The Beauty of a Tennessee Autumn

By Britton Sharp

Autumn in Tennessee is one of my favorite things. Perhaps it is because much of what we have become so accustomed to seeing around us begins to display a new brilliance. Paths we walk to our office or class begin to change, life visually is entering a new phase. Things become more vibrant and we know that a change is coming. (Even if it is still 84 degrees!)

As the seasons change, it reminds me of changes in my life. It is my belief that our lives have seasons as well- periods of new beginnings, seasons of fruitfulness, times of transition and moments of internal development.

A few years ago while I was working in Sweden, I had the opportunity to speak with one of their top botanist. We were discussing the beauty of the season of Spring in her country. She began to explain that the external beauty of Spring is only made possible due to the internal development that occurs during Winter.

The same has proven true in the many areas of my life (professionally, personally, emotionally, physically and spiritually). I have struggled when I have compared myself to those around me. However, as I look back, I see that many times I was comparing my Winter to their Spring. When we compare ourselves to others it can so often rob us of the depths of our current season. Just because my growth in an area isn’t visible, doesn’t mean it isn’t occurring. We do have the responsibility to cultivate environments of growth, but we have to realize that much like nature around us, we cannot rush it. You can yell at an apple tree all you want, but you will still have to wait for an apple.

As the season visibly changes around us, my hope is that we would be reminded of the process of growth and the seasons in our own lives, that we strive to cultivate healthy environments in all areas of our lives, but also be patient to see those areas bear fruit.

May you enjoy the beauty of a Tennessee autumn.

Britton Shaimg_0446rp Contact
UT Knoxville

Britton is an artist, writer, gardener, husband and father. When he isn’t chasing toddlers with his wife, Brooks, you can find Britton writing in a coffee shop or watercolor painting downtown. He is a regular contributor to the blogs: and

As vice president of the Campus Ministers Council and director of Collegiate Abbey, he works to provide self-care resources to UT Knoxville faculty and staff.

Protect Your Mental Real Estate

By Stefani Mundy

My close friend is trying to lose weight and has begun an exercise and nutrition plan. She recently referred to herself as “fat” and followed with, “And don’t say it’s not true because it is.”

With respect and love I responded, “Just because something is true, does not mean we give it power over us. Is it true you created a plan, are exercising and have lost some weight? Would you say you’re facing toward weight loss and away from former habits?”

She smiled and agreed.

“Calling yourself fat is a negative investment for you,” I continued. “Close the account on that thought. No more investing! Every time you think that negative thought, replace it with a positive truth. The positive truths are investments in the goal instead of the problem.”

Consider the mind as your most valuable asset. Stimuli are constantly fighting for precious space in your consciousness, including internal thoughts and externally spoken messages.

Thoughts as a Stock Exchange
The scrolling ticker screen at the New York Stock Exchange is a great analogy for the mind. Constantly scrolling during trading hours, human choices determine which stocks thrive and grow in our mental space. Likewise, our brains are always on, and we have the power to invest in thoughts that provide positive returns. Humans can fall prey to judgmental thinking and have what I call negative investment thoughts that create barriers to goals, relationships and life effectiveness.

Thoughts and Relationship Bankruptcy
The positive or negative thoughts we hold about others can build large accounts or cause relationship bankruptcy.

Our thinking itself can decrease the trust and intimacy with a friend, colleague or family member. Judging, making assumptions, holding grudges and replaying past wrongs are just a few examples of negative investment thinking.

Positive investment thinking in relationships includes withholding judgement, listening to understand, forgiving and offering a “tabula rasa” or blank slate. Offering a blank slate is approaching each interpersonal interaction with the mind new, unmarked or uninfluenced by past interactions or knowledge.

7-7-7 Challenge
Experts regularly suggest that building a habit takes at least 21 days. Join this 7-7-7 Challenge for 3 weeks (28 days total) by observing your internal and external dialogues.

  • Week One: Observe your “scrolling ticker screen” of thoughts for seven days. What do you think and say about yourself? Are your thoughts negative or positive investments? Try to capture thoughts and label them as negative, positive or neutral.
  • Week Two: Repeat the activity again, but this time only observe your thoughts about others.
  • Week Three: Observe your thoughts about yourself and others for seven days. Practice replacing a negative thought with a neutral or positive thought that is true. This process could be uncomfortable at first but gradually becomes a simple method to maximize the valuable real estate in your mind.

Stefani MundyStefani Mundy Contact
UT Institute for Public Service

Stefani is a UT graduate and currently works in the UT IPS Naifeh Center for Effective Leadership as a training specialist. When she’s not planning leadership training, you can find her planting flowers or brainstorming creative ideas to improve lives.

Redefining the Work-Life Balance

By Jonathan Ruth

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “paradigm shift.” A quick search on the Internet returns the following definition, “a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.” For the purposes of this blog, we’ll concentrate on the “underlying assumptions” part.

Work-life balance. We hear that all the time, don’t we? We admire companies and organizations that seem to promote healthy environments in which to work. Most of us don’t mind hard work, but we also appreciate when our managers understand that sometimes we need to remove our noses from the grindstones, as it were, in order to remain emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically healthy.

When we talk about trying to achieve a work-life balance, we need to be aware that there is a very sneaky implication hidden in the term itself; specifically, that work is on the same level of importance as life itself.

Insert paradigm shift here! We need to start questioning our underlying assumptions. We need to redefine what we’re all trying to achieve.

