Today I took some time to take a solo walk on the Johnstown Flood Trail (located near my new home). Sometimes taking time to appreciate nature & silence is all it takes when you’re having a rough week. Remember to appreciate the little things in life, find peace when you can, & focus on your self-care! And as always, keep in mind that spending time with yourself is not selfish. The world can wait while you take time to center yourself & find your peace.
As I start to approach the beginning of my graduate academic career, I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on my undergraduate experience. For a lot of students, an undergraduate education is the automatic decision immediately following high school. For those of us who are first-generation students, our college experience wasn’t a “given.” Growing up in a single-parent household, I knew what it meant to work hard for things I didn’t have, one of those being my college education.
Being a first-generation student is a huge challenge. As a scholarship/grant student at Saint Vincent College, I got into the habit of writing tons of essays in hope of the opportunity of attending college. I had over 8 work study jobs throughout my 4 years of school in order to pay off the additional fees. I also went in with no understanding of proper study skills and had to navigate my way through trial and error a lot of times (that usually began with a lot of procrastination).
Regardless, I learned a lot as a first-generation student that I take into my daily work in Residence Life. Many of our students are either first-generation or come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. A lot of them have multiple jobs and scholarships. I’ve learned not to scold students for not sleeping enough, but to encourage healthier habits when they have the time. Unfortunately, with multiple jobs and excessive amounts of homework, students often don’t have the ability to go to bed as early as we would expect them to. I’ve learned to take a step back when a student is being combative or unresponsive in a conversation or situation. Everyone is going through a different struggle and some of those struggles are worse than others. I’ve also learned to “fight” for my “kids.” When I was a hall director in my previous job, I had a student who couldn’t afford to attend the institution. I tried to the best of my ability to see what other jobs we could offer and what other financial aid may be available. I even gave her food money for taking care of my cat when I was away. Fight for them when you can.
We need to look out for our students. Although it’s challenging to deal with students who are combative or student leaders who may be slacking on their responsibilities, we need to keep in mind that they are all going through struggles that may be comparable to our own. Some may be dealing with issues at home. Some may not have homes to go back to. Some may be struggling with identifying their sexual orientation or keeping up with academics or working 3 different jobs just to become the engineer they have always wanted to be. Take a step back to reflect on what your students may be going through. And overall, never forget where you came from and what you needed to do to get where you are today. Being vulnerable and empathetic will make you a stronger guide and model for your students at the end of the day.
Deciding where to begin a career in Student Affairs is often a challenge for a lot of professionals. Typically aspiring SA Pros will begin their journey by attending a post-graduate program and receiving a Master’s Degree before pursuing employment. A number of professionals, however, decide to take the road less traveled by gaining a few years of professional employment experience before pursuing a Master’s degree. This is the path I took to begin my SA Pro experience.
Beginning with employment in Student Affairs, rather than starting off with a Master’s program, is a huge challenge. Although it was a difficult road, I am so thankful that I worked before pursuing my degree. The greatest challenge was finding a position that was entry level & didn’t require my Master’s. After a lot of job searching & flying around to on-campus interviews, I finally found my first job as a Hall Director at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.
Many may be wondering why I decided not to begin my journey with my Master’s program. Although this was a difficult decision, I knew that reaffirming my passion for Student Affairs & Residence Life was crucial for me. As a college undergrad, I thought that I was going to be a secondary English teacher until I was in the middle of my student teaching experience. Not only did I realize that I no longer had a passion for secondary education, but that I was completely miserable in the classroom. I decided then to quit my student teaching to focus on my mental health and my desire to pursue Student Affairs. This was the most difficult, yet beneficial decision I’ve ever made. By stepping away from the English classroom, I learned that although I felt called to be an educator, it was no longer inside of a classroom. I also learned that I much rather preferred working with college level students.
It was this decision that caused me to work as a Hall Director these past few years. I have not only reaffirmed my passion, but have given myself the practical experience that will help me to relate to theories and to learn new things in my Master’s classes. I am so thankful that I took that time to myself. If you are still on the fence about a career path but are considering Student Affairs, I seriously recommend that you do the following:
1. Consider working in Higher Ed before pursuing your Master’s Degree. This will give you time to make sure you are in the field you want to be in while also reaffirming the specific content area/office that you want to work with. I always knew that Residence Life was my calling, since I was an RA and an Assistant Hall Director for my undergrad institution. This will also allow you to “dabble” in other content areas and potentially work with advising, which is crucial experience to have.
2. Consider moving away to a new state/area if you do decide to work before your degree. I’ve gained so much independence from my move to Indiana these past 3 years. This has also reaffirmed that I wanted to return to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where my family/support system is. The most growth comes from finding yourself in a strange place alone & with developing a new life/support in that strange new place.
