Do you want to build a Tower?

Parenting a toddler is like being on a roller coaster. There’s the anxiety that comes with the climb (when a tantrum is looming or an almost slow-motion fall is about to happen). This is followed by the thrill of the ride itself (including some laughing, crying, and the occasional vomit). The ride is both fun and scary as hell. This particular ride just happens to come with many lessons along the way.

One such recent lesson came while playing with building blocks. My daughter can play with these little plastic accidents-waiting-to-happen for hours. Our simple process for playtime with blocks is this:

  • In an homage to her favorite Disney Princess, Anna, I emphatically sing my adaptation of “Do you want to build a snowman?” called “Do you want to build a tower?”
  • She proceeds to dump the blocks out in one, big, messy pile.
  • Daddy is responsible for building the base, as evidenced by the screaming of “DADDA” until the base is constructed.
  • Daughter stacks as many blocks as her little self can physically manage.
  • Like a baby version of Godzilla, she knocks them down when it is no longer possible to go higher.
  • She proceeds to laugh maniacally like a cartoon villain.
  • Repeat (about 20 times).

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As an educator without an off-switch, I can’t help but want to help her. I try to build a base around her stack of blocks. I take blocks from the pile and suggest an order. She, of course as a budding independent toddler also lacking an off-switch, wants nothing to do with any of daddy’s suggestions. Sometimes, I have to tilt the stack, so she can stretch and reach one more. When she’s done, we usually celebrate. When she knocks them over, I want to be frustrated. I wonder how such excitement can come from destroying something you have worked hard at forever (or in toddler terms – 3 minutes). However, my daughter meets the knocking or falling down of her colored blocks with an enthusiastic scream and cackle. I can’t help but, eventually, join her in that laughter.

This whole process and subsequent reflection has taught me something about my work with students. How often do I try to dictate how they build their tower? How often do I get frustrated for them, when they are OK with the result? Maybe my role is simply to build and hold that base, let them build, cheer emphatically, and support them when they want to tear it all down and start over. Many people in helping professions, education specifically, often get too fixated on the end result (passing the test, getting the job, walking across the stage with diploma proudly in hand) and less on the process and the learning that comes from it. Either way, a tower is getting built. Let’s allow students the freedom to choose their blocks and their structure, instead of us carefully handing them the blocks one by one and prescribing to them what comes next. This way, they get the tower that they want – and all the laughter and learning that comes with it.

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Finding joy in the mess

Life gets messy. Well, life is usually messy.

I am uncomfortable with messes both of the literal and figurative variety. I like things in order. I am a ENFJ and have Arranger in my top 5. My Outlook calendar is color coordinated. A cluttered desk gives me anxiety. Leaving an issue unaddressed causes me to toss and turn throughout the night.

None of this compares to being the dad of a growing, running, get-into-everything, toddler. If you think life is messy, wait until you have a kid.

Last night after a particularly challenging messy few days at work I was home feeding my daughter her dinner. On the menu: pasta. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it was messy. Dinner usually is. Sippy cups being hurled across the room, vegetables being dropped on the dog, and thoughts of “how the hell did sauce get all the way over here?” set the scene. I stand ready, armed with paper towels, eager to wipe away the first glimpse of sauce. This is our usual routine.

Thinking my 17 month old can and will understand her dad’s appreciation of order in this chaos, I grab her spoon. I attempt to feed her the pasta, so to make less of a mess. If there is one thing toddlers like more than flinging food around, it is a sense of independence. My wanting to feed her was no match for her desire to now play with the spoon. The spoon transformed into a comb, something to poke dad with, and a paint brush (to add color to her clothes). Then, like a child genius experimenting with physics, she learned how to use the spoon to launch her food in a new and fun way. Once in a while, she would attempt to use the spoon as intended, but that was short-lived. She would go right back to using this simple utensil in other fun ways. I suppose there is a lesson in that, too.

