May 12

A Personal Update

I started this particular blog as a place to share my thoughts about innovation in higher education. Over time, I began posting more on positive psychology and encore careers, which became increasingly important to me, both as subjects of study and as areas that support my work as an executive coach. Indeed, although I enjoy all sorts of coaching connections, working with people in a career or life transition is the most satisfying.

I stopped posting several months ago. The biggest reason was that I needed to complete work on my book, Out on a Limb: A Branch Campus Life. I chose to publish independently, through CreateSpace, on Amazon, and I’m glad that I went that route. However, it did require working with an editor and a book designer to get to the point of publication, and then I needed to do my own marketing, to make the relevant audience aware of my work.

I see Out on a Limb as a sort of career capstone for me. I have a unique history with branch campuses, and I wanted to write about my experiences and offer my perspective. I hope the book is helpful to readers, but for me, at least at times, it felt like an anchor around my neck. Interestingly (at least to me), as publication came closer, the whole experience became increasingly positive and even exciting.

It felt good to complete a major “post-retirement” project, although I don’t really consider myself to be retired. When I saw the cover design, I was thrilled, and when I held the proof in my hands, it was extremely satisfying. Feedback has been positive, and I’m so pleased that my “story” resonated for the readers who enjoyed the book enough to get in touch. I’m also pleased that it generated a few speaking and consulting opportunities, because I do hope to stay engaged in the branch camps world.

Nevertheless, completing the book left me feeling that it is time to become more intentional about new directions, tied to my interests in coaching, positive psychology, and the encore stage of life. As it happened, during this period, my mother passed away, and that loss brought a number of changes, not to mention an inclination to be more introspective and to reconsider my priorities. Three years into “retirement,” it is good to review and tweak decisions made when I entered the encore stage.

I don’t know how often I’ll post here, but I would like to identify a new writing project, and I may use the blog to sort out a few ideas and see whether or not they move me in any particular direction. My plate is as full as ever, it seems: I want to continue consulting in higher education, and I definitely would like to add a few coaching clients. (If you are interested in working with me, please get in touch!) I love opportunities to speak at conferences, facilitate meetings and participate in professional conversations. In the encore stage my commitments to family, friends, exercise, and other interests are a high priority, meaning that I have to make an effort to preserve time for writing. As I’ve said before, I’m living the dream and thoroughly enjoying the journey.

Mar 18

Out on a Limb: A Branch Campus Life

I’m pleased to announce publication of my new book, Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life.  It has been a long time coming, but it is now available on Amazon, in both a print (paperback) version and a Kindle e-book version.  You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Out-Limb-Branch-Campus-Life-ebook/dp/B00J274TLS/ref=sr_1_15?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395098891&sr=1-15&keywords=Charles+Bird (Kindle version) or http://www.amazon.com/Out-Limb-Branch-Campus-Life/dp/0991498208/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395099416&sr=1-11&keywords=Charles+Bird (Print version).

Chapter topics are:

 

  1. A Partial Memoir
  2. Characteristics of a Branch Campus
  3. Politics, Purpose, and Practice
  4. Students
  5. Branch Campus Faculty Members
  6. Branch Campus Support Staff
  7. Agendas and Stakeholders
  8. Financing and Managing Budgets on Branch Campuses
  9. Lessons Learned:  Leadership on and in Support of Branch Campuses
  10. Future Challenges and Opportunities

Writing for my blogs, especially Branch Campus Life, definitely helped organize my thoughts and ideas around branch campuses, but I drew directly from previous material on only a few occasions.  No doubt, the book was enhanced by the many opportunities I’ve had to visit institutions around the United States and, in a few cases, in other countries.  Each campus has its own story to tell, yet there are relatively consistent themes that I encounter everywhere I go.

My goal with the book was to tell a story.  Because there is so little research on branch campuses, I drew heavily on my own experience, and I make no claim that Out on a Limb is a work of scholarship.  On the other hand, I’d be pleased if it led others to look thoughtfully and creatively at some of the issues I raise.

Toward the end of the book I became more direct about what I believe to be critical for branches to succeed in the future.  These campuses are an important resource for students and for institutions, but if people don’t understand the unique nature of branch campuses and the keys to their success in a highly competitive environment, then opportunities are likely to be lost.

As I wrote, I especially had branch chief administrators in mind.  Leading a branch campus is a challenging role, but it also can be immensely rewarding and can open the door to higher education for people who otherwise would be pushed to an online environment for which they are not prepared, or forced to turn away from their dreams.  Branches change lives in myriad ways.  If you work on a branch campus you should be grateful for the opportunity and proud of the difference you make.

