Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 2012: Sic Gloria Transit Mundi & More

This letter is a bit of a ramble.  It is a bit of the transformation I went through this month.  So, it is a journey of sorts.  As I have used March to write a travel in previous years, this letter can be quasi-considered in that category even though I did not physically travel anywhere.  The journey was all internal and in the form of a lesson.
Sic gloria transit mundi is a Latin phrase that means "thus passes the glory of the world."  It is attributed to the phrase popularized in the movie Patton as "all glory is fleeting."  In the movie, one of the true classics, General Patton as played by George C. Scott gave this little soliloquy.

For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph - a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

I am not anywhere near being Roman General, yet I got a good dose of this lesson this week which I am sharing with in this letter. 
Monday evening, March 12th, I had just started my Introductory Statistics class at the College of Lake County.  I was giving an exam and answering last minute questions that the students always have.  I was about five minutes into it when Blake Banovitz the President of the Student Government, Ryan Stivers the VP of the Student Government and another senator who I did not know came into the room.  They were carrying small gifts and balloons.  There was a small sign attached to the gift.  They made an made announcement to the class.  The announcement was that they were giving me a wonderful and much appreciated award and honor that is summed up by the card which was attached to the gifts they presented to me:

The College of Lake County
Student Government Association
would like to recognize you as
the recipient of the

2012 College of Lake County
Outstanding Part-Time Faculty Award

Your time and dedication to student success in
and out of the classroom is greatly appreciated.

Please join us at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 17 at the Board of Trustees Meeting in A206
where you will be formally recognized for this award.