3. Talk to other professionals in the field. I know that I had the help of a number of Student Affairs friends to push me and guide me toward making the right decision for myself. Talk to people in different offices and ask what they do on a regular basis. Ask to do some job shadowing. It’s nice to have some background on some of the job options within our field.
Overall, make the decision that is best for you. If you are one of those people who needs to pursue a Master’s Degree immediately post undergrad, then go for it! If you want to test the waters first, know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so and you will NOT be behind when it comes to pursuing your degree. Know that there are other professionals in the field who have been where you are and are right there with you in your journey.
“We promise you discovery: the discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe, and your place in it.”
— Sister Madeleva Wolff, CSC; Former President of Saint Mary’s College
I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since I wrote a blog post! Where has time gone? I find it harder to believe that I’m in my final month of employment at my first professional job. I don’t think I’ve fully grasped the fact that this is the last week I will see many of my students after they leave for finals. Or that I only have next week to spend with my RA staff. Regardless, I have gained so much from the past 3 years at Saint Mary’s College, and I thought it would be great to reflect on the things I’ve learned from my first Student Affairs job.
Sometimes you need to move away to find yourself.
Moving to a new state was one of the most difficult, yet positive experiences of my life. I have grown more in independence & confidence throughout the past 3 years both professionally & personally. I also learned how to create my support system & build new connections, which was challenging at times. I recommend that everyone moves away from home for a period of time at least once in their lives.
Create traditions that you can carry on to other institutions.
I have created so many traditions that I want to carry over into my future GA Area Coordinator position. Reflect on some of the traditions that your college HD or other SA professional has done for you when you were a student & use that to develop your own traditions. I personally give my RA staff a pen, notebook, & welcome letter in their rooms as they arrive to campus for the year. I also do a “Treasure Chest” affirmation activity during staff meetings & make baked goods for my RAs once in a while. Reflect on what you love & bring that to your student staff.
Accept your mistakes.
It is important to own up to mistakes that you make on the job. I’ve learned that people value you more when you’re willing to accept your mistakes and own up to it. Being real goes a long way.
Wear ALL the hats.
As a new professional, it is important to reflect on some things that you may be interested and ask to help when you can. Sometimes it’s not always easy to find your niche/passion areas in Student Affairs, which is why it’s awesome to have an institution that allows you to step in and get experience in other offices. I would have never realized that I was passionate about doing Violence Prevention Work on the side if I didn’t agree to get Green Dot Certified. Chaperoning events & showing up to student programs are also great ways to get involved in the community.
Find your ways of practicing Self-Care EARLY.
Working in Student Affairs/Higher Ed is super stressful at times, which is why it’s important to figure out what works for you early on. Remember that it is NOT selfish to take care of yourself first. Once you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to take care of others. I like to take walks, go to yoga classes, & cook breakfast for myself. Also remember that the things that work for others may not work for you.
Be open to new things, especially during your job search.
When I was looking at institutions for my first job, I had never imagined that I would end up at an all-female institution. When I arrived on campus, I just had a feeling that this was meant to be. Focus on whether or not it is a good fit for you during interviews & don’t be afraid to trust your gut at times. Things will work out in the end & you will always grow from the experience no matter what.
Learn how to say no.
As a new professional, it’s hard to say no to people who ask for help. Remember, that it is ok to say no to things because it’s easy to experience burnout in our field. At the beginning, I struggled to say no to anything. I slowly but surely learned that I wasn’t able to take on everything. Keep this in mind early if you can.
Delegate tasks appropriately when you can.
During my first year, I felt the need to take on everything in my building or with departmental projects. I quickly learned that I could delegate to my RA staff when it was appropriate & also ask coworkers to tag team events with me. Don’t be afraid to delegate. Inevitably by delegating, you are helping others to grow by providing some ownership & leadership for important tasks. By providing this leadership, you are helping them to grow just as much as they are helping you.
I learned that being vulnerable and real with my students is the key component to building genuine relationships. It’s ok to share stories about yourself with your students. Let them know who you are & most importantly, that you are also a real person. This will help with building understanding with them, especially when you need some flexibility on their end.
Learn time management skills if you don’t have them already.
I learned more time management skills more during my first year of employment than I ever did as an undergraduate student. Learn what works for you in your office. How much time do you need to delegate for each task? What organization skills do you need to develop to get done with your work? Learn what works for you & your productivity.
I’ve grown so much from my first professional job & I hope that everyone else can say the same. No matter where you end up professionally, remember to take time to reflect on the lessons you learn along the way. I can’t wait to move forward into Graduate school & my GA Position next year with the experiences & lessons I’ve learned here at SMC. Remember to focus on how you want to grow from your employer & what steps you can take along the way to get where you want to go.
