Episode 13: It's Worth It
with Dr. Stuart Rayfield

Life is often a series of unexpected challenges, both big and small. Today’s guest encourages us that when we keep our eyes focused on what really matters, the rollercoaster of life is worth it. Through a series of identity shaking challenges in college, to being tasked with leading the COVID response for the entire University System of George, Dr. Stuart Rayfield has learned the importance of being a perpetual student, being vulnerable, and pushing through the struggle.

About our guest

Connect with Stuart on LinkedIn
Learn more about the University System of Georgia

Stuart Rayfield serves as the Vice Chancellor for Leadership and Institutional Development at the University System of Georgia.  In this role she provides system-wide leadership development programs and assists institutions as they meet significant challenges.  Stuart has previously served as the interim president at Bainbridge State College, Gordon State College, and the University of West Georgia.  For many years she served as the Frank D. Brown Distinguished Chair in Servant Leadership at Columbus State University where she directed the Servant Leadership program, developed the curriculum and taught in the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership Program, and served as the interim associate provost for undergraduate education.  She previously worked at Auburn University, Vanderbilt University, Middle Tennessee State University, and the University of Alabama.  She holds a Doctor of Education in Leadership, Policy, and Organizations from Vanderbilt University, a Master of Arts from the University of Alabama, and a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes College.

Episode transcript

Sara: Hello, Stuart Rayfield, and welcome to the Growing as Grownups podcast. I'm so excited to have you on our show. You have been a friend of the Lyceum for many years and you are a leader that we have grown to really admire and respect just who you are as a person and how you lead the university system and all the work that you do. So I want to just give you a chance to say, "hi" and tell our listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do and the things that you think really make a difference into who you are as a person.  

Stuart: Great, thanks, Sara, it's so good to see you. It's been way too long. I currently serve as the vice chancellor for Leadership and Institutional Development at the University System of Georgia. I've been in this role about a little over two years, but I've worked in the university system since 2006. And so I'll talk a little bit about some of the roles that I've had. But prior to that, I've worked at several other within several other systems. So in Alabama, Tennessee and so public, private. But my heart has always been in higher education  

Sara: Keith and I always say how much we love being a part of higher education programs because it's like we really are investing in the entire state when we get to do that in the future of our state, so. You do some awesome work. So let's jump in and as you know, we love to talk about how challenges that we face in life are the fuel for growth. And it's one of those, you know, you kind of wish it was different because nobody wants to go through challenges. But when we all look back on our lives, we can see that those hard things that we go through really are the opportunities that we have to grow and so I'd love for you to think about a story from your past, something that you recognize was really influential in you becoming the person that you are, the leader that you are. You know what is something that you had to go through and how did you--how has it changed you?  

Stuart: So this is going to end up being a lot of personal information, which I'm very comfortable sharing. I share--I used to tell this story kind of with my students because I think I didn't realize it at the time. So let me preface this by saying this is all upon reflection. It's not something that I knew as I was going through it. So I grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which is home to the University of Alabama, and that was the center of our city at that time. And so I was very lucky in that I'm one of those people who learns exactly the way that teachers teach in high school. So I did pretty, pretty good in high school and I--I'm kind of setting this up--I decided I wanted to get away from Tuscaloosa when I went to college and did not want to be--I wanted the exact opposite of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama because I had grown up with that. I wanted something different. So I was looking for a small, private, liberal arts institution in a big city. So that--those were kind of my criteria; it was literally the exact opposite of Tuscaloosa.    

And so I went to Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, and it was a fantastic institution, but I was--I think I checked the box on just about every developmental growth opportunity that a college student goes through. And it was a really difficult time in my life. So when I was in high school, I kind of gave that--I knew who I was and my identity was: I was one of the smarter kids, I had a great group of friends, I was very involved and active and high school, and that's kind of what defined me as a person. And so I went to Rhodes, which was a fairly selective institution and so when I got there--and again, this is upon reflection, not...I did not know this at the time--but I was average at best because all of us had done that in our high school, that's kind of how we ended up where we were. And so it was really during that time, it was just--it was an identity crisis for me, but it really gave me a lot of very pivotal moments that have shaped where I am today.    

