What is Change?

What is Change?

This is the question Professor Jeff Ford posed to us during our first class. Most of us took a stab at answering and the usual responses surfaced–a process of making something different than it was before, an equation of addition or subtraction, a state of transformation. No single answer seemed to entirely encompass the definition of “change.” And like most philosophical questions, the concept seemed to slip through our fingers like fine sand as we tried to wrap our arms all the way around it. I knew immediately that I was going to love this class.

During the second 7-week session of the first semester, all 1st year MHRM students take Organizational Development & Change with Professor Jeff Ford. The course is structured around a series of short cases that we explore each week. We are given a simple question that we work together to answer. The first week, we defined change. This past week, we talked about how to identify–exactly– what we want to accomplish and how, specifically, we would know if we accomplished it.

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Professor Ford’s teaching style is exactly what I envisioned of a graduate-level class. He challenges us to tease out the essence of what we are saying. In undergrad, I felt it was much easier to get away with saying a bunch of pretty words and hoping my main points and ideas would materialize for my audience. But, when forced to focus on word choice and detail the way Ford urges, I find that stripping away all the excess is the best way to solve any complicated problem. He doesn’t lead you into the answer or finish your sentences; he waits for you to distill your message down to the very essence. I think it is so important to practice thinking like this in a world littered with so much information to sift through.

Another unique feature of Ford’s class is that his wife, Dr. Laurie Ford (an experienced consultant), sits in on class and contributes her insights. This is fantastic–Laurie shares real-life examples of how she has initiated change from diagnosis to implementation in organizations she has worked with. With a concept as cloudy as change, I’ve found it is tremendously helpful to have access to multiple perspectives to help us apply what we are learning to real cases that we analyze from start to finish. I also think Laurie’s involvement is such a palpable example of how Professors at Fisher (and their spouses in this case!) truly invest their heart and soul in their students.

Last week, we studied an example of a utility company struggling to complete installations accurately according to the specs provided by the engineers, leading to delays and complaints. We were asked by Professor(s) Ford to get into small groups and provide recommendations for what we would “change,” how we would change it, and how we would know if we succeeded.

Many of us fell victim to the “action imperative”–doing too much too soon and all at once. We suggested lofty ideas like streamlining the communication systems, instituting various task forces (what are those anyway?), implementing and training and project managers, relationship-building among the installers and the engineers…all of which could have worked, but they very quickly became too abstract and unmanageable. Then we started to think about how we would know if our changes worked. Increase in revenues? More timely installations? And how would we implement the changes? Company-wide training initiatives, team-building, eLearning…at a point it began to feel like we were vomiting every HR-related word or phrase we had ever heard in a desperate attempt to hit the right answer. It turns out, we were overcomplicating things.

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This case study was actually a client that Laurie had worked with. She encouraged us to think about the “lines” that represent the connections between the different players. The issue clearly became the communication that was (or wasn’t) happening between the installers and the engineers. They weren’t speaking the same language, and directives were being lost in translation and leading to mistakes and delays in the work orders. Upon further discussion, we discovered that the work order template hadn’t been updated for over a decade. The simple solution was to update the template. Brilliant.

My takeaway from this class so far is to keep it simple. Change can be an intimidating concept for many organizations that need it, and so it is best to change as little as possible that still allows you to accomplish the goal. Tread lightly, and don’t rock the boat if you don’t have to. I’m sure these will be important lessons to remember after grad school when we will be brand new HR professionals trying to make our mark on the world. It will be a tough balance to strike, but I already feel more prepared to tackle it.

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Organizational Development: Lines, Nodes, Agreements, and Deliverables

So, let’s say you want to make a change in your life– in any aspect. You want to change your job, your spouse (yikes), your relationship with your next-door neighbor, your health. Big changes. Small changes. We all want to change and grow in new ways… especially in the upcoming New Year.

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This was near the beginning of one class… before the board got much messier.

