Self Discovery

Taking Off Your Mask

(Image retrieved from Google images, original web site:








by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

It is fall.  It is late October.  That means that soon children, and children wannabes (also known as “adults”) will don their masks and costumes and head on out the door in pursuit of treats.  Now is the time you have waited for – to be able to be someone else, if only for a little while.

This gave me pause.  I wonder if, in fact, it is not the other way around?  I wonder how many people go through their lives wearing the masks they felt they were destined to wear – whether by culture or family or education?  You may find yourself waiting for the end of the day, and the end of the week, so that you may remove your mask of “responsibility” and go outdoors and “play,” as you bicycle, hike or play games with your kids.  Maybe you pursue your other hobbies, such as research, reading, or writing the “next great American novel.”  Maybe in those hobbies lies the real you.

Perhaps it is when you are immersed in your creative project that you truly feel like you, for it is during these week-ends of “escape” that you actually feel unencumbered by the restraints of the workaday world.   You feel free to design those parts of your life that seem to complete who you are.

If this is true for you, then it may be time to think about allowing yourself to enjoy the fruits of the week-end all week long.  This is to say, why not pursue that which makes you so happy, feel so complete, feel so like you?  Why take your mask off only on the week-ends?

You assume many roles throughout your life.  You are a father and a son, a mother and a daughter, an employee or an employer, a customer, a driver, and so on.  However, there are those roles that speak to the heart of who you are.  That role could be a writer, or sculptor, or tailor, or photographer, or yogi – professions that are not merely roles, but reflect your artistic soul.  You find that you are your best self when you have allowed yourself to immerse within the waters of your creativity.

Start now.  Remove your everyday mask – and become you.

Noticing the Details

Written October 16th, 2011
Categories: Life Experience, Self Discovery
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(Photo credit:  reprinted from Princeton Center for Yoga and Health posted 10.16.11 on Facebook)

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

Today I ran across the above photograph that had this caption beneath it:  “Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.” (Elizabeth Warren).  It does not seem possible, but we are into the waning months of 2011.  Much of the country is past the peak of the fall foliage.  Thanksgiving is only a month away, and that will launch the craziness of the holiday season. This quote suggested that, even with all that lay before us, we must stop every once in a while and just exhale.

While the main purpose of this blog is to motivate its readers to return to school, fulfill their dreams and take a chance, you still have to put the brakes on every once in a while.  There is joy in just stopping.

A friend of mine and I make a point once a week to walk through the roads near my home.  I live in the South, so our path is filled with live oaks dripping in Spanish moss.  There is always the fragrance of some sort of flora and greenery in the air.  As we walk, I am amazed at what she sees.  We will be chatting away, and she will stop suddenly to pick up an object from the road – usually it is an object that is out of place, such as a spoon.  She will examine it for a second and perhpas take it with her, or leave it behind.  It depends on how she thinks she can use it, or maybe she might just save it for a little while as a memento of an enjoyable conversation.  Her ability to see the details brings a fresh, new perspective to a walk along a familiar path.

As we rush forward toward 2012, and the busy-ness of your life begins to dictate your days, take some time to slow things down.  It is going to be tempting to try to cram events and errands into the week as the days start getting shorter and colder.  But, find a quiet corner, or a new path for a walk, or look overhead at the evening sky and the stars that are piercing the crisp fall air – and deeply inhale.  Exhale and enjoy the moment.

“Inspired by life …” (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from Cape Fear Community College, Alumni Spotlight, 10.28.10)

CFCC Alumnus Chelsie Ravenell models some of his latest design work. Photo Credit: Reese Moore

By Alicia Gronneberg, CFCC Foundation Intern

Chelsie Ravenell was born in Charleston, South Carolina and relocated to the Wilmington area in 2003 to play basketball at Cape Fear Community College [Wilmington, North Carolina].  Growing up in the “ghetto” (as he describes it) Chelsie realized after high school that he needed to do something with his life and CFCC gave him that opportunity.

“Cape Fear Community College gave me a second chance at life,” says Chelsie, who returned to school at age 24.  “In high school I got all C’s, but while I was playing basketball at Cape Fear I had a 4.0.”

