Valley Voices

Rootbound in your career? Maybe, like me, you need a bigger pot.

Lexington Herald Leader

As I sat among the bobble-heads, Bulldog beanie babies and boxes in my office, mementos of a “career well lived,” I felt this nauseating mixture of paralyzing fear and tickled-pink-excitement of a 6-year old.

Some around me asked if it was “bittersweet.” For me it was more like a nonstop, whirling, emotional blender. I was too young (in my mind) for the “active adult community” and dinner at 4 p.m. so the word “retirement” just didn’t fit.

Then, in an email exchange with a Fresno State supporter-turned friend, the perfect word was offered to describe my departure: “repotting.” When I asked if I could quote her, she told me she took the phrase from author Heather Cochran.

“Repotting a plant gives it space to grow,” Cochran said. “Repotting ourselves means taking leave of our everyday environments and walking into unfamiliar territory – of the heart, of the mind and of the spirit. It isn’t easy.”

It certainly wasn’t easy for me. Saying goodbye to my work family and the College of Health and Human Services was similar to moving out of the house after college, with the same palpable mixture of fear and excitement.

Thinking back on my first day on campus in 1997, I remembered Karl Longley ushering me into a bleak, empty office with the charge, half joking: “Go out and raise money!” When he came back the next day, he said, “Where are those sacks of money?”

Now, much has changed. Millions of dollars and what seems to be a lifetime later, I can honestly say that I was given far more than I received! Each day, each moment and each interaction was a gift, an opportunity to grow and learn. I was nurtured by wonderful, patient deans, faculty members, donors and friends

I picked up two more degrees and a professional certification but best of all, I worked with a team of wonderful people who made every day a joy, if not a wild, crazy adventure.

Repotting a plant gives it space to grow. Repotting ourselves means taking leave of our everyday environments and walking into unfamiliar territory – of the heart, of the mind and of the spirit. It isn’t easy.

Heather Cochran, author of “The Return of Jonah Gray”

However, as one who comes from a family of life-long learners, I wanted to be of greater service, to grow and to create something meaningful for our Valley. After getting my doctorate, I put these dreams on a shelf and focused on getting my real life back.

As any graduate student, regardless of age, can tell you, at the end of your academic journey, you are completely focused on the “finish line” and nothing else matters. My waistline stands as testament to this fact!

In time, I noticed that my dreams and spark seemed to flicker and fade. Then, like the rain after a dry spell, an opportunity popped up on my horizon. It offered a new, fresh chance for me to stretch and put my leadership training, teaching experience and curriculum-design talents to good use every day. What fun!

I was, indeed, completely repotting, and it scared the daylights out of me. I had become safe and secure in my old pot, even if my roots were getting a bit cramped. As Cochran added, “The older we get, the more likely we are to have remained in the same place for some time. We stay because it’s secure. We know the boundaries and, inside of them, we feel safe.

Our roots cling to the walls we have long known. But remaining inside can keep us from thriving. Indeed, without new experiences or ideas, we slowly grow more and more tightly bound, eventually turning into less vibrant versions of who we might have been.”

Now, looking at the new signage outside my door, the repotting is a reality and there is no going back. I simply won’t fit. I wake each day thankful for the wonderful, colorful and nurturing “container” that kept me safe and secure for 20 years. With their sunshine and light (and a bit of manure, to keep it real), I bloomed regularly and thrived.

In my new pot, I can feel the room around my roots. I can turn my face up to meet the sunshine, knowing that the ups and downs ahead of me in my new career bring colorful blossoms, new growth and promise.

Dana Zupanovich Lucka of Fresno is a former senior director of development for the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State. Connect with her on Twitter @dmzlucka.