DAN: Hi, this is Dan Baum, host of Redefine U.
This season found us having to practice what we preach. We had to pivot — to redefine — just as our guests and experts have described so many times. And we’ve had to do it globally amidst a pandemic the likes of which the world hasn’t seen in 100 years or more.
We realized we had to redefine the format of our podcast too. We started our second season intending to follow the same structure we used in our first: roughly two episodes each month with a redefining story and reflections from a related subject matter expert, followed by a final concluding episode. That’s what we did for four episodes starting in January. That feels like a lifetime ago.
Looking back, we told some powerful stories: Bri’s gut punch, Duane’s discovery of a second family, Kevin’s NERD philosophy and Tiffany’s emphatic assertion that different isn’t wrong, it’s just different.
Tiffany’s episode, Episode 12, dropped on March 4. We expected to pause briefly for Spring Break the following Friday. That last week, however, is when things began to rapidly change for our college — for our whole country really. We could see the world was changing, but most of us still thought we’d be back in the office at most in two weeks. I even prepared the team: make sure you can work from home for maybe as much as a couple of weeks. Instead, we found ourselves under a stay-at-home order. Weeks would turn into months.
Given our new reality and the stress and anxiety that came with it – we were seeing it in ourselves and those around us in ways we couldn’t yet label – we knew we couldn’t continue with the podcast in its same format. Instead, we asked ourselves, was the concept of “redefine” still relevant in this new environment? We concluded, absolutely, yes. Perhaps more than ever.
Then we asked, what do people need right now? We knew we could turn to resident experts for powerful insights. There are so many inspiring people around us. The difference was seeing them reach out to each other in new, even more thoughtful ways. We felt they could help us. All of us. After completing our first interview with Professor Sara Meinsler, who helped us put a name to what we were experiencing — ambiguous loss — we all agreed we had to do this every week. If only for our own sanity.
The result has been reflective, uplifting, insightful as always, but most of all, at least speaking for me, deeply moving to feel so connected while being physically apart. That need for connectedness is primal. Hearing the voices in my headset, I felt our guests were sitting right next to me. And that alone was a huge comfort.
When we first started thinking about concluding this season, we weren’t sure how we were ever going to connect what happened before the pandemic with what has happened since. They seem like different eras.
Years ago, I came across the phrase “more, better, differently.” If I knew the source, I would gladly cite it as I have used it many times to help frame a task, launch a project or even structure a team. Sometimes you need more of something. Sometimes you need it better. And other times, you just need to do it differently all together.
Thinking back on this season, the phrase comes to mind. At first, we did more of the same and found more compelling stories and insights.
At the heart of those stories and observations we heard community and connection:
BRI: I know I have friends in Phi Theta Kappa and SGA and the education department who I can’t live without. They’re my best friends. They’re my family now.
DUANE: My teammates were tremendous support to me. They became a second family.
TREY: Teams win when they’re family. If you just got a bunch of individuals out there playing, you might get lucky. You might have some winning seasons, you might even win a championship. But what you're trying to do is you're trying to build a lifelong connection.
FORREST: So one thing about AACC is we're not in a city. There's no gay clubs, no gay bars, no queer community centers. So for these students, AACC is their place to feel safe.
DAN: Zoom calls and virtual happy hours may not replace fully that need for belonging, but collectively we’re really trying to connect. It can be entertaining to see the novel ways we are recapturing that sense of togetherness. We’re social animals. We seek connection everywhere.
NICOLE: The community that you find when you begin exercising, even if it's just your next-door neighbor and you walk around the block, it's your support system that grows that improves your overall health.
CANDICE: I just keep thinking of all of us sitting at home behind their computers and our phones, getting frustrated and feeling lonely and just working and working and working without having any sense of feedback. And I think there's a really good sense of empowerment that comes from getting that feedback from belonging and letting people know that belonging isn't just tied to physical space.
DAN: It’s striking to think of that now, because for many people, community and connection is what they have missed the most under the pandemic.
Yet connection doesn’t need to be with large groups, though I’m sure many of us miss that too. It can start with one person, especially one who believes and cares about you.
KEVIN: What stood out to me is that when they were explaining the scholarship is they said that someone believed in me. They wanted to invest in my future. I felt like someone else that is not family actually believed I was worth investing time and money into.
TIFFANY: So, it wasn't until talking with a high school counselor that just kind of sat me down and explained to me that they did see the potential in me and knew that I would go far if I kind of got up my own way.
DAN: So while we gained a lot under the rubric of “more,” the biggest theme of this season seems to be the power of shifting perspective. Perhaps that concept fits under the label of “better” as it seems to appeal to our better nature.
This shift in perspective, didn’t just appear in relation to the pandemic. We heard it in the first interview of the season:
JACKIE: I used to be the kind of teacher where a student would come in late all the time, and I would be like, "You're late. This can't happen. I don't appreciate lateness. You know the rules. Now, I can sit with that student and say, "I've been noticing that you're late. What's going on?" So often my, students say, "I'm sharing the car with three other people in my family. I had to take a cab to get here, or an Uber." Just simply asking a curious question can not only shift my perspective, but give me the empathy I need to support that student, instead of kind of attack that student, and make them feel worse than they already do.
DAN: One of the early shifts in perspective we had to recognize was the need to acknowledge and accept the crazy range of emotions we were experiencing. Why can’t I think straight? Why do I feel like screaming and then suddenly like crying? Why can’t I sleep even though I’m exhausted?
SARA: Just understanding that our feelings are okay and they're okay in context with what we're going through in this environment that we're all living in now.
JACKIE: Also, just being with any emotions that I need to feel, to be honest. Even in the past year, just being so angry, or so frustrated, or so hurt, that has helped me understand how other people feel sometimes.
