Bumpy Beginnings

Last week, I met with the new faculty members who are joining our institution this fall. A colleague (Leslie Gates) and I are co-facilitating a campus-wide Faculty Mentoring Program which will partner each new faculty member with a mentor. Besides the individual mentoring that new faculty will receive, Leslie and I have designed the broader mentoring program to help our new colleagues navigate the university culture and assist them with developing a strong foundation for their teaching, service, and scholarship at the institution. While the program is relatively new at our university, I’m really enjoying the role. As I enter the final stretch of my professional life, it’s great to be supporting individuals who are at the beginning stretches of theirs.

After meeting with the group last week, Leslie and I met with one of the new faculty members individually yesterday. Without getting into the conversation in too much detail, the faculty member had some questions about the new job they were starting. Naturally, they expressed some apprehension and some concern. Leslie and I did our best to build them up for the start of classes next week. After the conversation, I thought back to my first days teaching almost thirty years ago and my first days at the university over a decade ago. I tried to remember the emotions I was experiencing then and tried to recall my own fears and concerns at the time. I’d love to say that those beginning days were without turmoil and free of professional or personal strife, but I’d be lying. The road was bumpy, to say the least.

But I worry a little that we downplay those bumpy beginnings and glamorize phenomenal starts instead. Take Tyler Gilbert. If you haven’t heard Gilbert’s story, it’s a good one. Last weekend, Gilbert pitched a no-hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks in his very first start. I know that some readers may not be baseball fans, so let me put Gilbert’s feat in perspective. Most pitchers never throw a no-hitter in their career. A bunch of teams only have a single no-hitter in their entire history as a franchise. And Gilbert pitched one in his very first start. Gilbert’s achievement was featured on social media and in newspapers and was a highlight on sports channels. Gilbert didn’t have a bumpy beginning to his professional career, by any definition.

But digging a little deeper, it’s clear that he did. Gilbert is 27 years old, which is old for a rookie pitcher. In 2015, Gilbert was drafted in the sixth round by the Philadelphia Phillies before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in early 2020. Because of the pandemic, Gilbert was forced to take the entire 2020 season off. Instead of playing baseball last year, Gilbert worked as an electrician with his father. With Gilbert’s year of baseball inactivity, the Dodgers decided to leave Gilbert unprotected, which meant that the Diamondbacks could pick him up in something called a “Rule 5” draft last December. By any measure, Gilbert was a long shot to make the team. Due to the Diamondbacks’ atrocious season and a string of injuries to other pitchers, Gilbert was called up from the minor leagues and got his first start on Saturday. And that’s when he made history.

I’m not sharing this information to downplay Gilbert’s achievement in any way. He pitched a no-hitter in his very first start! But I also want to tell the whole story, so we don’t create unreasonable expectations for our own starts. Most beginnings are going to be a little bumpy. It’s natural. And we need to recognize that bumpiness instead of glamorizing a false narrative. Greatness didn’t happen for Tyler Gilbert on day one. He spent five years (or more) working towards it.

Which is to say, work past the bumpy beginnings. There are better days ahead.


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