Arkansas State University - Newport

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Ike's insight...the things that matter most

Like many writers, when I was pondering the direction of my article this month, I had the tendency to reflect upon the status of my own life.  I suppose strong, very capable, professional communicators have the capacity to evolve beyond their current situations, but, unfortunately, I’m not one of them.  In my opinion, the place a person exists in their current journey has a direct proportion to their attitude as they tackle certain circumstances.  I have always possessed the idea that as professionals we bring the “whole” individual to our careers.  The positive….the negative….the happy…..the sad, etc.  Our current life situation, whether we want it to or not, seeps into our work.  It has encouraged me to be more understanding of people and/or situations when one truly understands that we have an entire hidden emotional agenda, so to speak, that doesn’t always go as smoothly as we would envision.  This influences our professional existences in immeasurable ways.  The last few months have driven this fact home to me in a very real and personal way.

Those closest to me know this summer I have experienced a heavy emotional struggle, the terminal illness and eventual loss of one of my oldest friends. For almost five decades, our lives have been interspersed. My friend’s illness was something that, like a low-grade infection, permeated almost every facet of my existence since the middle of spring. I have put on the strong face and attempted to press on. My work has not suffered too badly, but, like all great losses---it’s something that wrecked my equilibrium. 

In the midst of hospital visits or time in M. D. Anderson in Houston, when all I really wanted to do was run and hide, my thoughts inevitably returned to my career and my friends. For the remainder of my days, I will be grateful for the phone calls, texts and communications of my life and career family who knew of my struggle and offered a simple hello, or a cheery note or text to brighten my way. Then it dawned on me, that in addition to those I love, my career was part of a grounding network that allowed me to not only survive but exist through this uniquely stressful period. I had something that I wished to return to and something that provided me a firm foundation.

I am a strong believer that enduring life-altering events never leaves us completely the same. We evolve as individuals and professionals, and if we stretch, we have the capacity to attain a higher level of ourselves, if we so desire. From this ordeal this spring and summer, I realized numerous lessons…but one of the most important is to focus on the things that matter most. Now, let me be perfectly honest, I’ve focused on many things in my life…some more significant than others…and I’m likely not going to change some major priorities, but one important constant I believe we all need to focus or refocus on is each other. When the day is said and done, and a week, month, semester, or career ends...much will depend on the way individuals treated one another and supported a common mission of being helpful, kind, and courteous along the way. 

Our institution’s mission, vision, and values have always been strong; I have declared this before, and I will declare it again--ASUN has impacted and positively influenced the lives of thousands of students since its inception…and it still does today. It remains a solid component of our unique legacy. Our strength has always been our student-centered mission, and our mission has been influenced by countless individuals, both part-time and full-time, who have assisted in the grand scheme of preparing students for fuller, better, and more productive lives. ASU-Newport’s faculty and staff are the day to day forces for good that encourage and allow this life-changing process to occur. We could not exist without them.

It’s human nature when things get crazy, as they have the propensity to do, we get edgy, we snap and we lose the focus on the human capital which represents one of our most valuable resources. I’ve been guiltier than most…but I want to change that…and, I CHALLENGE everyone who reads this article to do the same. Calm down, take a moment to breathe, and remember that someone’s day is often influenced by things beyond their control. A kind or reassuring word is sometimes all that anyone needs to completely revamp their attitude, their outlook, and their day. At times, it has certainly changed mine. 

Our strength as an institution, and as individuals, in my opinion, hinges on our support and encouragement of each other. This is an abiding characteristic of ASU-Newport which separates us from other colleges across the state and nation. Without that encouragement and mutual support, groups simply exist in a vacuum of daily monotony. Nothing creative, life-affirming, or transformational comes to pass. We don’t want that…we don’t deserve that…and furthermore, we’ve never done that.  What we have done, and will do, is life-affirming work. This work hinges on mutual support and the realization that through empathy, concern, and care, barriers are broken down, lives are transformed and dreams made real. Along the way, we have a strong responsibility to laugh, add a little levity to situations that require it, and always, always say something kind to someone.  In the end, that’s what matters most. 

This contribution is brought to you by Ike Wheeler, ASUN’s Dean for Community Engagement.