Life Lessons Learned from Doing Rock Work

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This summer I taught a leadership class in the backcountry while visiting a California Conservation Corps trail crew in Shasta-Trinity. The crew is spending the summer building and maintaining trails. Although I brought some information about leadership to the crew, I learned a lot from them and the experience. I only spent two days doing rock work, but it was long enough to observe that we have something to learn from these heavy, dense, massive, chunks of earth.

Rocks come in different shapes and sizes, which make them challenging to work with. When building rock walls and steps, it takes many rocks to complete the trail. This can also be said about the challenges and obstacles we face in life.

Here are some lessons I learned about life from doing rock work.

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Ian (USFS sponsor) consulting with Kim and Trevor

1. Working with rocks is emotionally draining. I learned this from our cook and camp manager after my first day. Workers were voicing frustration over working all day only to have their work undone or break apart from a final blow…and isn’t that the way of life? Our life’s work is sometimes taken from us in an instant. We build our lives – careers, families, estates- rock by rock, but we are not invincible. It serves us well to build with care and take risks with caution, but we must also appreciate that it can always be taken away. And we must be prepared to build again tomorrow.

2. You may not need something as much as you think you do. After picking out a beautiful rock…a boulder, really… my team rolls it 50 feet to our work area. It looks like it will fit perfectly. It’s the largest step anyone on our team has put in. We use three rock bars for the better part of the morning to get it into position…only to realize it’s not as perfect as we thought it was. The face that seemed so beautiful when we were picking it out up the hill now looks lumpy. The ears that were going to be our points of contact, seem less symmetrical than they did at first glance. And overall, the rock is much too big for the modest space between the upper and lower step. In the end, the rock we thought we most wanted isn’t going to fit into our rock wall.
How many times have we done this in life? We see something – an object, a person, a job- we are sure will make us happy. We work hard and sacrifice to obtain it, only to realize it isn’t a fit or as perfect as we thought it was. But it isn’t time wasted…we learned something about ourselves in the process. We learned what we were capable of, what muscles were strong and which need to be developed. We gained a keener eye for what we really want. And we had a lot of laughs.

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Lucy removing a rock to use for her rock wall

3. When you think you made a mistake, you may end up with something better. While chipping away at a jagged edge to make it flatter, an entire piece of the rock wall breaks apart. A day spent putting this rock into place seems wasted. But after a few minutes of frustration, we realize that by flipping the rock on its other face it fits even more perfectly than before. Sometimes mistakes, accidents or strokes of bad luck can bring us to exactly where we need to be. By accepting our circumstances we may find ourselves in a better position than before.

4. You can’t always do it by yourself. Rocks are heavy. And they can crush you if you lose control. They don’t care if your tiny fingers are smashed and bloody. When we have big rocks in our lives, we need to call on others – others who have tools, strength, and expertise – to help us. We cannot always move every rock by ourselves, no matter how strong or experienced we are.

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Aaron supervising the crew

5. Persistence is necessary. You can hit a rock 100 times but it might not break until 101.

6. Work smarter not harder. Leverage, strategy, and the right tools are key to saving energy and your back.

7. Cursing your rock won’t make it move but humor makes the work easier. When you’re exhausted and about to lose your sanity, you may feel tempted to call your rock a dirty name and curse it for causing your frustration. The rock won’t care. Cursing it won’t make it move. But when you find humor in the situation, you can more easily accept the reality and release your frustration.


Ethan working on his step

8. We must take advantage of our unique perspectives and skill sets. Working with rocks is an art and a science. I learned this lesson from a worker named Ethan. There is a lot to learn about rock work, but at the end of the day each person has his/her own style – a unique perspective paired with an individualized skill set.

9. There is always more to learn.

The take away is…patience, acceptance, and loving the journey as much as the destination are the keys to happiness and success. We all have rocks in our lives. They present themselves in different ways, but we all struggle with them. We try to manipulate them daily. We strive to overcome and master them. But in letting go of our expectations and looking for the lesson, we become better rock workers. We build stronger walls. We work smarter and not harder. And we have more fun along the way!

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Thank you to Ian (the sponsor), Lucy, Janiece, and Ethan for your patience and instruction.


Thoughts on Heroes and Men

Somehow last week I managed to hide under a rock, and I did not hear about the death of Dave Goldberg until this weekend. Dave Goldberg was chief executive officer of SurveyMonkey and husband of Sheryl Sandberg, author of NY Times bestseller Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead. According to many media sources, Dave was the man behind the successful woman. He was a supportive and involved spouse. And, Forbes said, “[his feedback] played a critical role in giving the book its heart.”

