Tag Archives: Wheaton College

It’s a Hoot!

photoI spent Saturday at the Wheaton Alumni Leadership Conference, soaking in the gorgeous foliage (Wheaton is SMART to have us return to campus in October rather than February) and connecting with new and old friends. I’d forgotten how good it feels to get together based on this one shared facet of our life experiences.

One of my favorite moments was in a social media workshop (I’m the social media chair for my class) where Molly Galler from the class of 2006 did a great job explaining Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & WordPress to a group of older alums. The take homes for me:

FIRST, how Wheaton is a place I find mentors, even now. Each time I return, I’m reminded by other alums how part of being a Wheaton grad is an ability to think, grow, and expand your horizons. Not that graduates of other schools don’t have this too – It’s just such a focus at Wheaton that after four years of immersion, it’s sort of in you in a way most of us don’t shake, even after graduation. Returning to campus stirs that back up in a way that’s really helpful. How often do you get to go to a place where people tell you BOTH that you’re doing great where you are…AND that you can accomplish something bigger or new or other if you want to? That’s a powerful combination.  I love how our older alums resist the temptation of, “Oh that’s for the younger folks…”  They’re willing to be beginners, ask questions, and try things.  I suspect this is the work-around for midlife crises: staying engaged and interested, being willing to be the only one in the room who admits you don’t get it yet, but that you’re going to.  I’m grateful for this annual reminder that as life keeps getting bigger, I can grow with it.

images-1-The second thing that made my day was this one alum – I think she’s in the Class of 1977 – describing how a couple of hours earlier, she’d posted her first picture to her new FB page, and had already seen two or three friends respond online.  “It’s Just a hoot!” she said.  At first I just giggled the way you sometimes do when someone uses an expression that’s no longer common. But then later that afternoon I thought about my own first experience years ago, figuring out how to get a picture to appear on my FB page, picking a funny caption, and then watching over the course of that day as friends from all over the country responded. It was a hoot!

Once in awhile (read: way more often), I need to step back from all these things that are now “normal” parts of our lives and marvel at them for a moment. It’s incredible, what we’ve learned and adapted to. And as much as naysayers love to prattle on about how awful screen time is and how online friendships can’t replace connecting in real life over coffee, I’m feeling the urge to celebrate what networks like Facebook and Twitter (not to mention my new obsession, Happier) make possible. Thanks to those, I’m connected with you all, and I enjoy more support, connection, camaraderie, and friendship than any other time in my life. The likelihood that I’ll remember anyone’s birthday has gone up 100% (I’ve never been great with dates) and over the course of a typical day, I get to interact and catch up with great people, and build relationships across a far wider slice of life than I could pull of via connecting in real life over coffee, no matter how many miles I travelled (or how much caffeine I could hold). As a memoir writer, I love how we’re all building our stories here online, one post at a time.

It’s a hoot, and I’m grateful for the reminder.

Compared to What?

Dare-2-Compare-Logo-SmallI’m pondering these questions from Seth Godin this morning:

What tastes better, a $30 bottle of wine that’s the cheapest the restaurant offers…or the very same bottle at the restaurant next door, where it’s the most expensive?

What offers a better education: four years at your first choice selective college? Or four years at the same place, but it’s your last resort safe school, after you’ve been rejected by more famous (and thus selective) schools?

When asked about our experience, the essential question is always, compared to what?

I have pretty middling tastes in wine, so that question didn’t get me. But the one about college choice hit home.  I went to Wheaton College at a time when it was in a bit of crisis – it was an all women’s college that had lost the ability/identity to get enough student and alumni interest to sustain itself.  Which sounds awful, except that these were the perfect circumstances for an underperformer like me to talk & write my way in and turn my life around. One year in an atmosphere where there weren’t boys there to distract me (the school went coed my sophomore year) changed the trajectory of my life. I was THRILLED to be at Wheaton – it was my first choice, my dream school, the next step I’d prayed about since the day I first visited and thought, “I don’t know why, but I think I belong here.”

I was surprised that some of my classmates disagreed – the ones for whom Wheaton was a safety school or a last choice. Some of them hadn’t gotten in to the places they wanted to go and so their parents essentially bought them a slot at Wheaton.  Our experiences that first year were very different.   They were comparing our quiet campus with the places their friends enrolled: big football  schools with raucous fraternity/sorority systems and lots of parties.  I was thankful to be in a quieter place where it was cool to be smart, where I could get my feet underneath me academically. I couldn’t be wildly social and academically focused; I didn’t have it in me. And I’d partied plenty in high school.  Had I gone to a bigger school with a more “traditional” college experience, I think I’d STILL  be there, playing quarters at some party and trying to finish up a few more credits for a degree in something I didn’t even care about.  That was the direction I was headed in coming out of high school, and I needed a stark change of atmosphere to turn me around. As Godin points out, when asked about our experience, the essential question is always, compared to what?

(I should note that Wheaton has evolved, and now it’s both wonderful place to learn and more balanced socially, which is a good thing!)