Through my obvious and visual frustration, there came a moment; a special and important one which I will never forget. As I am wiping up the floor, moving everything out of the way so it does not get covered in sauce, I look up in defeat and anguish at my daughter. Seemingly out of nowhere, she laughs. This wasn’t a giggle or a chuckle, but a full on toddler belly laugh. You probably know the kind. The kind that could put a smile on the face of anyone. After a few seconds, I join her. Eventually, the two of us sit there laughing, playing with her food, and enjoying the mess.

While this may never be something she remembers, it is one of those parenting moments I will cherish forever. This night taught me something important; to find joy in the mess. Like trying to feed a toddler, life’s messes are impossible to avoid. They happen. We don’t get to choose our messes or when and why they happen to us. What we do get to choose is how we respond to them. We can feverishly try to clean them up, frustratingly so when it doesn’t happen as quickly as we would like. Or, we could pause, take a breath, laugh, and enjoy the mess with those around us.

At the end of the day, the furniture was still its original color, the immediate sauce splash zone cleaned, and the toddler restored back to her normal skin color from the orange-red tone the sauce gave her. The mess was eventually cleaned. Unlike other messes, however, this one provided a memory because we found the joy.

mess

Photo taken during last night’s mess. 

Parenting and a new perspective on balance

We live and work in a culture where our work defines many of us. Vacation days go unused, parental leave is worse than in most other countries, we are connected to work 24/7 with mobile technology, and the 9-5 is no longer the norm.

I am currently in the final stages of building a house, am still less than a year into a new job, and have a 1 month old. These are, as they say, 3 of the top 5 most stressful things a person can endure during his lifetime, yet I am the least stressed I can ever remember being. Here’s why; it all comes down to perspective.

My perspective on balance changed a month ago when my daughter was born. I quickly have switched from living to work from working to live. My job, though it provides me with tremendous meaning, pales in comparison to the sense of joy, responsibility and meaning I get when I am at home with my family. Parenting as taught me to be selfish. I say no, regularly. If it is outside the scope of my job and/or it takes away from my family, it is not important enough for me to say yes to. You would think this makes me less available and “worse” at my job. However, the opposite appears to be true. I am overall happier, more focused, and better at prioritizing because my time is more precious. I no longer live for my work, which really helps me to see things more clearly, not take things too personally, and to set healthy boundaries. These all make me a better professional and a better dad. I don’t bring my stress and problems from work home the way I used to.

Before I was a parent, I lived for my work. It is what gave me my greatest meaning. Working with college students, I feel that my work matters. The growth and development of my students came before my own needs and caused me many late nights, long weeks, taking things too personally, and lack of sleep. The crazy thing is I did not seem to mind. I was driven by this sense of being a part of something bigger than myself and by playing that important role in the lives of students. I am still driven by this, but it’s different now. I have a new found drive at work. I work with some incredible students who will one day change this world and impact it in profound ways, all of which my daughter will be the beneficiary of. I get out of bed and leave my family every morning to work with these students, so that they can grow and develop into future teachers, psychologists, activists, researchers, doctors, etc. that will make this world a better place. Not only has becoming a dad taught me how to be better balanced, it has also reinvigorated my sense of purpose for working in higher education. The two things (work and home) are mutually beneficial to each other and are firing on all cylinders.

I think working parents are often accused of having a “convenient excuse” and that expectations of parents in terms of balance may be unfair in comparison to those of non-parents. I can’t definitively say that either is or is not true across the board, but I can say this: balance is as much, if not more, about the person and not about the system. You are in control of much of your own balance. Don’t believe me? Look at your calendar right now. How many of the obligations (especially outside of “normal” work hours) are necessary for the successful fulfillment of your job duties? Struggling? Try this question instead: “Will I be fired for not going to this?” I am willing to bet that you can eliminate at least an hour or two of obligations by taking that perspective. It should not take becoming a parent to see this. I should have learned this a long time ago. Being overtired and busy, because I chose to, did not make me better at my job; it made me worse. When we are healthy and balanced, we are our best selves at work.

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What could you eliminate from your schedule and what would you do for yourself with that time?

