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Nov. 1 is National Authors Day, and we’re celebrating with a look at one of Lipscomb’s own.
Kalli Groce |
After chatting with Donita Brown for a bit, one thing becomes perfectly clear: She loves teaching. Not only was this the first thing she said when I caught up with her recently, but at the end of our time it somehow felt like I had just learned so much. Therein lies her gift, not just for teaching in a classroom, which she now gets the chance to do as instructor and program director for health-care programs (MHA/MMHC) at Lipscomb University, but also as an author and life coach. In honor of National Authors Day, we thought we would celebrate one of our own here at Lipscomb who has put in hours of work to share wisdom and insights gained not only through her experiences, but also through the experiences of others.
Brown has always dreamed big and worked hard to make those dreams come true in her life. She worked for 20 years at HCA, eventually becoming a division director for TriStar Health. She was also an adjunct professor at Belmont University for almost 10 years before starting at Lipscomb. But it was here that she felt the fulfillment of all that effort finally coming to fruition.
“It’s just better somehow at Lipscomb,” she says. After thinking about it, she adds, “It’s the people.”
When she started here, other professors told her she would be amazed at the students’ Biblical knowledge, but she wasn’t so sure until she taught Servant Leadership, a class that offers opportunities to discuss integration of faith and service in the workplace and emphasizes ethics and leadership in a dynamic and changing world. “I was blown away by the students,” she says. “I also felt challenged to shore up my own Biblical knowledge to prepare for the class.”
A willingness to learn seems to be Brown’s strongest asset, but like a lot of good lessons, it was learned through life’s toughest challenges. She notes that her first major lesson on management and leadership came from her dad, Kenneth Taylor, when she was just in fifth grade and her mother left them, along with her twin sisters, who were in kindergarten at the time.
She remembers that she was crying that first night and said to her father, “Don’t you want to cry? Aren’t you sad?”
He simply replied, “I’ll cry later,” and he let her cry.
A few days after that, she saw him crying in her kitchen during a visit with their preacher. She looks back on that terrible time and remembers her father finding the comfort he needed from the appropriate person for him while providing leadership and strength to her and her siblings. She has never forgotten what real leadership looks like, and she has appreciated her father’s wisdom more and more throughout the years.
Years later, when she had her first child, her daughter had ear infections for a full year, and Brown spent a lot of time in the rocking chair with her. She started writing down bits of her father’s advice in a journal during that time. For her 40th birthday, she asked her husband, Robert, for the gift of time to work at putting all her notes together in a book. The result was “Wisdom From Others: 9 Life Lessons From My Dad.”
After working on her book for 10 years, Brown was ready to present it to her inspiration. Both avid hikers, she and her dad had decided to hike the Cades Cove Loop, which winds for 11 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After going about three-quarters of the way, they stopped to rest and eat lunch. She recalls sitting on a log together when she told him she had something for him.
“You carried something all this way for me?” he asked.
“Dad, I wrote 30,000 words for you,” she replied.
She gave him the manuscript, which at the time was printed and bound at a copy store. He was touched, and they cried together as he took in what it was. Then, without missing a beat, he said, “Will you carry it back for me?”
Moving Forward and Helping Others
At HCA, Brown remembers her transition from corporate services to TriStar, which was the difference in managing 20 people and managing 100. At first, she would work all day, come home to her family, have dinner and family time, and then hope to work from 8 p.m. till midnight. Finally, she sought help from a productivity coach with the hopes of cutting the long extra hours down to just one or two nights a week. Working with her coach, she realized that the more you work, the more you worry and the less effective you become.
Eventually, she turned her new knowledge into a way to help others. Over the next three years she was able to not only manage the position she was in, but also to see where she wanted to go. She found a love for teaching, earned her doctorate, and got her certification to be a life coach, and she has managed to combine her unique set of abilities perfectly in her position at Lipscomb, along with her roles as author and life coach. In everything she does, she wants to pass what she has learned along to others to help them succeed, too. Her growth has shown her the value of mentoring relationships, and she seeks them out in both her professional and her personal life.
“Sometimes you have to struggle,” she says. “It’s important to learn from other people. Now, every time I pull into Lipscomb, I think, ‘What a gift!’ I appreciate this blessing more.” Brown says she learns from people every day, from her students to professors, co-teachers and fellow authors.
Brown lives on 7 acres in Springfield, Tenn., with her husband of nearly 20 years, Robert, daughters Amelia (11) and Reagan (9), and their Standard poodle, Chief. She says Robert is her biggest champion and also her voice of reason. Together, the family attends six annual bluegrass festivals, where her girls compete in square dancing, clogging, buck dancing, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, mountain dulcimer and hammered dulcimer. “That community is fabulous,” Brown says. “There is always going to be somebody better than you, but the people are really willing to share their knowledge.”
Brown’s favorite piece of wisdom came from her dad several years ago in an unusual way. Armed with their flip phones and hiking boots, she and her father were again planning a big hike. The idea was to hike different trails on Mt. Le Conte and meet at the top for dinner. The mountain has five different trails, and her dad always hikes Alum Cave, so he had dropped her off to hike the Rainbow Falls trail, on the opposite end of the park.
After hiking part of the way, however, Brown realized her father had left her a message. Apparently, he had accidentally dropped her and her friend and her son off at the wrong trailhead, and it was going to add 3 or 4 miles to her already-5-mile hike. Ever the Southern gentleman, his simple message was, “Just keep walking. I’ll see you at the top.”
Brown explains, “I love that he said, ‘I’ll see you at the top.’ Some days are really hard. You just have to keep walking to the top of the mountain. Sometimes that top of the mountain is a better version of you; sometimes you’ll have somebody waiting for you there, like I had in my dad. But you just have to keep walking.”
Not so ironically, Brown says Mt. Le Conte is still her favorite place to hike.