The Blue Highways Journey

I would like to give you a gift (I hope you think of it that way). I’ve begun a series of connected messages which I call “Lessons from Blue Highways”. You might want to think of the messages as short chapters in a book that focus on personal values of ordinary citizens.

My plan is to release a message every Wednesday. Each message will focus on a virtue which all of us aspire to. I hope you will find these stories uplifting. I feel that there is a real hunger for positive messaging about ordinary American citizens striving to live purposeful lives. In many respects the Lessons from Blue Highways resembles a serial novel popularized by Charles Dickens. Novels used to be published in installments rather than as complete works.

I hope you will join me on the Blue Highways journey, and help me find its destination. So pack your bags and get ready to visit parts of the country that will lift your spirits.

Episode 1 – Alertness You may be wondering why this topic was selected for the first episode. In many ways, the blue highways journey episodes are sparked by spontaneous thoughts. This episode was triggered by a review of student assignments in two courses I’m teaching. Students were asked to do self-assessments of challenges they faced. Over 90% of the students listed self-confidence, risk-taking, or tolerance of ambiguity.

They saw these as challenges, but in reality they are opportunities if they are alert to the possibilities. Helping mentor people to see beyond the curve in the road is, I believe, a crucial function of helping people discover their talent. This requires alertness to opportunities, rather than a fear of uncertainty. Sadly, mentoring has been replaced by processing, and the development of a person’s talent is considered to be a straight-line road rather than a curving one of possibilities. Just imagine how much we have lost as a society by failing to help people be alert to their own possibilities. (Added 02-01-23) 

Episode 2 – Stewardship I am a member of what is called the Silent Generation.  We were born between 1928-1945. We have one thing in common.  We either experienced the Great Depression, or were children of those who had. For us, stewardship was a given because resources were scarce.

When we think of stewardship, we often associate it with material things. But stewardship is much more. You can think of it in very personal ways (maintaining your values and beliefs) or societal ways (maintaining our democratic ideals). Stewardship is also a legacy we need to pass on to the next generation (protection of our environment, our culture). It’s the footprint we leave behind. (Added 02-08-23)

Episode 3 – Endurance Growing up, I became aware of Mountaineer sports when I was 11. I was a religious reader of the sports page. I was a sports statistics nerd. I listened to every game on the radio for football and basketball.

When I began my teaching career at WVU, I attended sports for all the athletes I’ve taught. I had season tickets for basketball and football for over 50 years. I’m proud of my endurance as a Mountaineer sports fan.

But now my endurance has ended. I no longer know our athletes. I have no affinity with our competitors. Sports events are hard for me to access because I resent having to pay for extra streaming channels.

At some point, endurance needs reciprocation. I’m proud that I helped students through tough times and build their endurance and graduate. Endurance mentors are critical to the development of human talent. (Added 02-15-23)

Episode 4 – Boldness This post is about a stretch of the country from just south of Clarksburg, WV, to Uniontown, PA. I’ve often wondered why there was such a concentration of bold thinking and acting people in one area. They didn’t feed off of each other because they lived in very different times. Could you find similar concentrations in other parts of the country? I don’t know. Were there parental influences? Not that I can tell.

As an educator, I’ve been fascinated by boldness traits in students. The one thing that I know is that it is inversely correlated with academic performance. The students who are the high performers seem to take the highway that leads to what the teacher is looking for, and not venture into bold thoughts. (Added 02-22-23) 

Episode 5 – Gratitude As I was writing the Blue Highway story on gratitude, I was reflecting on my own journey in thinking about gratitude. I was often asked by freshmen to do an interview for their English 101 class. The question that was often asked was what I was most proud of in my career. My response was things that I was able to do for students that they never knew about.

I’ve never been one who expects or values outward expressions of gratitude. To me a sigh of relief after helping a student is wonderful.

I realize that not everyone is like I am, so I taught students the value of hand-written thank you cards and genuine verbal words of appreciation. But even more important, I tried to convey to them the joy of being able to support others even when they are unaware of your support. I told them that supporting others is something they should do for themselves because it’s who they are, and for that no one else needs to know. (Added 03-01-23)

Episode 6 – Flexibility A common call that I would get from alumni was one of seeking advice on a career move. Often these would involve a case where the alum would be asked to take a new job where they had virtually no experience. My typical response was to congratulate them. I would explain that organizations often groomed their top performers to have the broadest possible view of the organization. Diversity of experience is highly valued. The flexibility to work in different areas is important, but so too is the flexibility to relate to a diverse mix of people. Think about flexibility along these other dimensions:

  • Creator – Implementer
  • Leader – Follower
  • Dreamer – Realist
  • Teammate – Solo Contributor

Success takes all types, bundled into one person. (Added 03-08-23)

Episode 7 – Determination I had a wonderful email from a graduate recently. As a student, Mark struggled in the theoretical classes in our curriculum. He had to repeat Differential Equations three times before passing it his last semester in college. While there were those in our college who considered him a lost cause, I greatly respected his determination.

