“Can you tell us why you chose this?” I asked at the end of an event I attended with my daughter. We were at a seminar for middle schoolers sponsored by the Math Department at Dartmouth College. It was fun if you like number theory and Euclidean geometry. I was hoping that my daughter would leave the event with more than a few cool math tricks. I hoped she would have some perspective on the choices made by the those who led the discussions. With this in mind, I asked the above question of a newly-minted math professor. I followed up with “What path did you take from middle school to college professor?” His response was surprising although not unique.
The first sentences out of his mouth were dismissive. He quipped something like, ‘why doesn’t really matter since everyone here loves math.’ Perhaps.
I smiled and nodded, prodding the young professor to continue. He begrudgingly went on.
His next few sentences were all negatives. He listed the things that he tried or wished for that were not open to him: fellowships that weren’t accepting applicants; courses no longer offered; or registration close-outs he encountered.
I really wanted to scream.
If I conjure my most gracious self, I would summarize his answer as, “plans change, goodness prevails.” My less generous self would say, “I like math. The rest kind of happened.”
I wonder why this type of answer irks me so much?
I guess it is because I choose to learn everyday. Actively. None of this passive business. “It kind of happened.” Really?
How often do you risk learning?
To keep my sanity in what can be a difficult but enlivening learning life, I’ve adopted a tool. The baseline. A baseline anchors where we start from – if only to give us air beneath our wings on difficult detours.
Imagine for a moment you are 20 months into a new job. Early on you got a lot of traction but now politics and slim budgets are slowing you down. Your immediate boss and her peers are asking some tough questions.
Ever been there?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could pull out a one page objective summary of where you’ve been? Something like, ‘when I started we had 27 people and a three-day customer turnaround.’ Today I have 43 people and a two-day turnaround. Real progress, right?
The baseline helps you change the conversation away from ‘your group is under performing,’ to ‘how do you plan to reduce the response time even further?’
Image how useful a similar set of facts could be in those areas of your life that are changing? The places where you are dedicated to growth or learning, like the workplace, or your relationships, or your spirituality, or your connections to the community. A baseline helps you see how far you’ve come. It also helps you change the conversation that you are willing to have with yourself or with others.
I love baselines because there mere presence can catapult me out of a self-deprecating loop. Since early March I’ve been hyper-critical of my progress. I feel as if I have been pulled backwards with my family’s ever-changing needs and my 83-year-old mother’s hospitalizations. Time keeps slipping away from me, time I want to commit to advancing the not-for-profit I’ve started related to transitioning.
Without a baseline I would have only my blue mood to dwell on. With it I can tell you that 228 posts ago I started Novofemina. More than thirty thousand visitors have joined me to discuss transition on these pages. It gave me the confidence to push even further to write Women & Transition, an Amazon 5-star rated book that serves as the cornerstone to my larger efforts on teaching the world about transitions. Every day I get notes and emails from people who share their enthusiasm for my work.
Without this baseline it would be hard to remember that at the beginning I couldn’t define transition let alone understand how to navigate it. The baseline can help me appreciate the distance I’ve traveled and also frame questions about my priorities differently.
Imagine that today is the baseline for your brightest future. Where will your learning take you? What will constitute your baseline? Trust me, this point of departure will serve as a ballast as you grow into your dreams.
Got another minute? Read my earlier post on baselines circa 2011:
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