Mindful Musings

Periodic posts — playful, profound, personal. A little bit of introspection and momentary mental release. The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, professors, or the University.

Life Has a Way of Stepping In to Change Your Mind and to Change Your Plans

By Niki Lanter

"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."

This quote is credited to the filmmaker Woody Allen. Regardless of your spiritual belief or religious affiliation, the quote, I believe, is a lesson in humility. It means that no matter how tightly we grip the steering wheel of life, to drive at full speed toward some desired future, we are not always in full control.

Plan B

A few weeks ago, I wrote the incoming HESA executive board to let them know of my desire and intention to serve during this academic year. I had mentioned in a previous post that one could still be actively involved in the student community without the need for an official title. But, we all know that having the title is always a nice thing.

In the letter, I laid out a few ideas and preliminary project plans for the year. I even picked a tentative job title, core functions, and gave a rough outline of the chain-of-command relative to the new position. You could say that I showed great ambition and initiative, or you could argue that I was a bit presumptuous and maybe even arrogant.

As it turns out, when you make plans—and despite a full tank of motivation fueling your ambition to push forward and accomplish many things—sometimes, you are forced to hit the breaks hard to make a graceful U-turn. As much as I would love to go through with my plans to get involved in student government this year, I now have to shift my focus and priorities.

Life has abruptly stepped in to cause a dramatic change in my trajectory.

Walking Through Wide Open Doors, Part II: Pirouette Among Peers

By Niki Lanter

Vanity Lane article is Harvard Gazette Editor's Pick

What an honor it has been to have another article be featured on the Harvard Gazette news website under the "Editor's Pick" and "Popular" categories. I am so proud of La'Toya for pulling off a successful show during the Harvard ARTS FIRST Festival, and thank her for being such a gracious and talented subject.

Harvard Gazette Vanity Lane Article Editors Pick and Popular

Ballerinas, both beautiful, black, and brave

This was a delightful happenstance. The Vanity Lane article appeared right next to the Misty Copeland article on the Gazette homepage. Ballerinas, side-by-side, both beautiful, black, and brave.

Harvard Gazette Vanity Lane and Misty Copeland Articles

And if you read through the Misty Copeland article, you'll notice that the next article linked at the bottom is the Vanity Lane article.

Harvard Gazette Vanity Lane Next Article

A Candid, Open Letter to HESA Board Candidates and Voters

By Niki Lanter

Lessons learned in student government

Working with governing student organizations and a number of clubs this past year has been a wonderful and enlightening experience. For a shy introvert like me to end up collaborating with both the Harvard Extension Student Association (HESA) and the Harvard Graduate Council (HGC)—to help advance their membership communications and social media initiatives—has been quite rewarding and somewhat ironic.

This situation proves that, when we face our fears head-on, and exert the effort to improve ourselves, we can overcome our weaknesses and succeed in achieving our goals. During my term with these groups, I have learned much about which little things are worth sweating, and which big things are worth letting go. I have also learned a lot about the challenges and importance of open communication, team dynamics, leadership, and relationships.

Because politics is icky

Niki Yellow Bird HatThis election cycle, I was too worried that I did not have the political experience and moxie to run a campaign, and so refrained from nominating myself for a position on the board for the 2017-2018 term. I did not want to worry about whether enough people knew me, or liked me, to vote for me. All I knew was that I wanted to continue to be active in the student community, and to be involved in some way to help Harvard students elevate their experience at the Extension School and at the University overall. Thankfully, I don't really need an official title to be able to do that.

When I found out this morning that several of my friends and classmates have launched a campaign to write me in for one or two of the open HESA Director spots, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Alongside this fantastic tingling sensation was a nagging awkwardness that poked at my sides. You see, just last night, I had started reaching out to some of the candidates—to befriend them on Facebook and connect with them on LinkedIn—hoping that I could learn more about them in order to be an educated voter, and perhaps to also allow for potential friendships and valuable professional networks to blossom. I certainly did not expect, nor intend, to be competing against any of them in this election.

Be an informed and conscientious voter

Whom to vote for is your prerogative, and I won't try to sway you one way or another. I would like to encourage you to get to know every single one of the candidates for your own information and peace of mind. Reach out to them, if that would give you more confidence about your decision on whom to elect. Meanwhile, if you have any questions for me, I am available via email, text, or through one of the social media channels linked on my website. If you are a candidate, who would like to ask me about my experiences this past year, or have any questions about being part of HESA, please feel free to get in touch.

You have until 12:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 30th, to make up your mind. Frankly, I don't care if you write in my name or not. [EDIT: After re-reading that, I realized that my words might be misconstrued as those of an ungrateful child; I apologize. Of course, I would be delighted and grateful, if you do write me in for a director position. But, I will be just as happy to honor whatever the student body ultimately decides.] What I do care about is that you cast your vote for those whom you sincerely believe have the potential to make a difference, and for those whom you know can help make your academic and personal journey at Harvard delightful and extraordinary.

