Personal Legend Project: Daniel Elsener

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Daniel Elsener, President, Marian University

My in-laws, Jan & Steve McCracken, are Marian alumni.  As a part of their efforts fundraising for the school, they’ve invited my wife and I to the university’s annual gala a few times over the years.  At these events, I’ve always enjoyed hearing President Elsener speak.

He mentions here the importance of family as a primary aspect of his true calling, and notably, he and his wife have raised nine children. His eloquent words on a subject that is his “true calling” leaves me feeling uplifted and inspired to continue work on my own Personal Legend.  I hope you can also experience this through President Elsener’s thoughtful responses to our questions below.

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The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.

1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend? 

First and foremost, my life’s calling is to the married life with my wife and, together with her, to be a good parent. Outside of that vocation, I’ve always been called through prayer and experiences to be a leader in my work which centers around advancing education. As a teacher, I felt called to serve every student and have her/him become something better than s/he would be alone. As a principal and superintendent, I was responsible to do the same with faculty, staff, board members, and donors for both single schools and for entire school systems.

Admittedly, there is an order of magnitude difference in the task of being principal of a school with 500 students and serving as superintendent of an archdiocese with 71 schools that serve 25,000 students, but the calling and responsibility to advance the flourishing of our young people through school program-based education, parental and community engagement, and fundraising support is the same.

I truly do believe that many years ago, I recognized a seed of conviction in my mind, heart, and soul to serve as an educator, and through prayer and experience, I have nurtured that seed and magnified my commitment. Now through my leadership role in the educational sphere, and more specifically through my work at Marian University as president, I am answering my call to further advance the preparation of great leaders for health care, education, business, not-for-profits, civic life, and other ministries.

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2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

Even as a young person I had an inkling that I was meant to lead and facilitate people moving to a better place. The experiences I had growing up as a captain, class president, and as organizer of various projects and events in my family life, neighborhood, school, and church gave confirmation to this inkling.

As you grow, especially if you incorporate prayer and reflection, your calling becomes more clear and pronounced. I was told a long time ago by a friend and strong leader that when your intellect and critical analysis; your research and learning; your personal and professional experiences; and your prayerful reflection are synthesized, your calling becomes crystal clear on multiple levels. I’ve found that to be true. When learning, exploration, and lived experience in areas of interest are prayerfully reflected upon at every stage – in advance, during, and following – one’s calling becomes more pronounced, invigorating, satisfying, and clear.

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3)  People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling.  This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.”  When do you experience this most often?

This is an intriguing question. I never go to work and yet I never leave work. I thoroughly enjoy what I do – I am excited to jump in, to advance our mission, to make it go. I only find myself “outside the zone” when I find myself upset that I can’t get more done because of limited time and resources.

I believe that you only find yourself outside the zone when you lose sight of the fact that you can only do your best, keep advancing, and be thankful for your progress. The greatest threat to the fulfillment of your calling is when you allow your struggles to remove the joy from your vocation or you forget to have faith that through continuous generous and prayerful effort, your greater aspiration will indeed come to be in God’s infinite Plan.

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4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

The greatest challenge has always been the balancing act of doing well what you are called to do in different aspects of your life and allocating the proper amount of time, resources and emotions to each and all together. Once the calling becomes an obsession or starts to become something you want to do alone instead of with your Creator or others, you tend to get overwhelmed, frustrated, and become a less joyful servant. Simply, we are not God. Rather, we are God’s feet, hands, heart, ears, and eyes in service to His Plan. This outlook gives perspective and peace of mind.

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5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

Pursuing my calling has taught me that being other-centered, ministry-centered, brings with it a certain freedom from concerns about perfection, from a preoccupation with the duration of your time on earth, and from worry about what others may think or judge in terms of possessions, decisions, moves, and/or stances on issues. When you follow your calling, you find yourself at peace.

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6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

Give a good deal of thought, prayer, and inquisitiveness in research and analysis to that which interests you and the ways in which you can serve well. Focus on serving well because in serving well you will find the straightest path to happiness. Gain experience and reflect on this experience. I often have students and others say I wish I knew what to do. If you really want to know what to do, build up your life experience by trying different things. It will become more and more clear what brings happiness and benefit to you and others.

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Are you following your Personal Legend?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Subscribe to the blog, or add us to your RSS feed to follow along as we post a new set of images each day for the next 30 days.   For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.