I’ll be honest and say I have not fully bought into the  Lean In movement, since I’m not sure that encouraging women to increase their ambition and acquire more power is going to solve the inequalities we face in our current culture. However, what I do buy into is the role of men in the movement. Men who want to support and encourage women, to do their part in building an equal world, and to be true partners in marriages, families, and relationships, are critical to achieving equality.

I believe we gain the most ground by inviting men to be allies in any feminist movement. We also gain ground by allowing and encouraging men to step outside the gender box – to be stay-at-home dads, share domestic responsibilities, and be involved in family life. Fortunately, I have had these types of men in my life, starting with my dad. I have also had male mentors, teachers, advisors, co-workers, and friends who have supported my ambition and success.

When men are partners with women at home, encourage them to seek growth opportunities, use respectful language, and praise their accomplishments, men become heroes in the movement towards equality. It takes a man who is smart, brave, confident, and fair – all qualities of a great hero – to embrace an equal partnership. It is with supportive men behind us, or better yet beside us, that women can have it all.


10 Ways to be Powerful that I Learned from My Mom


In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share some lessons I have learned from my mom. My mom was my first role model. She started a successful real estate business and showed me that working moms could do it all. She cooked, cleaned, cared for the family and embraced the role of a full-time career woman.

In addition to paving the way as a business woman, my mom is a first-generation college graduate. She came to the United States on a scholarship and navigated her way through college primarily on her own. She embodies hard work, risk-taking, and family values. I could say so much more about my mom, but instead I’m going to share 10 lessons she taught me about being powerful:

1. Be financially independent. Live within your means, budget, save, invest. Being financially independent means you do not rely on anyone else to support you, and this is the most powerful position of all.

2. Don’t take things personally. Developing thick skin is part of being powerful. What people say and do says more about them than about you.

3. Surround yourself with great people. A team is more powerful than an individual. Picking the right people for your team is the key to success.

4. Do what you say you will do. Your word is your brand. You must follow through on your word in order to establish trust – the most important aspect of a relationship.

5. Get an education. No one can take your education away from you. You will be more marketable, credible, and powerful with each degree you earn.

6. Trust your instincts. If you feel you are being taken advantage of, you probably are. You cannot control others, but you have the power to avoid putting yourself in an unfair situation.

7. Don’t give in to bullies. Bullies do not only exist on the playground; they can be found in the boardroom too. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated or manipulated by letting bullies get under your skin.

8. Success is the best revenge. If someone undermines or betrays you, do not waste one second lowering yourself to their level. When you give someone the satisfaction of watching you suffer, you are giving your power away. Instead, channel your power into your own success.

 9. Look for the win-win. Life is not a zero-sum game. Seek opportunities to bring other people up with you. Helping others is the highest purpose of power.

10. Stay positive. The number one life lesson my mom has taught me is about choosing my attitude. Our power to choose our attitude is the greatest power we possess.

Thanks Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!


3 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationships and Grow Your Influence


Last week, there was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education written by two seasoned college presidents. In the article, both presidents highlighted the critical role of relationships, which reminded me of this previous post on the importance of relationships. For presidents, relationships are crucial to being an influencer.

The president is often seen as the most influential person on a campus. However, we all have influence. Whether we have positional power or are trying to influence someone in a higher position. All members of the campus community can be influencers.

Some people we can influence through relationship are donors, supervisors, and peers.

How do we improve our ability to influence through relationships?

1. Our presence. Our ability to influence is affected by how others perceive us. How do others see you? What qualities do others admire about you? These qualities may not be the same characteristics that we see as our strengths. For example, you may believe that others most admire you for your expertise and experience, but they may actually love your sense of humor the most!

2. Service. When we think about donors, we may focus on what they can provide us. But when we ask what we can give them, we may be surprised that we have a lot more to offer – opportunities to reconnect with faculty and alumni, recognition at campus events, or networking opportunities. When we serve others, we are proactively building our relationship with them.

3. Shared interests. One of my favorite quotes is “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” When we impose our influence through rules and positional power, we take away other people’s dignity. When people share an interest, the shared solutions can be greater than one person’s alone.

12 Self-Promotion Strategies for Introverts


Introverts are awesome! They are the calm, humble, thoughtful people who are quietly doing a ton of work and taking very little credit! Introverts tend to be deliberative and self-aware; they tend to be detail-oriented; they spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting; and, they can give intense focus and concentration to a task.

Introverts are also the best leaders for proactive teams because they listen to their followers and are receptive to the team’s ideas (Harvard Business School, 2010). Introverted leaders view their positions as a responsibility to take care of the people and organizations entrusted to them. And, they tend to be great problem solvers – developing solutions based on observations, research and reflection.