So first year, you know, kind of went off without a hitch but at the end of the day, I kind of decided this is--I want to do something different, I want to be back at home. So I decided to transfer to the University of Alabama. And during that summer, several of my friends from Rhodes kind of lived with me in Tuscaloosa. We got an apartment, a house and all that. By the end of the summer, I decided to go back to Rhodes. So I put Alabama on hold and decided to go back to Memphis. So I went back. And this is going to be a rollercoaster conversation, but this is exactly the roller coaster that I live, that...  

Sara: Great, bring it.  

Stuart: I was there for probably about four or five weeks and was like, I really hate it here. I just...I've got to go home. So I called my dad and I said, "I need you to come and get me, I'm not doing this anymore." And so he drove up, we packed the car, we went by the registrar's office and my dad was like, "so how do we work a refund?" and they were like, "it's too far into the semester; there's no refund."  So my dad looked at me and he said--yeah. He said, "we are literally not putting this money in a toilet and flushing it."    

And so we went back to my dorm room, we unpacked and I ended up dropping a couple of classes. I got a not-for-credit internship downtown, serving the homeless population in Memphis and kind of rode the semester out, just kind of finished it out and came home and took a semester off. And so during that semester, I worked at Baumhower's Wings as a hostess and cashier and it was during that time that I realized that I was definitely going back to college because I wasn't doing that for the rest of my life. And funny enough, I ended up back in Memphis on a lot of weekends and so I eventually returned back to the next year and started back my junior year. But in the meantime, I did a study abroad program that summer with some of my Rhodes friends in Europe, which was fantastic. And so, you know, from that point forward, I felt like I had finally gotten a handle on who I was, what I wanted to do and what that was going to look like. And I say all of that because ultimately I graduated from Rhodes. I got involved on campus when I came back my junior year. I was able to graduate on time.

They were very kind to me and there was one person who I really connected with once I was back on campus my junior year when I got involved and her name was Cindy Pennington and she was kind of their director of student activities, I guess. I don't even know what her official title was, but I got to know her through student activities and I just I really liked her and didn't think a whole lot of it. There was also another person I started and--all of this, again, getting personal--my father passed away while I was in college. So I was dealt with that when I came back, that was my junior year. As soon as I came back within a...I don't know, within a few weeks starting that semester that happened, so it was really crazy, but I was absolutely where I was supposed to be when that happened and with the right people. And so I also started seeing one of the counselors at Rhodes, Lynn Dunavant, who again had a huge impact. I mean, Cindy Pennington and Lynn Dunavant just had a real impact on me and what I learned from them ultimately when I graduated and I was trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to do with my life, and it turned out that people were not beating down my door with my political science degree because of work, I finally called Cindy up and I said, "I think I want to do what you do. I think I want your job. How do I get it?" And that was the first conversation and that was probably four or five months after I graduated from Rhodes, that I really started to think how all of those experiences that I had while I was in college were--had shaped who I was and had very much those. You know, when I look back on it, those minor adversities, so to speak, really made me grow up and try to understand who I was, what I wanted out of life and it was through those leadership development opportunities that Cindy had provided me with along the way that I wanted to be able to provide to other people in college. And so we had a great conversation. She was like, "there's actually a degree about what we do," and she was like, "you would never know about it from going to a liberal arts college."

And so I started on my master's in January of that year, so graduated in May and then--had decided I was going to make that bachelor's degree work for me and realized that was not going to happen and so really started finding my groove, I think, at that point. And so I started my program, got an assistantship, and once I did that, I really kind of fell in love with what I do now. But if I had a college career that had gone very smoothly and was not this rollercoaster ride for everybody involved, my friends, my family and myself, I don't think I would have landed where I am and I certainly wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today.    

So I think it was that experience that ultimately was really challenging and tough. And the the people and the support that I found and the opportunities folks gave me along the way really set me on a course to try to figure out what it was that I wanted to do. And so I'm thankful for those two women--I'm not in touch with them now--but they had a pretty profound impact on the way that I saw leaders, the way that I saw women, and what I wanted to do with my life.  

Sara: I love that. Maybe we'll try to track down those ladies and send them a copy of this podcast.  

Stuart:  That'd be awesome.  

