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Dr. Pamela Larde: The Relentless Pursuit of Joy

Dr. Pamela Larde: The Relentless Pursuit of Joy

True joy can only be felt after the darkest of nights. Sorrow allows us to appreciate happiness, hunger transforms into satisfaction, boredom reveals fulfillment.

Finding true joy is in many ways the life’s work of Anderson University Professor of Leadership Dr. Pamela Larde. She believes that joy—bountiful joy—is available to everyone.

“What people are trying to get to when they overcome hardship is finding a way to claim or reclaim their joy,” Dr. Larde said. “It’s sort of a mission, even if they don’t necessarily know what it is and what they’re doing. Essentially, they’re trying to fight for their joy. So that’s my focus.”

But Dr. Larde’s earlier research wasn’t concerned with joy. Rather, her time in higher education dealt with trauma and its effects on various groups of people.

“I started my work with both civilians and service members and their trauma. My findings focused on self-determination, family relationships, close relationships. And then I found a spot called post-traumatic growth, and it really resonated with me and was sort of like the connector between my research and what military families and personnel needed,” Dr. Larde said.

As her work and research expanded, growth from trauma became her focus point and interest.

“I wanted to know how people find the motivation to just get it done and make it happen; what do they do within themselves to grow and lead? And that’s why this idea of post-traumatic growth resonated with me so much, because it’s like, OK, so somebody goes through something really traumatic. How do they grow from it? How did they change their lives and other people’s lives as a result of that traumatic experience?”

This fascination with growth from trauma led Larde to complete her Ph.D. in Leadership from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the latest in an academic journey that started with a bachelor of science in journalism and public relations from the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis, Obispo; and a master of education from Azusa Pacific University.

But it was Cardinal Stritch’s Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service program that led her to her current path; every single word in that title meant something to her.

As she was wrapping up her research with trauma’s effects on military personnel, Larde was asked to shift her focus to students.

“I was hired by the state of Georgia, but it wasn’t until I started revisiting my data and studies that I saw how many students were impacted. I realized that, ‘wow, there are a lot of students in my study who did experience levels of trauma and they did experience growth as a result.’”

As Dr. Larde dug into her findings of student trauma, she was also presenting all over the country about first-generation students attending college.

“So one of these presentations was to a group of student affairs administrators at a community college cluster in the Bronx in New York. And they said to me that this is all well and good and your students seem to have stable lifestyles and households for the most part, but it doesn’t resonate with the students we work with. The students we work with here in the Bronx at this community college have difficult lives with, you know, children-reinforced-jobs, violence in their neighborhood and poverty.”

Dr. Larde was challenged to dive deeper into her work and find out how those with trauma were permanently altered.

In addition, she also studied those who had experienced heartbreak.

“My work became this thread of hope and how people overcome hardship. How do they grow and build their lives, in spite of and sometimes because of the traumatic thing they experienced?”

No stranger to heartbreak herself, Dr. Larde wrote a book called Letters to the Brokenhearted. It was here that she found her true calling, discovering how people heal from trauma and reclaim their joy.

“I sat down and looked at these three populations: college students who have experienced trauma, military service members and their families, and people who’ve experienced heartbreak. I asked myself what’s the commonality between these groups, and why do I talk about them and research them? I had to take about a year to really think about that, you know, what is the commonality? And then I landed on joy in December of 2019,” Dr. Larde said.

Her timing was perfect. As COVID-19 swept the world, Dr. Larde’s research was a beacon of hope, showing her how to choose joy in the midst of past-trauma, isolation and fear from a world-wide pandemic.

“I chose joy as it’s a common thread throughout my life. When I was a child, joy was more natural and fluid and was kind of just a part of my life. But it was harder as an adult, and I had to fight for it,” she said.

But Dr. Larde didn’t stop with reclaiming her own joy. Now, she fights for others, teaching them how to build their own joy or fight to take back what they possessed as a child.

“I feel called to help other people who didn’t have that childhood foundation of joy,” Dr. Larde said. “For me, it’s natural. And I know I feel out of whack when I’m not in a place of joy. But for a lot of people, the opposite is natural. They feel normal when things are in chaos, and they fear things that are calm and peaceful. So I really feel called to write about joy. It’s my ministry. I said it when I was 16 that I was going to find a way to change people’s lives.”

Today, through her work as an entrepreneur, author and professor at the Anderson University Center for Leadership and Organizations, that’s exactly what she’s doing.


Written by Alexander Grant