Chelsie was enrolled in the business management program but also had a not-so-secret love for fashion, modeling, and designing clothes.  While Chelsie had always been interested in fashion and refers to himself as “the stylish dude who won best dressed in high school,” he found his true inspiration for fashion design after his uncle passed away.

“My uncle lived in my grandmother’s house. When he died we were cleaning it out, and I came across a brand new sewing machine—that’s when I taught myself how to sew.”

Chelsie started designing some of his first fashions while he was still enrolled at CFCC and while his friends often teased him for it he never let it hinder his work.

“The guys would be going out, and I would be staying home to sew,’ says Chelsie.  “I would go out the next night wearing something I made and people would really like it—it got me excited about what I was doing and continued to motivate me to make more and more.”

A few years later Chelsie created his clothing line, called KennethBeatrice, in honor of his grandmother and uncle—it was because of them that he began to fulfill his dream.  “Inspired by Life,” is the moto that Chelsie lives by.  He says he was inspired to design by the people who have passed away. “Through my line the people I have lost live on, and I will live on through the people who wear my line.  With that motto and mindset you never run out of ideas.”

Chelsie now spends his time between his hometown of Charleston, New York City and Los Angeles where he is a “one many army—designing, making, and marketing” his clothing line. He was recently featured as a semi-finalist during Charleston Fashion Week’s 2010 Emerging Designer Competition.

Trusting Yourself

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.


(Image downloaded from via “Google images”)



Recently, a friend lamented that his mother “never trusted her intelligence.”   She had started college, but never completed, and became content in her position as a teacher’s aide, rather than a teacher.  Of course, one is not necessarily better than the other.  However, the reason for her not pursuing her degree – not trusting her intelligence – is an interesting one, and may lie at the heart of why a nontraditional student does not return to college, even though earning a degree might allow the potential student to go to the “next level” of her/his profession.


Each of us is the unique result of our background, family environment, culture, education, religion and experiences.  Because we adapt to our circumstances, we may come to believe that our upbringing and current cultural environment has predetermined our future.  For instance, you may have been raised in a blue-collar environment where the nobility of labor has been emphasized, rather than the pursuit of higher education.  Perhaps, no one in your family has ever earned a bachelor’s degree, so you see it as something that has no application in the “real world.”  You may have even shared with co-workers your curiosity about college, only to be teased and ridiculed.  Yet, there lies in the back of your mind a curiosity, a stirring of interest, in how pursuing a college degree could enhance – and change – your life.


You know you are smart.  People tell you that all the time.  You want to know more, but are not sure where to go or what to do.  It is so much easier to continue with the path of your life that you have laid down – retire with the same company, or perhaps your family’s business.  But, to do so does not mean that you cannot satisfy your curiosity about additional possibilities.  Allow yourself the joy of discovery, including the discovery of where your intelligence can take you.  Trust your intelligence.  Trust yourself.

Turning Your Life Upside Down

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.


(Image retrieved from Google Images.  Web site for image:







Ever take something that is really familiar and change it so drastically that it feels new?

I like to do that with furniture arrangement.  I change the placement of my living room furniture at least four times a year.   By reordering the center of my home, there seems to be a rippling effect into the other rooms.  I have to pass by the living room on the way to the kitchen, so I have the opportunity to appreciate the change several times a day.

When I travel long distances, I always fly.  This past summer, when visiting friends in New Jersey, I decided to take an Amtrak sleeper car up the East Coast.  I had never had such solitude and privacy when traveling before.  I was on the train for 13 hours and spent about half that time sleeping and the other half admiring the vista out my “picture window.” Although I enjoy the bird’s eye view that plane travel offers, the new vantage point from my sleeper car was refreshing! There is no question, I will be doing that again!

One of the courses I teach, I have taught dozens and dozens of times.  Last year, I changed part of it and that change infused new life into the course.  That went so well (and felt so good) that I completely changed the entire course for this year!  We have just ended the first week of the new term, and all of the things I used to do have been replaced by new lecture topics, new PowerPoint, and a new order of presentation of material.  It feels weird, but good.  It reminds me of buying a new pair of shoes that has a different sole and heel from your other shoes.  It feels weird, but there is a new awareness to how you walk and stand.

So, what can you do to gain a new perspective on your life?  What familiar things are you doing that you can rearrange, reorder and renew?