Sara: Stuart, thank you for sharing all that. That's such a great story and I think a lot of people can relate to that. I mean, that age, right, that college age is such a pivotal point in our development and really figuring out who you are when once you leave the familiar and the environment that you grew up in and the fact that you now can look back on it and say, "if it wasn't for that roller coaster, I wouldn't be where I am today." But one thing that I always think is interesting is, to the extent that we can look back on those moments and put yourself essentially in that rollercoaster car again, how were you making sense of things at the time? What were your thoughts about who you are and what you can do in, you know, the moments where you think "I want to--I want off," right? When you called your dad and said, "I want to come home," right? Because a lot of times we have those. I mean, I feel like this past year for me has thrown a lot of those moments that you think, "I can't keep doing this," but yet, you know that there's--in hindsight, "hey, it's going to come back up again. It's going to it's going to level off," or whatever. How were you making sense of things in the moment, right? Not with the hindsight of looking back and saying, "I'm so glad I went through that," but in the moment, what all did it mean to you and about you?  

Stuart: You know, it's a really good question and I laugh, I tell the story. My dad was awesome, I mean, he really was awesome. So I remember calling him and, of course, you know, keep in mind, the University of Alabama is my reference point and so I was not experiencing that at Rhodes and so it just felt very unfamiliar and almost foreign. And I remember calling them one night during my first semester and just saying, "I don't think I fit in here, you know, I mean, everybody is basically on pursuit to make their first million by the time they're 25 and I don't even know what I want to do," you know? And his response was, "I did not send you to college to get an education. I sent you to have fun. I want you to go out and have a beer."  

Sara: Oh my gosh.

Stuart: It was not the best advice, but it was what I needed to hear in that moment. It was exactly what I needed, because--

Sara: That's awesome.  

Stuart: --what helped me through that was there wasn't that pressure from home to fit into any mold and that ultimately, I think, I learned during that time and what I was thinking was, "why am I so different? Everybody else seems to have their act together." Now, they didn't but, you know, I mean, when you're in that age, you're not willing to put your vulnerability out. But I thought, "everybody else has it together. What is wrong with me that I don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life? Why am I wasting my parents’ money by being here? I just should go home." And then, you know, really having--this is a time where I really went from probably thinking more in the black-and-white area to seeing those shades of grey and that was probably the greatest gift of coming--of going through all that is it's not that I was very structured, but I had very, very specific expectations of other people and people were falling very short of those expectations. And it was little things like all my friends would go to the dining hall to eat and they would forget to stop by my room and that was just devastating for me in that moment. And I remember in some of my conversations with the counselor there, she started really challenging me on where I derived my happiness and, you know, and what's it going to be--was I only going to be happy when other people picked me up to go to the dining hall or was I going to take control of that? And that whole experience and being challenged in that way helped me redefine kind of where I oriented myself and where I saw people. And I really did struggle a lot with some of my friends and expectations and stuff and, you know, ultimately what the conversation that Lynn and I ended up having was, "You're going to have to accept your friends, people, whomever for who they are and what they bring to the table and if they don't bring what you need to the table, then you've got a decision to make." And it--that has been a real freeing experience for me in all my relationships, you know, to be able to say, "This person is absolutely worth it; whatever baggage they bring, whatever expectations they don't meet, you know, whether it's somebody I work with, whether it's a family member or friend. But I get something out of this relationship that's worth whatever those other things may be that bothered me at some point." And so, it's really opened me up to allow a lot more people, I think, into my life where I'm not cutting them off just because I see things in such a black-and-white way. So that was huge for me during that time.

So I know that in the middle of it all I thought was, "I'm a freak," you know, like, "nobody is like me and how am I going to navigate this?" And it just felt overwhelming. But, you know, once I started my graduate program, what was so great about my graduate program is we studied student development theory and I was like, "Oh, my gosh, this is me! I was a textbook case!" Like, I wasn't weird or, you know, I mean, this is what everybody is going through during this time because it's such a transformational time and that's where I, again, I get so much of my energy and my love for what I do on a daily basis, knowing that this time period for so many people, it's just transformative and we have a real duty to be up to that challenge and to support people along the way, because otherwise most everybody will fall through the cracks.  