The reason for the email was to give me an update. His father had a stroke, and Mark needed to take over running the family business. That was tough for someone in his mid-20’s. He was proud to tell me how much the business has thrived and expanded. Again, his determination paid off.

What I don’t understand is why we can’t value emotional intelligence traits, such as determination, as much as we value more conventional intelligence traits as reflected in external measures such as grades of GPA’s. (Added 03-15-23)

Episode 8 – Authenticity Over the years, I’ve often surprised students by suggesting they would be great at technical sales. These are typically quiet, but very genuine, students. I just knew that they would be effective in sales because they couldn’t do something they couldn’t believe in.

Authenticity seems to be a trait that is becoming in short supply. Just think of those in prominent positions who you would describe as being authentic. Why is that? Have we become dupes for phonies? I hope not, but social media, money, and “the base” seem to be giving voice to phonies. (Added 03-21-23)

Episode 9 – Honor I’m a sucker for the stories of little known heroes in our society who contributed in remarkable ways. This journey deals with those who gave up their lives for our freedom. I suspect that the medals they received meant very little to them. Many are only honored at their passing, and I suspect that would not be their wish. Living an honorable life does not need to be celebrated. The best way to recognize honorable persons is to let them be an inspiration for all of us. (Added 03-29-23)
Episode 10 – Attentiveness In my academic career, I had the unique experience of teaching students from freshmen to senior year. I was also the students’ advisor and mentor. I saw students virtually every day from their sophomore to senior year. These interactions gave me an awareness of things going on in their lives that were unspoken. Often I would pull them aside and ask: “how can I help?” they were amazed by my question, but began to open up about what was bothering them. I believe that attentiveness was vital to me as a teacher, advisor, and mentor.
Episode 11 – Loyalty I’ve often thought about what loyalty means to different people. For some, it seems like loyalty is something you can demand of others. There are those who believe loyalty is something you earn by your support for others. I don’t think of loyalty as something you possess or give. I think of it as the guide for how you live your life. Loyalty to me is how you sustain your beliefs and values to achieve your life’s purpose.
Episode 12 – Trust I once had a project with a major organization. The organization’s lawyers had drawn up a contract for me to sign.  I refused. As an alternative, I drew up a list of principles which I believed were necessary for the success of the engagement. My contact in the organization accepted my principles and “forgot” to have me sign the contract. When the project was over, the lead contract in the organization commented how the principles required a level of trust he had never before experienced on a project. He attributed much of the success of that project to the trust relationship we developed.
Episode 13 – Curiosity When I ask students to do self-assessments in class, I find that curiosity is often one of the traits that is rated the lowest. There is a debate whether curiosity is a basic trait or one that can be developed. I have no scientific sense of the origin of curiosity, but one thing that I know is that people can become more creative when the following are used in the development process:

  • An ongoing requirement to think through situations for which there is no right answer
  • The elimination of self-censorship (e.g. this may be a dumb idea)
  • Continuing feedback on ideas that is designed to extend thinking, rather than to discourage exploration of ideas
Episode 14 – Vision What are the keys to vision? I’ve found that vision is not as we imagine it to be. It’s not some magic of thinking into the future. It is based on some fundamental practices:

