My Writing Process (I use that term loosely)

I have been nominated by my dear blogging friend Amma Marfo to blog about my writing process. Think of it as a blogger’s Ice Bucket Challenge. Amma wrote eloquently about her process here and I realized this charge couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been thinking a lot about my blogging process recently as I’ve made several transitions in my personal and professional life. I’ve moved across the country, started a new job, and am finally living off-campus after 13 straight years of living next door to 18-year-olds in a college residence hall. In short, my world has shifted.

In the midst of all of these transitions, I’ve been without wireless access at my apartment for about six weeks. I was relegated to watching old “Friends” DVDs (all 10 seasons!) and at one point found myself awkwardly scrolling through the Affordable Care Act on my smartphone while researching a snafu in our RA’s contracts. This has also meant taking an unscheduled break from blogging, so this challenge couldn’t have come at a better time.

On My Writing Process 

What are you working on? 

I’m working on starting a monthly blog series about the experiences of student affairs professionals at Jesuit institutions. I hope the JASPA blog will serve as a way to bring stories about work on Jesuit campuses and the unique challenges associated with this subset of the field. It debuts October 1st, so cross your fingers for a warm welcome!

In terms of this blog, I’m gearing back up on my “Middle of Somewhere” series. I hope to regularly blog on my transition from entry-level to middle management. I’ve always felt like there were a multitude of resources for graduate, entry-level, and senior-level professionals, but not much for middle managers. The process of supervising professional staff members for the first time, while serving on the leadership team of my department has been wildly different than my previous jobs, so I’m excited to share about my struggles, successes, and moments of contemplation.

How does your work differ from others of its genre? 

Things that make you go hmm…

I hope I bring a human, storytelling spin to my posts. I work really, really hard to not just post what people want to hear, but live in the ugly parts as well. Sometimes this is terrifying. Scratch that. Most of the time this is terrifying. But its also worth it. I don’t focus on writing posts full of research or citations, but instead focus on vulnerability and authenticity, and not just because those are the buzzwords of the moment, but because it makes me better. I am more fully alive when I share the good and bad, challenging and successful moments of my experiences.

Why do you write what you do?

I’m trying to grow the blogging world in student affairs by bringing narratives to light that don’t normally have much attention given to them. I am also an external processor. I like to talk things out, have conversations with friends and family to make sense of problems. Blogging and writing make me slow down, think things through, and often make me see things in a different way. Blogging is good for me, and hopefully my posts are helpful for others as well.

How does your writing process work? 

Honestly, most posts start with an emotional trigger. Either a topic pisses me off, makes me frustrated, or makes me intellectually curious. I try to read a lot, click a lot of links, read other people’s blogs, and stay up-to-date on Twitter. This means there’s a lot of information rolling through my brain, so if I can’t get an idea out of my head for about a day, I know I’m onto something. It usually takes a few days to fine-tune my points and direction, but once I sit down at my laptop, all I need to do is type. This method also worked when I wrote a 30-page term paper in a little under five hours junior year of college!

 

Thanks again to Amma for this challenge. I nominate Renee Piquette Dowdy, Paul Gordon Brown, and Dustin Ramsdell. Why do you write what you do?

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Middle of Somewhere: Transitioning to Middle Management

I just wrapped up my first week on the new job. It was a unique first week, because the first two days were spent at a staff retreat and Friday was at an all-day, off-campus day of service. It was also unique for me because I have made the transition from entry-level professional to mid-level professional. For the past seven years, I’ve been used to the typical start of the year for Res Life professionals, which means training with the professional team during July, student staff training during August, and opening halls in September.

While my previous two positions were amazing, rewarding, and challenging in many ways, I was ready for the transition to supervising professional staff members. During my first week, I realized just how different this experience has been compared to starting positions as an entry-level professional. I’ve decided to write about my transition, for better or worse, to supervising professional staff members and serving on my department’s leadership team.

I am no longer one of many. In my first job, I was one of 12 Resident Directors and in my last job, I was one of nine. Now, I am one of three Assistant Directors. I obviously knew this going into the job, but I was struck at how different the room felt. My current department has nearly 25 full-time and graduate RDs, so the rooms are very full, but not with people who do what I do. This means I no longer have a giant pool of folks who are sharing my experience and it has been a little jarring.