Sara: Stuart, I love that so much and I, like, I just want to give your counselor a high-five because she taught you such a valuable lesson earlier in life than most people learn it, right? And you know our developmental theory, you've heard it a number of times, right? But kind of twenty-two is the prime age that people are what we refer to as "level three" but like really defined by kind of their performance, their friends. They look to the world around them to see, "Am I okay?"  

Stuart: Yeah.  

Sara: Right? And when in college, I mean, I had the same experience where I'm like every little social awkwardness or every little time where I was left out was like a dagger of like, "what's wrong with me?" Right? And then--but that's the fuel that makes you then go, "Okay, like I need to learn to be me and be okay with me despite those circumstances," and then the idea of learning that everybody's going to let you down, right? And how many people I mean, I know people that are my age and older that just are continually disappointed by other people not living up to their expectations, and it's--it leads to a life of frustration and anxiety and disappointment and all these things and it's like, how blessed are you that you learn that at 22 instead of 72? That, you know, I'm sure it's led to a lot more effective relationships and it's fueled your love for investing in students of that age. I think that's so great.  

Stuart: Yeah, it was by far the most defining time period in my life and I've had some other things along the way that you might think of as more defining but I will always look back to those four years as just being pivotal. I don't know, I mean, I don't know what I would be doing or where I would be without having gone through all of that, because it very much shaped the--my perspective. But it gave me kind of meaning and purpose for what I wanted to do, which was real helpful.  

Sara: Yeah, for sure.  

Stuart: Yeah.  

Sara: So let's turn the corner a little bit and think about what's going on today, right? Because as you said, now, looking back on the rollercoaster of your college education, it's like, "Oh, I learned a lot. That was great. It shaped me." When you're on the rollercoaster, it's not as clear and it feels overwhelming at times and so is there something that you can identify that's going on in your world today that feels challenging, that's hard, that you're not fully able to handle and make sense of that you recognize, "Hey, the next growth opportunity for me is to really resolve this challenge in my life, to get my arms around it, to change my way of thinking in some form or fashion." You know, what would that be for you today?  

Stuart: So this year has been, you know, a year of really diving into things that of which I know nothing, and that is kind of the theme, I think, for what this year has looked like, because one of my roles. So I was tasked with helping lead our COVID response for the system. And my background, as you might have guessed, is not in public health. It is not in a pandemic and so the biggest challenge that I've had and I'll relate this back to another challenge that really prepped me for where I am today is I didn't know what I was doing. The good thing was nobody else did either. So we were kind of all in the same boat.  

Sara: Right.  

Stuart: And there wasn't an expectation that I was going to know everything I needed to know to be able to help, you know, figure out how do we get back on campus in a way that is safe and that our students can can learn. Because we and, you know, I mean, I've invested and I've said this to to folks several times on our calls and things like that. We have all invested ourselves in a career that is designed to create this environment and these experiences for students to grow and develop and to be educated and to engage in a learning process. and it is worth it for us to stretch ourselves and to stretch each other to make sure that we provide as close to that experience that we've all dedicated our careers to as possible and still be safe and so it was worth it to go through all of what we were going to have to go through in order to be able to be back on campus. So, now let me revert back for a second and then I'll move forward on this current time. When I was asked to go be an interim president for the first time for Bainbridge State College, I will tell you that I hung the phone up from the conversation of, "Is this something you might be interested in?" and I called my husband and said, "Oh, my God, you're not going to believe what they have asked me to do. Is this not hysterical? I mean, there's no way I can do this. I would have no idea what I'm doing." Because this was a real big leap for me, you know, I mean, from title to experience.    

And so I was very familiar with going into a situation, feeling uncomfortable with not having all the experiences that I probably needed to be doing the job that I was going to do but I also saw it as a great opportunity to learn. And so I took that and I didn't try to pretend when I was--when I went to Bainbridge, I never pretended that I knew what I was doing and I really targeted having conversations with people who knew the things that I did not know. I mean, there was a handful and there was a big slice of things that I could you know, I could own those things. I knew how to do them, I knew how to talk about them, and I knew what to look for and how to leas those areas. But I had never worked in business and finance and higher education.   But so I sat down with the chief business officers--we had ended up with two during the time I was there--and just said, "I need you to lead me on this. I need you to educate me along the way. I'm not going to just take everything you say for granted. I need you to educate me so that I understand what you're talking about."  

