“Are you better off than you were…?” How POTUS Prompts Professional Progress

As we celebrate Presidents’ Day, I thought about our presidents’ phrases and quotes that had most caught my attention over the years. One question comes up again and again in every election: Are you better off than you were….?

Now, in February, with many resolutions in the rear view mirror, it’s time to reflect again. We need to ask ourselves the question that President Ronald Reagan made election boilerplate. It’s the question that I have asked myself most days, throughout college, law school, and my professional career. It’s the question that has prompted my personal and professional development. It’s the question that professionals have to ask themselves every week, every day: How are you growing? How are you investing in your future? Are you stronger than you were yesterday? Can you keep pace with and move forward in our rapidly changing work environment? Growing up during the emergence of the consultant in the 1990s, with Fortune Magazine articles like “How to Manage in a Recession”, the message from the media when I was in college was similar to that article’s lead: “As Bette Davis snapped in her Oscar-winning film All About Eve: ‘Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.'” One FORTUNE 500 executive even replied: “We’re too busy battening down the hatches to talk” about the recession.

Let’s take a lesson from President Ronald Reagan on this Presidents’ Day, and continue not only to ask this question, but embrace it as a mantra. Every president since, including President Barack Obama, has because it possesses inherent power to focus our efforts, to crystallize where we are, and to force us to look ahead, rather than “battening down” and paralyzing our movement forward.

On this Presidents’ Day, here’s help from 6 presidents on how to consider this question:

  1. President John Quincy Adams (1825-1829): “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Are you inspired? How? Are you learning every day? And then how are you inspiring others?
  2. President Barack Obama (2009-Present): “Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. …Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.” What is your mission? What is leading you forward? What do you value?
  3. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961): “Accomplishment will prove to be a journey, not a destination.” Are you enjoying this journey? What are you enjoying about it? How could you enjoy it more?
  4. President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809): “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” How will you take steps forward today? tomorrow? Create your action plan to realize your values and mission in your life. Move beyond resolutions to the unique work with your unique gifts that you’re called on to do—for yourself and others.
  5. President Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865): “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.” While you’re assessing what you have achieved, ask yourself: Where do you want to go? Have you finished this chapter of your book, and are you ready to move forward with other challenges?
  6. President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963): “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” Create and build. Leave your legacy—and then move on and create another legacy.

The emergence of the consultant during my college years taught me to keep moving, keep growing, and keep learning. As President Abraham Lincoln stated: “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” Let’s take our presidents’ prompts and challenges: Move forward this February in a presidential way.

Guest Blogger for Ms. JD: Shake my Hand Confidently: Why Pre-Law Students Need to Learn Professionalism before Law School

See my guest blog post on Ms. JD : Shake My Hand Confidently: Why Pre-Law Students Need to Learn Professionalism before Law School

Ms. JD’s Mission
“Ms. JD seeks to support and improve the experiences of women law students and lawyers. Obstacles to equal participation hinder not only women in the law but also their colleagues, clients, children, and communities. Ms. JD consequently strives to give voice to why it matters that women continue to overcome barriers to achieve gender parity in the profession. In doing so, Ms. JD spreads the word: women’s victories are everyone’s victories.”

Because Kindness Matters: Make a Commitment to Celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week & Improve Your Community


A flyer caught my attention as I walked through the Penn State Brandywine campus last week on my way to teach my Communication Theory course: Random Acts of Kindness Week Celebrations from February 9th to 13th. The Laboratory for Civic Engagement planned a week of kindness activities on campus. The other day, I had just tweeted a message about how #kindnessmatters after being the recipient of extreme kindness. Instantly, I recalled the beautiful, heartfelt, and well-written essay that my Literary Experience student had written last semester about being kind. Her father, who had recently passed away, had taught her this golden lesson: Always be kind to others. She communicated to our class that every day she is buoyed by this lesson—to keep his memory alive by being kind to others, especially when things are challenging. Her classmates and I were impacted by her own kindness in sharing this deeply personal life experience. We were better for knowing her—and her father—through her writing.

As my class read This I Believe, one of my favorite books that instructs on how to live your mission, several other students referred to kindness ideas: positivity, gratitude, perseverance, self care, and discipline. They emphasized character. They emphasized the importance of treating others with respect. They emphasized to me this fact: Kindness matters and we need more kindness in our world. While these high-achieving business and nursing students at Villanova University could have written about other values like competition and achievement, they focused on kindness. Their selected topics were highly instructive.

My Random Acts of Kindness Week #RAKWEEK15 has already begun. Attending a fundraiser for Mothers’ Home on Saturday night, I looked for opportunities to be kind–in an atmosphere where kindness was already the focus. After a while I noticed one of the organizers who had staffed the raffle table hadn’t taken a break, so I offered to get her something to eat and drink. I was asked to pick the winners for the raffle, providing a few moments of assistance. In conversation, I focused on everyone I was talking to–asking about them and their own stories. I was reminded of my students. As someone who has always appreciated the little things, my challenge is to show even more kindness. For example, as an educator, how can I incorporate this idea more readily into my courses? How can I help students create a kind community that extends beyond my classroom into the hallway, the dorm, and, ultimately, the workplace?

How will you celebrate kindness this week? What will you do? I’ll be documenting my kindness week on Twitter — I hope to see you at #RAKWeek15 because as my students so aptly demonstrated Kindness Does Matter.

Here’s to a week filled with kindness!

To explore kindness ideas, see the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

Photo credit: In the end, only kindness matters via photopin (license)N