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A Surprising Ode to the Worst Month

Post by Matthew S. Helmer

Can we just say it? April is an arduous month. I’m speaking specifically to my higher ed friends here, but perhaps this is a universal principle. With all due respect to those celebrating major life milestones during this month – HOORAY for you!!! – these 30 days are an annual convergence of the unpleasant. April is far enough from summer that dreams of sunshine and swimming pools seem distant, but close enough to the end of an academic year that every.thing. seems to be happening at once. Budgets. Performance reviews. New fiscal year planning. ALL of the events. And let’s not forget Tax Day.

In our shop, April even has its own hashtag: having one of those days where crazy lurks around every corner? That’s just #April.

Days are getting longer, yet so is your to-do list. Exhaustion has settled in for an extended stay. The changing season seems to summon the kooky in everyone around us. Or maybe we’ve all just been cooped up for too many months. It doesn’t help that the weather has an identity complex. Case in point: after back-to-back 75-degree days, I’m currently watching a blizzard swirl outside the window. (but maybe that’s just #Colorado)

While it’s tempting to use the remainder of this post to dissect April’s unlikability score, I have the blizzard to thank for reframing my thoughts today. Upon its arrival, we were gifted with an unexpected midday closure, and the rare and highly prized “snow day” put a little wind back in my tattered sails. Instead of using this gift of time to attack my backlogged email inbox (#sorrynotsorry), I took a nap. I had an unhurried conversation with my husband. I indulged in creative play with my kiddo. I felt human again.

This wasn’t how I expected the day to go. And therein lies the lesson – seeing and seizing opportunity in the unexpected. For me, today represented an unanticipated (and much needed) chance to recharge. Tomorrow, I’ll regroup with my team to think through how we reschedule a major annual event that was canceled in the wake of today’s closure – what an opportune time to rethink our approach to this decades-old campus tradition.

We all encounter the unexpected more often than we may even realize. Are we effectively employing creativity in our response, or are we quick to jump into crisis mode, getting everything “back on track?” Pause for a moment. This sudden turn of events may be just the opportunity you need to look at something from a fresh perspective.

Taking it one step further, how about creating the unexpected for others. I’m not talking about pranks – one of April’s other less desirable features. I’m talking about simple ways we can surprise and delight our donors and colleagues, turning the expected on its head and creating a meaningful moment. Interrupt your own daily slog by writing a note of encouragement to a colleague or calling up a donor to invite for lunch simply to say, “thank you!”

As clichéd as it may be, consider stopping along the way to smell the flowers. It is spring after all. And if only for that, I suppose there is abundant reason to be grateful. Even in #April.

What unexpected turn will YOU take today?

With gratitude,


P.S. I stumbled upon this magical Instagram post yesterday. Just a friendly reminder that spending time getting to know our donors and teammates can create a surprising moment of delight for even the most well-traveled and discerning among us.

DRG Group member Matthew Helmer serves as Assistant Vice President of University Advancement at Colorado State University. Giving credit where credit is due, at least #April offers him a chance to still wear his favorite sweaters now and then. Got other ideas for why #April is not so bad? Tweet him @ExperienceGuru or connect on LinkedIn.


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