But how do you actually make the change happen? Introducing BUSMHR 7308 Organizational Development and Change. This class really makes me think and has real-world application. Therefore, it’s my absolute favorite so far! It’s taught by Professor Emeritus Jeff Ford. Professor Ford is extraordinarily accomplished and well-respected in the area of organizational behavior, specifically change management (a hot topic, particularly in HR). He’s written a book which we use in class, The Four Conversations: Daily Communication That Gets Results. And he has a very specific framework about which teaches. I won’t get too into it, but… in short order…

You have to know what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to do it. And you have to make agreements regarding what you’re going to get from who and by when. It’s something you need to map out–using lines and nodes. This is the extremely high-altitude summary; there are obviously much more nuanced and granular details to the process that require a lot of deep thinking during class. It sounds logical– and it is. He’s able to take the abstract complaint of “miscommunication” and dissect specifically why it occurs and how to avoid it.

Best of all, he’s… intense in class. Quite a bit of the discussions focus on case studies that are rife with detail about an organizaton’s woes: lack of communication, unrealistic goals, blame, politics and game-playing, sexism– you name it. And our job as students is to come up with solutions to fix the organizations and get them on the right path. Professor Ford analyzes every word we utter and firmly asks for clarity, disagrees, or otherwise challenges our assertions. This is not a class for the thin-skinned (I’ve made a few observations about which he’s disagreed; it hasn’t felt good, but his willigness to question students is what forces impactful thinking). And his approach is a gift; those without any or much work experience haven’t learned the sometimes harsh realities of the professional world– and his candor is a good primer.

Now… let’s talk about that decision to apply for the MHRM program at Fisher. What’s your “from” state? And how will you know when you’ve arrived at your “to”? Is your “to” admission to Fisher or is your “to” a certain GPA or certain thing you want to learn? What agreements do you need to secure from others? How will you know you have the agreements? And what outputs will you need to generate? And what inputs must you secure? Decisions, decisions…

“Fall”ing In Love

Well into the autumn semester, and it finally becomes autumn weather! The brisk, cold air is comforting– as well as the joy of seeing one’s breath in the morning. Coming from Georgia, we would get this weather later in the year, and I love breaking out sweaters and jackets. That being said, one thing that warms the heart more than hot chocolate and sweaters is my partner, Meredith. I want to take a moment to share what we did, because we saw a lot of Columbus, Ohio, together!

First, she came in late Saturday night, so naturally we went to a friend’s house to watch the first half of the Wisconsin v. OSU game (we won, but sadly lost to the Nittany Lions the next week).

The fun really began on Sunday! We went downtown, because the Columbus Museum of Art has free admission on Sunday– and who doesn’t love free things to do?  We parked down towards the Capitol building, and on a whim, decided to visit the capitol building. What a beautiful, informative tour! Seeing the history and power of the State of Ohio was truly spectacular. After that, we then walked down to the art museum, and the exhibits were very beautiful, with some exciting interactive displays (mainly for children, but we’re children at heart).

On Monday, we explored the Columbus Zoo! Holy Giraffe– this was such a fun adventure, and everyone should see the zoo while here in Columbus! We spent the whole day there and got there in time to see one of the demonstrations, “Cheetah Run,” where they let the cheetah run a track for exercise. Just the pure power and speed is awe-inspiring. We then tested our speed and minds with some trivia alongside some friends. Our team (eventually) did our best and got second place!

On Tuesday, we went to German Village, where there is a quaint bookstore with a ton of books! After perusing for a while, we walked to Scioto Park, and the changing leaves made us forget we were downtown.

On Wednesday, we took it easy. I showed Meredith “The Shoe” and around Fisher College of Business. We also walked to the Library and showed her the top floor with a beautiful view of the Oval.

On Thursday it rained a bit, so we found COSI! This was our favorite time. It’s a science museum that has three levels of interactive, enjoyable science exhibits that range from the human body to space to energy. We could’ve spent several more hours (and it’s definitely on our list again).

Friday was our last day. I had to teach two classes, so she came with and saw what I do for my assistantship position. We also went to lunch with some friends at Melt, and ended the evening with some Indian cuisine.

This was a great week– and it was very exciting to share Columbus with the one I love. I have enjoyed this week, and all the other weeks where there’s been a new adventure– exploring a haunted corn maze, all the food, and other spectacular things to do in Columbus. There is plenty to do for 200 years (much less trying to see it all in two)– and experiencing everything makes me wish time wasn’t passing away as quickly as the leaves fall this month.

