If there was a theme that repeated itself over and over again last week it was managing villain stories. I was confronted with the villain stories of several others and at least one of my own. Villain stories are those stories we tell ourselves about others that include all of their negative qualities, everything they have ever done wrong, and how they apparently set about intentionally to negatively impact us. These stories leave out the person’s good qualities, the great things they have done, and our mutual interests. A set of carefully selected facts can be used to tell as many different stories (villain or otherwise) as there are people to create them. If we let these villain stories roll around in our heads, they impact our emotions toward the person or entities we tell them about and in our minds they give us permission to treat them differently, because they are villains.
When we tell villain stories, we become victims of those villains we create. We shut down our ability to develop creative solutions because we scapegoat someone else as the root of the problem and roadblock to its resolution. We allow ourselves to become victims and leave behind our ability to be victors. By first recognizing that we are telling villain stories and then by understanding the emotions related to the stories, coming back to the facts, and then mastering the stories, we are no longer controlled by the stories we tell and can begin our creative process.
This week I again came back to the facts related to the PPEM undergraduate program. I have been stymied by the lack of a Plant Pathology or Environmental Microbiology major. I was feeling victimized by the system that took away the major and was defensive when others said ‘PPEM doesn’t have an undergraduate program.’ But this week I turned the corner. I got in touch with my emotions about this issue, went over the facts, and came back to what our goal should be. Regardless of the structure imposed by the college or university, we will be Victors if we are serving the undergraduate students with whom we are in contact and if we are providing them with a high quality education and support that will serve them in their diverse careers. We put this so eloquently in our undergraduate engagement strategic planning session: We will be successful in undergraduate engagement when we are able to serve Penn state’s student population through an increased quality of education, opportunities to conduct, present, and publish research, as well as measurable postgraduate success, all of which play a role in increasing enrollment in and visibility of our programs. So, although we still want to work toward setting up an Environmental Microbiology minor and might look at majors in the future, but we don’t need these structures to be successful. Using these touch points as my bottom line, I can now really move forward to make this happen regardless of the structure imposed upon us by outside forces (the college and university). What we create and do may not fit or be counted in the existing structures, but it will count because it will positively change the lives of the students we interact with and that is a worthy goal for Victors.
Supporting the undergraduates in our department in forming their new club seems like a great place to start. If you are an undergraduate student and want to join the club, please contact me and I will put you in touch with head of the club. Additionally, there are several outstanding undergraduate students looking for placement in laboratories for research projects. Please let me know if you are able to take on a student.
Recognizing that we are creating villains gets us part of the way to finding creative resolutions for our issues. So what villain stories are holding you back? Take a moment to write down the people and groups that you are currently villainizing. You will have to be alert to find these stories because they happen in a blink of an eye. Could we help each other out and kindly say ‘Gee, that sounds as if that could be a villain story’ when we recognize it in others? I know I would appreciate the help. In the end we can all use a little help removing the villains from our lives.