Our cat, Dolly, sits peering through the window on a sunny day, tail wagging and eyes fixated on a particular spot outside, anticipating the arrival of a family of bunnies that hop in to the yard each day to nibble on our grass, and probably to delight in Dolly’s pacing, squeaking and wagging through the glass window above. Dolly has something to look forward to. Do we?
Few leaders I know on college and university campuses could have ever predicted the blink-of-an-eye changes they were forced to make on their campuses in the last year. As one writer describes it, “2020 was the year the future was cancelled.” Most of my clients made the best of it, using their pause from “life as it was” to become more present, express more gratitude, and savor the small pleasures that make life sacred. For some, it became a time to take a fresh look at their homes—finally completing that kitchen overhaul, garage clean-up, or Zoom-ready office nook. But as we shrugged our way into the here and now, I wonder if something has gone missing. Have we lost our ability to plan, to set goals, and to fully enjoy the taste of anticipation?
The Myth of Back to Normal
Certified coaches know that crisis can initiate positive change if we leverage it as an opportunity rather than a derailment. “Coronavirus has cut a trench through time,” writes Catherine Nixey in a recent Economist article. In our mind’s eye, we recall our bustling campuses before March 1, 2020, and we remember the day that our perspective on what it meant to be part of a college or university community abruptly shifted. We had little warning as our collective adrenaline kicked in. We swiftly cancelled events, sidelined athletics, froze budgets, emptied residence halls, and packed our cars with laptops, hard files, and personal effects for that final drive away from our campus communities, away from “life as it was.”
Imagining a Bold Future
As we approach the first anniversary of this new campus reality with all its online learning, virtual and hybrid programs, and staffs whose engagement with one another and with the students they teach and serve is largely limited to g-chat, e-mail, and Zoom windows, now may be the most auspicious time to imagine an excellent future. The very initiation of a creative exercise about our future is, according to one writer, “key to physical survival and central to our emotional well-being.” Though the easiest path may be the all-too-familiar holding pattern as our campuses await enrollment numbers, income projections, and testing and vaccination protocols, the better way forward may be to seize this moment of epic uncertainty and think big—in our units, offices, divisions, and campuses. We owe it to our institutional teams to become part of a project of collective anticipation, a morale boost grounded not in “life as it was,” but in a more optimal “life as it can be.”
For our cat, Dolly, I am curious if she is more animated by her bunny friends hopping around the yard or by the anticipation of their arrival.