Roses and Clearing the Brush

My conference has concluded and I’m in the hotel room packing up for a day of travel. (No, the world renown Balloon Fiesta wasn’t going on while I was here; I just really liked the picture!) While part of me wishes I’d done some sightseeing, I’m at peace with that. I’ll be back here and – truly – so much was going on that I wanted to be a part of, that gadding about would have actually been stressful instead of relaxing.

But before I say, “Adios, Albuquerque!” I want to touch on something that I think is vitally important – and not just for fancypants academics. This is also something that goes to the heart of my “roses” journey.

You didn’t get where you are by your lonesome self, and you have an obligation to clear the brush for those coming behind you.

This is a non-negotiable value.

For me, it’s simple math. (My favorite kind.) When I first came into the academic world, I knew nothing. I hadn’t gone through a program that emphasized conference presentations and publication (law school), so I didn’t know how to write a proposal, how to craft an engaging presentation, or how to pitch a book idea. (Seriously, my first one was a one page, hand-written hot mess, because I wanted to get it in the hands on someone at a friendly-seeming publishing house, and in those days, I didn’t travel with a laptop. I know, I know – conferences were held by candlelight. Yuk-yuk-yuk. Go away, Junior. )

No kidding – it’s hard to “get loose” and let things flow. There’s a lesson in there.

Nowadays, I am a sought-after presenter whose presentations garner praise and compliments from attendees and organizers alike. I fully realize that sounds a bit arrogant, but I’ve worked hard and (trust me) being called an “academic rockstar” gives me ALL the warm fuzzy feelings – but that’s not my point.

How did I get from A to B?

People helped me. People took time from their own work to proof my drafts, to redline (ouch! but it DOES make you a better writer!), to make introductions, to invite me to tag along so I could mix and meet with folks in my field who were ahead of me, and more besides.

The point is – I didn’t do this alone. Yes, I put in the effort and I’ve put in a LOT of effort. But. It’s like my painting (do you like the poppies? I was right pleased with those this morning) – I’ve put in the effort, but people have generously helped me along the way and (at least I’ve tried) to graciously accept their help by framing it as a way in which they show support, love, and faith in my efforts.

People helped me. They were generous and kind and I have an obligation to do the same to those coming behind me.  It’s why I try to seek out presentations with new scholars, why I try to make small talk with the ones who look a little nervous and intimidated, and why I hand out business cards like Blue Sky candy in Duke City.

It ain’t all about you, Hoss. Academia needs new blood and new ideas in order to grow. And – if we’re totally honest – people helped us along the way. It’s a cardinal rule of the Universe, regardless of which (or any!) theology you may follow – doing good is the Right Thing to Do.

So reach out to somebody. If you’re not at a conference, ask a colleague to coffee. Smile at a student and genuinely inquire as to how they’re doing. Take an extra ten seconds to be nice to the waitress.

We’d all be better off.

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