I hope readers will find Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life interesting and helpful.  If you know people who might enjoy reading the book, I hope you will let them know it is available.  As always, I’m also interested in opportunities to provide coaching or consulting services, visit institutions to facilitate a planning conversation, or speak at meetings with an adult learner or nontraditional student theme.

Finally, I want to express my appreciation for the many friends and colleagues I have around the country.  Your support and willingness to share ideas has made a great contribution to my work.

Dec 10

One More Boundary Condition in the Encore Stage

In addition to the three boundary conditions I discussed in my last post (financial considerations, health, and family circumstances), perhaps I should add a fourth:  Some encore dreams may require or benefit from additional education and training.  Seeking a certification, or even a complete college degree, may make sense, when one considers the potential scope of an encore career.

For example, it seems as if a lot of Boomers are drawn to working in health-related careers, having spent their previous working years in some other way.  Often, that choice will require obtaining licensure or certification, perhaps through an associate degree program.  Although the time and money required to complete entry requirements may seem daunting, if one expects to work in the new career for ten years or more, the investment may be perfectly reasonable.

Alternatively, I’ve known quite a few people who wanted to shift from the business world to work in a nonprofit agency.  These people knew they faced a significant reduction in pay, but they had other sources of income, perhaps from pensions and investments.  They needed to earn a paycheck, but they were excited by an opportunity to follow their heart.

Sometimes to their surprise, they may discover that the nonprofit world is different than the for-profit, especially with regard to financial and human resource matters.  Although the differences may not require another degree, there might be value in taking a few courses related to nonprofit management.  Courses and certificates in this area are popping up, here and there, but you might have to dig to find what you want.

Entrepreneurship is yet another area that is “booming” with Boomers.  Here, again, people choosing to start their own business might benefit from focused study in areas that are key to entrepreneurial success, such as finance, accounting, or management.  Credit and noncredit programs in entrepreneurship have become relatively common, in recent years.

If you are looking at educational or training opportunities, don’t forget to check out online programs, where you might even find what you want at little or no cost, especially if you are not concerned about receiving academic credit.  Increasingly, Boomers are likely to find that there are very good options to earn an appropriate certification, or even degrees, through online, hybrid, or intensive residency programs.  If you want or need additional education to pursue your encore dream, keep an open mind and do some exploring.  The options are different than the last time you went to school.

Nov 27

Boundary Conditions in the Encore Stage

In my last post, I mentioned that many people approaching or already in the encore stage of life have boundary conditions they need to consider in planning their future.  In my experience, these boundary conditions tend to relate to financial issues (e.g., limited income and savings), health concerns, or family considerations.

With regard to financial issues, Baby Boomers are notorious for a lack of financial planning and accumulated savings.  Some have decent pensions, but many do not.  For sure, most people in the encore stage have bigger dreams than Social Security, alone, can support.

Of course, a big part of the current interest in encores revolves around encore careers.  However, just how much people need to work and what sort of income they need to generate requires some frank appraisal.  I’m not a financial advisor, but one often sees advice to work a few more years, before moving into an encore career.  Unfortunately, sometimes that is not an option.

Health concerns also require careful thought.  Some people have had jobs that are physically demanding, and even working part time may not be practical, in that same line of work.  Knees and backs, among other body parts, might not be up to the challenge.  Other health issues may affect the type of work or the percentage of full time that a person can manage.  It isn’t hard to see that some people will find the combination of needing to generate income, while facing physical limitations, daunting.  A comprehensive health assessment and a plan to improve fitness should be part of encore planning.

The third boundary condition I mentioned, family considerations, may come as a bit of a surprise to some people.  Many of us have discovered that our spouse or partner has an encore dream that is different than our own.  Assuming your commitment to each other is strong, finding solutions is do-able, but it isn’t easy.

Perhaps more commonly, Boomers are likely to discover that the “sandwich generation” experience is all too real.  Needs of parents, children, and grandchildren are a prominent part of many Boomers’ lives, just as they are approaching the encore stage.  It fascinates me to realize that, as parents, we never stop being concerned about our children, and if they encounter hard times, we share in them.  Likewise, many find it uncomfortable to realize that they need to step up with their own parents, almost reversing the roles we knew for the first 50 or 60 years of our lives.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, here.  I am convinced that most of life’s challenges can be addressed creatively and effectively, through the process of designing a life portfolio.  Nevertheless, we need to be aware of both our passions and our boundary conditions, so that we design options that fit our personal circumstances.  Not coincidentally, many people find working with a life coach to be helpful, but there also are many other resources you can tap to help make decisions.

