November 2013

Print this page ›

November 2013

News From Lea Asbell-Swanger, USITT President

The Twists and Turns of Life

Sometimes the path ahead is obvious, sometimes it is a bit more complicated, and sometimes is depends on your viewpoint of the situation.

"Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans."
~ From "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)," a song written and performed by John Lennon.

This quote, or a variation of it, has been attributed to a variety of people from Allen Saunders to Betty Talmadge to Lily Tomlin in addition to John Lennon. Perhaps part of its staying power is because most of us have had a point when we thought we were headed in one direction only to end up somewhere else. I'm not talking about issues with Mapquest or the sometimes infuriating voice on your GPS device ("recalculating"), but the bigger choices involving careers, relationships, and family.

Each year I offer a tour of our facility to a group of first year students who all live in Discover House, which is an interest house for students who might be a bit undecided about their major. The residence life coordinator responsible for this group always requests that I tell the students the path I took to get to the job I currently have. She believes that it's valuable to the students because it not a traditional route. What she's saying, in a nice way, is that I didn't have a plan.

In my role as a manager, I plan most activities to a fault. All my life, I've been accused of being organized, so how in the world did I not have a plan for my career?

At one point I did. It involved math and physics and engineering and then suddenly, for reasons that are both simple and complicated, it suddenly involved the performing arts, a completely different university, and the goal of graduating with a B.A. within a specified period of time. So the end point was determined, but there was no time to map out too many details. All I knew was that the work and the people had to hold my interest even when difficult and, along the way, I should probably find a way to get paid for it. So within those rather broad parameters, I started down the path that ultimately led me to where I am and what I do today.

I would love to be able to say that, at some point, I had a plan that resembled a straight line since that would have been the shortest distance between where I was and where I thought I wanted to be, but that was not the case. I did manage to achieve the B.A. degree in a timely manner and; while there were actual career-related opportunities available, as the lyrics above suggest, life had its own plan. A corollary to this should be life changes you, which also changes your plan.

I recognize that I was very lucky to have a lot of support along my path. My parents didn't freak out (at least not so that I noticed) when the original plan changed completely. They and many other mentors provided guidance if requested and lots of opportunities. They didn't require me to succeed in every effort, but to at least learn something from the experience. They taught me to be comfortable with the notion of being strategic when recognizing and choosing opportunities, even if I didn't have a clear sense of exactly what would or should be next.

Somewhere along the way, USITT joined the process that was determining my future. By that point, I wasn't even conscious of needing a developmental plan. I had a job with work that I loved and people I respected, but USITT always kept me moving forward and learning. For that I will be forever grateful, and it is part of why I offer my service to the organization today.

But back to "life happening." In September, my father H.W. "Bubba" Asbell passed away after a brief illness. First, let me thank all of you that were supportive in thoughts and deeds during that difficult stretch of time.

It's difficult sometimes to express or even realize the impact USITT has in one's life. While I am both honored and humbled to be the President, nothing could have prepared me for the way my father received that news. I don't think there had been any single accomplishment in my life that made him more proud. It gave us a lot of new things to talk about, and I think this finally made my change of direction in college so long ago make sense to him. That will always give me great comfort.

Lea Asbell-Swanger

We'd like to hear your comments on this story.
Please e-mail Lea at