Oh yeah, I’m the one who gets the questions now. One of my new supervisees pulled me aside at the day of service to chat over her supervision plan with her grad. It took me until half-way through the conversation to realize that she was asking for my permission versus just my thoughts on her idea. It was weird. I’m so used to processing with my peers that it took me a bit to get my feet under me.

I’m part of departmental decision-making from the get-go. Day three involved interviewing a candidate for a Resident Director position and on day five I was asked who I wanted to hire, since I would be supervising this person. Um…what? I’ve spent seven years giving opinions and knowing they were valued, but also knowing that I wouldn’t be motivating or keeping that recommended person accountable. This changes things. I required me to shift my thinking from “Which one do I want to work with this year?” to “Which one is going to fit on the team, serve our students best, and will best benefit from the position?”

Stepping back with opinions, to allow others to step up. During my previous professional staff training experiences, I was always up for sharing what had worked in my community, with my staff, or with my students. I found myself purposefully stepping back this and allowing the current staff speak to their experiences instead. I found myself being very aware that while I had done the RD job before, I hadn’t done it here and before I started spouting off experiences, I should first be a student of this institution’s culture.

I still got nervous on the first day! For some reason, I expected a surge of confidence, but I was just as nervous as I had been started my other positions. I’m still a new person who needs acronyms to be explained, struggled with way-finding on a new campus, and needed to be reminded of people’s names.

The excitement is different, but still there. I can distinctly remember my first day as a new professional and it mirrored, in many ways, my experience last Monday. In the back of my mind, there was still a little bit of the Imposter Syndrome rattling around, but I took a deep breath, reminded myself that they chose me, and that I did belong here. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I know this is where I’m meant to be.

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Mythbusters: The Publicly Speaking Introvert

Amma Marfo

This month marks the six-month anniversary of the release of The I’s Have It, my e-book about introversion in student affairs. It’s been an amazing journey to put my proverbial baby out into the world, watch her reach her first milestones (first time she was gifted to a reader! First time someone gave her a recommendation! First time someone told a friend about her at a conference!), and see how she grows as time goes on.

But at the same time, we’re trying for another. And that means keeping an eye on additional research. The work that Susan Cain is doing to redefine the workplace in the introvert’s favor has fascinated me. I love that Scientific American is diving even deeper into the brain chemistry than most people care to go, and I am riveted. Advances like this will make the impending younger sibling really strong; I will have…

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“What do you mean I didn’t get the job? I WAS BEING AUTHENTIC!”

I say this will all due humility, but I interview well. It’s kind of my thing. I struggle with lots of areas, but being able to verbally connect my experiences to how I could help a department isn’t one of them. I had 22 first-round interviews during my grad school TPE and I loved every minute of it. My Extrovert was oh-so-happy. Prior to this year, I had never gone on an on-campus interview and not been offered the position. Was I lucky? Sure. Was I prepared? Absolutely. Was I interviewing at places that I already felt a good fit? Without a doubt.

When I geared up for my latest job search, I was being super specific, because I could afford to. My current supervisor was happy to have me back, we had a ton of new projects ready to go to make sure I was feeling challenged, and I had just hired an awesome student team. Since all of this was already in place, I was geographically, positionally, and institutionally specific. If those jobs didn’t open or work out, no big deal because I wasn’t being shoved out the door.

In February, I found the “perfect” job. Seemingly perfect institution, great city, exciting position, great department. It had it all. I quickly applied and sailed through the phone and Skype interview. Going into the on-campus interview, I was feeling pretty good. My friends were doing what friends do and pumped me up, built my confidence, and reminded me of how I was already a good fit for the job. I got to campus and was determined to be authentic. There has been an uptick of this term in the field, and I basically agree with most of what people were saying. Be yourself, be the best version of yourself, be vulnerable to allow others to do the same. “I can totally do that,” I told myself. This meant wearing the shoes that I wanted, the fingernail polish I wanted. It meant telling a little bit about my personal, not just professional story, during my presentation. It meant asking questions that I really needed answers to, even if it meant pushing a little. It meant talking about my philosophies on such things as professional staff supervision, learning outcomes, assessment, and living learning communities. It meant tailoring my thoughts to what I perceived the departmental needs to be, but never compromising my core values and perspectives.