Nov 05

Reflections After Presenting Encore Career Workshops

I wish more people were familiar with the term “encore career,” or the “encore stage of life.”  It is that time when one has the opportunity to make fresh choices for the future; to reflect on what brings energy and a sense of excitement, and an opportunity to design the future life you want.  In the encore stage, some choose to move in entirely new directions, professionally and personally, whereas others may simply re-balance elements of their life, to feel better about their use of time.

Whenever I have an opportunity to talk with people about encores, the idea and the possibilities make them excited.  Recently, I facilitated two three-hour workshops on the encore stage, and all of the participants seemed to enjoy the experience.  The process included time to reflect, but we also worked on creating life portfolios, complete with an action plan for next steps.  (I’ve written before in this blog about life portfolios.)

I especially enjoy working with coaching clients who are approaching or already into a life transition.  It allows for more time and individual attention than a workshop, but either way, it is fascinating to watch people consider past experiences, personal strengths, and possible futures.  There is wonderful creativity in the process, designing a “best life,” that balances elements across work, recreation, family and friends, personal growth, and giving back in whatever ways make sense for the individual.  Note that it is not a matter of “reinventing” yourself, although it may feel that way for some people.  You are fine.  The challenge is one of reflection, appreciation and life design.

I always emphasize my belief that we need to be pragmatic about encores.  Most people have one or more boundary conditions that impact their design.  Health-related issues, family considerations, and financial circumstances tend to affect plans, but there may be other concerns for some individuals.  Some encore careers require education or training that may or may not make sense, depending on the overall goals and resources.  Lots to think about.

If the encore stage is of interest, I encourage you to check out www.encore.org.  The site—and the organization behind it—has a wealth of useful information.  I often recommend three books that I’ve found especially helpful, as well:  The Big Shift:  Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, by Marc Freedman, The Encore Career Handbook, by Marci Alboher, and Portfolio Life, by David Corbett.  Of course, if you are looking for a coach, I’d be pleased to talk with you.

Oct 21

Life Goes On

So, let’s review:  A few weeks ago, I wrote that I was “looking for an extra 5%.”  By that, I meant that I was looking for a little more fun, more stimulation, more engagement, or some such.  My point was that, although my life is good and I’ve made progress toward being consistently positive, something has been just a little off.  I didn’t mean it as a complaint, and I accepted the suggestion of a friend that I have simply adapted to my encore life, so that it actually has a “sameness” that wasn’t there a couple of years ago.

And then, I lost my mother.  Since her passing, a lot of my time has gone to activities that are necessary in the circumstance.  I have a strong sense of wanting to honor her by making sure that things happen in the way she’d want them to go.  I’ve been grateful for the support of friends and family, and that’s a blessing.  It is a difficult time, as I try to maintain a little space each day for my professional activities and to keep hold of good habits that support a healthy life.  Right now, I’m not worried about that 5%.  It seems rather distant at the moment.

It’s an odd space, and I know that nearly everyone spends time here, sooner or later.  I’ve seen others deal with the pain or sadness of loss and keep moving.  I will do that, as well, as will the rest of my family, including my father.  Each person’s circumstance is his or her own, of course, and so the “answers” vary across individuals, as well.

For my dad, who had been my mother’s caretaker for the past couple of years, it is more than a loss.  It requires him to re-create a life that feels right and fills his days in better ways than simply passing the hours.  My dad’s dad lived to be 100, and my father expects to live longer than his father.  He’s a man with a strong will, so I won’t be surprised if he makes it.  He’s a member of the Greatest Generation and exemplifies everything the name implies.

For me, I think it will reshape some things and have an effect on how I use my time.  Still, it isn’t a matter of creating a different life; it is more purely a loss that can’t be replaced.  I’ll think of her every day, but the biggest void probably will occur when things happen that I know she would have enjoyed, or someone accomplishes something that would make her proud.

No broader message, here.  Still working it through.  Still believing.  Still holding strong to a search for well-being.

Oct 06

For Mother

Of all the angels in my life, none has loved me longer or better than my mother.  Early on the morning of September 30, at age 91, she left this world for the better one Christians are promised.  I can’t begin to describe how my father, my sister and I miss her, and I know our entire family is only beginning to understand what we have lost.

For two days, during calling hours and the funeral, we heard stories about my mother’s generosity, concern for friends, and gentle humor.  Her family knew her differently than her friends, as I assume must be the case, but we found the stories gratifying, and they left us even more in awe of the person she was.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it was only well into my own middle age that I appreciated how much of me comes from my mother.  My extraversion, enjoyment of belonging, pleasure in performing, and love of attention all come from her.  We both became what I call “collectors of experiences,” and we both loved to learn.  Over the years, I know I collected some experiences that weren’t exactly what she had in mind, but her hopes for me never waivered.