What I learned from 13.1

As many of you know, I ran my first half marathon just about two weeks ago. I knew I would eventually write this post, but it has taken me until not to process and reflect on my entire journey as a runner thus far. Hundreds of miles, 50 pounds, and over a year ago I never would have believed I would be a half marathon finisher. Hell, I never even thought I could run a mile. My journey as a runner has changed me as a person and as a professional. More so, training for and finishing the Old Port Half Marathon has taught me a lot about myself. I am sharing these lessons in hopes that they motivate others to reach for that seemingly unattainable feat.

On the left: 2 years and 50+ pounds ago. On the right: just before the finish line of my first half marathon a few weeks ago!

On the left: 2 years and 50+ pounds ago. On the right: just before the finish line of my first half marathon a few weeks ago!

You are stronger than you think

I never in my wildest dreams thought I could run a half marathon. Even throughout much of my training, I had my doubts. Deep down I knew I could do it, but I had to teach myself to silence that negative voice in my head that thought I was not strong enough or good enough. Silencing that voice was the most important part of this process for me. I was my own worst critic. The more I ran, the quieter that voice became. The quieter the voice, the stronger I was. That voice appeared more than just during runs; it likes to chime in at work, with relationships, and my soon-to-be new role as a father. Training for and running that half was like a big middle finger to that voice and I find that with this journey, that voice has grown weaker in all aspects of my life. I am all the better for it.

Let others help you

The running community is like no other. It is one of the most supportive and inspirational communities out there. From family to friends to colleagues, I had many cheerleaders, running partners, and supporters along the way. There will be people who will want to help, encourage, and support you in achieving your goals: LET THEM! I struggled with this. I did not want to do long runs, at first, with others because I felt I was weak or that I would not be able to keep up. What I learned quickly was running with others, especially those more experienced and faster than I, pushed me further and I learned a lot from them. This is true with anything: surround yourself with people who are smarter, faster, better than you and let them motivate and coach you along the way.

You will fail, stumble, and want to quit along the way – let it happen

I can’t tell you how many training runs I skipped or how many runs were significantly slower than my average pace. They say there is no such thing as a bad run; well I had a few. These moments were crucial for me. Bouncing back from a bad run or getting out the next day after missing a training run was almost more important to me than sticking to the plan. Life happens and some days you just don’t feel like it. That is normal and OK. It is how you bounce back that matters the most.

Celebrate milestones along the way

Milestones were important to me: my first run of over a 10k distance, my first 10 miler, and my new 5k PR. I celebrated them. I let people cheer me on. Some may call it selfish, but it is what kept me motivated to continue. I did not do this for any accolades or applause – I did it for me. The applause along the way, though, kept me motivated. At mile 13 of 13.1 with the finish line near, but not yet in sight, I was met on the path by a stranger. She was an older woman in a very distinct pink shirt and white visor. I can still hear her voice. She jumped out from the sides and was yelling “Do you hear that? That’s the finish. All those people, they are cheering for you. Run to them!” I had no idea who this woman was, but her actions and words pushed me to sprint to the finish.

Don’t jump out of the start too fast

Any runner knows that you are not supposed to come out too fast or else you will lose energy towards the end. This is super hard; perhaps one of the hardest things I had to be disciplined about during my training and the race itself. My tendency is to give it my all right at the beginning with no regard for endurance. This becomes problematic later. The same could be said for how you tackle a project, a work week, a day. Slow and steady wins the race as they say. Speed is not always the best answer in the beginning. It’s about the accomplishment, and not all about how fast you get there.

Give it your all at the end

As much as you do not want to jump out of the gate too fast, there is something powerful about sprinting at the end. After all your hard work, when you see that light at the end of the tunnel (or the finish line in my case) give it your all. I will never forget the feeling of sprinting with tears rolling down my face, goosebumps all over my body, and the sound of cheers and my name being announced over the PA system as I crossed the finish line.

Don’t settle

My immediate thought after finishing the half: I accomplished my goal, it’s done, and I never want to do that again. The race was hard. It was harder than I thought. After the initial soreness and fatigue wore off, I was quickly talking about my next race. Instead of settling after my accomplishment, I am using it as fuel for the next challenge. That is what led me here to begin with. I never wanted to run more than a 5k. That was my goal. A year and several 5ks later, I finished my first half. Use your goals as stepping stones. Let the feeling of accomplishment and success drive you towards the next one.

