Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

Reflection Friday with Jeff Stauch

by Grant Olcott ’19, Social Entrepreneurship Intern

Jeff Stauch spends his free time quite deliberately. He’s dedicated to aikido and he writes and runs himself into exhaustion. Upon superficial inspection, it would seem that Jeff is a try-hard. Is it really enjoyable to fuss over writing? To run for 50,000 km? To get tackled by four men? Sure, all the self-masochists say, it makes you stronger. You learn from it. Come on — we’d all prefer to just sleep in and watch TV when that 6am alarm goes off. Anyone who leaps from bed and dares enjoy it is phony.

A lot of wise people would say we learn something from doing things outside our comfort zone. Failure is an excellent teacher. Jeff shared this wisdom at his Reflection Friday. To understand it requires giving some thought to what failure means. He suggests one type of failure results from a single-minded reliance on words for communication. Can one truly be passionate about failure? Jeff’s hobbies matter to him, because they all allow him to fail, which is necessary to learn how to communicate with others. 

Jeff enjoys aikido, because it teaches him to embrace failure and unfamiliarity. Classes are mostly silent, making communication a challenge that comes with a unique reward: learning to listen in a world that prefers to talk. Despite the absence of conversation, Jeff makes friends at aikido; he enjoys this different bonding experience. Aikido is also important, because it frames the importance of the relationship between student and teacher. Learning from someone else is a helpful experience. There’s always someone who does something better. However, in aikido, teaching is done quite indirectly. Teachers rarely interrupt one’s practice with feedback. Imposing one’s idea on another prevents the natural journey from stage 1 to stage 2, and all the steps in between. In the aikido dojo, Jeff also learns to handle confrontation. One does not need to accept what’s being done with rage or helplessness. There are several options. All of these lessons make aikido a meaningful activity for Jeff.

Writing and running are Jeff’s other constructive pastimes. As a writer, Jeff tries to make the reader as uncomfortable as possible as quietly as possible. Subtlety is an important part of communication, perhaps because it encourages one to understand feelings rather than words. Writing about personal experience is the most difficult exercise in communication. However, this also means, it provides an easy opportunity to fail. Like aikido, running offers a more physical experience with failure and confrontation. It allows him to focus on communication with himself. These activities require a certain attitude that Jeff shared at his reflection: a willingness to engage in the process of discovery.

Tying everything together is Jeff’s career. He works in fundraising for the school.While many of his pastimes are focused on himself, his job is an exercise in teamwork and selflessness. He put his role beautifully: building up a picture of the future with others and then asking them to invest in that vision. It’s a challenging job, with several rejections, but it’s important to ensure that people have a place to discover themselves and discover the right attitude. To Jeff, that place is Middlebury.


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