Taking college courses can help you do that – and it doesn’t matter what level of education you have.  One of my colleagues, who has two Ph.D.s, often takes the art and design courses that are offered to our undergraduates.  She is always amazed by the new perspective she has gained (with an added benefit of understanding the courses our students are taking).  These courses tend to turn her point-of-view upside down and she loves it!

If you have been considering returning to school – whether for your first college course or courses post-doc – now is just as good a time as any.  Although the fall term is already underway for most colleges and universities, there are fascinating workshops you can take through the Continuing Education department of your local college.  Check out their on-line catalog, and find the courses that will give you a new perspective.  Turn your life — or at least your perspective — upside down!

Too many choices?

(Photo copied from under “Google images”)







by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

Recently, I received an e-mail from a Non-Traditional Student (NTS) who said he was at a confusing place right now in both his academic and professional careers.  He had started back to college a couple of years ago after over two decades of entertaining the idea.  He took a few courses, did well, and was energized by the opportunities that were beginning to present themselves to him.  Does he quit the job he has held for over 20 years?  Does he fulfill a lifelong dream of opening a restaurant?  Maybe go into real estate?  How would this all be expressed on a resumé?

Sometimes when we discover that we have options – that we no longer are tethered by our current career choice – we can become overwhelmed with the sudden deluge of choices.  We can go from feeling that we are at a dead-end to facing so many forks in the road that we are frozen with indecision.

This is a “good problem.”  What these forks in the road mean is that you recognize that you have the ability to create your future.

But, what if you feel that you may have taken the “wrong” road?  Here you are, an NTS who is finally getting back to school.  You feel that time is already slipping through the hourglass so you think you cannot afford to make mistakes.  Well, you can take yourself off of the hook here.  There are no mistakes or failures – only results.  There is a story of the great inventor, Thomas Edison, that goes:  “Edison tried over 9,000 times to create the incandescent light bulb.  When asked if he felt like a failure, he replied, ‘No, because I now know over 9,000 ways not to create the light bulb’.”

This is learning.  This is experience.  Live your life without regret for the choices you have made thus far.  Because, without those choices, you would not have the information to make the decisions you need to make today.  So what if you take the road that did not get the results you expected.  Now you know.  Now you can make a more informed decision.

If the dilemma of “too many choices” is new to you – enjoy it!  It means that you have created numerous possibilities for yourself.  Think of it like a restaurant menu.  Your future should have many options.  After all, do you want to keep returning to a restaurant that has only one item on the menu?

“Setting Yourself Free” (another view on the idea of “perfectionism”)

(Reprinted from the 8.12.2011 post of The Daily Om)

According to The Daily Om, we need to remember that being imperfect is part of being human.  This interesting article is a nice complement to the previous post “I’m a perfectionist” from 8.1.11

Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead.

It is good to remember that one of our goals in life is to not be perfect. We often lose track of this aspiration. When we make mistakes, we think that we are failing or not measuring up. But if life is about experimenting, experiencing, and learning, then to be imperfect is a prerequisite. Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be our best. We simply accept that there is no such thing as perfection—especially in life. All living things are in a ceaseless state of movement. Even as you read this, your hair is growing, your cells are dying and being reborn, and your blood is moving through your veins. Your life changes more than it stays the same. Perfection may happen in a moment, but it will not last because it is an impermanent state. Trying to hold on to perfection or forcing it to happen causes frustration and unhappiness.

In spite of this, many of us are in the habit of trying to be perfect. One way to nudge ourselves out of this tendency is to look at our lives and notice that no one is judging us to see whether or not we are perfect. Sometimes, perfectionism is a holdover from our childhood—an ideal we inherited from a demanding parent. We are adults now, and we can choose to let go of the need to perform for someone else’s approval. Similarly, we can choose to experience the universe as a loving place where we are free to be imperfect. Once we realize this, we can begin to take ourselves less seriously and have more fun. Imperfection is inherent to being human. By embracing your imperfections, you embrace yourself.

“I’m a perfectionist.”

By Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.


Have you ever said that?

I was one of those “perfectionists” a long time ago.  Then, I began to realize what I was actually saying – and doing.

