirst for, are naturally inclined toward and can’t live without.

While there are lots of ways you can figure out what you love, I’ll suggest an external, internal and experiential option.

Interview Five People

While it can be awkward, it’s incredibly helpful to allow people who know you well and have known you over a long period of time to serve as a mirror for you. By that I mean try asking five of your friends, family members or colleagues to answer the following questions:

  • What do you think are my greatest gifts/strengths?
  • What makes me unique?
  • What do you think is my greatest passion?

It’s best if you do this over email so that they can write out their responses. That will ensure that you don’t unconsciously filter and/or diminish the positive things they have to share. Once you have the data from five people, look for patterns and see if they resonate with you or draw your attention to a pattern you might not have noticed.

Write Your Story

In the spirit of collecting data on yourself, one of the best sources of data is your previous experiences. Why not try taking 30 minutes to map out the previous chapters of your life? If you’re like most people, each chapter will have a theme and include several important events that influenced who you are today, as well as provide information about what you were passionate about. You’ll want to pay particular attention to the chapters that shaped how and why you became a professor. Writing your story -- or, as Parker Palmer says, “letting your life speak” -- unearths the core elements that drew you to the ivory tower, and it often reveals what you love.

Start Doing What You Love

In the first entry in this column series, I asked you to make a list of things you love to do. Why not try doing some of those things as a way to access the essence of what they hold in common? For example, my list may look very diverse at first glance, but the thread that holds it all together is teaching and learning. All of my hobbies involve learning new things (from tap-dancing to cooking) and the activities I enjoy most are sharing what I’ve learned with other people (through writing, teaching, coaching and mentoring). The key is to notice what it is about that specific activity that lights you up and how you feel while you are fully engaged in it.

The Weekly Challenge

This week, I challenge you to:

  • start visualizing what you love as a direction for your next chapter;
  • choose one of the three options for clarifying what you love (ask five people for feedback, write your story or go out and do a few of the things you love); and
  • spend 15 minutes synthesizing what you learn from those activities.

Ultimately, we’re not just working on generating a bigger and better list of goals for the next five years. We’re working on how to create a meaningful life now that you have a long-term, committed relationship with your campus. A life that is driven by authentic purpose, where your work has significant impact and influence, where you experience a deep sense of belonging, and that provides you with true joy. You worked long and hard on the tenure track, but now it’s up to you to make the choices that will create a purpose-driven life.

Knowing who you are provides information about how you’ll be most effective and what paths to avoid because they aren’t a fit. But knowing what you love will give direction to whom you can best serve. I know that, so far, you’re generating a lot of data about yourself. So next week, I’ll show you how it all fits together.

Peace and possibilities,

Kerry Ann Rockquemore, Ph.D.

Founder, National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity

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