Sara: Before you move on, I do want to ask you or just comment on the fact that the humility and the confidence that it takes to go into a role like that and say, "I don't know, I don't know and I want you to help me," I think is it's such a powerful approach that so many people are afraid to use, right, in a situation where, you know, you are being called in, that it's an honor that people are watching to go in and say, "I don't know," because people think it's going to show weakness, it's going to question my credibility but what it did is, like you said, it gave you the opportunity, opportunity to learn so much more to help you along the way that, I mean, I think that's a huge part of how it is you've been able to have such influence and I just I just want to commend you for that and encourage other people to follow your lead. And it's okay to say--excuse me--it's okay to say, "I don't know, help me."  

Stuart: Yes, well, I will tell you, I can't remember who told me the story. So it's--I mean, it could have been something I heard at the Lyceum, but somebody told me a story once about John Maxwell and that he was in a session with kind of C Suite leaders, you know, CEOs, and he was talking about vulnerability and humility and kind of also letting people understand who you are as a person and kind of what your gifts and talents are. At the same time, learning where you're where your gaps are and he said that--I think they took a break during this session and one of the individuals in the session came up to him and said, you know, "I just disagree with you. I think when you start showing your vulnerabilities, you know, you really start showing weakness and people will capitalize on that." And from the way that I heard the story, you know, that John Maxwell said, "We're coming at this from two different perspectives. You're assuming they don't already know what your weaknesses are and I'm assuming they do. They see them on a daily basis," and that resonated with me but it also, I can't— I didn't feel like I could be effective as a leader if I tried to pretend that I knew what I was talking about because they were going to call me out in a heartbeat. They might not have called me out, but they would have they would have called me somewhere behind my back and it really wouldn't it wouldn't have been beneficial to the institution or anybody there    And so, I think that as we admit those things about ourselves, we really gain so much more power because we have the power of the authenticity of who we are, because every single person, you know, no matter what your role is, we're all people and we're all human. We all make mistakes, we don't know everything, and so to try to pretend otherwise is really just disingenuous and it's only I think it's just only going to lead to problems. And so.  

Sara: Yeah.  

Stuart: And I felt that coming in to that role as Bainbridge, I didn't have that pedigree. Go ahead.  

Sara: I was gonna say it reminds me of what your counselor was telling you about other people that, you--it's true for yourself as well. Like, you don't have to be everything and know everything for everybody else. Like other people have failings. You have failings and that's okay. Like you have the gifts that you bring is what you have to offer the world. And it's okay that it's not everything. So, you know, taking that both for how you approach relationships with other people and how you learn to accept and love yourself, I think are both really great applications of that.  

Stuart: Yeah, it was the only way I knew how to do it at the end of the day. So now fast forwarding into a new situation that I have no idea what I'm doing. I think that that I mean, that was--we all have had to be humble because there are very few people in this world who knew what we were getting into and what the long-term and short-term implications are going to be of this pandemic and so I have I've tried to make myself a student of the pandemic. As much as I can learn as much about it, I have I've jokingly said if there is any sort of degree awarded that can be earned from scouring the CDC website, I have earned it.  

Sara: You've done work.  

Stuart: Yes, but I've also listened, again, to people who do know what they're talking about, both within our system, because it turns out we actually have academic degree programs in epidemiology and so we've got some people sitting on our campuses who do understand this. So listening to them, trying to understand, again, what our goal was. And, you know, the goal was, "We can't stop providing education. We've got to figure out a way," because the chancellor said this from the very beginning and I think he was very wise to think this way: this wasn't going away and we couldn't just press pause on education for the next two years and so we had to figure out, knowing that we were going to get it wrong in some cases, you know, we were going to make decisions that were not the right decisions that we would need to be able to recover from and react to in real time. But again, it was worth it. Because of what? Because we believe in what we do and so if we believe in what we do, it's worth it for us to figure out how to do that as closely to the way that we did it, pre-pandemic. Because there’s value in it. And it is--while we have fully online academic programs that are outstanding, the faculty who teach and those have gone through extensive training and that's where they feel most comfortable. So those are great programs and the students have chosen those. So it's not that fully online is not a great option it's absolutely it's a great option, but it's not what our mission is. And so it's just it's been a real learning experience again but the challenge has--I mean, we've just been so singularly focused on the student experience in a safe way. You know, safety has been our number one priority but figuring out how to make it work has been a whole lot easier, knowing that what we were trying to get done was really, really important and valuable.  