First, I finally became aware that using a standard of “perfectionism” – an unattainable goal – gave me an excuse either to not attempt something or not complete it.  “It” could never be perfect, so what was the point in trying?  I felt that I was avoiding putting myself in an inevitably failing position – and that was a good thing (or, so I thought).  This mindset created an obstacle for returning to school.  Because I did poorly in math in high school, I would, of course, do poorly in college.  Why would I set myself up for failure?  Consequently, for 5 years I put off attending Schenectady County Community College, even though I really wanted to try.

Second, if I did attempt the “whatever,” I left no “wiggle room” and, therefore, no latitude for changes and adjustments.  This mindset produces unnecessary stress on an individual.  I recall the first math class I took upon my enrollment in Schenectady County Community College, and the first exam.  I earned a 98%.  Believe it or not, I was furious!  I argued with the instructor for quite some time after class.  To me, not having a 100% was the same as failing.  Rather than rejoicing in earning an A+ on the first exam, I left shaken and disappointed with myself.

What happened with these two scenarios is that I undermined any chance at success.  By dong so, I reinforced an already-low self-esteem.  “Perfectionism” was a trap that kept me from moving forward.  I remember when I earned my first “B” at the Community College (Psychology II, I think), a family member expressed great relief.  Apparently, I had been pushing so hard for the academic “Holy Grail” of GPAs – the 4.0 – that my family was beginning to notice the stress taking its toll on me.  By earning a “B,” I had to simply resolve to do my best for the remainder of my courses.  I ended up with a 3.86 GPA upon graduation with my Associate’s.

By the time I graduated, I had learned to let go of “perfectionism” and replace it with goal-setting.  As I crossed off all the goals I had attained – each course, each semester, and finally, graduation – my self-esteem began to become more positive.  The unattainable “perfectionism” had been eclipsed by attainable goals.  This set up an empowering pattern of achievement that would sustain me for the rest of my academic career.

So, the next time you say to yourself “I’m a perfectionist,” ask yourself “Why?”  Is it helping you create a better future or is it, in reality, what is holding you back?


“Seeking another path …” (Success Stories Series)










(Reprinted from Community College Times of the American Association of Community Colleges, 4.4.11)

Richard Leigh –  Virginia Highlands Community College

The list of performers who have recorded songs composed by Richard Leigh reads like a who’s who of country music: George Jones, Dixie Chicks, Reba McEntire, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Kathy Mattea, and Mickey Gilley, among many others.

Eight Leigh compositions—among them “Come From the Heart,” “Put Your Dreams Away,” and “That’s the Thing About Love”—rose to the top of the charts. His biggest hit, Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” won a Grammy for Country Music Song of the Year in 1978. He has been inducted into Nashville’s Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, owns a space on the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Star Walk and has produced songs that have sold more than 50 million records.

Not too shabby for a kid born in the hollows of Washington, D.C., who spent his high school years in the notably un-countrified suburb of McLean, Va.

Although Leigh always loved country music, his desire to go straight from high school into the music business was thwarted by his adoptive mother.

“She said, ‘Please go to college, because no woman is going to want to live with a guy who sits around on a couch and plays his guitar all day and doesn’t make any money,’” Leigh says. “I’ve since found out many women do, but I told her, ‘Alright, I’ll go to college.’”

After a high school guidance counselor recommended a career in forestry, Leigh, who liked camping and canoeing well enough, enrolled in the Haywood Technical Institute (now Haywood Community College) in North Carolina.

“After nine months, I realized I hated every minute of it,” Leigh says.

Seeking another path 

When Leigh looked into Emory & Henry College in Virginia, which his best friend attended, he was told he’d have to wait until the following fall.

“Then I applied to Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) [Abingdon, VA] and they took me right on the spot,” he says.

A chance encounter with William Van Keyser, head of the VHCC drama department, lead to an invitation to act at Barter Theater, the local professional company.

“I said I don’t act, and he said that doesn’t matter,” Leigh says. “I said that’s great, but does it pay anything, because I was putting myself through college. He said no, but you get school credit if you change your major, so I changed my major to theater.”

After three plays, Leigh had to join the union to continue performing at the theater.

“I had my Actor’s Equity card before I finished community college, which was unheard of,” Leigh says. “When I applied to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to finish my bachelor’s degree, they told me no one had ever applied to the theater department there as a pro.”

After graduating from VCU in 1974, Leigh moved to Nashville to break into the music business as a singer and songwriter.