Discipline and flexibility are both important

Very few people can run this distance without training. Training takes discipline and persistence. It can be very daunting: running sometimes 25 miles a week and working out 5-6 days in a week. Sometimes, life happens and you just can’t. Allow yourself to be flexible. Be disciplined enough to know you need to stay on track, but flexible enough to deal with those hurdles along the way. Both are equally important.

Share your story

I have been humbled along the way to hear of others who have followed my journey and began running. I was uncomfortable with this at first. However, it was people like my dad or friend Becca that inspired me. If I can be that for someone else, then sharing my journey (both the good and the bad) was all worth it. We all learn from one another. Sharing that is never a bad thing.

 

I was just a little excited to get this medal at the finish!

I was just a little excited to get this medal at the finish!

 

The problem with inspiration

I was asked a few weeks ago to keynote at RA training at my new institution. I was thrilled and saw this as a great opportunity to connect with a great group of student leaders. When I responded with an emphatic, “yes” my biggest question was regarding the topic(s) they wanted me to cover. Surely they had something in mind. Instead, I was told to just present on anything inspiring/motivating to lead them into the next semester. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this,” I thought. I started to question what I could possibly say that would be inspiring or motivating in any shape or form. This is where I quickly learned I was thinking about this the wrong way. My job is not to inspire them, it is to help them find their own inspiration.

It’s that time of year where folks are writing and tweeting about their New Years Resolutions and One Words for 2014.  Motivational quotes and Instagram photos are in abundance. Here’s the issue, those things do nothing for me. While a quote may resonate with me, there has to be more to motivate me into action. If I am inspired by someone or something else, it is usually short term. This is why, I think, many resolutions fail. People get inspired from outside sources, rather than from within. This is where I think a lot of motivational speeches fall short.

The BEST (and I have seen a lot) motivational talk I have ever heard, and the only that caused me to act, was given by Tom Krieglstein at #satechBOS a few years back. During this talk he used letters and notes of thanks and admiration given to student affairs professionals from students (I even submitted one that he ended up using). Using the framework from Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, he inspired us to really get a deep understanding of why we do what we do beyond the surface reasons we are so used to thinking and talking about (helping people, giving back, passionate GASP about education, yada yada yada). Yes, we might do what we do becuase we want to help people, but WHY do we want to help others. Asking that next question helps you to dig even deeper into why you do what you do. The main difference between Tom’s talk and every other one I have heard is that he did not use words alone to inspire. He gave us the tools to find the inspiration within ourselves.

I have battled with weight issues my whole life. In 2013, I lost 45 pounds and am now a proud runner. What was different this time? For me, it was because I was motivated internally, being fed up with my poor health and inability to do things my family loved doing together. This is very different from being inspired by other people’s actions, reading a fitness blog, watching Biggest Loser, or just wanting to look good (all reasons I attempted weight loss in the past). The deeper I peeled the layers of my motivation for wanting to lose weight, the more successful I was at staying motivated. As an example, I could not run more than a mile at one point because I had no motivation. Then April 15th happened. On the 16th I ran 2.5 miles at a faster pace than ever. Why? I was motivated, fired up even.

I have seen posts the last couple days from friends (see Mallory’s post and Sue’s post) who have talked about just doing. We are in sole control over our actions. I have heard a saying before that goes something like; if you get motivation from a quote or a pretty picture, your job (task) is too easy and will probably be done by robots soon. The work we do in student affairs is complex, hard and stressful.  To be successful, we need to fully understand why we do what we do, at a deep level. No other person, quote, picture can give us this motivation. Only we can find that motivation and inspiration to keep moving.

I have taken pieces of what Tom presented to us at #satechBOS and have presented my “Why” presentation to hundreds of student leaders. I hope the RA team will take something from this.


This is my favorite clip to use in any of my “Why” presentations.

What motivates you? Where do you find inspiration?

There’s a reason you have two ears and one mouth

This was a gift from my 2013 Orientation Leaders. It is displayed prominently on the wall in my new office.

