Category Archives: Sabbatical

My Leadership Awakening: Following My Mission & Visioning the Future

I took part in an AMAZING Leadership Awakening Workshop in Dallas, TX, offered by Scott Black of Like it Matters, LLC. You can find them at I can’t begin to describe the workshop beyond saying it was intense, insightful, life-affirming, and life changing. We built an amazing team in 2 days and I brought back changes I am integrating day-to-day into my life. I learned so much about myself.

One of the things I learned was that I can’t “think” my way out of or into everything. I’m an academic. I live in my mind. It’s in many ways, my greatest strength. Sometimes though, I learned I just can’t do things with my head. Fortunately, I also have a big heart. I care deeply about people. In this workshop, I had to release my intellect and focus on feeling. It was amazing!

Fear of my wrists is one of the things that has been holding me back. As you know, dear reader, I broke my wrists in a dancing accident over two years ago. I know, in my head, that the bones in my wrists have healed more strongly than before I broke them. That said, I’ve still had a lot of pain and some issues with flexibility. Until this workshop, I held stress in my wrists and hands as well. You know how you get a stiff neck when you sleep wrong, I get stiff wrists when I’m stressed about something. My wrists ached and stiffened throughout the workshop until I had my watershed moment. After the workshop, I asked to be allowed to break a pine block, something I’d done for a different purpose with my foot earlier in the workshop. I wrote “fear that I can’t” on one side of the block and “hot yoga, confidence, and no limits” on the other side. I wanted to break that board with my right hand, the one that had healed from a triple fracture. The first hit, I didn’t break it. Scott looked in my eyes and said “visualize your hand touching the floor after you break the board”. I did and I broke it. I BROKE A BOARD WITH MY WEAK, DOMINANT HAND (yes, my dominant hand was the most badly damaged)!!! I have not looked back. Since I got home, I’ve taken 2 full 90 minute hot yoga classes and I’ve done a 90 minute weight lifting session. I have not held back. Although they are sometimes still a bit stiff and ache, I have my hands and wrists back.

If you want to live your best life. If you desire to live your life as if it matters (which it does), this Leadership Awakening experience will give you tools to take forward to meet those objectives. I cannot recommend it enough. A caveat: Your experience will be different than mine. Your needs, wants, expectations, strengths, abilities, blocks are different, so what you get out of it will be different.

Every morning I read my mission statement, often looking in the mirror and into my eyes. I’ve always been great at keeping my promises to other people. I am now great at keeping my promises to myself as well.

Here’s my Mission Statement:

My Mission – By Deborah S. Ballard-Reisch, PhD

Written: 3/7/15

Affirmed: Daily

I commit to living a fully authentic life!

  • I am present
    • I learn and grow from the lessons of the past but leave the emotions and experiences behind. I can do nothing to change the past.
    • I live now.
    • I am aware of how the “now” influences the future and advances my mission and vision.
  • I am mindful
    • With passion and a narrow, clear focus, I make a difference in the world.
  • I am open and honest in my relationships
    • I communicate clearly and establish appropriate boundaries.
    • I take time to see, to listen, and to nurture those I love.
  • I have integrity
    • I commit to myself; I follow through.
    • I commit to others; I follow through.
    • I commit to act “as if” whenever I need to do so.
    • I push the “GO Button”

The Florence Journals: Exploring the 15th International Ceramics Fair

Sunset on the Arno 10 4

Sunset on the Ponte Vecchio

I write to you at the end of an absolutely beautiful, warm, autumn day. It was sunny, but not too hot and there was an almost constant gentle breeze blowing. It was the perfect first day of the 15th International Ceramics Fair in Piazza Annunziata. It also runs tomorrow from 10-7. Sponsored by the Arte della Ceramica, the fair began in 2000 as a venue for ceramic artists from throughout Europe to show and sell their work. This year the fair includes 68 ceramic artists from Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Slovenia.

In this post, I will simply let the beauty of the artwork speak for itself. These are just a few of my favorites.

Brown with river rock

Lovely earthenware vases accented with river rock by Vinicio Barcaccia of Italy.

