Last week, I received my five year pin at work. Think academic flair or bling. It is a tiny pin with the name of the college, a tree and the number five. While I immediately stowed it away in a drawer somewhere, I do not want to downplay the milestone it represents. I have taught at a variety of institutions across the country. Each career move has brought new friends, challenges and opportunities for growth. But the past five years have definitely been unique. It is fitting that the pin contains a tree as I have taken root in the fertile soil that is my work family.
What makes the past five years different in my book? It is not any sense of achievement on a personal level. It is the fact that our contentment is homegrown. My colleagues intentionally transformed our work place into a nurturing and supportive environment that fosters growth and collaboration. The culture of our campus, or more specifically our hall of offices, has not always been a positive place. When I first started this job, the atmosphere was tense, fear driven, and dare I say, toxic. People were working, but they did not appear to be thriving.
Over the past five years, countless initiatives and mandates have floated through our hemisphere. The next big thing is always coming down the pipe, so in that sense, the culture is the same. What has changed is our perspective. On a subconscious level, my hallmates and fellow faculty members decided to be the community we wanted to see in our college. Problems come and go as they do in any work environment, but our attitude and priorities remain the same.
We are educators who care deeply about making a positive impact on our community, but we also recognize that in order to help others see the world in a new way, we must remain open ourselves to see anew each and every day. As a group, we have created an ongoing forum for learning. Each of us brings different strengths to the table. Some of us have become more vocal. Some of us have learned to take pause and listen more. Among us, we have a creative poet, a rational thinker, a loving nurturer, a Zen master, a Star Wars fanatic, a therapist, a free-spirited cheerleader, and “Captain Vocabulary,” just to name a few. We are each other’s friends, confidants, teachers and critics.
When we observed that our workplace was lacking opportunities to feed our soul, we did not wait around for people to create those options for us. We made it happen. We have an exclusive faculty book club that has been meeting for more than four years. Some of us are members of a writing group that we started. A few of my hallmates created a film club for faculty and students. It is our home-grown soul food.
Our work culture did not magically appear. I could say we just got lucky, but that would discredit our role in the creative process. We reap the rewards of the energy we send out into the universe. The number one rule all new teachers learn is to stay out of the teacher’s lounge. Avoid toxic negativity. Negative energy breeds negative energy. Yet, if we decide to choose growth and openness, we will attract like-minded individuals. We can look for the best in each other and see what gift each individual can bring to the table.
Happiness is not found; it is created. This single realization is transformative and can save us from ourselves. Most of us do not have a perfect work scenario that never experiences stressors in some form, but we do have control over our attitude and the vibe that we project. My work community has opted to band together and create new opportunities for growth and personal development rather than focus on the negative aspects of our job. We hold each other accountable and seek out moments where each of us gets to shine and enlighten the group as a whole. Where did we find our work happiness? We made it.