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Pepperdine University

Tricia Halsey

Seaver College | 2003
Founder and Executive Director, Big Idea Project

What does being an honoree of this campaign mean to you?

Being nominated by my community and selected by Pepperdine for this award is humbling.

Building Big Idea Project has been a great joy. I do the work I do because I believe it must be done, and I have been called and equipped to do it. Often the work I do is behind the scenes. It is an honor to be seen and recognized.

Describe your success story.

I believe that success is found in the journey, not the destination. Success in the traditional sense is not even a goal for me. I have learned through a lot of failure, challenge, sickness, and seasons of darkness that success is what happens when we surrender our own striving and align with the work God has purposed us to do. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more authentic I am, and the more I learn to trust the One who guides me, the more positive fruit I see in my life. For me, fruit looks like deep enjoyment of the small things day-to-day, soulful rest, and evidence of increased freedom and thriving in the people around me.

As for Big Idea Project's success story: we were born out of an experiment led by a teacher at Columbine High School ten years ago. The Big Idea Project organization began five years later by serving teachers and schools with a turnkey capstone project designed to make students into leaders through hands-on community problem solving. Over the last five years, Big Idea Project has grown from 60 students to more than 3,100 students impacted across the Denver metropolitan area. We have become one of the only programs to be fully integrated into school curricula as a stand-alone course that meets credit requirements. Students who participate in the Big Idea Project often say it is the most challenging and rewarding work they accomplish in high school. Even more, students say they become better people, and they learn that they have the potential to do work they never thought possible.

Mark Twain once said, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education." While typical schools focus on the head by teaching knowledge and the memorization of facts according to standardized tests, Big Idea Project provides transformational experiences within high schools that form the whole child—their character, self-confidence, empathy, essential life skills, personal well-being, and workforce readiness. We bridge the head and the heart so our students know why they and their formation matters so that they graduate high school prepared to live out their potential as generous leaders in their families, communities, and companies.

How has Pepperdine played a role in your success?

As an undergrad, Pepperdine was a major catalyst for my personal and professional formation. The quality of people who make up Pepperdine's community is what sets it apart. I learned from, and lived alongside, people of high integrity who were earnest to seek after what's right and good. Professors never brought their own agenda to the classroom apart from wanting students to grow in wisdom. In my work, I speak with many students who attend colleges all over the nation. As I listen to them describe how they feel like just a number in a sea of faces or that they don't feel free to think against the grain, I always find myself thinking, "I'm so lucky to have gone to Pepperdine."

Describe a lesson you've learned from a challenging time in your career or life.

I am a recovering achiever. This may sound strange, but I know from experience that achievement is a thief.

I have a high capacity to make things happen. I grew up as an accomplished athlete who was trained to pursue achievement at all costs. As a young professional out to change the world, if there was a massive project to do, I would do it by myself by working through the night, often getting only three hours of sleep each night for weeks at a time. I was able to get results quickly, and with my orientation toward perfectionism, my work was usually very good.

As an entrepreneur starting Big idea Project, my old habits followed me. For many years, I ran Big Idea Project as the only full-time paid employee. We were a disruptive nonprofit startup in a space where funders didn't know what to do with us. So I was alone most of the time and always assuming a fighting position. I needed to fight for what was right, prove that we deserved a place at the table within education, and impress the world with our unparalleled program. I was already on empty when I started Big Idea Project, so it took me just three years until I hit burn out.

My physical and mental health declined rapidly. Doctors didn't know what was wrong. No one could help me. Insomnia came in full force, along with night terrors, and heart palpitations. I couldn't eat without severe pain and my whole body hurt. I mentally couldn't do it anymore. I was done.

Then one day I received an invitation that saved my life. I was sitting in a living room with a small group of influencers, listening to a leader from Israel who had come to share about his organization. He said, "There is this Jewish farming principle. On the seventh year, the farmer lets the soil rest to restore the nutrients to the soil so that it can continue to produce excellent crops. This is called the Sabbath year and where we get the term 'sabbatical.' If there is anyone here who knows the soil of their lives is depleted, come, consider coming on sabbatical with us in Israel."