Blue Raku

Beautiful raku pottery by Christina Perrin of France.

Love letters

Ceramic love letters by Catia Clinaz of Italy

Emma work

Colorful pots and jewelry made by Emma Draghi of Italy –


Poetry in pottery – art made out of the sentences, phrases, poems by Nicole Grammi of Italy –

There are so many more examples I could show! The variety and creativity are impressive. While I generally take more general photos at events, today I wanted to feature the actual work of some of these artists and to do so, I gained their permission and credited them directly for their creations. The intellectual and creative property of an artist is her or his ideas made manifest. It is delightful to be able to share some of their genius with you.

The Florence Journals: On Social Media and being an Extrovert in a Foreign Land

So, dear reader, as you know, I’m in Florence, Italy.


Just to clarify, I don’t speak Italian, although I can carry on a very thorough conversation about that, in Italian. (Rant: I have no idea why language programs teach inane information first. And I have found this to be true with every language program I’ve ever used (Spanish, Italian, Russian). I’ve just done 3 lessons on Pimsleur on being able, or not being able to, understand Italian or English and to ask people if they are Italian or American. I don’t have those conversations! All I need from that is one line! “I don’t understand”. (Non capisco). My first lessons on Rosetta Stone were about reading, swimming (really!!!) eating and drinking (ok, those were somewhat useful). However, when I go into a restaurant to eat or drink, I don’t generally find myself needing to broadcast that. It seems self-evident. I’m sure I’ll get to useful language at some point. (But, I digress.). (One more quick sidenote: I’ve found the translator on the app TripLingo,, to be extremely useful when wifi is available).

I also don’t know anyone here. So, I stroll the Ponte Vecchio and tourist hangouts in the evenings so that I can meet and speak with people. I’ve found it surprising how many English and Russian speakers I’ve met here. I seem to do pretty well in both languages and with maps and hand gestures have been able to carry on some pretty interesting conversations. I’m not sure why, but my Russian seems to improve in countries where English is not the first language.

That’s all well and good. In fact, I chose Florence because I didn’t know the language, because I didn’t know anyone, and because I fell in love with the city when I first came here almost two decades ago. I’ll continue to learn Italian. I’ll continue to put myself in situations where I have the opportunity to meet people. However, I am currently in a “between time” and I find it insightful. I am an extrovert without the ability to interact very much.

I suppose it’s not surprising then that social media is kind of a lifeline here for me. As an extrovert (and if I ever had any doubts, I don’t now), I NEED interaction with others. In fact, I’m not just an extrovert. On the Myers-Briggs test I score as an ENFP (extrovert, intuitive, feeling, perceiver). I am described as an “enthusiastic, creative, and sociable free spirit, who can always find a reason to smile”. Here are my results: I won’t go into that further here, but if you read the report, you might see why I react to this situation as I do.  If you’re interested in how you score, check out the free test here: I was certified in Myers-Briggs years ago and taught it numerous times to classes of U.S. judges as well as American college students. It’s interesting stuff. (But, again I digress.).

Even though I’m an extrovert, I also need to disconnect sometimes and pull inward. That is the purpose of this trip, to claim some down time, to reflect, to think, to plan. Interestingly, I have found myself at times feeling isolated. It occurs to me that the possibility of connection, as a way of not feeling isolated, is extremely important to me. Not to overstate the obvious, no matter how interesting and life affirming living in a foreign country is, it can, at times, be lonely, especially if one doesn’t know anyone, or speak the language. So, to come around again, I am grateful for the internet, for my ability to connect with family and friends through Skype, FaceTime, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, my blog, your blog, etc. On days when I don’t feel well, or when I can’t sleep, or when it’s raining too hard for me to want to venture out, I’m on here a lot. It helps me to feel connected. It helps me feel less isolated.

I think the researchers who decry the internet as the ruin of personal relationships have it wrong. The internet has the potential to allow us to interact with, to care about, to build relationships with, to strengthen relations with, and to share care with people in ways we would not be able to otherwise. I think what we are seeing is kind of a revolution in relationship that is enhanced by social media in all forms. (I plan to write more on this later and have, in fact, researched this, in an academic sense).

