Keynote Presenter

Media Credit: Brian Swanson

Dr. Mark S. Benn shines in the role of conference keynote presenter.  He has the rare ability to incorporate the three major elements of a successful conference kick-off or closing.  He is able to entertain, teach and motivate people with his humor, sense of timing and customized messages.

“Mark Benn is one of the most insightful, energetic, and humorous speakers that we have had on our campus.”
Gary Pierson, Director of Campus Life, Western State College

“Mark has an incredible ability for insight into another’s world: he’s able to understand and gain meaning from what appears sometimes as just simple conversation.  This, combined with his deep compassion and empathy for humans, makes him a most powerful trainer!”
Alma Vigo-Morales, Diversity Specialist, Agilent Technologies

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Mark S. Benn at the National Urban Fellows Conference Minneapolis January 2008

Dr. Mark Benn, a CSU professor of psychology, clutches his new book “Stories from the Couch, and Other Telling Tales,” a self-proclaimed “find yourself” piece, which was released in March.

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News Story

The Rocky Mountain Collegian, Bijah Gibson, April 11, 2008

In his new book “Stories from the Couch and Other Telling Tales,” psychologist and CSU adjunct professor Dr. Mark Benn addresses common human problems through short stories. Benn, who teaches both undergraduate and graduate level courses and works in the University Counseling Center, hopes that everyone will be able to relate to the stories in his book.

For the full story click here: CSU Professor Publishes “Stories from the Couch.”

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On Taking Risks….

The last day of July, on this side of the world anyhow.  I'd get  another day if I could morph my way back to the states, but we all know that that's not possible.  Morphing hasn't really been       perfected yet, maybe someday...but not this last day of July 2004 in Keelung Taiwan anyhow.  

Keelung Taiwan will forever be the place I said good-bye to my oldest son as he sets off for the most daring adventure of his life. Yogi Berra said, "...when you get to the fork in the road, take it."  I don't exactly know if he was right about this, but it is  profound.  Almost all of us get to a time in our lives where there is a fork in the road. I know I have.  

Many of us (me?) have taken the safe road, the more certain path. Henry David Thoreau said to take the road less traveled; at least I think it was he.  But how many of us actually do that when given the chance?

It seems that everyone has a window in his or her life, a window of daring opportunity.  A chance to go out of the lines and choose a color that few have chosen. There are many books and films that attempt to get at this idea, "Sliding Doors" is one such movie that comes to mind immediately.  How would your life be different today if you zigged when you could have zagged?  How many pieces of your life would not be there that are there today, and can you guess what would be there that isn't?

Perhaps speculating on these issues is not something that is very useful in life.  I have heard many people say things like, "I wouldn't have done anything differently."  And, "It came out exactly as it was planned."  And perhaps this is true...but, what if...?  Now I agree, there isn't much use in talking about 'what  if' and it seems much more useful to deal with 'what is' and see  from here 'what can be.'  

But today, tonight, right now, on the eve of saying good bye to my oldest son, I am struck by the daring adventure he is about to embark upon and I wonder how my life would have been different had I had the courage to take the risk he is about to take. My body is wrought with emotion in this moment as I sit and type, thinking and feeling about Josh leaving tomorrow for Hanoi, Vietnam via Taipei, Taiwan.  Josh is jumping head first into a pool of unknown depths in waters he barely knows.  He is disembarking the SS Universe Explorer, our home for the past seven weeks, to take a chance that few people ever take.  I do believe that many of us have this 'window' in our lives, but few have the courage to shimmy up the wall to climb out.  Most of us have looked out the  window of opportunity, but to actually climb through it takes an  act of incredible chutzpah...and, I am proud to say that my boy   Josh is 'going for it.'

Tomorrow, at approximately 2100 hours, the "on-ship" time for the Semester at Sea family, Josh will be getting "off-ship."  There is a dinner tomorrow night to honor him, to say good-bye, a party of sorts.  And then, he will take his luggage and walk down the gangway, and for two hours prior to our departure (we are always on   the ship two hours prior to leaving the dock), he will stand on   the shore and we will be within sight and we will wave, and smile and cry, and my oldest son will stand alone, in Keelung and go off into the hot, muggy Taiwan night, where he knows no one and he   will board a train for Taipei, where he also knows no one, and he will wait for three days.  In three days his Vietnam visa will    come and he will fly from Taipei to Hanoi with less than $500.00  in his pocket, a semi-maxed out Visa card and a dream.