During my on-campus interview, there were several red flags that this may not be a good professional fit for me, but all the other “perfect” aspects were in place, so I tried my best to put them in perspective. The department was in a rough spot after a big transition, there were challenging town-gown relations, and the sole student I met didn’t have great things to say about his experience. These may not have been game-changers for most people, but it left me a little rattled. However, since I was being so damn authentic, I still fully expected a job offer.

They called two weeks later and I didn’t get the job. I was pissed. (There, I said it.) I was very composed during the call, thanked them for their time, and immediately burst into tears after we hung up. It didn’t help that it was my best friend’s last day on campus and my boss overheard the conversation. I was stunned and not because I thought the job would have been a good fit, or even because I would have accepted, but because I bought into the narrative that authenticity = rewards.

I think we are doing ourselves and our field a disservice if the hidden agenda behind the authenticity conversation is that authenticity should happen because it will pay off. After many weeks of reflection, I’ve realized you should be authentic to be a good fit for who you are and not who you project to be. I was able to get some great feedback from the chair of the hiring committee who said that everything on my end was great. They felt like they knew where I stood, who I was as a professional, but the other candidate was simply a better fit. Isn’t that we want in the field? Combinations of professionals and departments who are great fits?

I went into my next on-campus interview with all of this swirling in my head. I had been burned by the authenticity approach so should I abandon it and simply go for matching the departmental vision and vernacular? Or should I show up, wholeheartedly, knowing full well that my authentic self may not be a good fit? Should I risk another rejection for the sake of authenticity?

The short answer is yes, I showed up authentically. I asked hard questions, I once again incorporated storytelling into my presentation, and I gave honest, balanced answers, even if I thought the question was geared towards a desired answer. I wanted them to know who I am, what they are getting if they decide to hire me, and I needed to be okay with not being a good fit. I needed to remind myself that just because I wasn’t a good fit, doesn’t mean I’m not a good professional. A job offer is not the same as having and displaying self-worth.

When I saw the area code pop up, I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I showed up wholeheartedly, and if that wasn’t a good fit for their needs, I would be okay. I answered the phone and it turns out they really liked my authentic self. They thought I would be a good fit for where the department was headed and wanted to know when I could start!

I’ve written about privilege being the price of authenticity before, and I definitely acknowledge that in my experience. I had a great job I could fall back into if this approach didn’t work, so I wasn’t in a position of needing either one of these jobs to work out. I realize that many people aren’t in this situation, but if you can be authentic, try it out. I tried it out and it helped me realize that the “no” was just leading me to a better fit with a “yes.”

 

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Professional Dress and Authenticity

Feminists in Student Affairs

by Tamara Yakaboski and Leah Reinert

During graduate school and the early days of a new job, individuals are socialized in what is considered professional attire for that position, office/department, institution, and, even, regional culture. Sometimes those expectations clash with individuals’ identities and cultures. What are the consequences when we, as student affairs professionals and faculty, tell staff and students to “be authentic” but then expect a narrower and gendered version of professional appearance?

In examining professional dress for women in student affairs, there seems to be a double bind in expectations. Women are expected to look feminine but not sexy (i.e., fitted shirts but no cleavage; heels but no stilettos) while at the same time ascribe to a white, upper middle class image of professionalism, meaning suits, blazers, slacks, knee length skirts or dresses (i.e., J. Crew or Banana Republic). These messages even echo through annual student affairs conferences such…

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10 Tips for Taming the Email Beast

At the risk of jinxing myself, I finally feel like I have control over my inbox. Not just today, but in general I feel confident is saying that I manage the beast instead of it managing me. I can remember early in my career holding my breathe before I opened my inbox and doing a mental calculation of how long it would take to trudge through the mess. While there are some days I still feel overwhelmed, I can say that most days I receive between 75-100 emails, but have less than 10 messages that need responses. Here’s how I do it.

Anything that can get an immediate response, gets one. There is no reason for me to have dozens of messages just hanging out in my inbox, stressing me out, and making me think that I’m busier than I really am when a simple, “Got it, thanks!” will suffice.

Easy emails first, much like standardized testing. I was always given the advice to complete the problems that I was confident in first and then go back and work on the tougher ones. This helped prioritize emails and by getting the easy ones out of the way, I can spend the necessary time on the more complex responses. In my current position, I get 4-5 duty reports per day. Therefore, over the long weekend, I had 15 emails waiting for me. Since these require me to read, but only respond if there was an issue, they are pretty easy to read, then file away. I immediately took my inbox down by 30% with this tactic.