This was a gift from my 2013 Orientation Leaders. It is displayed prominently on the wall in my new office. The saying comes from Disney’s customer service training.

As many of you know, I am in my third week of a new position. I am often asked how the transition is going, how I am approaching it, and what I am learning. While I hope to write about many of these lessons, here is an initial taste.

The most valuable thing I have learned in my first two weeks, has been the importance of truly listening, observing and processing.  In my new job, I am afforded the time and attention of others to ask as many questions as I want, large or small, specific or conceptual. Everyone wants to meet the new guy; tell him what they do, what they think of his office or the institution in general, and other general guidance. While this can be both entertaining and overwhelming at times, it has been tremendously informative. As quick as they are to give their opinions, I am able to ask questions about why things are done that come across as purely inquisitive and not challenging. This is something that gets harder the more you know, or the more you are perceived to know.

In the busyness of the year we are barely able to slow down to think, let alone, to ask what others think, listen, and process. There is so much one can learn by listening and observing that is often missed or overlooked. I challenge each of you, no matter how long you have been on your campus and in your current position, to spend some time acting as if you are new. Here are some ways to do this:

Meet some new people
There are always students, faculty and staff on your campus you don’t know. Find ways to meet them and discover what they are interested in, why they are at your institution, and what they think of your area, and just listen. Eat in the dining hall. Break out of your usual, comfortable group at campus receptions and meetings to get to know other colleagues.

Visit new places on campus
Ever wonder what happens in that research lab or who works out in that small fitness center? Go there and find out. Chances are if you do not go there often, you don’t know much about what happens there or the people who work there.

Ask lots of questions
Ever wonder why something is the way it is? Just ask! Context is helpful to all of us. So often we just assume things are the way they are because, well, that’s just the way they are. Ask these questions in a way that is inquisitive and not judgmental.

Explore campus through the eyes of others
When is the last time you have been on a campus tour? What do tour guides say about your office when they walk by? I have walked through campus with a colleague, a friend, and a student and all had different perspectives. I learned new things from each of them. This is something I vow to do often in my new role, is to have walking meetings with folks, have them take me to their favorite spots, and see campus through their eyes.

We talk often in student affairs about the importance of professional development and staying in tune to everything new happening in the field. Sometimes, this causes us to overlook what is new and developing on our own campuses. Taking the approach you would to learn a new place, continue to learn and re-learn about your institution.

Through Sadie’s eyes: Life lessons from a dog

Our 3 and 1/2 year old Cavachon, Sadie.

Our 3 and 1/2 year old Cavachon, Sadie.

This morning I posted the picture above with the caption, “I want to live her life for just a day.” From this, I began thinking and reflecting as to what life would be like as a dog. From this, I have come up with the following observations lessons I have learned through observing the way Sadie, and other dogs, go through life.

Wake up every morning with enthusiasm, ready to take on the new day.
I often take for granted how Sadie wakes up every morning.  Each day is the same.  My wife lets her out of her crate and she bursts down the stairs. Sometimes I wonder if her paws even hit the stairs or if she just slides down them. She runs around outside and comes in to eat. She literally bounces around the house, jumps on and off the bed and greets both of us as if she hadn’t seen us in ages. Imagine waking up that way every morning.  What would life be like if we put behind us anything that happened the day before and woke up each day refreshed and excited?

Treat everyone (equally) like they are the most important person
Sadie loves people. Whenever someone comes to the house or we pass them on a walk, she wants to greet them. She wags her tail, jumps up, nestles close, and licks feverishly (if we let her) as if to say “I am SO excited to see you.” She does this with me every day when I get home, like greeting a long lost friend. She does not see gender, race, ethnicity, or any difference at all. She treats each human she sees the same; with love and excitement. What would our world be like if humans did this? Instead of walking through the streets head down, eyes glued on on our phones, what if we smiled and greeted each person we cross paths with? Our world would be a friendlier place if we treated each other like dogs treat us.