I think being aware of our comparisons is helpful when we find ourselves drawn to something and think “If only I had THAT…or if THIS Massively-Expensive-Wine-225x300happened…or I did X…life would be good!” We might be right. I was right about Wheaton – life was better once I got in. But I think it’s helpful to look at the substance of our longing and ask, What am I comparing this to that makes me believe it will make a difference?  Am I longing for the $30 bottle of wine at the top of the menu pricing because I think I’ll enjoy the flavors more than the other available wines? Or is it the satisfaction of appearing well-off and magnanimous that I’m after, and I’d never think to order this same bottle at the restaurant next door, where it’s the cheapest thing on the menu?

Whenever I’m interested in something because I’m imagining the positive way other people will respond to me because of it, I’m in a world of hurt (that’s New England speak for Big Trouble Coming Your Way).  I’m comparing me and whatever I had before – for example, a boring, normal car…to me with a FANCY SPECIAL car, believing that the FANCY and the SPECIAL are transferable.  And perhaps they are. But I think it helps to be aware of what you’re hoping for, so that if you end up disappointed, you can say, “Oh, okay. I guess cars can’t deliver on that they way I thought they could” and begin a conversation with God about why it feels like FANCY and SPECIAL are so desirable, yet so elusive. God tends to have the right shaped pegs to fit the big holes in our lives.

And while I don’t think this was exactly the point Godin was driving at (he was discussing marketing) it’s what I’m thinking of today as I chase after a couple of things I’m believing will make my life better. I’m going to grab my journal and scribble down a few paragraphs about the question, Compared to What? and see what I learn. As he points out:

“For most of what we experience, it’s our own interpretation of the experience itself that matters, not what [someone else] tells us about how this ranks against that.”

I think he’s right.

The Pursuit of Green Grass and Unicorns

I read two articles this morning about happiness & life satisfaction and I’m trying to figure out how they intersect (Pondering this sort of thing makes me happy & satisfied, so, you know…winning!)

2013-09-15-Geny1.jpgThe first article, Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy, has me thinking about Madonna. Which makes no outward sense, but stay with me. This article paints an entertaining portrait of a generation of Americans raised to believe they are special and unique. This would have been fine, the article points out, except that no one bothered to mention to Gen Y-ers that most people work really, really hard for a very long time before their fabulous uniqueness makes its BIG MARK ON THE WORLD. Or that for most people, the big mark they leave is with a select group, a small subset of the universe. In short, they’ve never been told that Madonna is an outlier, and that most girls in her shoes grow up to be a nice lady named Louise/Mrs. Ciccone who teaches third grade girls to shimmy and step-ball-change at a dance studio in the suburbs. And that this is not a bad thing, or a failure to reach her potential. Who knows if Madonna’s potential might not have been thwarted by the pressure of fame?

I’m thinking about Madonna in this context, not because she’s an icon to Generation Y, but because she’s been around long images-1enough to be a bit of a case study in what belief in your own brand and uniqueness can get you. And one thing it seems pretty clear that it doesn’t deliver is happiness.  Have you ever seen Madonna look happy?

If, as the article suggests, HAPPINESS = REALITY – EXPECTATIONS, then a life built on always getting the most attention everywhere you go, for everything you do, seems like a recipe for misery.

The second article, The Habits of Supremely Happy People, debunks most of Mrs. Ciccone’s musical prescriptions for happiness with studies indicating that life as a Material Girl is unrewarding, and that the thrill of feeling Like A Virgin is fleeting at best.  And I have to admit that there’s a certain disappointment in reading about proof that the fun-sounding options don’t produce good results. It makes the world seem unreliable, somehow, all this talk about how life satisfaction comes from intangibles. I mean, how am I supposed to know if I’m happy if there are no benchmarks, if being a fit & glamorous millionaire won’t get the job done?

What strikes me about the Supremely Happy People article (besides the hyperbole in the title…maybe it’s just that Cambridge isn’t gleeful, but I don’t know many people I’d describe as SUPREMELY happy, do you?) is that most of the things it points out are common sense, and yet difficult to pull off. I mean, where do you find the happy people in your area so that you can invite yourself to their parties? How does one cultivate resilience aside from being knocked down and then realizing life is continuing so you might as well get up? And there’s a limit to how long I can be grateful for every little thing (“Yay! My socks match today!”) before I feel like a lunatic. Which does not make me happy.

Wheaton_College_sealYou know I’m going to bring up Jesus here, so I’ll just dive in. I must admit he seems depressingly uninterested in questions of happiness. Which would be a total bummer if he didn’t offer a provocative alternative: Abundant Life.  I always found it interesting that this promise from Jesus is on the seal of my college the place where in my Religion 101 professor dismissed Jesus’ teachings in a curt 15 minute overview of Catholic Papal history. And yet the promise is right there, year after year, challenging each of us to barge up to Jesus and demand, “What, exactly, do you mean by that?”

Abundant life is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. I know this for sure because I have friends Unknownwho get more excited about their Kitchen Aid mixers and non-stick bakeware than I get about anything at all.

I haven’t barged up to Jesus enough lately. I want to do more of that this fall. Because when I do, the results surprise me. Jesus points at things I wouldn’t have noticed on my own and throws in a miracle or three to show off. He sets me free from the need to cultivate endless attention by whatever today’s version is of wearing a cone bra/meat dress/foam finger, and from the lie that all I need to feel satisfied is to celebrate my matching socks.  I want him to show me my version of
“Oh how I love my Kitchen Aid Mixer!” abundant life. I’m excited about what that might be.