Wellbeing in Student Affairs

Make ourselves miserable or happy

The Huffington Post, Renee Piquette Dowdy, and Ann Marie Klotz have all shared thoughts this week on wellbeing in Student Affairs. Renee challenges us to own our role in the “crazy” cycle as professionals, manage our emotions, and buck the norms of “overwhelmed” and “busy” to take care of ourselves. Ann Marie challenges us to start talking more openly about wellness and shares strategies for how to create balance. I’m adding to this dialogue with some additional thoughts and strategies.

In the readings I’m doing this year, I am finding more and more that we (humans) are wired to perform and please others, this includes our supervisors. If you are a supervisor who works 24/7, does not role model balance, and sends emails at all hours of the day and night – it is not a stretch to assume that your staff may follow suit. Having a supervisor that has a sense of balance and wellbeing and role models this balance encourages staff and students to do the same. Using an expression from Teri bump, “You’ve got to see it to be it.” Seeing someone higher up balance their work and life, means it can be done.

That being said, it is not solely on the supervisor – it never is. As professionals we each need to own our role in figuring out what balance and wellbeing looks and feels like to us. Then we need to set boundaries in order to meet and maintain this balance. Balance looks different to everyone. Figure out what it looks like to you. I feel the best when I set and accomplish a reasonable to-do list for the day, have time for a run, and can cook a healthy dinner with my partner. It is ok to not take every phone call from a friend or family member, answer every email as it comes in, and not life a reactionary lifestyle.

Stop buying into what my friend Demi refers to as the “so busy, so important” philosophy of martyrdom  in student affairs. When did busyness become the new popularity contest? My worth, your worth, is not determined by how many reports I write, emails I answer, or meetings I have in a day, week, or year. My worth as a person and employee is not measured by how many hours I put in after hours. In fact, some of the best conversations I have had with my supervisor include books I’ve read or she has recommended to me, weekend plans, reaching new running goals, and house renovation projects. Some of the more difficult but open and honest conversations have revolved around how do we prioritize to-do list items, being pulled in multiple directions, navigating politics, and managing up. This leads me to two more strategies.Stop the Glorification of Busy

Be open and honest about where you are at. No one can read your mind. You have to know when your “bucket” is running low as well as how to refill it.

Connect with others & do not try to go it alone. You are not the first or only person to struggle with finding balance and wellbeing. Talk to people about their strategies for finding balance. Brene Brown states, “One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on ‘going it alone’. Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone.” We go against our culture, a culture echoed in Student Affairs, when we ask for help, say no to a meeting or committee, or leave work at 5. It take courage and bravery, but each of us is responsible for our own sense of balance and wellbeing.

My strategies include waking up early to find time for myself, asking my partner and puppy to be my running buddies, reading before bed (rather than watching TV), and using lunch time to build connections and relationships across campus – outside of my office.

Changing the focus on building the new

What are your thoughts on wellbeing in Student Affairs? How do you resist a culture of martyrdom? What strategies do you employ for finding and maintaining balance? 


Telling Your Story

When writing your own story don't let anyone else hold the pen

Stories are powerful things. They have meaning, they can motivate us, inspire us, and remind us that we are capable of greatness. Stories can also be dangerous and limiting. Sometimes, the stories we tell ourselves (or are told i.e. princess fairytales) are negative or one-dimensional, causing us to forget that other perspectives and realities exists. I was reminded of this recently when watching The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie. Chimamanda explains that, as a Nigerian child reading English books and writing her own stories, she wrote stories like the ones she read. She wrote about white girls, with their hair in ponytails, eating apples, talking about the weather, and drinking ginger beer.  She wrote these stories, having none of these experiences herself. Her stories were not true to her experience or her authentic self until she found books by African authors. Finding these authors saved her from the Single Story of only English books, authors, characters, and perspectives. Since her childhood, she has grown into a brave and authentic author who shares her stories with the world. Part of the power of this TED Talk is that she captures the danger of both single stories we learn about others and single stories we develop about ourselves.