The World is Our Pokestop

Last Friday night was one for the books. It all started in the Ohio Union. There I was, perched unassumingly on a bar stool witnessing a gaggle of college-aged hipsters load out band gear from the stage inside Woody’s Tavern. And then, from a distance across the white terrazzo tile, I saw them barreling toward me—Ash, Charizard, Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Eevee, and everyone’s favorite, Squirtle. I thought that maybe I’d entered an alternate reality in which Pokemon Go was real life and my real life had become simply an app on an iPhone.

It turns out that this motley crew was simply six of my friends from the MHRM program, competing in the annual Fisher Scavenger Hunt & Bar Crawl. Phew! I decided to join them on their mission toward victory, mostly because they looked really silly and I knew it would be entertaining to watch them skulk down High Street in costume.

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On the rooftop at Big Bar, across the street from the Ohio Union. Aren’t they cute?

We embarked on an evening of endless successes. From Eevee petting the belly of a rabid dog (okay, it was a harmless Bernese Mountain Dog)… to Squirtle’s awkward break-dance breakdown at a remarkably empty Bullwinkle’s… to Pikachu high-fiving a policeman when he least expected it, the evening turned out to be the high point of the semester so far. We can’t forget the highlight of the night when a Cane’s employee unashamedly threw a pokeball full of free box combo certificates at the group– which happened to look a lot like a Styrofoam to-go box secured with red electrical tape. #gottacatchemall

Pikachu having a peaceful interaction with law enforcement.
Pikachu having a peaceful interaction with law enforcement.

As the evening drew to a close, the team was determined to close in on the lead. With just minutes remaining on the clock, the group wandered into World of Beer to complete a few final high-stakes objectives. The team stumbled upon the man behind the curtain—2nd year MBA Tada, sifting through mounds of incoming data from hundreds of accomplished objectives. He was obviously glad to have taken data analytics the year prior.

After several grueling minutes of Tada and his team of analysts poring over their Excel spreadsheets with beads of sweat accumulating on their foreheads, the results were in. It was alleged to be a close race, but as we all could have anticipated from the beginning of this post, the Pokemon were the obvious frontrunners from the very beginning. Congratulations to the MHRMs on their well-deserved win and the trophy to prove it!

That time when you stick out like a sore thumb because you aren't dressed as a Pokemon.
That time when you stick out like a sore thumb because you aren’t dressed as a Pokemon.

My Summer Internship!

The first session (7 weeks) of my 2nd year of MHRM program has flown by almost as quickly as my summer internship at Huntington Bank HQ in downtown Columbus! The summer was a unique opportunity to not only apply the first year of the program to a more tactical learning endeavor, but also to gain new experiences to then bring back to the 2nd year of the program and share with classmates. Below is a quick recap of my summer internship and unique projects I got to be a part of! I apologize for the delay/lack of blogging; it may or may not have taken me the first 7 weeks to get back into the swing of things!

During the first stint of my summer at Huntington, I tried to quickly apply a book from Business Excellence II – The First 90 Days. The book highlights the importance of the first 90 days of any new job and new transition, and how it is important to make a good impression quickly. Really, a summer internship is just around that time frame, so the book was an easy application for tackling my projects.

Overall, I would say the first year of my MHRM curriculum trained my brain to think a certain way: what is the situation, the outcomes desired, impressions and experiences we want to provide? I loved that through the first year of my program, I had a network of resources to bounce my thoughts off of: both classmates and professors. To kick off one of my first projects at Huntington, I tried to get an understanding of the current state of the business and how I was being asked to make an impact, and then called one of our professors, Dr. Inks for his expertise and experience. There wasn’t a shiny bauble that came from the conversation, but instead a frame of mind that helped guide my project throughout the summer.

I loved my projects, team, and work environment over the summer. One of my favorite experiences from the summer was Huntington’s all-intern project. The entire class of about 60 interns was divided into groups of five cross-functional teams. I loved that I had the opportunity to work with students from different departments: IT infrastructure, Commercial Risk, Capital Markets, and Data Analytics– all extremely different departments that possessed a different perspective. The task was to pick an opportunity for improvement at Huntington and confront the problem: what is the problem, why is it a problem, and what is our solution for the problem identified? What prepared me for this project was the MHRM Case Competitions – hosted by Fisher. The problem we identified was one that most companies are facing today: how do we retain millennial talent? I had seen this trend before in the MHRM Internal Case Competition with PepsiCo. Therefore, I had a framework and mindset to build on that rallied our team behind how Huntington can improve to retain the very people giving the presentation: millennials.