It’s easy to fall into a mindset where you struggle with self-worth, whether it’s in the workplace or your personal life. As humans, we have a tendency to get into our normal routines, we go through our daily challenges, get frustrated with mundane tasks like sitting in traffic or running to the grocery store. Often I fail to recognize the impact that I’m making in the lives of others, whether I personally know them or not. My Anxiety sometimes causes me to feel like a burden to others, like I’m almost bothering the people who love me because I’m texting them about my day. I’m sure that I am not the only one who feels this way.
This year, I have also committed to completing “The 52 Lists Project” journal, by Moorea Seal, which offers a new prompt for a list every single week of the year with a follow-up reflection. This week’s prompt was simply the following: “List Your Favorite Quotes.”
After listing out a few, I finally remembered my favorite quote of all time:
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” -Fred Rogers
If you know me, you know that I’m the biggest Mr. Rogers fangirl ever. I absolutely love the work he has done with education & children. I love the simplicity of his inspirational quotes because in the end, he is always reminding us to love one other and be good people.
This quote is important to me personally because of my mental health struggle. By recognizing the small, relevant impacts we share with people every single day, we find value and worth in our everyday lives. This is especially relevant in my job as a Hall Director, when I often find myself confronting challenging situations and sharing challenging (and sometimes negative) conversations with students. I have to remind myself that by giving my students a space to share their concerns and have a voice, I am making a huge impact. Unfortunately, we live in a world where a lot of people find themselves silenced.
As an Empathizer (#1 Strengthsquest result), I have a tendency to connect with my students on a personal level and get emotionally invested in their stories at times. I think that honestly this is a positive, rather than a negative, because my students recognize that I am genuine in my expression of concern, I genuinely listen to them, and I genuinely care about their feelings.
At the end of the day, we need to remember how valuable we are to those around us, even if we don’t always see it. I wanted to write this post to remind everyone that you are a valuable, loved human being who has so much to contribute to this world, even though you may not see it right now. I challenge you to smile at a random stranger, initiate a conversation with a coworker you may rarely talk to, or do some other random act of kindness. You may never know how great of an impact you have on that person’s life.
Sometimes it is ok to not be ok. As someone with Depression and Anxiety, I have been struggling a little more than usual recently. I have a tendency to focus on the past, the things that have hurt me and continue to affect me to this day. To get out of this mindset, I have to remind myself of the good things in my present life and what my future has in store, which is why I have decided to blog about the things I am #thankful for today:
I love my work as a Hall Director. Although I am sad that this is my final year at Saint Mary’s College, I have so much to be thankful for from my experience. I have grown so much as a confident female leader, a role model, and a person. I have been inspired by so many incredible women, have gained so many wonderful friends, and have shared so many awesome life experiences that I would have never shared if I did not decide to move away to Indiana 3 years ago.
I am so fortunate to have the support system that I do. Never in my life would I have expected to find such a caring, supportive, loving boyfriend who reminds me how important it is that I take care of myself. He also wants to learn about my mental health conditions and always remains patient with me. I also am blessed to have the family that I do. I talk to my mum every single day, even if it is just to say “hi” in the mornings. I know that a lot of people aren’t this fortunate. Although I have the greatest friends here in Indiana, I’m really looking forward to moving back to my family after being away for so long.
I learned how to knit recently (yes, I know I sound like an old lady). This hobby makes me SO HAPPY because it has been a great way to combat my anxiety while making a ton of super awesome scarves.
Although my food allergies sometimes get the best of me, I am thankful for my health overall. I need to remember that a lot of others aren’t this fortunate.
Upcoming Life Experiences
I am blessed to have a lot of awesome things on the horizon, such as a beach vacation and tickets to see Mumford & Sons in the spring. I need to remember the good experiences that I have had in the past as well and remember those when I’m having a difficult day mentally.
I got into grad school and will be attending this fall. Not a lot of people have the privilege of attending Grad school, let alone Undergrad. This experience will allow me to grow personally and professionally so that I can move forward in my career in Higher Education.
I would be nowhere without my friends, especially my support system here in Indiana. I’m lucky to have such a supportive and fun group of people to spend time with.
When you are having a difficult day, I encourage you to sit back and remember what you are thankful for. Sometimes we have a tendency to overlook our blessings in life and always focus on the negative. In order to find the positivity in our lives we must take time to actually reflect on the good things and make more room for the good in our lives.