Even though we had different views on some things, I knew she was remarkably intelligent, and I wish she had more opportunity for formal education.  Her faith was informed and strong; she was a lifelong student of the Bible and of Presbyterian theology.  My mother was a nuanced thinker on religion, not a rigid doctrinaire, and she was well worth listening to.

My father’s career took them to many places, including Puerto Rico, Belgium, Canada, Texas, and her beloved New Orleans.  It was a long ways from Dry Ridge, the rural farm in West Virginia where she grew up.  I had left home by the time the moves started, but I got a lot of great vacations from visiting them, and my mother always had studied her new “home” and made sure I had an opportunity to appreciate what was unique and entertaining about each place.

On their first assignment outside of West Virginia, in 1969, my mother took an art course, taught by a priest, at Catholic University, in Ponce, Puerto Rico.  From that time on, wherever they lived, she studied art, painted pictures that drew on that locale, and shared her work with friends.  Generally, she became part of a local art club, and she won many awards in competitions.  Everyone who has a piece of her art cherishes it.

Almost 15 years ago, my mother decided that she and my father should move closer to family, so they relocated from near New Orleans, to Lancaster, Ohio.  For the first time since I was in college, we lived close, and because our children and grandchildren all live in Columbus, these recent years brought a family experience that I missed for much of my adult life.

Other than her love for the Lord, nothing mattered to my mother so much as her family.  My parents dated in high school, and I have a picture of my mother pinning on my father’s pilot wings, about three weeks after they married.  The artist and the engineer, as I call them, had a wonderfully strong relationship, partly because my father’s love allowed him to accept and support my mother’s collecting of experiences, as well as her many social commitments.  Never have I seen more dedication to another person than my father demonstrated over the past couple of years.

My sister and I had our own relationship with my mother.  She could be firm and frustrating, from our point of view, but we never doubted her love and commitment to us.  When we were children, she would go to bat for us, without hesitation, and she always tried to expose us to great ideas.  We grew up in the Church, and no matter where our own minds carried us, we had a spiritual grounding that we owe to Mother.

Marguerite Frances Clendenin Bird lived a long, full life.  I still can’t believe I won’t hear her voice again, when I call the house, but I have a clear image of her in my mind:  I see her with her older sister and her own mother; I see her delighting in the knowledge she now has that the rest of us are yet to understand.  I expect her to visit me, sometime, to let me know that all is well, and I look forward to being with her, when God says it’s time.

She’ll say, “Charlie Boy, how are you?”  But she’ll already know the answer.

Sep 23

Seeking a Little More in the Encore Stage

I’m looking for an extra 5%.  As I’ve written before, staying positive takes some work for me.  I “think too much,” make lists, and try to anticipate (and head off) things that might go wrong.  (To put a positive spin on it, risk management may be one of my strengths!)  Like most people of my ilk, I consider myself to be realistic, but not negative.

Fundamentally, I am optimistic and hopeful, but for the past six months or so, I’ve felt as if things are just a little off.  It’s an odd feeling:  When I look at my life portfolio (see earlier posts), I’m still pleased with both the goals and most of the reality.  Frankly, from March through mid-August, I had less work than I’d like, with several coaching clients finishing their work with me, and consulting jobs falling off, but the difference did not create any real concerns.  I used the time to focus on a writing project that I’d put off for too long, invested more time in family, enjoyed a 15-day visit to Great Britain, and pursued a few other projects, including enrolling in a couple of online courses.

A friend suggested that I’m experiencing some adaptation to my still relatively new life.  I love the encore stage, and I enjoy the much improved work-life balance, since I “retired.”  However, my friend probably is correct.  After three years, I have a new normal, and although it is satisfying, I could use just a little more challenge or some new activity to explore.  Life, as they say, has no permanent solutions, and I know I thrive on new experiences.

Fortunately, my study and application of positive psychology leaves me in a better place than I might have been otherwise.  I am a creature of habit, and I have some newer habits that are helpful.  For example, every evening, when I am going to bed, I take time to think of three good things that happened that day.  Sometimes, those good things are small, and sometimes they are more significant, but I never find it difficult to think of at least three things.

I’m much stronger, spiritually, and more mindful of the remarkable blessings in my life.  Although I’m also aware of the fragility of life, I’m grateful for my present good health and financial stability.  I continue to make use of my number one strength—learning—in a variety of ways.

When I say that I’m off 5%, I’m saying that I’d like just a little more fun or joy.  As an extravert, I’m saying that I need more opportunity to interact and play with others.  Still, I feel as if I have a solid base in a good life, and I suspect recovering my 5% is more a matter of patient openness than effort.