On Which Candidate to Consider for Leadership, or How to Earn My Vote

By Niki Lanter

Thoughts about the kind of leader I want to represent our student body

I have spent most of the day reading statements and watching video posts by candidates who are running for the 2017-2018 HESA Executive Board. Common themes and concerns were brought up—things that are significant to many non-traditional and distance students. I appreciate that they recognize objectives worth pursuing, as well as battles that might just be too unrealistic—and in the grand scheme of things, really, unimportant—to fight. But, of the latter, the fact that they are willing to at least have the conversation, and to give the students a voice to reach the school administration, is crucial and commendable.

Leadership Vision Reality

Logical people in pursuit of power, who are pragmatic in the way that they approach challenges and opportunities, have a better chance of achieving and staying in power. Decision makers who are prone to emotionality, volatility, or vindictiveness have no place in leadership. Don't get me wrong; empathy is necessary. How else could one advocate for the issues most paramount to the constituency? That is not to say that you must either be a robot or pure Vulcan to get my vote; but, at the very least, exercise some control and diplomacy.

Not looking for perfect, just pragmatic and progressive

You are here to represent us. Just as we are not perfect, we know that you are not perfect. I can admire those who acknowledge their mistakes or shortcomings, and are not too proud to make things right nor are too stubborn to change. I prefer leaders who can think clearly on their feet, despite being under pressure. I respect those who are capable of pausing for a moment to act more deliberately and thoughtfully; and those who can communicate with clarity, purpose, and integrity. Moreover, of utmost value to the student body is a leader who can empower others and inspire those around them into accomplishing goals for the greater good.

I do believe that someone might have just what it takes to spark into action the embers that have been flickering unsteadily under the proverbial butt of the student association. I am about to vote to get this person into office because I believe that they can actually make a positive difference. I thank all of the candidates for taking a stand and being a voice for the students. I have very high hopes for HESA this coming year. I don't need you to make it great, I just need you to make it better.

Things You Find When You Google Yourself

By Niki Lanter

Several years ago, when I used to work for an energy law firm, I initiated and helped lead a large migration project to upgrade our legacy systems to the more modern and robust tools that would help our then fast-growing company to be more productive and efficient in a number of ways.

LexisNexis Juris Brochure CoverOne of the systems we upgraded was Juris, the financial, billing, and timekeeping tool by LexisNexis. As a result of my involvement, I was invited to contribute to a case study, and to speak at a number of conferences in the United States, in order to share the challenges we faced, the lessons we have learned, and the successes we have achieved. This was many years ago, and I had since left the firm to work elsewhere.

The other day, I 'googled' myself to check whether some recent posts and style updates on NikitasVeritas were appearing on the world wide web. I was tickled to find a 2017 sales brochure on which a pull-quote of mine was used on the cover. Although I haven't worked at that firm for many years now, it's still nice to be reminded of the things we have achieved there, despite the many challenges we faced at the time.

LexisNexis Juris Brochure Pull Quote

The Universe Can Be Generous, If You Open Yourself Up to Its Blessings

By Niki Lanter

When I first registered at the Extension School, and got my Harvard email address, I had a light-hearted conversation with my husband. I said some things half-jokingly along the lines of

"I really just need the email address, you know. Watch it open some doors for me. Maybe I'll go as far as get accepted into the program, then leave. I don't have to stay and finish. I can join the list of elite Harvard dropouts. Haha haha."

Being a non-traditional student many, many years after one has left academia is challenging enough. Returning on a part-time basis, as a distance student living in a different time zone, in a city where you need to drive everywhere to get anywhere increases the level of difficulty. There are plenty of times when it can be hard to find the motivation to study after a long day of working at your full-time job, and dealing with heavy traffic on your commute to and from work.

When you finally do manage to push yourself to crack open that textbook, it's easy to fall into this funk, a place where you feel very isolated and lonely because your puppies—regardless of how many times they tilt their heads to the side as if to show interest in what you are saying (Really? Fascinating! Tell me more.)—don't really care for your conversations about supply and demand, competitive advantage, standard deviations, null-hypotheses, high-frequency trading, or whether or not you could recite the Greek alphabet forwards and backwards; they just want their damn cookies.

Golden Key of Opportunity

Despite all these, I do want to stay and finish. It may take me a long time to get there, but I am okay with that. When I do finally get my bachelor's degree, I may even come back for my graduate degree, and so on and so forth. I do love learning after all, so why stop? I have often told people that the joy is in the journey and not just the destination.

So, along the way I have decided to reach out to others. By opening up lines of communications, I have made some new friends. I connected with various students, and engaged with classmates and teaching fellows during sections. I even joined a few clubs and volunteered my time and services to student organizations because I wanted to enhance my experience and to truly feel like I am a part of this community.

The Harvard Graduate Council (HGC) and Harvard Extension Student Association (HESA)—working jointly to bring students from across the 13 schools together as One Harvard through various activities, the latest and largest of which being the 7th Annual Masquerade Ball—have been very instrumental in improving my experience as a long-distance, non-traditional student at Harvard. I am extremely grateful and happy to be part of HGC and HESA. I encourage other students to take advantage of the benefits of membership, which include many opportunities to build valuable networks, and to forge new friendships that may one day bring you more joy than you expected.

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