Teaching my team the true use of cc and bcc: I do not need to be cc’d on every single email my team sends out. I do need to be in the loop with more complex, ongoing issues that may rise to my level or if parents start to get involved. I do a quick workshop with my staff at the beginning of the year so they know when to send, when to pass and I’m not inundated with emails that don’t yet require my attention.

Folders are your friends: The moment I’m done reading and responding to an email, it gets filed away. I tend to remember emails by who sent them, so the majority of my folders are coworker and staff member names, but this may not work for you. Everyone’s brains work differently, so figure out a system that works for you!

Get your department/division on board with sending “EOM” messages: This awesome tactic asks people to write the snippet of information they need to convey into the subject line of the email, then follow it with EOM, which stands for “End of Message.” This allows the readers to get the information and delete or file it away without reading or responding. Example: “Staff meeting moved to 10:30am-EOM” This obviously doesn’t work with more complex thoughts, but for quick/short information, it is a lifesaver!

I do not respond to emails post-5pm or on weekends: My team knows that emergencies are not appropriate for emails, so if it really can’t wait until the next morning, then our professional staff member on call should be consulted. Since implementing this tactic, I’ve seen the amount of emails decrease because people are more likely to call me, stop by my office, or *shocker* try to problem solve the issue on their own. According to my evaluations, my approachability has not decreased, in fact, my team often notes they appreciate the boundaries I’ve placed so they don’t feel like they need to work all the time.

I read email subjects before I arrive in the office. This works for me, it may not work for you. It works for me because I can quickly scan the subject lines and quickly triage when needs an immediate response versus reading and sending to folders. I’m able to get a mental handle on the inbox, even when I have dozens or (after NASPA) hundreds of messages to go through.

Adjust your notification settings. I do not need an email every time someone writes on my Facebook wall, favorites a tweet, or pins something from my Pinterest boards. I’m on these mediums enough to get notifications within their platforms and it just takes up precious mental space and response time.

Make technology work for you. I use two great resources to help with email management. One is unroll.me which grabs all of the listservs you are signed up for and you can easily unsubscribe from any that are not helpful all in one place. I was shocked to learn I was getting emails from at least 150 different subscriptions! The second is followupthen which revolutionized my inbox. This service allows you to send emails to yourself or others in the future. This means if you have a letter of recommendation that isn’t due for a month, you can check your calendar, see when you have time, then send it to yourself by typing 3weeks@followupthen.com and then you can immediately file away that email. The email will come back to your address in exactly three weeks, when you actually have time to deal with it! You can use any amount of time (minutes, days, weeks, years, next Thursday, etc.) so it is also a great reminder for things that come up every year. For example, I recently sent myself an email for one year from now to remind me to get tshirt sizes for my team, something that constantly slips through the cracks.

Utilize your personal connections in lieu of an email: Need a response from someone and their office is on the way to your next meeting? Leave five minutes early and see if they are around. Need a response from everyone and have a staff meeting later in the day? Save everyone an email and just ask during the meeting. If something doesn’t need to be formally documented, pick up the darn phone, send them a text, invite them to a gchat, etc. The more you are willing to spare the inbox of your colleagues, the more likely they are do to the same for you!

What have I missed? What works for you when dealing with the email beast?

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The Wonder Years: Creating Space to Process Transition

Tonight at my staff meeting (I supervise a group of amazing Res Life student leaders, called Community Facilitators, or CFs at my institution) we invited two therapists of our counseling center to facilitate a discussion on transition. These two counselors are our assigned “Counseling Liaisons” and have come to several staff meetings throughout the year to make connections, talk about what our center can offer students, and basically put faces and personalities to the sometimes intimidating idea of going to counseling. This has not only helped my team better advocate for the counseling center and encourage students to engage in their mental health, but has also opened up space on my team to discuss mental health issues.

We are on the quarter system and about a month away from the end of our year. Two of my CFs are returning next year, three are studying abroad, three are becoming Assistant Resident Directors, and two are living a Res Life-free existence as seniors. In some way or another, they are all in the middle of a transition, as are their residents. When speaking with our counseling center liaisons, I wanted this transition to be addressed, to be processed, to be given the space that it deserves. In previous years, I often found my student leaders are so consumed with wrapping up classes and closing details that they never considered saying goodbye to the team they worked hard to build all year until they started driving away from campus.