Given these characteristics, how do introverts make connections and sell themselves in the workplace? Here are 12 self-promotion strategies for introverts:

1. Use social media. Introverts tend to excel at writing. Excellent social media content can set you apart from others. Another advantage of social media is you can choose to engage when you feel inspired or schedule a regular time to be active when you feel most sociable.

2. Give a presentation. Introverts tend to be more creative and energized when they can think alone. Planning a presentation for a conference or staff training allows you the time and space to research, plan and prepare (all things that introverts are great at doing!) and then showcase your knowledge and skills.

3. Be prepared. Introverts are thoughtful processors, which can create anxiety around events or conversations that require thinking on our feet. Prepare for meetings or social events with one or two ideas that you can contribute based on the topic or purpose of the meeting.

4. Be confidently quiet. Being quiet can sometimes be misinterpreted as being insecure, annoyed, or uninterested. Although you may be thinking deeply about the topic being discussed, be aware of your body language, non-verbal cues, and other signals you may be unintentionally sending to others.

5. Build one-on-one relationships. Introverts prefer deep meaningful relationships rather than having lots of contacts. Focus on developing strong connections with influential people in your life – mentors, stakeholders, supervisors – rather than trying to please or engage with everyone.

6. Provide solutions. Introverts are keen observers. They miss very little, although others may assume they are not engaged. Introverts are also great at connecting the dots and executing. Use the information you learn, observe the gaps, connect the missing pieces, and use the information to propose solutions or improve your work.

7. Create your community. Identify the other quiet observers around you and take intentional action to make a connection. Other introverts are likely to understand your needs and can help provide support and encouragement. Also, seek out other self-proclaimed introverts who are successfully navigating the extrovert world and who can give you guidance and suggestions (such as Keith Ferrazzi).

8. Build a portfolio. Introverts tend to avoid tooting their own horn. A portfolio does the talking for you. Use examples of your work to demonstrate your skills during an interview or meeting. It can include photos, certificates, writing samples, lists of projects, or letters of recommendation.

9. Schedule meetings. Spontaneous meetings can derail an introvert. In order to stay in touch with other staff members, schedule time into your calendar for catching up or reviewing projects. If you miss your opportunity in an impromptu meeting, you can also follow up afterward in an email or one-on-one.

10. Network intentionally. Introverts are great at research and asking poignant questions. Before you attend an event, pick one or two people you want to meet. Research the person(s) and develop a few potential talking points or questions.

11. Create trust. Introverts are great listeners, and by using your listening and empathy skills you can make others feel calm and secure. People remember the way you make them feel more than what you say. When you can establish trust with others, you become seen as fair, ethical, and competent.

12. Serve others. Introverts are characterized by humility, a desire to serve others, and the ability to empower others. These are  also the traits of servant leadership – a powerful style of many leaders of high-performing companies. The best leaders treat others with respect and acknowledge the contributions of others. When you find ways to make other people successful, help them accomplish their goals, and support others, your load becomes lighter, your path becomes easier, and you become unstoppable!

9 Quotes About Being Light



Definition of Light: 1. something that makes vision possible; 2. something that enlightens or informs; 3. having little weight, not heavy; 4. capable of moving swiftly or nimbly; 5. free from care.

Make yourself light. During my darkest times, this is a mantra I used to remind myself to let go of things I could not control, to let my strengths shine, and to be that which I was trying to attract. To me, light symbolizes hope, faith, leadership, and love.

My daughter likes to sing  this  Sunday school song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” My heart swells when I hear her little voice sing with such clarity. Hearing her reminds me that while this is a song about sharing our gifts with others, it is also about confidence. Letting our own light shine means being unafraid and courageous.

Light is silent, yet it is so powerful. Light helps things grow. Light eliminates darkness. Light can be a beacon. As a leader, being a light is about shining the spotlight on others so  their strengths can be illuminated.  It is being a lighthouse that steers others from danger and also leads them to shore. It means using your own flame to ignite the passions of others.

Here are 9 inspirational quotes about light:


A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. – James Keller


Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.


Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. – Stephen Covey




All this time

The Sun never says

To the Earth

“You owe me.”

What happens

With a love like that.

It lights the





As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. – Nelson Mandela


Even the

darkest night

will end

and the sun

will rise.