With one glance at my husband, we both knew the invitation was for us. Less than 24 hours later, we decided to sell our home so that we could move to Israel for two months.

After that sabbatical summer, I inexplicably came back completely healed.

And that's when I began my "transition years." I vowed I would never let myself go back to where I was. The old me was great at striving—pushing and working in my own strength in order to make happen what I thought needed to happen. The opposite of striving is rest. I knew I needed to shift the paradigm of my life from living in striving to living in rest.

It took a lot of struggle and tears, but I finally transitioned to this new paradigm of rest. Daily I now choose to follow God because I've learned that his leadership is always good. For the first time in my life, my soul is completely at peace. I'm much more aligned with who I was meant to be all along. Now I witness achievements I could have never imagined and I could have never done on my own.

As leaders, we are designed with strength, strong will, vision, and abilities. Your gifts may get you far in your own striving, but at what expense? Trust the leadership of the one who gave them to you, and see how much you can accomplish together.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Leading well and enabling others to lead well is at the very core of who I am and what I do. It is the Generous Leadership® paradigm—the paradigm we use at Big Idea Project as the foundation for individual formation. I define Generous Leadership® as abundantly giving of yourself so that others may be better people who do better work.

Leadership is not something you do. A leader is someone you are. I am not a leader because I founded an organization, nor am I a leader because I am responsible for the direction and outcomes of that organization. I am a leader because people around me trust me enough to give me their heart and their loyalty. People know that I always have their back and that I will make decisions that honor them. They see me give of myself because I value them for who they are first, and because I believe in their potential to accomplish more than even they can imagine.

When people around me choose to follow me, I count that as one of my life's greatest honors. It is a high privilege to be called 'leader.'

"As leaders, we are designed with strength, strong will, vision, and abilities. Your gifts may get you far in your own striving, but at what expense? Trust the leadership of the one who gave them to you, and see how much you can accomplish together."

 Tricia Halsey ('03)

Who has helped you achieve success in your career?

Throughout my career there have been colleagues and friends who came alongside of me for a season. Too many to count. But there is only one person who has been consistent through the dark times, who always encourages and also tells me the hard truth, one who believes in my potential when I don't. Bryan is my partner, my husband, and my greatest fan. I am the leader I am today because of him.

What's next for you?

Presently, I am in the education space and have a vision that has fueled the formation of an organization that provides whole-child development in all types of high schools, including public. I know in the near future Big Idea Project will provide the tools and training for educators that will drive broader and deeper transformation in schools nationally. My strength is ideating new solutions to challenging problems while gathering together community who can make the ideal future a present reality. I will always have a part to play in the mission of Big Idea Project, even if my role changes with the development of new strategies.

What was your first job?

When I was 16 I worked at a campground as a lifeguard by day, waitress by night.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I'm a leader. How and where I lead doesn't matter so much as why.

What historical or modern-day leader do you admire and why?

Admired by many, I also point to Abraham Lincoln. His wisdom and perspective far surpassed his era. Many make an example of his unrelenting spirit to keep going even after experiencing failure upon failure. But what I admire most is his humble wisdom in a time of tremendous division where fear and hatred for the "other" ruled the day. Lincoln earned the trust and admiration of even his most vocal adversaries because he honored people and refused to take part in hate. Unity meant more to him than his pride. He gave sacrificially, abundantly.

What is your mantra or favorite quote?

"I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do." —Leonardo da Vinci

How do you prepare for a busy day?

I often begin my days with prayer. I ask God to clarify and highlight my priorities. I get ready with music that inspires me and then take my dog for a walk. My goal is to be ready in order to give myself space to be present once my children are up. We eat breakfast together, talk about the day ahead, and then we're out the door for school drop-off. I am most grounded and ready for the day ahead of me if I've taken care of myself and connected with those I love.

What is one of your favorite hobbies?

I'm inspired by nature. I try to make sure I'm in nature regularly, whether walking, running, or going on an adventure with my family. My favorite hobby is stand up paddleboarding early in the morning, when I'm the only one on the water.