You don’t need expensive toys to have fun
It seems like every time we shop, we come home with a new toy for Sadie. While she loves to play, she does not need expensive toys to do so. One of her favorite things to play with, for example, is the cup her ice cream treats come in. She would make anything a toy if we let her. Often, she will play with the new toy only to get bored and go to one she has had forever that we should throw away, but just haven’t brought ourselves to do so. The lesson here is about our dependence on and want for material things to have fun. Like children, dogs have seemingly a wonderful imagination and do not need much to have fun. We, too can do this just by being with other people and learning to use our surroundings in a creative way. We depend too much on expensive “toys” to entertain us.

Love is unselfish
Sadie and I have the same routine when I get home. She greets me as mentioned above, she goes outside to do her business, she gets a treat, I give her plenty of attention, and she rushes downstairs to play with a toy like she had forgotten they were there for her to use all day. This routine drastically changes when Sadie can sense I have had a bad day or am sick. Instead of rushing to play with a toy, she will jump on the couch and sit as close to me as possible and will not move as if to protect or console me. Sadie does this without fail and always seems to know when I need her the most. We can all learn how to be better aware when our loved ones need us the most and to drop our own needs and wants to be there for them. 

Loyalty and forgiveness are the keys to a good relationship
Dogs are extremely loyal animals. There are countless stories and videos to back this up. Sadie is no different. No matter how much I may have neglected her while working or doing something for myself, have been verbally upset with her for barking when she wasn’t supposed to, or have just been a grump, she always forgives. This sort of undying loyalty and forgiveness are something we lack as humans. All to easily, we hold a grudge and lose trust in others. People make mistakes often. Dogs know this and see past this, so why can’t we?

The key to good communication is not words
Dogs can’t understand words. Most people know this. However, they can pick up very keenly on tone and body language. All too often we rely on words as the key focus in communicating. What if we just understood (and had to pay most attention) to tone and body language? We would certainly be better listeners and communicators for it.

Step out of Forget your comfort zone
Sadie can literally sleep anywhere; her crate, a bed, the arm of the couch, the cold kitchen floor, the grass, the car, you name it. She can always find a place to get comfortable. The lesson here is that we need to learn to be more comfortable more often. We are usually anxious and uncomfortable in places we are not used to. If you are comfortable, you are more likely to be genuine and confident which leads to building better relationships. If you learn to get comfortable anywhere, imagine the possibilities.

Learn to value rest
Face it, we all could use some more rest. This was the genesis of my picture and ensuing reflection this morning. Sadie lounges around all day. I am not suggesting we should be like dogs and just move from spot to spot and sleep all day (though we could use that once in a while). What I am suggesting is that we need to be better at listening to what our bodies are telling us and to rest when needed. Let me give a better example. Sadie’s favorite thing to do is to play with her ball. If we mention the word ball or anything that sounds like it, she will go right to the closet where it is kept and whine until we play with her. That being said, as much as she loves to play, she usually tells us when she is done. When her body gets too tired, she will lay down on the floor and stop. Simple as that. We could all be better at doing this. How often do we ignore the signals our body sends us and continue to work or play, when we really should rest?

Of course none of the above is based on any science, rather my observations and reflections from my first three years as a dog owner. When we started puppy training, our trainer told us that the classes were as much for us, if not more, than Sadie. While we have worked hard to train her, she has taught us perhaps even more.

What else can we learn from our pets?

Sadie playing at her favorite spot, the beach. This photo won her Portland's cutest dog, which enabled me to fulfill a lifelong dream of throwing out a first pitch at a professional baseball game (with her by my side)!

Sadie playing at her favorite spot, the beach. This photo won her Portland’s cutest dog, which enabled me to fulfill a lifelong dream of throwing out a first pitch at a professional baseball game (with her by my side)!

How running has made me a better professional

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My wife, Amanda, and I running my second ever 5K!

I am sure, by title alone, you are already wondering how I can make the claim that by becoming a runner, I have become a better student affairs professional.  Over the last 10 months, in large part thanks to running, I have lost over 40 pounds (and counting).  I am in the best shape of my life.  I also feel that, professionally, I have found my groove.  Part of this has to do with experience, but I think is in large part due to my new found health and fitness.  I came to this realization the other day, where else, but on a 4 mile run.  Let me attempt to explain….