View from my window 2

This is where I write: View from my window

There are other characteristics of my being an extrovert and other insights I’ve learned in my 2 weeks here that I will share in later posts. But for now I would like to leave you with a big THANK YOU!!!!! Your engagement on social media helps me feel connected in this “between time”, and that is a real gift to this extrovert.  Ciao!

The Florence Journals: On Writing and Reluctance

I’ve had some interesting insights into myself since I arrived here in Florence, Italy a little over a week ago.

This is the first entry about those insights. In my journal, I’ve noted that I’m aware of the possibility that someone else might read my words and I find myself silencing or editing myself because of the risk that my words might be judged, evaluated. I don’t necessarily intend to share my journal writing with anyone. I may edit writings for blog posts, like this one. But I’d like what I write in my journal to be for me, to be free of any “generalized others”, any audience that may read and draw conclusions. (Yes, I hear the echos of Kenneth Burke and George Herbert Mead in what I’ve written.) I desire to work on this.

As I revised my journal writing for this blog post, I had an insight. I know where this concern came from. Like all teenagers, my life had a degree of angst. I used to journal all the time. I can still picture the spiral notebook in which I wrote. The peach and pink swirls on the cover. I loved that notebook. I wish I could still picture the words.

One day, while I was in 8th grade, the principal, a very serious nun I did not particularly like or trust (She was one of those people who could make any information fly out of my head simply by asking me a direct question.) had a fellow student call me out of class to go to her office. That was never a good sign. In 8th grade, it typically meant our cheerleading skirts were too short (Yes, I was an 8th grade cheerleader) and we were going to have to kneel on the floor and have them measured with a ruler.

This time was different. I walked into her office and she just looked at me. Eventually, I felt myself squirming. However, we didn’t speak until spoken to, so I just waited. Finally she asked me to take a seat across from her desk. This never happened. No one sat down in her office. I sat nervously, wondering what I had done, what she wanted, what was wrong… A million thoughts flew through my head.

She opened with “So, I understand you like to write”. I was startled. I had no idea what she was referring to. I replied, “Yes, I guess”. “Well, do you or don’t you?”, she asked pointedly. “Yes”, I stammered, more of a question than an answer. “So, what is this?”, she asked picking my journal up from her desk. I panicked and froze. “It looks like my journal. How did you get my journal?!”, I whimpered. I had written my most personal thoughts in that journal. It was not for anyone else’s eyes. “You’re a very good writer. Keep writing” she stated, “Now go back to class”.

Shaking, I took my journal from her hands and left. Rather than feeling supported, as my optimistic self believes she probably intended, I felt betrayed. I felt rage! What gave her the right to read my journal, to read my private thoughts? And how did she get it anyway? I never got answers to these questions. On my way to class, I made a detour to the incinerator in the basement. I tore my journal to shreds, feeding page after page into the fire, last of all the peach and pink swirled cover. I watched as the flames licked it black and it turned to ash. When I was done, I walked, still shaking, back to my classroom. I have no idea what we studied that afternoon. I know only that I felt relief. No one could ever again read my private words. Often when I saw her in the hallway after that, she’d stop me and ask “Still writing”? I’d just smile. I’d stopped writing.  I stopped writing… for a long time.

Now, many years later, I would do almost anything to be able to read the words in that peach and pink notebook, to have access to those thoughts, to know what my younger self pondered, questioned, explored. Something precious was lost that day. While I can’t get her words back, perhaps I can learn to claim mine again, on paper, as I did then, so that one day, my older self will know me through my words. Or, maybe some other reader who cares to know who I was will read them. I hope that I, she, he will hear through my words the real, unedited me, not a redacted or silenced me. I hope they will see me in all my shades and passions, the angst and joys that I experience. That is my hope. We will see.