DAN: Accepting our own feelings allows us to springboard to acknowledging and accepting the feelings of others. It can make us better listeners. If we can get comfortable being with ourselves and the swirl of emotions we may encounter in the process, we have a good shot at becoming more comfortable with others, and their range of experiences, thoughts and emotions.
TIFFANY: I think it's just important for all of us to have an appreciation that when we engage and meet with people, whether or not they present themselves in a way that makes us comfortable or that we find similar to that of our own, doesn’t mean that they don't have a wealth of other identities or experiences or characteristics that could somehow be a positive in our own lives.
KELLIE: When you hear people talk about racism, or sexism, or homophobia or transphobia, even if it’s something that you’ve never experienced on your own or in your own space, hear them, hear their experience, listen to it, and it’s okay to accept that you can have a both/and situation in your brain. Both, I have not experienced classism, and this person has.
DAN: While shifting our perspective may help us to act on our better selves, you may be asking yourself where’s the better part of this pandemic? I even asked that question at the dinner table one night: what good did we see coming out of this experience? My children, a high school junior and a sophomore in college, answered in unison: NOTHING. At the time, seeing how their academic and social lives were upended, I couldn’t blame them.
But since then, the question dogs me. I find myself revisiting it often. We heard over and over in our interviews, that shifting our perspective allows us to discover what’s most important.
SARA: What is important? What is it from in your day-to-day life when so many things have been stripped away, I know personally, I have thought about this and just, I know family, faith. It's really reflecting on that for me.
PHIL: We won't do ourselves any good by trying to cram in all we used to do in the time we have. It's not going to happen. So relaxing and being mindful and balancing what's important? And the most important thing is taking care of ourselves.”
TRÉSA: I mean there's the very real reality of people whose family and loved ones may be actually suffering from this disease and, and you know, having horrible health implications. It does change your perspective in terms of what it is that we think is important, I think. And what it is that our priorities might be on a day to day basis.
DEBBIE: What are our true values, what are the things that brought us to where we are today? What are the things that are important to us? I'm finding that what's important to me is physical activity, reaching out to other people. I'm starting to do more art.
CANDICE: It's like pushing a giant reset button for everybody. What are the most important things that I need my students to learn over the course of the semester? And I think the same thing's true for lots of aspects of life. What are the things that are really important to us? It's connections with other people, which is, I think what we're all missing the most, and to try to figure out ways to establish new connections or reforge old connections.
DAN: We heard and learned so much under the umbrella of “better.” It makes me hopeful that there will be some things we want to hang on to when we come out of this surreal experience. What do we want to retain from this time?
The “new normal” will almost certainly be different. We heard that theme a lot. Different. Which echoed Tiffany’s message: not wrong or worse. But different.
PHIL: We grow when we take the current and see the opportunities to move forward with it, not when we get lost or absorbed in those moments. And I think this is a great opportunity for that, right? For us all to sort of take this moment and think about what can I do to better myself? What can I do to better my community? What can I do to better my state, our college. We're at one of those seminal moments.
NICOLE: I was asking myself the other day, what do you miss about the way things used to be before and I don't really miss too much. I sort of am liking some of the things that we're doing now. We are spending a bit more time outside and we're less fast paced and I see more benefits from that for everybody than I see a negative consequence.
CANDICE: For me, when I have any kind of really powerful feeling, it's important to harness it and to do something with it, which is why I wanted to teach English and teach writing in the first place. So it really did, I guess, kind of remind me of why it is that I do what I do.
DAN: This season – this unexpected, lightning strike moment of a season – required a pretty significant pivot. We found that despite the obvious contrast between the podcast pre-covid and since, the parallels are striking.
This continues to be a redefining moment for all of us. As we have learned in the past, such moments present new opportunities. It could be an incredible reset button.
I can’t state enough how gratifying it has been to redefine Redefine U with the collection of experts who offered their time and wisdom.
The experience has encouraged me to reflect on those things that are most important to me. To be more intentional. To strip away what no longer feels significant, and to savor what is.
So now we carry forward with more. More collaboration fueled by creativity. We can no longer take for granted the impromptu gatherings or the spontaneous meet ups. We are being more deliberate in how we are connecting. We’re remembering to reach out and check on extended family, neighbors and others we can’t see regularly. We’re finding novel ways to stay in contact.
We have reflected on a lot of better. Better ways of listening, whether it’s listening to our bodies or our nobler selves. Better ways of being. Just sitting and being with our feelings and our meditations. We’re shifting our perspectives to see what’s most important in our lives and in the lives of others, especially those who are struggling. This shift allows us to be more compassionate and forgiving, something we desperately need in a world that appears increasingly divisive.
And we find ourselves walking away different. Some people are eager to go back to some definition of normal. But we could use much of the different we ‘ve been experiencing. Whether it is to slow down, live more simply or be more grateful.
My wife and I find ourselves immersed in our garden. I never thought it would happen, but I see us becoming that older couple that says, I just like being outside with my plants. It goes beyond the fresh air, the physical activity or even enjoying the fruits of our labor. There are profound lessons there. We have to slow down because you can’t rush plants to grow faster. It’s best to savor the moment because you don’t know what will take root and what will not. Most of all, you have to accept that you are not in control. There are some things you can influence, and there are some decisions that seem wiser than others – like planting in shade those plants that don’t need much sun – but mostly, it’s best to remember that some things are simply out of your hands.
I am enjoying more, better and differently all at once in a single garden.
So what do you want more of? What can you do or see or experience better? How can you act or what will choose to do differently?
The answers to these questions could be significant.
The world awaits.