Running makes me happier

It is no secret that working out is good for one’s mental health.  Since being active, I find myself to be a happier person.  This is not to suggest I was not happy before, but rather I am happy (and proud) of the holistic “me” for the first time in a long while. This certainly translates to my work with students.  I am more positive, patient, and overall cheerful.

Running gives me energy

No amount of coffee in the world can compare to the energy I have gained from being active.  I would take a morning run over a morning coffee any day.

Running gets me up and away from my desk

With more energy, I am less apt to sit in my office all day.  I walk all over campus and to meetings.  I meet students in various locations for our one on ones.  This has helped me to interact more with folks I did not see as often within my Campus Center bubble.

Running gives me confidence

I was NEVER a runner.  When I set my goal in December of running my first 5k in June, I thought knew I was bound to fail.  The more I ran, the further I pushed myself, the more I believed in myself.  Self-confidence is something that has helped me tremendously at work as I am given more and more responsibility.  That voice in my head that often says “you can’t” is now drowned out by “remember that time you said you’d never be able to run more than a mile…”

Running has pushed me to take more risks

I ran my first 3.16 miles on a whim.  I had set out to run my usual 1.5-2 never thinking I was close to that elusive 5k.  While out on my run, something sparked that drove me to give it a shot.  What resulted was a 34 minute 5k and one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment I have ever felt in my life. This spark has not gone away, as long as I am consistently running.  It has followed me into my professional life and with more self-confidence and trust in myself, I take more risks and, as a result, have been more creative and innovative at work.

Running has helped me to own and accept my mistakes better

Let’s face it; we all hate to fail.  What running has taught me, however is that sometimes, it just isn’t my day and there is not anything I can do about it.  Other times, it is because my will and resolve were not strong enough.  Other times, it is because I have made a poor choice, such as bad nutrition prior to a run.  All of this, professionally, has better helped me to own my mistakes and realize that mistakes are bound to happen, especially as I get more comfortable with taking risks.

Running has helped me be a better role model

I’d always felt like I was a good role model for my students, except when it came to wellness.  I was significantly overweight and not at all active.  What’s worse, is I work in a building which houses the fitness center, and the department, which oversees student health and wellnes..  I was not leading by the example I should have been setting.  Now, the opposite is true.  I chat often with my students about my journey and what running has done for me.  A group of orientation leaders approached me about wanting to run with me.  It has now become a regular, weekly run.  Two of them, having never run more than two miles, ran a 5k our first week!  This is an experience I would have never been able to have shared with students prior.

Running gives me balance

Running, for me, is the greatest form of stress relief.  Instead of getting lost behind a screen or in food as I did in the past, I lace up the shoes and hit the pavement.  I feel rejuvenated and energized afterwards.  Running is my “me” time.  I am fierce when it comes to protecting it, in a way I had a hard time doing before.

I am not suggesting that all student affairs professionals should, or could benefit from, running.  I am simply hoping my story will help others who are in a situation like I found myself 10 months ago find hope.  Whether it is running, lifting weights, yoga, biking, etc. physical activity will pay off for you both personally and professionally, I promise.  If you did not know already, there is an amazing, supportive #safit community on Twitter and Facebook.  It is these people who inspired me and continue to support me throughout my journey.  It is safe to say, without the #safit community, I would not be where I am today.

So, what are you waiting for?  Lace em‘ up!

Enough with the shop talk

OK I will admit it, I talk about work often.  I talk about it with colleagues, family, friends and sometimes strangers (i.e. the waiter who might as me “what do you do?”).  I love what I do and it is very much a part of who I am.  It is something, I think, we as a society do.  What is one of the first questions you ask or is asked to you when you meet someone new?  

It usually goes something like this:

1) What is your name?
2) Where are you from?
3) What do you do?  

Here’s the thing, I love the work that I do, but I love other things too.  I love to bike and run, I love sports, I love film and television, I love music, I love food.  Why don’t I talk about those more?  I am not defined completely, or even mostly, by my work.  