The Florence Journals: Reflections on Visioning, Career, and Multi-Tasking

So friends, I’ve been in Florence, Italy for 1 week. I’ve been a professor my entire (post undergrad) working life. I have loved it. I have lived my passion. I have grown, developed and shifted my interests throughout my career. I have become achingly aware of the fact that in moving at the speed of light it may, at times, be difficult to do several things: 1) acknowledge the accomplishments which will help feed future work, dedication, and commitment, 2) plan for the future – I don’t know about you, but I typically spend so much time on the “fire of the day” that feeding my own passion happens less than I would like. Don’t get me wrong. I DO feed my passions. I just sometimes get caught up in the demands of the moment and attend to them less than I might like. I also realized recently that I don’t make long term plans any longer. For years, I had 5 year plans. That changed when I was promoted to full professor. Then my strategy shifted to taking whatever “cool” opportunities came my way. Opportunities had to most importantly 1) benefit my students and/or 2) allow me to work consistently with my beliefs and values. The best projects did, and still do, both. I refused to do anything that was not consistent with my beliefs and values.

More and more, that has meant grant funded work that emphasizes community-based participatory research, specifically, working with communities to help them identify issues of interest to them and maximize their outcomes. That said, sometimes that has also meant taking the money for the students rather than the passion. These strategies have found me working over the past decade in public health preparedness (my first foray into CBPR); identifying barriers for minority populations of accessing help in paying utility bills (one of the most insightful projects I’ve ever undertaken), while at the same time helping the utility provider improve their reputation following a disastrous stint with ENRON; health promotion for older adults in rural and frontier areas of Kansas; community-based decision making around wind energy; working with an interdisciplinary team to create a toolkit to help older adults in a Kansas County to reduce falls called Falling LinKS, and hunger awareness and activism. Perhaps my most fulfilling work over the last decade has been launching the Hunger Awareness Initiative as Wichita State University. You can find us on Facebook at:, on Twitter at @WSUHunger or #WSUHunger, and visit our website at:  I wrote earlier about what got me into the hunger space: I have a number of blog posts on this issue, but this is my “Who am I?” post.

3) I have also recognized that none of us do “this” the same way. There is a great deal of writing, thinking and lamenting on the downside of multi-tasking at the moment. I could not disagree more! Multi-tasking is not a myth and it is a godsend for those of us who think 24/7 and who are highly productive. (I plan to write more on that later, but for now, suffice it to say, we are all differently abled. Somehow we have lost track of that in recent years and anything that is not “normal” has become problematic. I would argue that there is no such thing as “normal” and that striving to be so keeps many of us from recognizing our unique gifts – but I digress.) That said, even the best multi-taskers might at times need to take a break and just “be”, just reflect, plan, breathe. That is, among other things (I AM a multi-tasker after all), what I am doing on this sabbatical.

While I love my life and my career, I also have a strong desire to do something different. I have no idea what that will be. I do have faith that I will find “it”.  On September 2, 2014, my first full day in Florence, serendipity stepped in and I met a woman I wrote about in an earlier post, Lauren Haas, who 1-1/2 years ago sold everything she owned to become a traveling writer. She takes gigs that pay $30-$150 which generally have nothing to do with where she’s living, and she travels the world. How cool is that?! Her adventure reminded me of this cartoon. I love meeting people who are following their dreams!

I’m not yet sure what my next dream will be, but for now the streets of Florence beckon, and I will answer. I love walking these hills. More later, dear readers.  

The Florence Journals: Serendipity, Luck and Design in the Cosmos

I wrote this entry on my first full day in Florence, Italy, September 2, 2014.

Serendipity 1: Started before I even left the U.S. for Florence. I stopped by my office briefly, prior to my trip and a casual friend, Amy Geiszler-Jones, stopped in to say hello. As a freelance journalist, she was in the building interviewing one of my colleagues. She had interviewed me several times before and we’d hit it off. I mentioned I was going to Florence for 2 months on a writing retreat as part of my sabbatical. She mentioned that she had a friend in Florence I might like to meet. She put us in touch through Facebook. We made tentative plans to get together.