Sara: Yeah, I mean, I just can't even imagine trying to figure out how to change such a big institution. So what has it--what challenges has it brought up for you personally as you've had to walk into this unknown and, you know, as you said, you knew you were going to fail. The Chancellor knew, you know, "We got to do something, we're going to get it wrong, but let's do it." What did it take on your part or what are you facing right now that you're recognizing you're going to have to work through in order to make this happen? Knowing that it's worth it, knowing that, right, whatever obstacle, whatever things I have to change in myself, it's worth it. What are those growth opportunities that you're finding for you personally? Not in an institution level, but at at the Stuart Rayfield level. What is it that you're working on?  

Stuart: So let me provide, I guess, a little bit of context for this in that so if I--I'm a really flexible person, you know, like, I don't have a lot of structure, I can go with the flow and that has been a real asset during this time to be nimble and kind of react. And I knew that I didn't--I knew that we couldn't have a playbook that had step one, step two, step three. utB there are people who need that. They absolutely need that. And so I think my greatest challenge during this time has been how do I still work with people who need the step, one, step two, step three, what kind of structure can I give them that gives them a little bit of a safety net to be able to work within?    

But it's--I think just trying to navigate all of this with people is just so complicated and it's been challenging. Certainly my patience, I think, has grown not only for others, but for myself and giving myself kind of the permission and presence of mind to step back and really kind of take stock of where we are and remember, what we've done has been really important because, you know the pace of change in higher education is the speed of the slowest turtle that exists. I mean, it really is, and that is both a detriment but it's also, I think, one of the greatest things about higher education. And the pace of change that we have all had to, you know, throw ourselves into is so uncomfortable that there wasn't a choice, it wasn't an option and we had to do it--just like everybody did, I mean, higher education is no different and everybody has gone through this in some way but I think the challenge that I live in kind of everyday is just navigating all the technical pieces along with all the human pieces and trying to figure out where that balance is.  

Sara: Yeah, I mean, it's such an important lesson that you're wrestling through and we talk about it a lot in terms of this idea of leadership is meeting others where they are to lead them, where they need--you need them to go, right? And recognizing that your personality does well or even thrives in kind of this open-ended, "Let's figure this out," kind of season where other people like me are that, "But I need a plan, I need to know more, I need to know exactly." And the grace that you have to recognize, "Hey, I can't just tell the Saras of the world, 'Just let it go and go with the flow.'" Right? That not leading people like me in a way that we need. But to say, "Okay, let me cast enough vision and enough of the mission of what we're trying to accomplish and give you as much clarity as possible with, you know, like that balance, I think is really important and what, under stress, a lot of leaders revert back to: "I'm just going to do it the way that I know how to do it and everybody else just needs to get on board," where really great leaders can say, under stress, "I need to recognize I've got to communicate differently to different people. I need to lead differently. I need to cast a vision," really just this idea of "it's worth it". Like, I just love that phrase. Like that, I think, is a really great way to lead and that you're wrestling through that, I think is so valuable to the institution that's going to pay off greatly for you and for the people that you're leading.  

Stuart: Well, something you just said is exactly what my thought process has been through all of this: we have all got to give each other grace, because none of us know how this works, none of us are comfortable in this space, and nobody wants to be doing this. And so we've just--we've got to be able to offer grace to one another because it's hard. It's just hard and--but at the same time, I mean, we're doing it and I think that is something to be proud of and to be excited about.  

Sara: Yeah. So we need to start wrapping up, although, you know, I would love to sit and chat with you for hours, but I do want to give you the chance to just share any advice that you have and you've already given us so much great wisdom. But as you think about this as an opportunity to speak to other people who are on this journey of trying to grow and become better leaders, is there some advice that you love to give people that you think would help them as they continue to to grow and to lead?  

