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!

 

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Simple phrases that have a profound impact

Great leaders know how to say the right things, and when to say them.  When you are in a position of leadership, what you say matters. However, it is often the simplest of phrases that matter the most. Below is a list of things that great leaders say often and mean it. These can be especially powerful with students.

“Thank you.”

“I made a mistake” or “You’re right.”

“I believe in (or am confident in) you/your abilities/decision-making.”

“I know you can.”

“Great job!”

“I am proud of you.”

“I think you are ready to take on [project].”

“I support your decision.”

“What do you think?”

“Give it a shot!”

“What if?”

“I understand.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t know, but let’s find out.”

“I trust you.”

“Be creative!”

“How can I help?”

“Can you give me some feedback on…?”

What would you add to this list?

 

The Trouble with Twitter

Disclaimer: This will not be one of those posts that tells you how I think you should use Twitter or what to tweet. Rather, it is a reflection of my own experience and professional development via Twitter. Take it or leave it.

Last night, I was fortunate to have an amazing conversation with Matt Bloomingdale and Valerie Heruska (to pros whom I tremendously respect and admire) as a guest on their Professional Reputations Aside podcast. After we stopped recording, the conversation continued. I had been lamenting my struggle with the transition on how I use and view Twitter for professional development and it finally clicked for me. Let me explain….

Twitter is not the end all be all of professional development. At one time for me, it was. This past semester, I embarked on an #saroadtrip where I have met with a whole bunch of amazing colleagues from around the world (thanks to my friend Lisa in Canada!). We discussed everything from branding in our field, to disrupting education, to creativity, to graduate preparation and much more. Including several conferences, webinars, and #sachat topics, this was by far the most fruitful learning I had experienced as a professional yet. The best part: it was FREE! While this post may at times seem like an anti-Twitter post, it is not. Rather, it is pointing out the limitations of only focusing on 140 characters and not using the network built on Twitter for even deeper learning and connection.

Twitter is fantastic for helping us to expand our personal learning network. It connects us to people we otherwise perhaps would never meet. The discussions that happen here are great, but very limiting. It is easy for something to be perceived differently than you intended. Dissenting opinions often seem like attacks. Trying to keep up with any given conversation results in a lot of agreeing or retweeting – and not enough actual dialogue. We start a great conversation about something important like mental health in our field or the purpose of higher education, only for it to take a back seat to the next topic a week later. These #sachat discussions are starting points – not a one time topic to be discussed tweet after tweet for two hours on a Thursday.

What I have found to be most helpful is to use Twitter as a stepping stone. It has allowed me to meet some fantastic people and then to further the discussion, connection, and learning in a much deeper way beyond tweets. 140 characters can be so painfully limiting. Twitter is also public. I can’t be completely vulnerable, honest, or authentic knowing my students and colleagues will see it. I need another space to have these honest conversations with colleagues in a way that does not come across the wrong way or harm my relationship with folks on my campus.

In many ways, I think our profession has grown to overvalue Twitter as a communications tool. As many have said before, it is but one tool for learning and communicating – not the only one. I think it is important that we remember some amazing professionals who are doing incredible things in this field are not on Twitter and you will never see them on #sachat. The mark of a student affairs professional is much deeper than his or her digital identity. I do not want to be remembered or recognized by my handle or profile picture. Instead, I hope people will connect with what I write here on my blog or appreciate the work I am doing on my campus or professional association.

Twitter helps us to connect, to share articles, and to have some base level conversations. I fear, though, that it has become for many the only place to connect, share articles, converse and learn. I challenge each of you to deepen and broaden your connection to your network you have built on Twitter. It does not have to be the way I did it through Google Plus. Many other people are doing this – chatting and meeting, learning and discussing. Make it your own and know that there are many professionals out there with stories to tell, ideas to share, and encouragement to give. All you have to do is ask.

What are you doing to learn and connect beyond Twitter?

My virtual #sachat road trip!

#suedle drawn by the talented Sue Caulfield

#suedle drawn by the talented Sue Caulfield


One night last week it dawned on me: there are so many great student affairs professionals with whom I have formed a strong online connection to, but have yet to meet in person, or have only met briefly. With this in mind, I tweeted
While the reality of an actual road trip is slim, thanks to an idea from one of these friends who I’ve yet to “meet”, Sue Caulfield, I will be doing a virtual road trip in 2014. With the hashtag #SARoadTrip and Google Plus as my vehicle, I plan to “see” as many colleagues (and perhaps their spaces on campus) as I can.
Here’s how it works:
I will try each week to have a G+ Hangout with one or several student affairs professionals. These will be super informal and meant for us to just chat about our jobs, careers, interests, and wherever else the conversation may lead. I hope to use this blog as a sort of travel journal to highlight the people I meet, the places I see, and the things I learn.

Interested? Tweet me or email me at tstjohn33@gmail.com and we can set something up. I look forward to meeting you!

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)!