  • An insatiable curiosity
  • An ability to make connections between what might seem to be disparate entities
  • An ability to think of possibilities and responses to these
  • An appreciation of the past as it might relate to the future
Episode 15 – Truthfulness Is being truthful a thing of the past? It’s interesting that truthfulness is a valued personal trait in our relationships with friends and family. But truthfulness seems no longer to be a valued trait in leadership. Why is that? Are we looking for leaders to confirm our biases even though they may not be telling us the truth?
Episode 16 – Understanding Since I was forced to retire because of my personal health, I’ve continued to teach online. My interaction with students has been through a course management system. To connect with the assignments students system, I have to process through 13 links. The University constantly adds features to the system which I don’t need and make it clunky to use. Understanding is an ability to connect with others and a willingness to reach out to them. It also seems to be a rare trait in our society today.
Episode 17 – Accountability One of the concepts I taught in class that I got a lot of pushback on at first was one that students came to embrace.  The concept was: “All excuses are lies”.  Accountability is a tough sell because it’s so easy to assign blame when things don’t work out as hoped.  Accountability calls upon a number of personal traits such as dependability, endurance, and persistence but also creativity an innovationess.
Episode 18 – Commitment There has been a lot of anguish about the loss of knowledge during the COVID pandemic. What is not being discussed is the personal traits that were not developed in the past. One of these was commitment. Young people had less hand-holding and “nagging”. As a result, their sense of commitment increased. I’ve had students in my online classes who have sown a high level of commitment and others who struggle to fulfil their obligations. To me, commitment is a better indicator of career success than a GPA.
Episode 19 – Acceptance One of the things I enjoyed most in my world of working with 18-22 year old young people was how they accepted each other’s backgrounds. In one class, I would have students with different racial backgrounds, national heritage, gender, religious and socio-economic status. I really valued seeing the acceptance in my class in contrast to what I saw in society.
Episode 20 – Contentment When I was forced to retire for health reasons, current students and alumni produced a memory book for me. I was fascinated by their comments. It was about the little things we shared together. Contentment comes from small moments of true meaning, not from showcase moments, which may be fun but are devoid of true impact.
Episode 21 – Caring I remember vividly when a student lost his mother during the semester. One of his professors refused to let him take the test after the funeral. His classmates went to the professor and told him they would not show up for the test in support of their classmate. That’s true caring. All of us can demonstrate caring in our daily lives.
Episode 22 – Helpfulness Once I had a student in class who was blind. It was remarkable to see how his classmates reached out to him. On one day, the previous class had rearranged the chairs. The student found his chair and was sitting backward. No one laughed. They just helped him face the front of the class – a small but memorable example of how each of us can practice helpfulness in our lives.
Episode 23 – Connectivity In West Virginia, one of our meeting rituals is to see who we know. We want to establish connections to the person we just met through mutual acquaintances. Those connections help establish a bond. I’ve always told students to value those they have classes with because they will become an invaluable network in their career. Connections can be priceless.
Episode 24 – Humility Wouldn’t it be nice to watch a sporting event where players didn’t make a fool of themselves for a good play?  When did self-glorification become a societal norm?
Episode 25 – Gentleness The divisiveness that is so often portrayed by media and enflamed by those seeking office isn’t the reality across America.
Episode 26 – Wholeheartedness Technology is replacing face-to-face contact, and that is a huge loss to our society.
Episode 27 – Sympathetic Everyone has a contribution they can make to others. The challenge is to discover that contribution and ignite the spark to start it aflame.
Episode 28 – Patience When we think of creative people, we often have an image that is generally one that is a distortion of reality.
Episode 29 – Discoverers There are those who discover the talent of others. Unfortunately, we focus more on what we see than what might be.
Episode 30 – Persuasiveness Story telling is one of the most critical success traits today, but a trait that is rarely taught.
Episode 31 – Empathy How does one develop empathy? That’s a question that we need to give serious attention to.
Episode 32 – Integrity It’s amazing that an advanced society like that in the U.S. is so backwards in how it evaluates potential.
Episode 33 – Respect Common bonds are often formed from shared experiences. It’s fascinating how we can have the same sports teams we root for but we don’t use that to develop bonds.
Episode 34 – Simplicity Small efforts can often lead to big changes if the basis of these efforts are rooted in authenticity.
Episode 35 – Networking Dominoes can be a metaphor for what it takes to make a difference. If you see a chain of falling dominoes think of each domino as a difference made in one person’s life.
Episode 36 – Wisdom Can AI be a substitute for wisdom? This message explores that question.
Episode 37 – Benevolence Think of all the ways that one can demonstrate benevolence. This message will share how benevolence can be multiplied.
Episode 38 – Unexpected Doing the unexpected can often have an impact for beyond the effort it takes to do the unexpected.
Episode 39 – Resourcefulness How do we educate for resourcefulness? That should be one of our most pressing educational questions.
Episode 40 – Inspirational What makes a person inspirational? While we don’t know that answer, we do know what doesn’t make someone inspirational.
Episode 41 – Instinctiveness  There are times when the best action to take is the one that just…feels right. Sleeping on a decision may lead to clarity. What you decide when you wake up may be more important than any analysis.
Episode 42 – Legacy How will you be remembered? Will it be achievement numbers or stories of how you impacted the lives of others? That’s a question for all of us.
Episode 43 – Abundance What do we mean by the word abundance? This message may give you another perspective.
Episode 44 – Negotiating Negotiating is also thought of as a game with winners and losers. That doesn’t always have to be the way, as shown in this message.
Episode 45 – Tenacity Tenacity is a vital trait for everyone, but also one that is rare.
Episode 46 – Compassion Compassion warms two ways: One to the person being helped and also for the person providing help.
Episode 47 – Giving Some of the most inspiring entrepreneurial stories come from the most unexpected places. That’s the focus of this message.
Episode 48 – Reverence There is an African way of living that says “I am because you are.”  That’s this message.
Episode 49 – Faithfulness  It’s the rare person who never makes a mistake. We need to believe more in the value of second chances.
Episode 50 – Initiative One of the toughest things to teach is taking initiative…largely because it’s rarely valued throughout educational systems.
Episode 51 – Hopefulness  How do you overcome despair? When someone has lost all hope, we need to reach down and lift up.
Episode 52 – Introspection How can we broaden the wisdom from our nation’s Blue Highways? That’s the final thought of this series.