I was delighted to get this recognition.  My students applauded.  I may have even blushed.  I rarely ever blush these days.  I felt very good about this and while the students were taking the exam, I texted the family and let them know what had just happened.  I was feeling really good and accomplished.  This award is from the students and it was a great confirmation that they appreciate the effort and style I bring to the classroom.  I love this work.  I cannot say that about everything I have done. 
The advice that is often freely given is some variation of "if you do what you love, you will love what you do."  It is indeed sage advice but, honestly, how many of us are really and truly fortunate enough to be able to say that.  Often that which we are passionate about does not easily become a livelihood.  Most of us settle into something we don't actually hate and perhaps moderately enjoy.  That is good enough for most of us.  But when we do see someone who is doing what they love, we recognize how lucky they are and rekindle our own desires to do the same. 
I enjoyed teaching at the college level back in the 1970s when I first did it.  The need to make more money and, frankly, serendipity led me to a corporate career.  Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed most of that career which took me to from Detroit to Connecticut/New York City, and then to Chicago.  I got to visit and work with great people from around the world and specifically in Latin America.  I did enjoy that to the point that I miss it at times.  Teaching was and is again something different... and more.  I enjoy the classroom.  I enjoy the flow of students from one course to the next.  I enjoy the continual improvement process of how I try to get knowledge across to the students.  I do get better every time I teach a particular course.  I enjoy how I really get to know the material on a different level by having to be able to coherently teach it to others.  I love it pure and simple.
Love aside... it still doesn't pay much.  It especially does not pay much at the adjunct level.  So, I applied for two full time mathematics positions at the College of Lake County.  The full time positions pay more but still not what I could and believe should be earning.  It mattered naught, I was already doing something I loved and this would allow me to do it full time.  I also believed another maxim that "if you can do what you love, worry not, the finances will work themselves out."  Either that is true or you will go bankrupt. 
I had applied for a similar position in 2009 but was rejected.  It did, however, turn into the adjunct position I now have.  As usual with me, serendipity was at play.  If Plan A does not work out, a Plan B that is in the same kind of direction will reveal itself.  Back in 2009, I felt dejected at the rejection then but upon getting the adjunct position I realized I was not ready.  A lot had changed since the 1970s when I first taught.  I had to learn the technology used in the classroom and internet course management software.  What used to be just book, chalk, blackboard, and grade-book had become more complex.  In the complexity, however, was a lot of capability that was of great benefit once it was mastered.  As I have mastered large chunks of it in the interim three years, I was feeling really confident about my candidacy for these positions.  I knew my application was much stronger than it was 2009.  I had better recommendations.  I was a known entity; I had done whatever was asked of me, accepted any assignment offered, and was getting good reviews from the students.  I was feeling golden.
Now, I had been named Outstanding Adjunct Faculty of 2012.  How could they say turn me down?
Actually, quite easily.
Less than 24 hours of getting notification of the award, I received a thanks but no thanks letter from an HR executive at the college.
Dang, it wasn't even a full day of enjoying the accolade.  Sic gloria transit mundi.  Actually, it was barely twenty hours.  It did not take long at all for me to be a mixture of anger and disappointment.  I thought I would at least get an interview.  Nope.  The email I got was polite thank you but no thank you but we have chosen to interview others.  All glory is indeed fleeting.  Sic gloria transit mundi or in your face, I am not sure which.  All I know is that it made me kind of sic... to my stomach.
The first thought that came into my head was age discrimination.  This could be the case.  It might not be the only reason but I was fairly certain it was a contributing vector.  I was thinking that the selection committee, an amorphous and anonymous group, probably didn't even know they were discriminating.  I could most certainly, using my statistical skills, verify some kind of correlation if I could get the ages of all applicants and hires for, say, the last thirty hires. 
I bounced the idea of age discrimination off of some valued friends.  These folks were human resource professionals, executive placement professionals, and even two professors at other universities.  They all agreed that age discrimination is rampant in the work place in general and academia.  One professor in a business MBA program told me that the school she teaches at actually has been discussing how to move away from 60 years old teaching 40 year olds how to manage 20 year olds.  She said that she probably has to find another place to teach.  She is very good.  The other professor simply told I was getting a good solid dose of how academic departments are run and, yes, age discrimination is a factor that exists, no one talks about, and most people who feel discriminated against rarely do anything as there is almost nothing to be gaining by taking any action.
I had to agree.  I could make a stink about it and play the age card.  But really, where would that get me?  It would consume a lot of time and energy.  There is nothing to be gained from being upset in any way at this.  Why waste time feeling bad or negative?  It will not change any of this.  It will not change the mind of the people that did not think I was as qualified or attractive as others for this position.  All negativity will do is make me feel bad and not appreciate the recognition I got from the students.  It really is a special honor and I should not let anything take away from that.  I get to go to the April 17 Board of Trustees meeting for the college and have a formal presentation.  That is very cool.  “Accentuate the positive” and all that.
But, I was upset.  I was upset with myself more than anything or anyone else.  I am upset for putting myself in a position where I was actually counting on the endorsement of anyone else.  In this case, it was the selection committee.  I knew how they would operate.  It is how they are collectively wired.  Their track record for making adjuncts full timers is very low. 
I get upset now and then.  I guess that is natural and it is certainly my track record.  But I am best when I transform the energy I put into being upset into motivation.   That is what I decided to do in this case.  I want to enjoy the recognition I got and I still want to do something exciting and that I love.
I decided to focus on my own business in which I have hung out my own shingle (I am certain this will be a topic of a future posting).  I will create a name for myself through consulting, writing, speaking, and teaching.  Thus, my decision was to create my own opportunities.  That is really what I really should be doing.  I was probably counting on this full time teaching  position because it was an easier path... and it certainly would have been. 
For sure I was interested in a full time position doing what I truly loved.  I had applied and if I got the job, I would have taught and been on auto-pilot until I finally retired.  The rejection made me really that this scenario would not have been enough.  I need and want more.  I love to teach.  But, I will also consult, speak, and write. 
I have a friend friend in Mexico who I have talked about in these letters.  His name is Angel de la Puente.  We met when he was Director of Customer Service and Logistics for Colgate Mexico and I had the same position in the Latin American Division.  He always used to say "You like me, keep me.  You don't like me, let me go."  He realized that he would try to do the best job he could and that was all he could do.  If the powers that be decide that he (or you or me) is no longer a valued member of the team, there is nothing any of us can do to keep ourselves from being let go... or not hired... or not even considered for an interview.
There was a second or perhaps third tier philosopher, Epictetus, who really laid it out perfectly with a couple of quotes that resonate with me.  They have special meaning when I am feeling dissed or rather what I like to call disenfranchised:

It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting.

