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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Blissness as Usual

Blissness as Usual

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Earlier today, Department Chair Dr. Steve Gruenert and I were facilitating a conversation with two groups of Ph.D. students, one from the Selaphoom district of Roi-Et, Thailand and another from Indiana State University’s Bayh College of Education. 

In the room sat the Dean of Roi Et Rajabhat University’s College of Education and other distinguished guests, including an Associate Professor of Teacher Education from China and a Director of a university program in Communication who was visiting as part of a classroom observation exchange in professional development. 

Our activities were leading into Round Two of the Leadershop debate that Dr. Gruenert and I had a few weeks back on Collaboration (I hear from honest folks that Dr. Gruenert won the initial exchange, so a rematch was ON).  During a sidebar, we mentioned to each other that we couldn’t believe we were actually getting paid for doing this.


Dr. Gruenert and I were facilitating a three-country, multi-university discussion on leadership.  Just doesn’t get any better than that!  Class adjourned, and I turned to thoughts on what I would offer in the Leadershop this week. 

Blissness as Usual just sort of just came to me, and in a serious way that I’ll now share.

Leadership is a challenge.  It can extend our health and happiness or seriously curtail both.  With such a heavy weight placed upon us each day as lives are entrusted to us, if we do not ensure that our “day jobs,” as much as possible, foster Blissness as Usual, then I fear we are positioning ourselves for eventual degeneration, and most certainly regret.

Thinking back to my first principalship, I remember strolling through the gymnasium with a textbook sales rep, watching groups of students shooting baskets during a long winter’s lunch.  A long-haired crowd rocked with ACDC from a P.A. system that I had provided for them in the gym’s mezzanine.  Our athletic director joined us, and I remember sharing, “The principalship just doesn’t get any better than this!”  When Blissness as Usual faded, I found it elsewhere (in fact, a few times). I often describe my eleven-year experience as a superintendent as one of Camelot, with a 9-0 board in a community that I loved.  Yep. Blissness as Usual. 

I’m pretty sure I have found it again.

So what comprises our litmus tests, as we gauge whether or not we are experiencing Blissness as Usual in our professional lives and leadership?  It certainly cannot be equated with the continual receipt of good news or uninterrupted success in all that we do.  That would neither make sense, nor would it describe true leadership, by anyone’s definition. 

Here’s how I am thinking about it, by asking some questions that might apply:

Would we do in our spare time what we are doing professionally each day, if not required?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

Do we lose track of time and wonder where the day has gone?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

Will we tend toward confluence, as opposed to compartmentalization, without overdoing it (see September 17, 2013 Leadershop)?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

Are we smiling as we drive to work when no one else is looking, thinking of the upcoming day, or even when we envision the challenges placed upon us?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

When we experience failure, are we encouraged to fail forward, to learn, to be transparent, and to try again?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

Do we have an immediate supervisor whom we respect and trust?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

Are we finding meaning in our work, yet not our entire identity?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

When we need a comeuppance or a kick in the arse, does someone with authenticity offer us one, so that we do not need two?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

Would we hesitate to accept other job offers at higher pay levels, even from organizations that appear to have fewer problems than our own?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

Have we found balance in our lives, or at minimum, happiness in the imbalance?  If so, we might be experiencing Blissness as Usual.

A final thought on the importance of having this conversation with ourselves:  If we wish our grandchildren to know us from time spent with them, as opposed to a photograph of someone mom or dad tells them about, we’ll get serious about ensuring Blissness as Usual for ourselves, and through such, for those who appreciate our being around. 

I’ll close by asking, “Do some big decisions need to be made in our own lives and livelihoods, in moving us toward that end?”


Dr. Ryan Donlan is a regular ISU Ed. Leadershop contributor and considers his role as a teacher of Ph.D.’s blissful, indeed.  Please feel free to contact him at anytime at (812) 237-8624 or at

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