My intern buddy over the summer and fellow Buckeye, Leah, after our team presented to the Huntington Executive Team!
My intern buddy over the summer and fellow Buckeye, Leah, after our team presented to the Huntington Executive Team!

I’m so excited to be returning to Huntington after graduation from the MHRM program and to be part of the talent acquisition team! I can also say that I’m excited to finish up the last 1.5 semesters in the MHRM program at Fisher, and gain further background and experience that will ultimately prepare me for taking on an HR Specialist role. Plus, I still want to live out the last of my college breaks that I might never see again 😉 Until next time. Go, Bucks!

Buckeyes that intern together, stay together
Buckeyes that intern together, stay together

Counting My Blessings

I’ve been just awful about updating this blog, but I have an excuse: I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been before in my life. It probably was not wise to start my return to college (16 years after earning my undergrad degree) by enrolling in five graduate-level courses, working as a graduate administrative assistant, and interviewing with recruiters for internships (I do have one offer so far!). In the last seven weeks, I’ve spent large chunks of every day (including weekends) studying, writing, and going to class– along with my other duties. It’s just been cray-cray. I am SO relieved to be down to three classes starting next week.

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BUT one of my mother’s many sayings that she ingrained into my mind as a child is, “Count your blessings.” And I am. Since beginning my time at THE Ohio State University, I’ve met so many kind-hearted, smart, open-minded people; fellow students, staff, and faculty who are good people happy to be here– and intent on bettering the world in some way. It’s an intangible spirit that you can feel on campus and it’s very inspiring. The sky is truly the limit.

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This is Kristina Toliver and me in the Graduate Programs Office. She works at Fisher AND is getting her degree in psychology. She’s one of the MANY nice people at OSU– and I admire her dedication to her studies and appreciate her positive energy!

I also am really enjoying the relationships that are developing in my MHRM cohort. It’s a small group of 48 (I believe), so we already kind of feel like brothers and sisters! For me, getting to know them has rejuvenated my outlook; most of them radiate with the same energy I had in my early 20s.

My new pal, Vinessa, and me.

And they’ve been very kind to me– making sure I don’t feel completely out of place! (although I admit that I sometimes do) Most recently, we went to a … corn maze/haunted house thing (I don’t know what to call it!) and I took part in the fun! 

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Me. Apologies for the fake, cheesy smile!

Next up: the continuation of our Business Excellence class, Talent Management (this is taught by a very well-respected professor and is obviously a critical course) and Organizational Development & Change (also critical and very topical, given the importance of change management today). And registration for spring semester starts on October 28th! I can’t wait!

Celebrating Small Victories

Being a graduate student, working full-time, and having a family requires a lot of smart time management. In fact, as I write this, my daughter is making a drawing to put in my office and my son is saying “Daddy, sit down” as he pats the couch seat next to him.  I’ll be honest–most of this month was really tough in balancing my kids, my wife, school, the new leadership initiative, and the new job.  I go to class Tuesday through Thursday.  Every other day, I get to be with my family.  When I am playing with my kids, I don’t think about school.  My attention is focused on playing toys with them.  Everyday before I leave for work, I make a drawing and leave it for them to find when they wake up.  When I get home, my daughter has often drawn something else on it and/or written her name.  It is a small exchange, but it matters so much.

When I am doing schoolwork, I am almost completely focused on schoolwork!  But (in addition still wanting to play with my kids), I wonder about how I can bring my HR education into my job. Being in a sales-account position has made this task a little tricky.  One of the turning points came during a conference that I helped to host back in March.  I basically asked everyone in the company what they had learned in the conference and what they were using from the conference.  The results turned out well and lent support to propose another conference next year. Last year’s conference was a great way to funnel some of my HR training into a work context– and having the opportunity to do it again is encouraging!  Another “distraction” was that I put a proposal forward to help an organization by doing some pro-bono HR consulting work.  This allows me to serve a very charitable organization and it provides another tangible outlet for my developing HR skills.