What happened tonight was very powerful. My group of student leaders spoke candidly about their fears, worries, concerns, joy, and excitement that they are all dealing with during this time of transition. Those who are continuing with Res Life talked about being torn in two directions between bonding with their incoming team and honoring the current relationships on the team. Those who are getting a promotion to a leadership position spoke about the dual roles of both peer and now leader. Those who are studying abroad or not continuing with Res Life spoke about always looking towards the future and not being able to be present in the moment. Every single person addressed the idea of telling those who made an impact on them about this influence before the year ended.

Our counseling liaisons did an incredible job at facilitating this discussion, honoring the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that these various transitions brought up for my team, and talked about the importance of creating this space for the residents on their floors. While the transitions may be different than that of a student leader, all the residents in our community are transitioning in one way or another. Throughout the conversation, all I could think was, “Why don’t we do this more often? Why don’t we honor the incredible relationships that form while working on a team by creating space to do so? Why do we get so wrapped up in the frenetic nature of the end-of-the-year duties and fail to speak to how we have been influenced by others?” 

These conversations matter just as much as damage billing. Creating space for this type of processing is just as meaningful (if not more so) as the end of the year banquet. Being heard and hearing others should compete with the best paperwork any day of the week. Honoring the relationships that were created, nurtured, tested, and reinforced deserve the same care and attention as your end of the year report. Let’s take a stand and advocate for our student’s emotional health in the same way we do for our to-do lists.

Relationships matter, transitions matter, students matter, and its about time we start acting that way. 

 

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When in doubt, go with a quote from “The Wonder Years” 

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Why I’m Going to Stop Apologizing for Tears

I’m a crier. I have been since senior year of high school when I realized I was experiencing the “last” of everything. The last lunchtime conversation. The last Yearbook class. The last prom planning meeting. (Sidenote: Is it any surprise that I ended up in student affairs?) My combination of deep sentimentality combined with empathy means I not only feel all of my own emotions, but also pick up and internalize the feeling of others in the room. Additionally, I like to say that no one should ever have to cry alone. This means as soon as I see one person tear up, I’m as good as gone. A dear friend likes to say that I have a glass heart. Easily chipped and broken, but simultaneously admirable and beautiful.

I’ve cried my way through graduation ceremonies, weddings, commercials, religious ceremonies, end of the year affirmations, a particularly powerful Broadway song, kind notes from students, sorority initiations, and more. Last week I found myself on the verge of tears during our department’s leadership class. I co-teach this class of newly hired student staff members and was on a panel of Resident Directors, Resident Ministers, and an undergraduate Assistant Resident Director talking about working with professionalism. One of the incoming student leaders asked us to describe our motivation for our work and how we know we are making a difference. First, what a great question! Second, I immediately felt the lump in my throat start to form and the butterflies in my stomach start to flutter. I knew tears were eminent so I deferred to others on the panel. I was fine until Gigi, the Assistant RD started talking about the support of her team and the growth she’s seen from them. She couldn’t get through the next sentence because she was so moved with emotions, and me being the sympathetic crier, immediately started to well up. There was a bout of nervous laughter from the crowd, which so often happens when truly authentic emotion is observed, and I immediately started to apologize to the group.

I tried to laugh it off, to defer the emotion of the question and to make light of the moment. I apologized profusely and saw the nervous looks from my students who just realized that their instructor was maybe also a person. My coworkers deftly moved the conversation along and we didn’t discuss the break for emotion any more. I sucked the tears back into my red-rimmed eyes and tried to forget it.

A few days later Sue Caulfield, Kristen Abell, and the Student Affairs Collective launched #SAcommits, a call for the field to continue the conversation about mental health in a constructive and not reactionary manner. I applaud their efforts on so many levels and soon realized that by apologizing for my emotional reaction in class, I was dismissing emotion too. I had, in an effort to save face, dismissed a great teaching moment for incoming student leaders. I had taught them that showing emotions is not okay and perhaps even worse, is shameful. I felt the pressure of maintaining professionalism, of creating distance between instructor and student, and the pressure of keeping it together as a woman in order to be taken seriously all funnel down into two words: I’m sorry.

