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The Secret Sauce

Kelsy Reynaga is a junior at Iowa State, recently selected to be a national Project YES! (Youth Extension Service) Intern, a program I helped start at the Department of Defense. While I’m proud of being there at its beginning, I’m even prouder that the talented educators I turned it over to have created an educational experience that greatly benefits the interns, the military families, and extension. Kelsy wrote me recently about starting this new internship and had a number of tough questions she wanted to ask, most without easy answers. Since Kelsy will likely expect some wisdom when we meet, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on her questions.

What drives me? As I begin my fourth year as vice president for Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University, I find our work of creating access to education to be incredibly meaningful. I feel an obligation to extension’s early educational pioneers to rise to their level and create educational opportunities and solutions for the future. I am regularly delighted by the dedication, creativity, and talent of the people I get to work with, and I want to leave things better than I found them.

Is this the path I envisioned for my future? Um. No. I’m not good enough at predicting the future, or understanding what opportunities might come up. Instead, I’ve learned to be ready and open and willing to leap.

So, is it possible to accomplish everything you want to do? Not alone. Not in a direct line. Not in the way you thought it would happen. Not as quickly as you might hope. Accomplishing things really depends on understanding the fundamental conditions that support accomplishment.  At the most basic level, there are only a few things one needs for accomplishment to thrive: Vision. Resources. An action plan. But the real secret sauce to getting things done is nurturing talented colleagues, making it easier for them to do their work, and recognizing and rewarding their efforts. In other words, our ability to strengthen Extension and Outreach lies in improving the conditions that shape our organizational culture.

As I thought about what to say to Kelsy, I realized I don’t really think so much about “accomplishing stuff” anymore — instead, I think about trying to create the conditions for good things to happen. See you there.

— Cathann

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Showing 4 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your contemplative answers for Kelsy with us. I like your advice about vision, resources and action!

  2. Cathann, this is a really wonderful message. It really hit home for me when you said, “not in the way you thought it would happen. Not as quickly as you might hope.” It can be discouraging when things don’t always go as planned or you don’t get the immediate/exact result you were expecting. But knowing even our leaders sometimes struggle with this brings a sort of encouragement to get back at it and try, try, try again! (Since that’s what you all do!) Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

  3. Cathann,
    Two phrases that jumped out at me from your message are: “be ready and open and willing to leap.” and “create the conditions for good things to happen.” I, too believe these are essential to our success in life, Extension and education in general. Watching for the “opening” or ‘invitation to enter’ as I like to call it, is only possible when we are clear about the vision. I am intrigued by the research done by Brene’ Brown on vulnerability and ‘creating the conditions for good things to happen’ includes sharing the journey as you did so eloquently.
    Thank you.

  4. Cathann, what a great connection you’ve made with Kelsy. Enabling an open and honest dialogue with tomorrow’s leaders is so crucial to what we do — helping make the triadic connections that David logan discussions in “Tribal Leadership” is essential to the networking needed in today’s complicated society. However, I love that you’ve highlighted that “finding your way” is as much as about active daily learning and adjusting to what happens as it is about having a perfectly sculpted life plan! Great stuff!