“When I went to Nashville, I thought—naively—that all singers wrote their own songs,” Leigh says. “I got down there and found they needed songs because singers didn’t always write them. Turned out I was pretty good at making them up—better at that than singing.”

A year later, “I’ll Get Over You,” a song he wrote for Crystal Gayle, reached No. 1 and was nominated for Country Music Awards Song of the Year. “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” came out a year later and the next 30 years saw a stream of hits.

A desire to succeed

Leigh says his top ingredient for writing songs is a strong desire.

“I’m just of average talent, of average intellect, nothing ever stood out about me except my strong desire,” he says.

And while he’s usually introduced as “the guy who wrote ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,’” he considers “It Ain’t Gonna Worry My Mind” his greatest achievement.

“It’s a song Ray Charles recorded on a duet album with Mickey Gilley,” Leigh says. “Ray Charles is my idol, and his singing it was probably the greatest thing that could happen to me. And the second verse talks about the state of Virginia—it’s a very personal song.”

One other song with great personal resonance is “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” which he wrote after happening upon obituaries of his father who, along with his mother, died when Leigh was 2½ years old.

“It was a 10-million-selling record for Reba McEntire, and I think it’s still considered Reba’s greatest hit,” Leigh says.

Leigh, who with his wife, Shannon, lives on a Tennessee farm, keeps busy writing songs, lecturing, doing voiceovers, and performing concerts. In each of the last three years, he has performed benefit concerts at VHCC, which he remembers warmly as the place that gave him his start.

“The fact that I would walk into VHCC and it would change my life is phenomenal,” Leigh says. “Think of me, an orphan who walks up the steps of this school and is allowed to have an affordable education and rise to the top of his profession. That’s pretty amazing, and I couldn’t have done it without the school.”

The Fuel of Self-Doubt

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.


The other day I had lunch with a colleague.  We reflected on our experiences in our respective doctoral programs – she at Columbia University and me at the University of Utah.  Even though we were enrolled at different times and at different places, we shared one important thing in common – self-doubt.  We both felt that while we were in the programs, that we shouldn’t be there and that we would probably never complete the required exams and dissertation.

Some of the self-doubt came from the lack of support – or “negative support” – from  family members.  Our pursuing our education was resented by some of the people closest to us.  In addition, we compared ourselves to our cohorts and felt like we were out of place.  We subordinated ourselves to the opinions and performances of others.

In the companion book to this blog – also entitled You Can Do College – I recount all the self-doubt I had from the time I entered into the local Community College on through to the last weeks of my Ph.D. program.  The doubt finally evaporated when I earned my last degree and actually held the piece of paper that confirmed my achievement.  (I wonder, though, if the self-doubt would return if I decided to pursue another degree.)

Self-doubt appears to be a part of the process.  We put ourselves into new situations and new environments.  This takes us outside of our comfort zones.  Let’s face it – it just feels weird.  We are immersed into a learning environment where it means that we are no longer the experts in our field.  As Non-Traditional Students, we are generally the oldest in the class and wonder if we will be able to keep up with the concepts, with the technology, and with the other students.  We give ourselves all kinds of reasons to doubt our abilities.

Still, one must persevere.  In spite of all of the doubts, my colleague and I finished every program we began.  There was no coasting through, however.  The road we took was littered with stumbling blocks – time management, family needs, money, work issues and so on.  Some of the other stumbling blocks, though, we put there ourselves – most of which were born out of self-doubt.  Yet, we completed everything we started, making our accomplishments even sweeter.

Is this where you are?  Are you doubting your ability to return to school?  Are others adding to your own insecurities by discrediting your academic ambition?  Does it seem that you will be out of place in a college learning environment?  Enrolling into a program will not make those insecurities go away, but, as you earn good grades, your insecurities and doubt will lessen.

Perhaps self-doubt is the fuel that helps us to push ourselves.  You have probably said to yourself at one time or another, “If I can do this, I can do anything.”  The key word is “do.”  Don’t spend so much time overthinking your enrollment into college that you delay taking action month after month, year after year.  One thing is for certain:  getting a higher education is a no-lose proposition.  You can never be worse off for having attended college.  So, let the doubts be what pushes you – and then you will feel like you can do anything.