So how do we start to shift the paradigm? We need to change our underlying assumptions and realize that work is simply a part of life, like any other part. Granted, it’s a large part. For most of us, it takes up the better part of 40-plus hours out of the 168 hours we’re given every week. But work isn’t something you do while you hang your life up in the coat closet, and life isn’t what you do when you’re off the clock.

Work is a part of life.

Family is a part of life.

Rest is a part of life.

Exercise is a part of life.

Community is a part of life.

Laughter is a part of life.

Hobbies are a part of life.

Recreation is a part of life.

What we all need to be striving for is life balance, not work-life balance!

What’s the best way to go about achieving a better life balance? Great question! There are a lot of tools and steps you can take, but here’s one exercise that could be beneficial. Write down any or all of the following words that represent different areas of your life (add your own if you think of others that apply):

  • Work/Career
  • Community (Family, Friends, etc.)
  • Personal Finances
  • Intimate Relationship (Spouse, Significant Other, etc.)
  • Health
  • Personal and/or Spiritual Development
  • Fun (Social Events, Hobbies, etc.)

For each aspect of your life, rate your satisfaction on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is completely dissatisfied and 10 is completely satisfied. Give yourself the time to undergo an honest assessment. Ask yourself hard questions, if needed. Seek feedback from those that know you well. The results may surprise you.

Once you’ve rated each area, take steps to improve the areas that need the most work. Breaking down changes into small steps helps position us for success. It’s also important to find an accountability partner. We need others around us to encourage and challenge us to be our best as we make changes, especially when our desire wanes.

Focusing on the whole of our lives, not just one aspect, provides a fresh perspective. It could be that career is a low number for you when you go through the exercise. If that’s the case, it may be time for some changes. Oftentimes, however, unhappiness in one area of our lives can feed into others. It might just be that your attitude about work improves after you develop better relationships with your friends.

When we realize that work is a part of life – not something that puts life on hold – then we start to bring the balance into focus. This benefits employers, too. After all, a well-balanced employee is typically a happier, more productive one!

Jonathan RuthJonathan Ruth   Contact   Website
UT System Administration

Jonathan is a two-time UT graduate and currently works in the IRIS Administrative Support department. He’s also a life coach and has a passion for helping others. He loves spending time with family and friends and is certain he played on the PGA Tour in another life.

Managing Workplace Stress

By John Lacey

Stress in the workplace happens every day to just about everyone. It might result from a project with a tight deadline. It could come from a colleague with an irritating manner. It might travel with you from a sleepless night. Whatever the cause, stress has a big impact in the workplace.

So what is one to do? To answer that question, interviews were conducted with employees in high-stress jobs at each UT campus and institute to find out how they cope with and manage stress and to share their stories as a resource for helping others.

The Emergency Responder

Donnie RossDonnie Ross
Police Lieutenant, UT Knoxville

“While working an event, one of the patrons experienced a heart attack. Changing from a security mindset to a life-saving one, a group of us responded to the unconscious patron.

“Our CPR training took over, and we did everything step-by-step. I remember the stressors I felt—like rapid heart rate, fast breathing and an adrenaline kick.

“We managed to get the patron to a stretcher and applied the defibrillator, which delivered a shock like I’d never seen before. We continued CPR until we got him to an ambulance, but he later died at the hospital.

“I remember the family member thanking us for our effort, even though she was in the middle of this experience. I had this helpless feeling for her and wished I could do more. The situation was difficult for us. We got together and talked about it afterwards, which I think helped some of us deal with the stress of responding to the emergency.”

The Public and Media Liaison

Doug EdlundDoug Edlund
Assistant Director for Operations, Office of Marketing and Communications, UT Institute of Agriculture

“I was in an interim director role, and the institute was gearing up for a big research initiative. We had an open house for the public and media scheduled to visit the research site. Then, suddenly and tragically, our department director and my supervisor passed away.

“I had a staff in shock and an event to handle where I really didn’t know if the public’s reception would be hostile or welcoming. Then, a few days later, we received a massive open records request, which is when someone requests to see public documents, including emails. And I’d never overseen one before.

“I was thrust into situations where I didn’t have a lot of experience, and we were dealing with some misinformation and needed to stay ahead of the noise. I didn’t want to let anyone down.

“I would go home at night mentally exhausted and in some physical pain, like back aches. But when I would go home, I would try to draw that line and say, okay, now I’m home, and I’m not going to worry about it. I tried to leave the stress at the office and just focus on my family when I was home.”

The Political Strategist

Carey WhitworthCarey Whitworth
Associate Director for Advocacy, Office of Government Relations and Advocacy, UT System Administration

“During this past legislative session, our office worked through countless issues largely driven by a student event, Sex Week. After almost three months of working on the issue, it reached a boiling point.

“We knew we needed to call our grassroots network to action to let legislators know how UT’s advocacy base felt, but we weren’t entirely sure it would be enough to turn the tables in our favor.

“In the end, we had an overwhelmingly positive and effective response—and no legislation that impacted UT passed. However, the anticipation of the outcome—and unpredictability of it all—was enormously stressful.

“I make it a point to break down situations into elements that can be tackled piece-by-piece. Overall, it makes almost every project, speech, meeting or whatever the situation may be, more manageable. It’s a trick my father taught me.”

John LaceyJohn Lacey  Contact
UT System Administration

John is a UT graduate and currently works in the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing as a project manager. When he is not enjoying time with his wife and two children, you can find him riding his bike or dreaming up big ideas.