The people on the ship who have heard about this story (mostly everyone hears everything in an environment this tight) have asked, "what do his mother and you think about Josh doing this?"  And I reply proudly that we are both thrilled for our son.  Thrilled that we raised a man so willing to take the scariest road.  Thrilled that he is following a dream to live his life, to take risks,  to be daring and to learn about himself.  Law schools are not going away, and maybe Josh will never get to law school now, no one can know what the future will bring for any of us, can we? Do you? I wanted my children to love life, to appreciate life, to take risks and to try to do the right thing.  Sometimes, that means taking chances and taking the road few have chosen.  

Tomorrow, Josh is doing just that...and maybe, just maybe, it's because his mother and I didn't take the road less traveled.  Maybe the fact that we stayed on the 'safer' road has provided our son  with the foundation he needed to jump through the window that almost everyone gets to look out and few choose to go out.

Josh is scared.  Rachel is sad.  I am nervous.  This is living life...a mixed bag of emotion and chance.  And my son, who as a baby couldn't go to sleep unless he was moving, is moving again...but this time, it's not in a baby swing, or a waterbed crib, or his mother's arms rocking him in the bentwood rocker, it's not in the car that we'd sometimes use to drive him around to put him to sleep - it's a spaceship called Earth, and it's spinning in space with all of us aboard and most of us looking out windows, while   Josh climbs out of one and into a world with a different language, different traditions, different money, different everything, half a planet away.

So when you read this, say a prayer for my boy, and send him as much love and good energy as you can spare...he'll be easy to find...he's the curly haired white kid climbing out the window.

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Musings by Mark: How to Keep Magic in the Holidays

Mark S. Benn, Psy.D.

Mostly everyone I know dreams of having an incredibly perfect holiday season. And yet, everyone I know comes from a crazy family, or at least have people in their family who are crazy. I know I do. It’s like a badge of courage, something we often talk about or carry around like a trophy – until the holiday season when we’re forced to spend time with the family members we get to avoid the rest of the year…in my house we affectionately refer to this as FFF (forced family fun).

In the movie, “Some Like it Hot” the final line is, “nobody’s perfect” which is a great summary statement for how to truly enjoy the holidays.  The real joy of the holidays is in the madness, not the quest for perfection.

There’s a quote by Leonard Cohen in which he says, ‘there’s no such thing as perfect, everything has cracks – that’s how the light gets in.’

When I think about the holiday season and I recall the memories of my life it’s not the perfect holidays I remember, it’s the imperfect ones – the ones when things just didn’t go quite right. Like the time we went to the mountains to cut our tree rather than buying one at the local tree lot – it was so cold that year that no amount of clothes could have saved us. We put the tree on the top of the car and began the hour-long drive home – as we drove we noticed that the tree was slowly becoming more and more visible as it slid off the roof of the van and worked its way out of the ties to fly off the car into the air nearly causing an accident. Now THAT was memorable.

This led me to wonder how it is that every year many people start to go a little crazy trying to recapture the magic and find perfection. Thinking of some fantasy that seems to suggest they can remake a perfect Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or New Year.

The reality is that Christmas WAS magic for a very short time in life, probably sometime between the ages of three and eight – five years, maybe.  It wasn’t magic at two, two year olds HATE Christmas; two year olds think Santa is scary. Nobody really remembers being 3, 4, or 5. The only real magical holiday time is so far back for most of us that it might as well not even happened.

The magic of the holiday season is actually in the cracks – for the light to shine in. The really incredible holiday is when crazy things happened, like staying up all night to make that thing your child HAD to have; the time you went to cut a tree in the mountains instead of buying one and you froze your buns off; the time you tried to strap that tree to the top of your car and it slowly slid off while you were driving home; or the time that family member got so sick you had to put her in the tub to bring down her temperature. Heck, I can go on and on with my (true) disaster stories of holidays past – those are the ones I remember best.

The problem is that we have such incredibly high expectations for things to go a certain way and when they don’t – we get sad, disappointed and depressed. Christmas magic is something that used to happen – and it was great fun – but the truth is you’re grown up now and you know the trick. If you were a magician’s assistant and you knew how the tricks were done you’d be less likely to oooh and aaahhh when the trick got pulled off on the audience.

The holidays are like that. You know the trick, so the magic isn’t magic – it’s a job. So bring the magic back. See the cracks as a part of the joy – actually, the cracks are the joy! That’s what we remember – the good stuff fades away and gets forgotten. The crazy stuff is what we remember and laugh and cry about for the rest of our lives.

That’s the real magic of the holiday season – enjoying the cracks while they’re cracking…even when you know the trick that created the magic.

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