Thoughts on change, and the heart of work

In a book I asked him to sign, Sandy Shugart, aka Dr. Sanford Shugart, a poet, musician, and president of Valencia Community College, winner of the Aspen Award for best community college in the nation, wrote these words:

“Because the work of your heart is the heart of your work.” 

The author of Leadership In The Crucible of Work: Discovering the Interior Life of an Authentic Leader, (Shugart, 2014), I had had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Shugart over a two-day leadership symposium in Traverse City for alumni and current students of the Doctorate in Community College Leadership program by Ferris State Univeristy. Shugart was the featured keynote speaker and contributor throughout the event. During several opportunities, I raised questions and asked for guidance regarding the challenges of experiences in leading from where you are, finding purpose in the late stages of a career, and thriving in spite of dysfunction and continuous disruption due to challenges and changes in leadership.7BeijAmMR9qCeTZk4Su%NQ

As with any good poet and thoughtfully insightful person, he answered my queries with stories, metaphors and parables, all designed to provoke deeper thought on the questions at hand. The theme of the workshop/symposium seemed to take on leadership from a more spiritual perspective. And these conversations were designed to encourage the deeper, more authentic development of emerging leaders.

Regardless of where you lead from, there is more to it than standing at the helm providing direction. There are people depending upon you to lead them. And to do so, you must decide what kind of leader you will be. In community colleges and in public service, generally, servant leadership is considered the gold standard. But Shugart suggested otherwise, cracking open the heretical thought that there are times when servant leadership is just not appropriate to the task at hand. That a good leader was one who was flexible, adjusting their approach to the particular situation. Frankly, this made sense to me. But it wasn’t a “how-to” workshop we were sitting in on. It was far more thoughtful than that.

On my way home the next day, I would spend much of the time lost in thought about the meaning of these words he wrote in my book. I realized that the statement dearly reflected the questions I had asked of potential suitors after my husband of 30 years had passed away unexpectedly after a very brief and difficult battle with a highly aggressive cancer.

Some months after his death, I had thought about joining a dating site for “older” adults and considered this only as a way to find someone to share in conversation, perhaps over dinner, take in a play or a movie, etc. I was not looking for another life partner, believing that there was no way anyone could match my husband’s companionship. So I wrote my profile and asked my adult daughter to read it over to make sure I wasn’t going to attract any creeps. Well, it was not a foolproof effort and I found myself narrowing down the sphere of candidates by writing what I was “not” looking for in a companion, and that if anyone was looking for “xyz” then they needed to look somewhere else.

I’m here to tell you that dating profiles are not so dissimilar to job postings. They tell you enough to get your interest, but when you want to learn more, you’ll have to dig a bit deeper to find that it may or may not be a good fit. As an artist/musician myself, I wasn’t looking for shallow self-centered boasting. I was looking for deep thinking. I’m here to tell you that the men I encountered were mostly not very good at expressing themselves on this level. So I was forced to resort to another technique, follow-up interview questions. When contacted by someone with a rather shallow profile or one that was too thin in content, I would write back to the potential suitor the following:

“What fulfills you? And what fills your days?”

I was looking for someone who could dream, who could follow their heart in their work, vocation, or avocation, and create a life that would fill their heart. In other words, I had asked the same question that Sandy Shugart had written for me to ponder…”because the work of your heart is the heart of your work.”

Photo of book page spread with inscription written on it
Leadership in the Crucible of Work by Sandy Shugart “Mara – Because the work of your heart is the heart of your work. sandy Shugart, June 2019”

Now, the challenge is to look into the mirror to determine where the work of my heart lies… in the act of creation through art, for instance? Or through the act of creating change, such as through the work of a dedicated educator? And, at what level does that work as an educator begin to lose its value as the heart of my work? And how do I make sure that I truly am continuing to do the work of my heart regardless of what the actual “activities” consist of?

There is much to ponder amidst the daily chores and shifting routines.

PS: For those who “might” be wondering how the dating scene turned out, only one man was able to make sense of my two questions and answer them thoughtfully. We were married two years later and will be celebrating our 5th anniversary this fall.


Mara Jevera Fulmer

Mara Jevera Fulmer

I am an educator, artist, scholar, and life-long learner with an insatiable curiosity. For those interested in the alphabet soup, I have a Ed.D., MFA, MA, and BA. My highest degree is in Education and Community College Leadership and my dissertation was on the role of the creative arts in student success for non-arts majors. My previous studies were in the arts from Photography/Journalism (BA) and then Advertising Design (MA), and Studio Art/Design (MFA), the last two with a strong cross-cultural focus. Visit for insights into my creative work.

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