The next phase of my journey…

First off, please forgive me for putting this in a blog post.  I have way too many words than anyone would tolerate on Facebook, let alone fit within 140 characters.  I have had my conversations, sent out my emails and texts, and am ready to make an announcement:

I have recently accepted the position of Director of Student Leadership and Programming at Clark University in Worcester, MA.  I am thrilled to join the incredible team at Clark and to be a contributing member to such a dynamic and innovative community, who’s motto is:

“Challenge Convention. Change Our World.”

Every single person I met with on the Clark campus was inviting, passionate about their work, and dedicated to this very motto. I couldn’t think of a better place for the next step in my professional journey and my director position!

This announcement is bittersweet, though as I will be leaving UNE on December 5th.  If you add up my time as an undergrad and as a staff member, I have spent 9 and 1/2 years at UNE. It has become home. Leaving UNE is not easy. The incredible students, remarkable colleagues, and fond memories will be with me forever. Though, it is hard to leave, I know it is the right time. I hope that I have conveyed enough to my UNE students and colleagues how much they mean to me. They all know how connected I am to my phone, so I will be reachable often 🙂

This new adventure is not only great for me professionally, but for Amanda and I personally.  It has always been a long term goal of ours to move back home and this position allows us the opportunity to do so. Hope our family is ready for us!

 

How running has made me a better professional

Image

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!

Time to let them see behind the curtain. Are we overselling a career in Student Affairs?

A conversation this morning with Jeff Lail and Sally Watkins really has me thinking.  Are we overselling our profession and is this negatively impacting the longevity of our young professionals?  I think we are.

Here’s how the story goes for many.  Somewhere along the way you get involved on campus.  You link up with an advisor, mentor, hall director, and so on who says something like, “You know you can do this for a living, right?”  Student Affairs professionals, more than most, love it when we hear someone wants to do our work.  Most of us value our work and it is a sign of respect and admiration when a student expresses interest.  Next thing you know a professional has taken you under her wing, taken you to conferences, and shared with you all the rewards that a life in higher education will bring.  What’s missing?

Here’s what happened for me.

I was an overly involved student and as a sophomore RA, student government leader, and Class President identified that I wanted to be a Student Affairs professional.  My mentor did all of the above, but more.  Under his guidance, I enrolled in courses outside of my major that would strengthen my critical thinking, reading, and analytical thought.  I was encouraged to continue my path in student government and became student trustee where I learned all about institutional politics.  I was able to go to staff meetings, be a part of the budget process, and even supervise other students.  I was encouraged to turn my work in the Student Involvement Office into an academic internship, where I was required to put my work into a portfolio, make decisions, and justify my work.  I was a fly on the wall of many conversations and meetings that most students are not privy to.  On top of the usual conferences, my mentor took me to meet colleagues at other institutions who are Deans/VPs.  I listened and asked questions as they discussed the issues on their campuses and what things they were working on.  I was fortunate to be given a realistic view of what my work in Student Affairs would be like.  As a result, I was fully prepared as a grad and new professional and have progressed quickly as a result.  I do my best to pass this approach onto both the students and the grads I work with.

We need more of this in our profession.  At most conferences I attend, there is some sort of session, roundtable or talk on “growing the profession.”  We need to stop and think about how to grow our profession.  Do we want a wave of new professionals who enter the field thinking their work will be much like their experience on the programming board, as an RA, or peer advisor?  Do we want a field of new professionals who chose their field only because what they saw from their mentors, or what was presented to them?  OR do we want a field of new professionals who understand the holistic work and not just the icebreakers, ice cream, events, and laughs that most students see and are capable and willing to the job in its entirety? If we are not realistic in telling our story while recruiting, we run the risk of having new professionals who are not cut out or who burn out quickly.

Additionally and consequently, we also need to better prepare our new professionals for mid-level management.  The higher one climbs in our field, the less the job becomes like that dreamy, fun, college job that many first perceived when expressing their interest in this work.  We need to teach, emphasize and require hard skills and competencies such as budgeting, legal affairs, risk management, and technology not just in a textbook, but in a way that is practical.  Most undergraduate students do not see higher education as a business, and this is problematic when they enter their graduate programs.  There is only so much damage that can be undone in a two year graduate program.

By no means am I trying to be a negative curmudgeon and say our work is not fun, meaningful, and important.  After all, my first strength is positivity and I have written about it before.  What I am trying to say, however, is that I fear that is all some people think our work is.  It is certainly all of those things, but like any work, can also be stressful, political, and challenging.  This is also why we are not so good at justifying our work with our academic colleagues (another post for another day).

I think Student Affairs is but one example to a greater problem with career decision-making.  People choose careers at a dangerously young age for so many wrong decisions (money, fame, comfort, power, respect, parental choice, etc.)  We are in the field of education, we owe it to ourselves and our students to encourage them to make an informed decision about their path to a career in higher education by being honest and allowing them to have many opportunities to see it for themselves.

Like the Wizard of Oz, it is time for us to let them see the “man behind the curtain”

What was your path to Student Affairs like?  Were you prepared for your work?  Any surprises?  Share your story.