Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A glimpse into the life of . . .

                MYRA WATTS

Myra with one of her beautiful grandsons
Myra Watts = Wisdom. Period.
She is currently an assistant professor at the University of Jamestown in Jamestown, North Dakota (my alma mater - formerly known as Jamestown College).

She is also the director of the Character in Leadership program (an academic minor at the school) and director of the Learning & Academic Advising Center. And she and her husband, who also works for the school, have raised three pretty cool people, one in particular who is truly an amazing individual I am extremely lucky to call one of my best friends.

I was able to take classes from Myra through the leadership program, and I learned more in just those few classes than in any others I had in college. Her selflessness and general outlook on life are so inspiring (and just plain put me to shame), and I know I - or anyone - could go to her with a question about literally anything, and she'd have the perfect answer that would make so much sense but would be something I never would have thought of otherwise.

There is just something about her that makes you want to be a better person, and I am so happy she agreed to share some of that wonderful wisdom with us!

First job ever: At 16 I spent the summer in a small town called Cambria on the coast of California and worked at a Chevron gas station. It was back in the day when attendants pumped gas and washed windows – every window on every car, as a matter of fact. Girls didn’t work at gas stations back then, so it created a stir and a story in the local newspaper. (I LOVE this!) I earned $1.50 an hour. Such a great job!

First job after graduating/first ‘grown up’ job: I worked at an aerospace company as a data manager. I was thrilled to leave this job 10 months later for a teaching position at a  private high school  (teaching 10th grade English) - a job that I absolutely loved!

Dream job: I am working my dream job. I love being with college students and working at a university. I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have been given to stretch and grow as an individual. And I love teaching. It is so exciting to watch a light go on for a student when something clicks or the student awakens to a new idea or thought. I have been at the University of Jamestown for 20 years, and I feel blessed beyond belief to have been able to work with faculty, staff and students there. We are soon leaving this area and moving to a new place, and I am eager to see what adventures lie ahead there.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing the same (or similar) position? Clearly a person needs to get whatever credentials are required. But after that I would say that the most key trait for anyone in any position is to really cultivate a heart of service. Ask continually how you can serve your colleagues and those whom you wish to influence. How can you help the other person achieve what he or she is after? How can you help the organization achieve its higher goals? I believe this is when a job becomes more than just a job; it becomes a calling – something that enlivens you as you become part of a caring community in the place where you work.

What is a major challenge you see recent graduates facing? I think recent graduates have high expectations as to the level of job they will be able to secure immediately following graduation. The reality of the situations they often find themselves in after they graduate does not always meet those high expectations, and that can create some real unhappiness. A major challenge therefore is to stay engaged and involved in whatever level of work one is doing. A career is journey, and the path doesn’t always take a person where she thought she was going. Staying open and receptive is a key to finding happiness along the way.

What advice do you wish you could give your 25-year-old self, career-wise or just in general? My advice would be to pay attention to the current moment – waking up to the moment one is living.  It’s great to have dreams and goals, but it’s easy to lose sight of the splendor of the current moment one is living as one hopes for something more spectacular down the line. So I would advise my 25-year-old self to really enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend, to really take in a sunset, to crunch through the piles of autumn leaves in October, to just be open and awake to what is happening in each moment as it is happening. Actually, this is the advice I give myself every day.

What has been your biggest challenge/obstacle so far in your career, and how did you get past it? My career path has been circuitous. I am in a place I never expected to be. There was a point, however, when I knew that I had to get more education to really hit another level. Going back and getting a master’s degree as an older student was a challenge but also completely satisfying and exciting. I loved every moment of it, so what seemed like an obstacle turned out to be a tremendous opportunity to grow personally and professionally.

Who has been your biggest influence, personally and professionally? No question. My husband, Gary. He’s my champion. It has been his wisdom and encouragement that have helped me to grow in life-changing ways. He has been my greatest and most profound teacher.

What hobbies and activities do you enjoy in your spare time? I love to read. And I love to watch movies or sit around and drink tea with my husband and philosophize about life.

What are two books that have inspired you? A book that has been inspiring to me is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I love Frankl’s statement that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” That is hopeful.

An author I have loved for many years is Erich Fromm, and all of his books are inspiring to me, but I especially like The Art of Loving. I believe that becoming a truly loving person is our single greatest call in life. I am inspired by those writers who can share insights or illuminate a new avenue of thought that we haven’t noticed before. Erich Fromm is certainly one of those people.

What is number one on your bucket list? I would love to walk the Road to Santiago, which is a 500 mile path that millions of pilgrims have walked over the past 1,500 years. The path begins in the Pyrenees mountains in southern France and ends at the church in Santiago on the western coast of Spain. It takes at least a month to walk. I need to do this soon!

Favorite ice cream flavor: Coffee flavored ice cream.

Thank you so much, Myra!

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