May 02

The How of Disruption in Higher Education

I have not written about innovation or disruption in higher education, on Creating the Future, for a while, although I do write about it on my branch campus blog.  This post will be published on both.  (The blog addresses are www.branchcampus.blogspot.com and www.drcharlesbird.com/creatingthefuture.)

I’m intrigued by the rapid progress of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and other online options, but the trigger for this post is the pushback we see, especially from some faculty members.  The defense of traditional classroom education seems disingenuous, appearing to suggest that all faculty members create vibrant learning environments and transform students into sophisticated critical thinkers, even as students also acquire undefined benefits from the residential experience.

Actually, there are remarkable professors out there, and I know full well that important growth can come through the traditional experience.  The issue is how consistently this happens, whether we might find less expensive ways of creating these experiences, and whether the level of debt students are taking on is worth the gain (still undefined and unmeasured).

That said, I also think many defenders of the status quo fail to understand how new developments will disrupt traditional higher education.  Remember, disruptive improvements begin by serving current nonconsumers.  In this case, they attract audiences that are unserved or poorly served by traditional options.

In the case of higher education’s future, like it or not, the issue is money.  Residential education, specifically, has become so expensive that nearly all non-elite institutions fail to cover their cost of operation, especially given declining state support for public education, without extraordinary increases in tuition.  What some have called an “arms race” to compete for students has gone too far.

The result, as I’ve written many times, is that many institutions require the revenue from branch campuses, online programs and other sources, to survive.  If the “primary” activity is going to lose money, then something else has to offset that loss.

To cause disruption, it isn’t necessary that most students turn to MOOCs or other low-cost options.  All that has to happen is for main campus financial losses to grow larger, and for enough nontraditional students to choose lower cost routes to their goals, to cause many institutions to begin a slide into oblivion.  Add in the developing trend of some employers to value the credentialing of skills over degrees, and we have the opportunity for disruption.

Once institutions pass the tipping point, change will seem to come quickly, but the reality is that it is happening across a much longer period of time, as a result of traditional campuses over-reaching.  This is why second- or third-tier institutions will suffer the most.  Elite public and private institutions will be fine, although they will need to make some adjustments.

Finally, when critics attack new delivery options, especially with regard to quality, they essentially are attacking a straw man.  Disruption moves upstream, from serving nonconsumers to serving traditional consumers, by improving quality through experience.  I believe our culture values education, and few are addressing how the “psychology of going to school” will impact choice.  Nevertheless, even if many people prefer a traditional, residential education, institutions have an unworkable financial model that seems ready to collapse.

As always, leaders who understand how to empower branch campuses and online programs for entrepreneurial outreach have the advantage.  Some institutions will thrive, but to do so, they must understand the challenge.

Mar 20

A Reality Check

 

“Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.”  (Mike Royko)

 

No one who is in touch with reality is happy all the time; difficult times come to everyone.  I’m not a fan of pop psychology, and as much as I recognize the value of positive psychology and a strengths-based approach to life, I encourage everyone to think carefully and critically about what is real.

Positive psychology is a research-based approach to studying people at their best.  It is about understanding the conditions under which people flourish.  It is not a superficial, unrealistic approach to making people feel good about themselves, without grounding those feelings in purpose, an understanding of strengths, and an appreciation for the legitimate challenges of life.

So, just as I’ve written that I sometimes struggle to stay positive, I also want to confess that I enjoy humor that comes with an “edge.”  I like Royko’s observation (quoted above), and I think there is a place for humor that is somewhat cynical, coming with a bite.   I enjoy Dilbert, and I highly recommend that you check out Despair.com, for a fun counterpoint to the motivational posters from Successories.  (I should add that I like Successories, as well, and I’ve returned there, as a customer, repeatedly.)

As some might say, I’m “all about” positivity, strengths-based leadership, and other uplifting ideas.  I believe we can usefully work at our positivity ratio, leading to greater satisfaction with life.  But we also live in a world that has somehow accepted too much incivility and mean-spiritedness.  We know the performance advantages that accrue to positive organizations, yet we see at least as much “leadership” through fear and intimidation, and we encounter bullies at school and in the workplace.

The world is a bizarre, challenging place, and if you don’t recognize the madness, you probably aren’t paying attention.  Still, we can claim choices in our lives that contribute to meaning, purpose, the expression of passion, and a determination to flourish in whatever time and place we find ourselves.  We can be intentional about relationships, and we can take time to feel and express gratitude.  We cannot control the fact that difficult times and circumstances will find us, but we can insist on controlling our reactions and the ultimate outcomes that our lives represent.

Time for a break.

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