Guess what? I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry these student leaders saw how impacted I have been by my work. I’m not sorry they got to see that I am more than someone who grades their papers. I’m not sorry they got to see that emotions are a part of people’s lives. I am deeply sorry that student leaders who plan to work in our residence halls, which is arguably some of the most emotionally charged work a student leader can do, didn’t see me take a moment, and address the fact that the question sparked something personal in me that I was still working through. I’m sorry they weren’t able to see me be kind with myself in the moment, that I waved away the tears like it was an annoying mosquito that kept buzzing around my face. I’m deeply sorry that Gigi, the Assistant RD who first started to well up, got verbally abandoned when I apologized for my own tears, and underhandedly got the message that her tears didn’t matter.

These student leaders are going to be privy to some of the most emotional situations a college student can face, from the break-up of a relationship, to not living up to academic potential, to struggling through the redefinition of their relationship with family members and countless others. I told my class that viewing the humanity of the person in front of you is tantamount to stepping on someone’s toe in a subway or knocking a glass off a coffee table. We’re more than that. Emotions do not require apologies. They require care and compassion and taking just a moment to be in that space.

So I’m done apologizing, dismissing, and making light of my tears. My tears make me a kind, empathetic person who values the connections found in the world. In the words of Queen Elsa, “conceal, don’t feel” isn’t going to cut it for me any more.

 

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10 Reflections from (More or Less) a Year of Blogging

I started blogging (more or less) a year ago. I’ve never had a good track record with diaries, journals, or blogs. I’m the gal that has a furious start, overdoes it in the beginning and then flames out in a couple weeks. This is simply in my DNA. I found a diary from the third grade the last time I was home and there was an entry every day for three weeks, then a two month break, then a half-hearted entry about the crush of the moment, then no further entries. The poor Hello Kitty diary (with a lock to keep my older brother out) was relegated to a desk drawer, only to be unearthed decade later. 

Despite my history of commitment issues, this time it felt different. I wasn’t blogging privately, I wasn’t doing it to complain, I was blogging to contribute. To throw my voice into the student affairs online conversation about who we are, how we are flawed, and how we can improve together. I was inspired by bloggers like Amma Marfo, Joe Ginese, Becca ObergefellChris Conzen, Renee Piquette Dowdy, Stacy OliverSikorski, Ed Cabellon, Ann Marie Klotz, and my dear friend, Josie Ahlquist. I found my entrée through Twitter and #SAchat, and I was hooked.  

I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 reflections from this incredible year of reflection and writing. In no particular order…

Just freaking write: The moment I realized I didn’t need each post to be perfect and even more importantly, I could go back and edit posts if I found a truly glaring mistake, I felt the weight of thousands of grad school hours of fretting, worrying, and editing lift off my shoulders. 

Write it down before it floats away: I’m the queen of crafting amazing posts in my head and then never actually putting thought to blog post. If I don’t post between 48-72 hours after I have the idea, then it is never, ever going to happen. For example, I had the idea for this post this morning and have been itching to get quality time with my laptop to bang it out. 

Blogging doesn’t have to be about ‘all the feelings.’ It can also be about ‘all the thoughts.’ I had the misconception that blogs were places where whiny, non-confrontational people went to air the grievances they were too afraid to do in person. While those blogs definitely exist, the blogs I tend to follow and enjoy are ones that really make me think. As an external processor, I really have to force myself to sit down to write and this process makes me both a better person and professional. 

The more you read, the better you write: The best way for me to improve as a blogger is to read other people’s blogs. I get not only style and format tips, but am usually inspired to leave a comment or write a blog of my own on the topic. 

At one point or another, you are going to feel like a fraud. Keeping writing anyway. The Impostor Syndrome is real, ya’ll. There have been several moments where I almost convinced myself to stop writing. Most of these times were when I took a large step into a topic and was convinced I was going to be ‘found out’ by someone. Please, if this happens to you, keep writing. Your voice matters. 

If you put yourself out there, you are going to encounter some haters. My first post that had any amount of readership also brought on a very, very committed anonymous commenter. This person’s first line was, “This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read.” Talk about taking the wind out of my sails! I was living for all of the shares and re-tweets and affirmations, and then this commenter basically made me rethink even having a blog at all. It’s like they were in my head and listing all of the reasons I had already told myself a thousand times why I should quit blogging. The important thing I learned from this experience was that you can back down, stop writing, or you can engage, challenge, question, and to try to understand the reason for the comment. I am a better writer because of this experience. 