– Victor Hugo


Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart. – Kahlil Gibran


You have to find what sparks a light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world. – Oprah Winfrey


Nothing can dim the light that shines from within. – Maya Angelou

Interfaith Diversity and the Future of Student Affairs


I recently returned from #ACPA15 in Tampa, Florida. It was a blast! I attended sessions on ADA changes, Twitter, coaching, leadership, and even blogging! The conference brought together student affairs professionals from around the country to Consider, Collaborate, Create, and Commit. All this took place against the amazing backdrop of the waterside Tampa Convention Center.

One of the conference’s keynote speakers was Eboo Patel. I especially enjoyed Patel’s message about the need for Interfaith Leadership. I have often reflected on the role of higher education in addressing religion as part of student identity development. As Patel said, “Student Affairs has made huge impacts on issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Student Affairs helps shape American democracy. How would the U.S. look if we focused on religion?”

Faith-based organizations provide important support for students during the transition to college, when faced with loss, and when exploring the deep issues that emerge during the college experience. In addition to supporting students in their spiritual development, we need to facilitate the dialogue around religious identity and diversity. This includes opportunities for engagement, meaningful interactions, and inspiring relationships across differences.

In 2011, I helped organized our campus involvement in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. The initiative brought together students, faculty, staff, community members and faith-based organizations. Together, we engaged in community service projects that bridged religious and cultural lines. College is a time for students to explore spirituality, morals, beliefs, and even purpose and interfaith community service is a way for students to learn about and explore various faiths and contribute to the common good.

The United States is one of the world’s most religiously diverse nations. Patel reminds us it is important that Students Affairs professionals have the same frameworks, competencies, and tools to work within the realm of religious diversity as we do with ethnic diversity. Patel asked some hard questions. Why has Student Affairs not been more proactive about this? Is religious diversity too hard? Are there dimensions of religion that we are uncomfortable with? Is celebrating diversity only celebrating the differences you like?

I am struggling to answer those questions myself. Doing social justice work often requires a strong self-awareness and understanding. When I embarked on my personal journey to explore my own racial identity, I became a better advocate for ethnic diversity and social change. I believe the path to religious diversity will involve the same attention, research, and knowledge development. I am looking forward to the journey and hope to see interfaith diversity in the future of Student Affairs.

5 Reasons You Need to Pull Weeds in Life

“With life as short as a half taken breath, don’t plant anything but love. ” – Rumi
In 2014, I was part of a countywide leadership program. For our legacy project we are planting a milk thistle garden for monarch butterflies. The site will be a place where the butterflies can feed and lay eggs, as well as an outdoor classroom for hundreds of local children.
This weekend we had our first work day. We had forty volunteers, including 12 crew members from our local California Conservation Corps. We spent the majority of the morning pulling weeds. While on my hands and knees in the rain pulling invasive grasses, I started thinking how important it is to pull the weeds in our daily lives.

Here are 5 reasons you need to pull the weeds:

1. To make space for what you desire. This beautiful site holds so much potential (which our group is totally going to make happen), yet the ground was covered with weeds. There was no place to plant the desired milk thistle. Similarly, when our lives are filled with meaningless activities, relationships, and worries, it takes away from our ability to spend time doing the things we love.

2. To see the landscape more clearly. With the weeds removed, the natural landscape became more visible. It was easier to see where to plant the milk thistle and to strategically place them. Likewise, it’s harder to gain perspective when our lives are filled with clutter, both physical and emotional. It’s difficult to see where we should place our priorities when our daily lives are already full and busy.

3. To increase your yield. The milk thistle is the crop we want to harvest. The milk thistle is crucial for the reproduction of the monarch butterfly, and as land has been developed the prevalence of this plant has been severely reduced. In order for our milk thistle saplings to survive, the weeds that compete for nutrients and other resources need to be removed. In life, our negative thoughts hinder our ability to yield the most enjoyment and happiness. Negativity and other distractions prevent us from maximizing our full potential.

4. It feels good. Pulling weeds felt great! I felt satisfied with each small patch that I cleared. I liked seeing the piles of weeds build up, and it was exciting to think of the potential for the new space I had created. Clearing away the unwanted activities, distractions, negativity, and other less than desirable aspects of our lives feels exhilarating. Even carving out a few moments of uninterrupted time can create the necessary space for new ideas, inspiration, and energy.

5. It’s a reminder that life goes on. I overheard one of my peers commenting, “Why are we doing this? The weeds are all going to come back.” It’s true that weeds will always grow back in our garden, just as problems will always emerge in life,  but that’s just the way it is. The hope is that fewer weeds will grow once the milk thistle takes root. However, we will never be able to stop the weeds entirely. Weeds are part of life. It’s not always fun, but it can be made easier with friends! and it’s a necessary part of leaving a legacy!