Stuart: Yeah, so I think a lot of it I've said, but I'll kind of bring it back, I guess, into a little bit of a bow, I think every person needs to see themselves as a perpetual student, always learning and I think that that's part of what offers, you know, that allows you to have that humility to know that you're on this learning journey and you're never going to arrive. Nobody ever arrives because we don't all know everything and we don't ever get to that point. I had a professor in college who--he taught the religions of India course and he went to Harvard. He was so brilliant and was an amazing teacher, just an amazing teacher. And he said, I remember he said, you know, "I graduated with my bachelor's and I thought, 'Hey, this is pretty cool,' you know, 'look at me,'" and he said, "I graduated with my master's and I thought, 'I've still got more to learn.'" And so when he went back, he said, "The day I graduated with my doctorate was the most depressing day of my life and he said because it was in that moment that I realized how little I knew and here somebody was saying I was an expert." And I think that that is just really profound to know that the more you know, the less you know. I mean, you realize that there's so much more to know and so really approaching everything as a student and wanting to learn more. I saw a friend of mine posted on Facebook that her mantra for 2021 is "to stay curious" and I think we all need to stay curious and it allows us to learn from each other and recognize the value in everyone around us. And it also, I think, allows you to, you know, to be who you are and to be that authentic person.    

One of the things that I've talked to students about before is, you know, the importance of being present, paying attention, and being a part of the solution. It is so easy--I mean, every single person who's listening to this, who's watching is going to be able I mean, could sit down and write a list for days on all the problems that are going on right now. And it's really, I'm finding a lot more and more, is that it is very rare to find the person who starts thinking about what the solutions can be and so there are enough problems to go around but we also we need people in our organizations that hear the problems and begin thinking about,  "How do we affect those? How do we make those problems turn into opportunities that we can capitalize on? Or how do we mitigate them?" You know, just get them out of the way. So I think, you know, kind of staying a student, you know, really listening, paying attention, being present is--it's just so vitally important, I think, to being able to get anything accomplished and that's ultimately what leadership is about, it's about being able to accomplish goals and, you know, casting a vision to be able to lead towards.  

Sara: And I love the combination of those two things of staying curious and being a part of the solution, because I think some people can default to staying curious because I never know enough to actually put something out there because I don't know enough, I might fail, and then there's some people that are wanting to just throw out a solution without being curious enough to listen to the voices around them. So that balance of the two of them, I think, is really beautiful and I love that.

So finally, our last question, Stuart, is what is something going on in your world that you're excited about these days?  

Stuart: I'll tell you, I think that this pandemic has really created some great opportunities for us to step back and reflect on what we do, how we do it, why we do it, and refocus ourselves. I mean, I mentioned earlier the pace of change in higher education is typically pretty slow, but we have done a really good job of responding and so this should be proof to us that we don't have to take four years to change the word in the faculty handbook. You know, I mean, it really I think it should empower us to be able to look at opportunities and try some things, knowing that we may not get it right but again, it's worth it to enhance the student experience. So I think every person--as we come out of this pandemic--every human being should be able to find some things that they're going to do differently in the future, something that they had to adjust, change, about how they did their work, how they lived their life in a way that they're going to hold on to post-pandemic. And to me, that's really exciting to be able to marry the best of what we were doing with the best of what we've learned from this whole experience so that we create something that's more meaningful and better on the other side of it. I mean, it's just--I think it's--it will be criminal if we don't do that, so--but it's also what makes me so excited about how we can do things differently as we move forward and use the best of all of it.  

Sara: Oh, gosh. That's amazing. I love that so much and I think, I just I hope that everybody listening, including me, can just take that for what it is and say, "How do we, you know, how do we make the most of this year and how do we not lose the good things that have come out of it?"  

Well, Stuart, thank you thank you, thank you for taking the time to do this. I know your time is so valuable in your wisdom is so great. I just I loved every minute of it and I loved getting to chat with you again and I just I wish you the best and I can't wait to hear kind of what this next year holds for you and for the university and for all of us and hopefully we'll get to be together in person again sometime soon.  

Stuart: I will look forward to it and I want to thank you for inviting me but more importantly, I want to make--thank you for making me sound smart as you brought up things that I said. I was like, "Oh, really? I said that." So, thank you!  Sara: It did not take any effort. You are a very wise woman and I look up to you so much so. Well, thank you and we will talk soon.