As I participate in the second week of Brene Brown’s class centered on her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, I am learning more about the single story I have cultivated (unintentionally) about myself. Last week, I learned about vulnerability as a form of courage, that courage is a heart word, and not everyone deserves to hear you tell your story.  Stories are multifaceted. I have the opportunity to share different aspects of my story, or my whole story. I can share it with whomever I want, and that person can listen, or not. Reaffirm, or not. Judge, or not. There are all kinds of different people in our lives, but few see us be our unabashed, vulnerable, completely authentic selves. This requires bravery and courage. Courage is  Heart WordWhen asked to think sincerely and critically about who I can share my whole self with, I was surprised at how few people were on my list. The question Brene posed to start shaping this list was, “Whose opinion truly matters to you.” I realized, I let way to many people’s opinions matter to me. People who are not on my list, do not shape my story, and will definitely not write my ending. I also realized that I limit my own story in so many ways. For most of my life I was the poor kid with the single mom who grew up in the trailer. If you’ve met me in the last ten years, I doubt that would be your first conclusion. If I didn’t tell you, you probably wouldn’t know. But my story starts way before then and has continued well beyond. Getting back to a sense of my authentic self and becoming more resilient is teaching me to consider my whole story, my whole self, and questioning the stories I accept about others.

Where do you start your story? Do you have a single story about yourself or others? Who deserves to hear you tell your story with your whole heart? 

Thinking Back, Loving Now, & Looking Forward

In two months, I will celebrate my 30th birthday. As I wrap up many of my 30 before I turn 30 goals (and cut myself some slack on some others), I have learned a lot about who I am, what I care about, and how invaluable the people are around me. Here are some of the lessons I have learned so far…

  1. Happiness means more than money. This may seem like an obvious statement, but for a girl who grew up in poverty, this was a difficult decision. I could choose between a little more money, some uncertainty, and a big life change, or certainty and happiness. Really, I was deciding on if the grass was greener on the other side, or if my grass was pretty damn green. As it turns out, I have awesome grass and the sense God gave me to realize it. That being said, this was a tough lesson and I’m glad I learned it. A huge thank you to Amber, Teri, Amy, Evan, and my Mom for guiding me through that process.
  2. Sometimes, you have to ugly cry in Notre Dame. You know what I mean. There is the type of crying that is soft and quiet with tears rolling down your cheeks…and then there is the full blown whaling, sniffling, squeaking, trying to suppress what can’t be contained crying. That was me, in the middle of Notre Dame, sobbing as I bid farewell and lit a candle for my grandmother who passed away.  I can’t be sure if the crying was really that bad, or if the echos amplified and made it seem much worse. Either way, saying goodbye to a person I love in the place she loved meant the world to me. Me and Meme
  3. I am capable and worthy of unconditional love. Really, this is two in one. In March, I will celebrate the second year of marriage to a partner I couldn’t imagine life without. Growing up in a home with a single parent  where my family members were in unhealthy, unstable, and abusive relationships – I had no concrete examples for what a healthy, authentic, wholehearted relationship could or should be, but I found my way there anyway and am grateful for it every day. This leads me to my next point…
  4. Love does not make me weak. Knowing that I am cable of love and being loved might be one of the most powerful experiences my marriage has taught me. I have never been as vulnerable, or as strong, as I am now.
  5. Three dogs is one dog too many. Evan and I have a soft spot for strays and at one point this year, my house felt more like a shelter for lost or abused dogs than a house for humans. Our breaking point, is three dogs. It’s too many. We will never (I really hope) have three dogs again.
  6. I can’t grow cilantro. Tried three times. Failed three times. Sometimes, you have to know when to quit. On the flip side, we have excellent lemons, basil, rosemary, mint, parsley, sage, oregano, and are working on growing figs.
  7. Reading and crafting bring me joy. 
  8. Being connected is important to feeling whole for me. As much as I enjoy quietly reading a good book, I feel positively alive and buzzing with energy when I am connecting with others through phone calls, Skype, Google Hangouts, Twitter, and Facebook.  I have also learned that I need to be more consistent in these forums and with my connections. There are some remarkable people out there I would love to connect with more frequently, I just need to be brave and reach out.
  9. Family means what I say it means. Only I can decided to forgive, forget, and move on. Only I can decide to send the text, make the call, and say I love you and mean it. Family does not mean blood, one or two people, and only those I can depend on to be infallible – because I’m not infallible and that’s unreasonable. Family is giving a shit, loving the best way you know how, thinking of someone at every turn and remember to tell them, and thoughtfully and willingly letting people in.
  10. Becoming resilient is a process, not an end goal and I am truly making progress.