Serendipity 2: Both of us considered cancelling our meeting, me due to jetlag, Lauren Haas because she had decided to leave for Milan a day early. Both of us decided at the last minute not to do so. Why not meet? We both needed to eat anyway, or so our thinking went. We met at the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge over the Arno River where goldsmiths and jewelers sold their wares. It is still much the same today. We walked on looking for a place to eat and have coffee. We found a lovely outdoor restaurant, and as it was a mild morning, decided it was the perfect place to stop. Both of us ordered Italian breakfast, which included cappuccino, a crescent, and orange juice. I may fall in love with this breakfast. The cappuccino (for those of you who know me, you know I am not typically a coffee fan) was frothy and bitter. Two packets of sugar later, it tasted like heaven, the perfect blend of sweet and bitter. The crescent was flaky and tasty. The orange juice freshly squeezed and delicious. But, I digress. Lauren and I settled in to get acquainted.

Serendipity 3: Lauren started talking about her world travels. She defined herself as a traveling, freelance journalist, then clarified that where she traveled didn’t necessarily have anything to do with what she wrote. Her stories were fascinating. She had simply jettisoned her life 1- ½ years before, selling everything, to travel the world. She picked up writing gigs where she could get them. Her specialty is travel writing. At one point I asked if she had ever been to Peru. She told me that she acts as a grant writer for a very special orphanage in Cuzco called, Niños del Sol Case de Milagros). I talked about my work with Angels of the Amazon the Tahauyo River Basin, one of the tributaries of the Amazon River. As Lauren talked, it became clear to me that she could benefit from a communication intern to assist with the organization’s website, Facebook page, newsletter, and communication with donors. I told her I had a number of students at Wichita State who would be qualified and would benefit from such an internship. We will continue communicating to “set things up” for this internship.

Serendipity 4: As I mentioned in my prior post, I am using this sabbatical to vision my future. I may enhance what I do in the academy, reduce what I do in the academy over the next several years, or leave the academy all together at some point. I have never “been” anything professionally other than a professor. Lauren’s story of leaving everything behind and becoming a traveling writer fascinated me. She shared a number of sites she’s found helpful in her journey. They include for writing assignments, trainings and tips, and for volunteer opportunities worldwide.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, but the things Lauren and I have in common make it seem almost destined that we should meet. The serendipities that brought us together and that emerged during out conversation have the potential to lead to lasting collaborations valuable to both of us. She’s also an amazing person I thoroughly enjoyed meeting. Plus, we both like Jason Mraz and Norah Jones. 

Visioning possibilities: The Florence journals

I start this journey through Florence, Italy by thanking my friend, Andrew O’Leske, for my gorgeous journals and my hand-tooled fountain pen. I played with fountain pens a bit during art class in high school, but I have never really written with one.

The journals are beautiful and inspiring. The first is leather bound with a detailed tree of life on the front and back covers, and intricate scroll work surrounding them. It was handmade in Italy. How appropriate. When I held it in my hands, it spoke to me of possibility and responsibility. It felt weighty, yet full of potential.

leather journal

The second is hardbound and a reproduction of a journal titled The Rubdiyat of Omar Kkayydm which was created by Francis Sangorski in 1911. The original was encrusted with jewels. It went down with the Titanic in 1912. This exquisite journal spoke of familiarity and confidence. It would be a place where I could easily write.

hardback journal

My lovely pen offered articulate elegance, if I can learn to use it properly. So far, this has turned out to be a more complex task, on all levels, than I anticipated.


Sabbaticals are about retooling, about visioning possibilities, and about new beginnings. My trip to Florence is the same. This is an interesting moment in my life. My daughter finishes her undergraduate studies in psychology and communication in December. My son is positioning himself for management in a job he loves. I have accomplished everything I have set for myself to this point. I look to the future and delight in the opportunity to consider possibilities for the next phase of my life. This time is for me. How often do we take the chance to sit with the possibilities in a glorious, inspiring place? I know I have never done anything quite like this. I have the gift of time to ponder what will give me joy, fulfillment, purpose. I have the time to reflect on what has given me these things in the past. The answers, in fact, the questions, are not yet clear. I cherish the time to vision, to consider, to contemplate. I look forward to sharing this adventure with you, dear reader.