I spend a lot of my meals and personal time with colleagues.  I am fortunate to work with some incredible people whom I consider close friends.  Many of them were invited to my wedding and have taken part in celebrating other personal milestones and life events.  However, much of our time together outside of “the office” is spent still talking about work.  I feel we are doing each other and our relationships a disservice by always spending the bulk of time together talking about work-related things.  The same can be said with students.  Most of my time spent with students is task related in that we talk about what they came to meet with me about, logistics for the upcoming program, questions they have, etc.  However, my rapport with them gets stronger when we talk about other things not related to the task(s) at hand.  It allows us to connect beyond the work we are doing together.

Work/life balance is a touchy subject for me.  To quote Brian Lind, “My life is not a lunch tray, sometimes the peas mix with the mashed potatoes and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”  I do not feel work and life need to be black and white.  However, I do feel that we can make choices that help us to be sure that work does not become life and life does not become work.  Taking time with colleagues to talk about interests and topics unrelated to work will help with this in a way.  

I am issuing myself (and you) a new challenge to spend less time talking with colleagues talking about work outside of meetings, projects, and events and more time connecting over common interests.  This will only strengthen our personal and working relationships, which will enhance our capacity to do great work together.  You can learn a lot about a person if you take the time to ask and listen.

When was the last time you spent with colleagues talking about non-work related topics?  What did you discuss?  What would you discuss?

Me, an expert? No!

I have been thinking about this post for quite some time now.  I was waiting for something to spark me to write it and for the right words.  Thanks to an insightful post from Liz Gross (@lizgross144) yesterday about expertise without experience, I have the motivation to share my thoughts.

In the fall semester, I was approached by the leadership within our Division of Student Affairs asking me to coordinate all social media and communications efforts for our division.  This would be an additional job responsibility, a promotion of sorts.  While I was honored, I was overwhelmed.  I knew what this would mean to my time and energy, but was thrilled for the opportunity.  However, I could not help but feel embarrassed.  I, by no means, considered myself to be an expert in this area.  I had no formal training, aside from the hours I spend researching, reading, and at presentations and conferences.  Sure, I had been presenting about Social Media and had been managing several personal and departmental Social Media for years, but there were many others who I considered to be experts and I could not just put myself in that category with them.

One of those experts for me is Ed Cabellon (@edcabellon).  Anything you need to know about Social Media in Student Affairs, you can find on his blog.  I have used it as a personal resource and as a shared resource at my institution.  He is an expert.  In a conversation I had with Ed this fall about all of my feelings associated with this new responsibility, he said something to me that has stuck since: “You are the expert on your campus.”  Reflecting on that conversation, I now realize how it ignited this new found confidence in me.  I may not consider myself to be a Social Media expert at the level of those whom I consider experts, but I have the expertise on my campus.  Others can benefit from the knowledge I have acquired over the last few years.  This confidence inspired and motivated me to present to groups on campus and to fully embrace my new role.

Liz’s post yesterday about dubbing yourself an expert or guru resonated with me.  Expertise is earned, not self-proclaimed.  The flip side of this is accepting and embracing the role once it is “given” to you.  I receive phone calls, emails and meeting requests daily from students, faculty, staff and departments to consult on the Social Media strategy, tech tips, and useful tools amongst other things.  I feel that the job of an expert is to not control the information for personal growth and power, but to share the information and empower others to use it.  I always jokingly open my presentations on Social Media with the following: “I have not technical training or coursework in this area and by no means am an expert.  I simply like to read, play around and press buttons.  In essence, I am an exceptional Google searcher.”  I hope this shows folks that what I am teaching them can be self-taught with the right tools, time and dedication.

I have some final thoughts to offer the many, I assume, who are placed in my position of being dubbed an expert on any topic, but feel they don’t live up to such a title:

  • If others come to you for your expertise, embrace it.
  • Know your limitations.  People will expect you to have all the answers.  It is OK to say you do not know and to offer some additional resources who might be of help.
  • Never stop reading and learning.  No area in Student Affairs is static and without growth.  Being an “expert” comes with an inherent duty and expectation of being current and up to date with the latest trends, research and best practices.
  • Share your information and empower others.

Are you called on for your expertise on your campus?  Do you embrace it?  If so, how?