I know I have a lot left to learn this year and I am looking forward to every lesson. It has been a powerful year and as far as I can tell, it is only going to get better.

Looking for WISA Wednesday?

The WISA Wednesday & Feminist Friday posts have a bran new home! Check them out!


Come on over to the new NASPA website to get this week’s WISA Wednesday courtesy of Colleen Marquart: http://www.naspa.org/constituent-groups/posts/quarter-life-realization

Please update your bookmarks to view the new WISA KC blog via the NASPA website: http://www.naspa.org/constituent-groups/kcs/women-in-student-affairs. If you have Women in Student Affairs checked as a Knowledge Community that you follow, all blog updates will automatically appear on your personalized home page. If you are not following WISA or are not sure if it is a KC that you follow, do the following:

Log-in to the NASPA website

Click on “My NASPA” in the top corner

Select “Engagement Portal”

Select “Click Here to Update Your Member Information” from the top center of the Engagement Portal page

Communities and Groups will be one of the first sections to appear. Add any Knowledge Communities that you would like to join and receive updates.

Thank you for joining us on this exciting transition…

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September Sheros Series: Amber Garrison Duncan

“Talking with you has made my soul happy.” This is what Amber said to me after the first time I met her face-to-face after interacting with her for over a year through social media and phone calls..

Amber is kind, honest, and generous in a way that our field and world could use a good deal more of.  Amber did not know me from Eve when I was unemployed. I reached out to her (based on a recommendation from a mutual contact) and asked if she would be willing to talk to me about assessment in Student Affairs. She said yes. Three pages of quickly hand written notes and an hour and a half later, I learned more than any textbook or course could teach about the practice and conceptualization of assessment in SA. At the time, I was preparing for an interview. Amber asked challenging questions, supported me in finding the best answers, and then kept pushing me to think more critically about the field and what it needed. Advice Amber gave me during this conversation helped me land my current position.

When faced with a difficult decision in my professional life, I turned to Amber. She asked a question that should be easy, but isn’t. What is important to you? She listened and said things like, “What I’m hearing you say is…” and “If I put myself in your shoes…” Amber owns and speaks her truth in a way that is invigorating, thoughtful, and supportive. At one point in this same situation, she said to me, very honestly, “So what I’m hearing from you right now is that you are doubting yourself and your skills.” She called me out in a moment of self-doubt coming from a place of wanting me to be better and own my abilities and what I bring to the table.

Lean in

Amber’s self-assurance and kind honesty is a positive force driving myself, and likely many others, to own the greatness we bring to the table, to ask and answer the hard questions, to take time to share, teach, and talk, and to speak our truth.  She is, without a doubt, a #shero.

Who are your sheros? Why?

September Sheros Series: Melissa Robertson

In Student Affairs, August is an intense, exhausting, and sometimes thankless time of year. September is the time of year when the ball gets rolling, we get into the groove, and things start to operate like  a well oiled machine. This September, rather than get caught up in the well oiled machine and run into the year, I want to take a step back, pause, and say thank you to a handful of truly remarkable women, my #sheros. This month, I will write a series of posts about Student Affairs Sheros. Naturally, I’m calling the collection of these posts, the September Shero Series. I will feature one woman each week of September, starting with Melissa Robertson.

Melissa and I met via social media by working on the Women in Student Affairs Knowledge Community social media team together. When I asked if anyone wanted to present at NASPA 2013 together, she volunteered. I would come to learn that this was completely natural for Melissa. She dives in and commits. After months of Skyping, Melissa and I met for the first time days before we were to present together in Orlando.