Exchanging the drawing with my children matters.  Telling my wife, as much as possible, how much I appreciate her, is a victory.  Finding ways to integrate school into practical settings is exciting.  Some of these things may sound small, but celebrating these little occurrences is what helps remind me of why I am going to school and that I am making progress towards my goals.

Reaching Outside the Comfort Zone

First, let me share some background on myself to give you some context for this post: I am originally from Upper Arlington, Ohio—less than 5 minutes from OSU campus. I attended The Ohio State University alongside 50% of my high school graduating class. During undergrad, while most of my high school friends could pinpoint exactly where they wanted to be 5, even 10 years from then, I always felt unclear about what I wanted out of life and unsure of how to figure it out.

In my junior year of undergrad, while many of my friends were securing study abroad opportunities, I knew I wanted to do something different, something that would challenge me and hopefully reveal to what I didn’t already know about myself—strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities. I wanted to know it all! I found National Outdoor Leadership School through a friend of a friend, and I embarked on what was to become one of the most rewarding and bizarre experiences of my life…

I slept in a sleeping bag for 85 consecutive nights next to 16 strangers who would soon become my closest friends. We backpacked through remote sections of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico and the Galiuro Mountains in Arizona, carrying everything on our backs that we needed to survive for 3 weeks at a time. We climbed the incredible granite domes of Joshua Tree National Park– powered by bacon, coffee, and laughter. We navigated class-3 rapids in whitewater canoes on the Rio Grande, paddled past Mexican military clad with automatic weapons, and didn’t see another human being for 18 days. The vastness of the wilderness was exhilarating, humbling, inspiring, and terrifying all at the same time, and I came to learn more about myself than I ever expected.

When I graduated from undergrad, I knew I wanted to marry my education in psychology with my passion for the outdoors to facilitate meaningful experiences for others who might benefit. I took a job as a Field Instructor for Evoke Therapy Programs helping struggling adolescents and young adults work through depression, drug addiction, trauma, and motivational/behavioral problems. In this job, I worked a non-traditional schedule of 8 days in the field, followed by 6 days off. I saw recovering drug addicts celebrate 30 days of sobriety in the field over no-bake pies. I saw teenage boys with autism begin to challenge rigid patterns of thinking and to develop their first real friendships. And I saw adolescent girls with a history of self-harm come to believe that they mattered in the world. I count myself lucky to have been a part of the transformation process for the clients I worked with, whose stories continue to inspire me and put my own struggles into perspective.

Me and my best friend Taylor when we worked in the field. This was the equivalent "business casual" in the industry.
Me and my best friend Taylor when we worked in the field. This was the equivalent of “business casual” in the industry.

It’s clear that the program I attended and the wilderness therapy program I worked for are very different. The takeaway that I hope becomes obvious here is that there is a certain inherent healing effect of being outside. I also think there is a deeper level of learning that comes from challenging experiences with real consequences—learning what is in and out of your control and how to adapt to adversity. I believe my experiences in the outdoors have shaped me into someone who can find hope and happiness in just about any situation, and I’m grateful for that.

If there is any piece of advice I would give someone who is uncertain about their path in life (and trust me, you’re not alone), I encourage immersing yourself in an experience that you’re afraid of. I’m talking the thing that you always wished you could do but could never actually imagine yourself doing. There is deep self-discovery and self-awareness that comes from pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone.

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The OSU Outdoor Adventure Center traveled to the High Sierras last summer. Seriously awe-inspring stuff.

The great part about OSU is that we have access to so many different experiences– so many that I hear people talk about how they struggle to fit in everything they want to do. Well, here is one more for you: the OSU Outdoor Adventure Center. Of course there is the famed indoor rock climbing wall, but what a lot of people don’t know is that as students we also have access to adventure trips. From rock climbing, to sea kayaking, to dog sledding—there is really something for all seasons and to suit all tastes. The best part is that there is no experience required for most and all are welcome.

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Indoor rock climbing wall at OSU during the Valentine’s day climbing competition. Participants were held together by a paper chain and had to complete the climb together. They also do other silly stuff, like zombie themed climbing hours for the premier of the Walking Dead.