People and committees make personnel decisions any way they will and want.  Sometimes, it will feel personal and to a degree it is, as it is happening to you personally.  Do I get upset, stay upset, lash out, or just take it as the roll of the dice (you can't really get upset by something random) and move on?  Was all this insulting to me?  Sure, I can easily look at it that way (after all I am Armenian) or do I just accept their decision for whatever reason and however they came to that decision and move on.  Epictetus would have me taking the more noble approach and forgetting about what I can essentially do nothing about and move on to the next.  This is the same philosophy espoused, in his own eloquent way, by my friend Angel.  It is not so much as what they did and what they decided by more so how I reacted to it.
"Screw them" is certainly a reaction.  I do believe, knowing Angel, that sentiment is exactly embedded and implied in his quote.  You don't get that in the words?  Trust me, it is there.  You have to know the man and have heard the tone in which he delivers the statement.  We used to say something similar in the Johnite's band all the time, "screw them if they can't take a joke."  Of course, we used the f-word instead.
Epictetus lived from 55 -135 AD.  He was born a slave and later freed.  I suppose it was this slave heritage that led him to believe to take things as they happen and are handed out.  He believed in fate.  What else is a slave to believe in?  He advocated accepting what one has no control over as the key to contentment and happiness.   Epictetus is like a saint.  He is like Jesus turning the other cheek.  It is all very easy to say but hard to put into practice.  Perhaps, Epictetus was one of those slaves General Patton was referring to.  Maybe, he was on the chariot behind the hero whispering "all glory is fleeting."
I eventually accept events I really cannot control like Epictetus advocates.   The problem is that I need to and do rage about it first.  I probably rage too long.  Rage may well be too strong a word, but my reaction is certainly in the direction of rage.  While my friend Angel talks like Epictetus, he is also a bit of a firebrand as well before accepting fate.  I do believe he rages more than I do or at least more colorfully.  But, he believes what he says.  If you like him, take him.  If you don't, let him go but be prepared to get an earful of expletives and a frank assessment of what he thinks of you.  I am guessing Epictetus did not openly rage or let loose with the f-bombs if things did not go his way. 
So, what is my plan?  How do I handle this double edged sword of recognition and rejection?  I will focus on the recognition because the source of that is who really matters:  the students.  I am also focusing on building up my consulting business.  If done right, the revenue potential is much higher in consulting than teaching.  Furthermore, consulting will either succeed or fail based entirely on me, my ability to market, sell, and execute.  Creating my own future seems like exactly the right thing to do.
After a few days of being a cross between Epictetus and de la Puente, I began working in earnest to get my business up, running, and generating revenue.  I am kind of happy with what I have done in this regard this month.  I worked with my daughter's brother-in-law Andrew to create a logo that I quite happy with.  I have my company email set up in google apps and transferred all my email, calendar, documents, and contacts from my old consulting company.  I designed and printed business cards using my brand spanking new logo.  I contracted with a web-designer to begin creating the shell of my website.  She will teach me how to add and edit content so I can mostly be self-sufficient.  It is rather exciting.  I am having a lot of fun with this.
What is really exciting is that I also landed my first client and engagement in the past week.  It was a quick intense engagement to help a third party logistics provider prepare a bid to retain a customer that was about 30% of their business.  I liked that from this one week project I earned over half of what they pay me to teach and adjunct course at the College of Lake County.  It was also a lot of fun. 
There is also a religious and spiritual component to all this and I do not say this lightly.  I often tell people that there has to be a God because only a universal divine, all powerful, and all knowing being would have the insight to know and the power to ensure that I am not bestowed with unlimited good looks, power, or wealth. 
I am adding two dimensions to religious component.  First, I believe in God because of the humbling and centering lessons provided to me both randomly and when I seem to need them:  Sic gloria transit mundi.  Second, I also believe in God because quite simply when one door closes, another opens.  Someone or something is providing the lessons and opening the doors that reveal Path B. 
I just have to have the right positive attitude to be able to see the doors that are opening. 


  1. "Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks." - James Baldwin

  2. It is good to hear you are taking a positive attitude through life's bumps or potholes in the road. Our first reactions are valid, one of anger and doubt, but it doesn't mean, one has to take the negative approach. I am glad over time your feelings of anger and disappointment mellowed out. You're a better man. It is true that something good always comes out of something bad, turning the negative into a positive.

    Congratulations on your new endeavor and rediscovering your talents. I admire you for taking that leap of faith. The is a God, Creator, Higher Being, Angel that watches over us and guides us. You will succeed.

    Thank you for being inspiring!

  3. Congratulations on many things Mark Amu! The award is quite an honor and well deserved. Such a true statement by saying that if you love what you do, you'll be successful. Also congratulations on the start of your new company. Very impressive logo and card. Can't wait to see the website and how the company progresses!

  4. First, congrats on the award.  This is no small achievement and should be embraced as such.

    Second, kudos for landing, and completing, your first assignment under your new shingle.

    Third, and most importantly, the school is the ultimate loser wrt their decision.  In many ways you were born to be an educator and the students will take much less from their courses than they otherwise could've.

    All the best!

    David A. Gavoor

  5. First and foremost, congratulations on such a wonderful award. Being recognized for greatness from your students is truly an honor one can only hope to receive as a teacher - but I'm not surprised. I have seen you in action many a time at corporate meetings and you always wowed the audience or at least you did me. Two years ago a packaging company that I was working at close to 4 years was bought and our facility was closed. After being out of work for a while I decided to get a job in retail for the holidays while I looked for something more substantial. I had never worked in retail before and was shocked at how brutal this was. I also experienced for the first time, age discrimination - in my 40's! I, like you was very angered by this but I took a different approach. I refused to let them get away with this. Not only was I being discriminated, the other younger workers were treated like crap also. I felt that if I didn't something about it that I would be doing a disservice to myself and other women out there. I consulted with a discrimination lawyer who who took my case on contingency. I didn't care if I won or lost, I was not in this for any money. I just couldn't not do anything. I had never encountered anything like this and it was a real eye opener to what my future would be like in trying to find another position. I had never thought of the possibility of age discrimination before. It was a hard reality. I don't expect anything grand to come out of my case, but I'm glad I did something. I am glad your experience lit a fire under your butt to get your business going. Sometimes it takes a hard reality to get you going. I wish you lots of success in this new venture of yours and hope that you never leave your teaching position - that would be a disservice to you students.