Before we met in Orlando we determined, again through social media, that we were both working towards 30 goals before we turned 30. Our now friend Lisa, would also be a part of this. This is relevant because Mel has shared and taught me so much this year. We’ve both read Lean In and Daring Greatly. As empowering and inspirational as these reads were, nothing beats seeing someone you admire be their unequivocal and authentic self. This is why Melissa is a shero.

Nothing More Beautiful

When talking about our 30 before 30 goals, in a moment of raw honesty, she inspired me to reach one of my goals…by not reaching another and being flexible with myself. She simply said she wasn’t going to reach one of her goals and needed to be honest with herself about where she was with her progress. This simple comment gave me the courage to be brave and own that I likely wasn’t going to meet all of my goals either. I would have pushed myself into the ground trying, but her moment of honesty allowed me to be honest and vulnerable with myself. Melissa is honest, brave, vulnerable, funny, generous, and kind. I’m lucky to call her friend. She is a regular inspiration. She is a shero.

Life is Good.

When I am an old lady, and my mother is an even older lady, we have a plan.  Our plan is to sit on the front porch in our cotton dresses and big sun hats, drinking Tom Collins & lemonade, and watching the grandbabies play in the yard.  Recently, I went to see my mom in Oklahoma. We got up early, sat on the front porch, and drank coffee together in the sunshine (practicing for when we trade the coffee for spiked lemonade).  She said, “Well, kid, you’re going to be thirty this year. You know when you’re young and you think that when you’re older, everything will be better? Is growing up what you thought it would be? Is life better?”

Everything is better. I am going to own up front the flood of emotion I feel when writing this. The flood of gratitude, strength, survival, happiness, and humility I feel.  “Everything is better now”, I said. “Do you remember what it was like growing up? Dirt poor, sleeping in a broken recliner under a ceiling propped up by a 2×4, playing volleyball with a rolled up pair of socks, and skipping dinner so that we could go to a movie. You going through a horrible time that made us both desperate and miserable, even hopeless at times.” She just stared at me. We joke about living in poverty a lot, but rarely talk seriously about that time and all of its bleakness and desperation.

Look at my mom and I. We are half the country away from each other, but other than that, we are so happy.  We are happier than we have ever been. We are safe. We have stability. We are employed. We are educated. We are both in love. We are healthy. We no longer live in a culture of poverty.

Last year, I read The Last Lecture. In this book, the author, Randy Pausch, talks about remembering and living your childhoodNevery too old to dream a new dream dreams. He writes at one point, “Whatever my accomplishments, all of the things I loved were rooted in the dreams and goals I had as a child…and the ways I had managed to fulfill almost all of them. My uniqueness, I realized, came in the specifics of all the dreams – from incredibly meaningful to decidedly quirky – that defined my forty-six years of life.” Standing in our home after putting a beautiful bedroom together and placing the final perfect decorative pillow on our bed, I looked at Evan. “This is one of my wildest dreams come true”, I said. “You need to get some wilder dreams,” he laughed. I stopped for a minute and said, with a huge smile on my face, “If you could see where I grew up, you would think this was pretty fucking wild!” His face broke out in a huge grin that I love, and he agreed.

For the first time in my life, I drive a safe, new car to and from a fulfilling job at an amazing university. I go home every night to a safe home, with two dogs, and a partner I can’t wait to see. My mom facetimes me on our iPhones and I have the privilege of seeing her face even though we are half the country apart. I go for runs on safe streets in my brightly colored Nike kicks, study Italian, read, cuddle down in bed with the world’s most awesome duvet (and decorative pillow), have a glass of wine, and watch Top Gear.

I don’t have a Ph.D in Italian or Educational Research. I haven’t been to all seven continents. I haven’t figured out a more effective way to finance developing countries, end oppression, cure AIDS, or stop violence against women. Basically, I still have a lot to do with this life.

This fall and winter I have the opportunity to travel to France, Italy, and potentially Greece. I live a life filled with love and kindness. Everyday, I work at keeping peace and compassion internally and externally. I am living some of my wildest and most memorable childhood dreams every day and I have many more left to life. How about you? What were your childhood dreams? How are you living them? I would love to hear about it.