I can’t emphasize enough the benefit of pushing yourself to challenge fears, insecurities, an preconceived notions of your own limitations. From my own trips, I’ve learned to work with diverse teams, lead others in high pressure situations, and accomplish stretch goals with limited resources. These are all skills that translate remarkably well to “real life,” and that I plan to leverage in work and life in the future. Get out there!

“Undergraduate Buckeye” vs. “Graduate Buckeye” So Far….

I am about one month into the MHRM program. It is crazy how fast it has gone by! We are already almost at the halfway point of the first semester. That means 1/8th of grad school is almost done and we are finishing two of our half-semester core courses. It’s exciting!

After reflecting on the past few weeks, there have been a few ways that being a graduate student at Ohio State has been different from being an undergraduate Ohio State student.

Here are the comparisons that I came up with:

1. My MHRM classmates vs. Psychology classmates: Even just knowing these people for a few weeks, I already have gotten to know more people at a faster rate than some of the people I took classes with as an undergraduate. Though I still have a few close friends in my Psychology program, it’s cool to have this type of community in the graduate-school classroom environment.

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2. Group projects. Group Projects. Group Projects: Classes in undergrad are very much lecture-based. It worked for large Psychology classes. In my MHRM classes so far, we have done a lot of group work already. It’s beneficial because it’s allowed me to work with a variety of people in many different capacities.

3. The importance and joy of reading for class: I am looking at reading for classes a bit differently now. It has been awesome to “go deep” into such a specialized topic and to know that I am gaining knowledge in a field to equip me for my future. At the same time, I loved my Psychology classes because of their broad scope; they helped me get a “big picture” and gave me enough knowledge to apply much of what I learned to graduate school now. In my MHRM classes, it is important to come to class prepared and the reading has actually be quite enjoyable!

4. The Internship Search: Psychology was pretty broad and internships needed to be actively sought out. Here at Fisher, there are a multitude of opportunities and support to help us find our summer internship (a large part of our curriculum!). It has been a bit overwhelming with job applications, information sessions, and networking but hopefully it will soon pay off.

5. Buckeye Spirit: If one thing is the same, it’s the Buckeye spirit! What I love about Ohio State is the intense school pride that we all possess. I’m happy to share that with all my graduate school classmates, too. 🙂

With even just a few weeks done in the program, I have already learned so much. I am excited for all that is yet to come!

Go Bucks,
Nikki Villoria

An Enlightening Week

Work this week began with the usual efforts, but soon turned into one of those times when everything flies by!  We got some new orders and I was spending a lot of time out of the office following up on leads and really getting into my sales role. It continues to be an exciting challenge, but I have retained my desire to keep learning and becoming more effective.  I took every opportunity to talk with the regional manager and draw from his experiences.  Slowly, all learning is paying off.  This coming week is filled with appointments.

In addition to a full work week, my wife has begun working on some home projects.  We have been married for fourteen years and she still amazes me with her persistence.  She is somehow able to be an amazing mother and tackle major household projects.  My son turned two years old this week.  He is the perfect combination of absolute sweetness tempered with the whispers of the “terrible two’s.”  The weekends are filled with me spending a lot of time with my kids, but my heart continues to break on Sunday nights as my daughter begs me not to leave for work and stay home and play with her.

School continues to be busy, but the feel of this semester is remarkably different than previous semesters.  I am fortunate to be in a class group with a diversity of experiences and perspectives.  Additionally, every member of the group is working together well and we all share a deep desire to maintain clear communications.  We have our ups and downs, but the underlying desire to be better is so motivating to me.  It makes the work so much more enjoyable.

On Saturday, I organized a volunteering day with my work colleagues and we all served at a soup kitchen.  Serving people breakfast and lunch was a truly enriching experience.  Most everyone said “thank you” as they left the cafeteria, but one moment in particular stood out.  A young girl, perhaps 4 years old, was being carried out by her older brother.  Just as she was exiting the door, she smiled, waived, and said, “Thank you!”  My colleagues and I were shocked at how touching the impact of her thanking us was. I confess that it emotionally impacted me and I felt the sensation deep in my heart.  It was truly a memorable week.