Blogging can open doors. I had the incredible opportunity to present at NASPA with several rock stars of the blogging community. I wrote all about the “Blogging Bravely” experience here and here and it was a game changer for me. This experience connected me to so many people in the field I never would have connected with otherwise. Because of my step into the wild blue yonder of blogging, I was asked to be a guest blogger for the Student Affairs Collective and to join a women’s reciprocity ring which is a group of women who are going to do our best to assist each other in reaching our goals. (A brainchild of Amma Marfo’s, yet another reason she rocks my socks off). Who knows where the connections from this group of women will go? 

Comparison is the thief of joy. This quote from Teddy Roosevelt has been a silent mantra for me throughout the past year. It was really intoxicating to get caught up in the metrics of the blog. How many unique visitors? How many countries? How many re-blogs? After about six months of this, I realized I was kind of missing the point. I didn’t start blogging to try to get more readers than the next person. I started blogging to add to the conversation and comparing myself to others was stealing away the joy of this contribution. 

It’s worth it. All of the second-guessing, breath-holding, confidence-crashing is worth it. Blogging takes bravery and I’ve seen that bravery spill over into other parts of my life. I’ve taken on reach assignments with my job, been more honest with my friends and family, and taken crazy adventures, some of which I, shockingly, blogged about. 

The blogging community is freaking awesome. The folks who are kind enough to read, share, comment, and challenge me via this format are truly professional development heroes. I learn from you, am inspired by you, and I am a better person and professional because of all of you. 

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“Comparison is the Thief of Joy”

As always, today’s #SAchat has me thinking. The topic was the glorification of busy, a topic near and dear to my heart as I am a self-confessed, recovering busy-holic. I’ve been known to spend entire weekends making 300 hand-made Valentine’s for my residents or stack my schedule so I barely have room for lunch, much less a conversation with a student. I realized a few years ago this need for constant busyness wasn’t motivated by my own professional goals, but rather the need to “keep up” with my peers and colleagues. Early in my career, I distinctly remember pulling up other RD’s calendars, comparing them to mine, and then adjusting accordingly to seem busier than the next person. Not a proud moment, but in the spirit of vulnerability, there it is. 

When I transitioned to my current position, I experienced a dramatic shift. We are highly decentralized and encouraged to make our communities work for our residents’ specific needs. We even went so far as to shun a “Community of the Year” campus award because the spirit of our system is that we are all unique and all meet needs differently, so how could we possible choose a community that is doing this “better” than the other? This culture of autonomy has allowed me to breathe, personally and professionally. The trust that has been instilled in our departmental culture means I can roll into the office after 9am or make a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day or, stay with me now, take moments to connect with students. I have spent more time having conversations with residents at the front desk, checking in with quick convos with my staff, or simply connecting with my colleagues than I thought was professionally possible. Guess what? I still meet my deadlines and am still respected as a competent professional. In fact, these two seemingly competing skill-sets actually dovetail quite nicely. According to my evaluations, I am viewed as a professional that is connected to students, able to articulate their needs, and advocate on their behalf. All the committee work in the world can’t beat time with students. 

One of the (many) tweets I sent out during today’s chat brought up the idea of comparison to others and why we can’t sit with ourselves and allow that to be enough. The culture of busyness is an outward one. It’s the concept of being validated as “important” because we are “needed” at meetings, committees, work groups, and the other names we come up with to call a group of people in the same room talking to each other. What if we allowed those conversations to happen more organically, more conversationally, but with the same amount of accountability? What if we encouraged self-reflection instead of self-preservation and the constant comparison to others? As Stacy OliverSikorski so eloquently stated “Your calendar is not your self-worth.” 

I realize my experience is not yours. My departmental culture does not happen everywhere, and my department is still not perfect, nor am I. The big takeaway is that you control your own professional experience. If you don’t want to be busy, then stop throwing your hands up in the air and take a step back to reflect, discern, and re-adjust how you operate in your professional world. As Teddy Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Think how much more joy you could have in your life in you cut out the comparison and increased your capability to sit with yourself! Believe me, your brain and heart will thank you. 

Check out some awesome posts on this topic! (Sidenote: Their posts can be awesome without any of my post’s awesomeness being taken away!)

Renee Piquette Dowdy: Not all that can be counted counts

Charlie Potts: Developing Capacity 

Matt Bloomingdale: Busy

Who else did I miss? What do you think about our culture of busy?

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