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
– Fred Rogers
I like to think that I have everything going for me in my life: a good job, a loving family, a caring partner, awesome friends, etc. Despite all of this, I still find myself struggling with self-confidence & self-worth from time to time. As a young woman in 2017, I know that I’m not alone in this. We live in a world where the rights, beliefs, ideas, pay wages, and physical appearances are constantly critiqued, invalidated, and questioned by our society. On a personal level, I have found that past relationships have contributed to my consistent struggle with their mentally abusive tendencies and hurtful words that were spoken. Yes, I’ve come so far since then, but every now and then like everyone else I am still haunted by my past. I consistently have to remind myself of my self-worth, my awesomeness, my strengths, and my accomplishments, which is why I’ve reflected on some of the key things that I have to keep in mind:
I am enough.
I have to remind myself that I am enough as a person. I constantly struggle with my confidence in my appearances, my capabilities, and overall who I am as a person. I have a habit of always worrying if I’m not pretty enough, outgoing enough, or thin enough when it comes to my relationship (my wonderful boyfriend constantly reassures me that this is not the case). I find myself hesitating to speak up or offer ideas at times because I’m afraid I’m not smart enough. Again, although I’ve made progress I still have to find ways to advocate for myself and remember what I’ve accomplished. I find that when I’m in these moods, taking a walk to reflect or doing some journaling helps.
The past is in the past.
As I said above, I find myself struggling with some of the painful things that have deeply affected me and my life. Yes, these things have unfortunately shaped a lot of my decisions and have been difficult to overcome, but I need to recognize that they are not repeating themselves. Again, I have a habit of worrying about things that aren’t true or aren’t going to happen (yay for living with anxiety). I need to work toward rationalizing my thoughts, recognizing that things are going well, and appreciating the blessings in my life.
I am stronger than I think.
Motivating myself to work out, complete nagging tasks, and deal with other daily challenges is a struggle, especially when I’m having a bad week or my depression is present. I have a tendency to go take a nap to forget my problems in an attempt to “make it all go away.” I need to recognize that I’m mentally stronger than I think I am. I need to push myself to do something positive in order to overcome those tasks. I need to recognize that I am capable.
No one said that working toward self-care and self-love would be easy. We all have bad weeks when we just want to hide from the world. Remind yourselves of the awesome things you’ve done when you are having these weeks. Practice mindfulness. Go do something healthy for yourself. In the end, it’ll all inevitably work out.
It’s taken me until today to realize how long it’s been since I’ve written a blog post. Over the past few months, I’ve let some of the things I enjoy become pushed to the side because of my depression & anxiety (which is so hard for me to admit). This is why I am focusing on my Self-Care this year & shamelessly making this a year to focus on loving myself. This means no more eating things that are terrible for my body (which especially includes things with traces of foods I am allergic to). This means commitment to more walks, more Therapeutic Yoga classes, & more dates with myself. Even though I have an incredible boyfriend, I’ve learned that as an introvert, I still need to make time to do the things I love by myself every once in a while. This also means making time to be more mindful & thankful for the things I have been blessed with, & I challenge you to do the same.
Despite 2016 being insane on so many levels (our world has a tendency to be a scary place), I still find that I was blessed throughout the year in so many ways. I fell in love (which is super cool & something I didn’t expect). I was accepted into grad school. I’m healthy, I have job security, & I have a roof over my head. I have an incredible family that loves & supports me. I’ve travelled to so many random awesome places throughout the year. During moments of depression, I’ve learned that it is most helpful to reflect on these things & to recognize that my life could be far worse.
This year, I challenge everyone to commit to Self-Care & to focus on loving yourself this year. Often times, we look in the mirror & hate ourselves for being too fat/too thin. We forget about doing the things we love because we become too stressed. We get frazzled with our jobs & careers to the point where it destroys us at home. Sometimes all it takes is a moment to sit back & to think about the good that you have in your life & to challenge yourself to overcome those things that are continuing to eat away at you. What do you do if you can’t fix that thing that is eating away at your life? Try to come to terms with it & accept it for what it is. Do you think that I enjoy having depression & anxiety? Of course not. It’s horrible at times, but I need to focus less on how horrible it is & more on what I can do to get out of my current mood.
Although it’s not easy to focus on Self-Love & Self-Care it is SO important. I always tell myself that I cannot truly take care of others unless I am taking care of myself first. Remember that there is nothing selfish about loving yourself. I challenge & encourage you to make “you” a priority this year. Here’s to a fabulous 2017!
If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you would know that it’s not fun. Ever. Panic attacks come in different forms for different things. For me personally, my panic attacks range from experiencing what I call a “perpetual brain fog” that numbs all emotion and causes me to forget a lot of things that are said to me in the moment to having a full “meltdown-esque” panic attack where I start hyperventilating and crying. It differs for all of us who live every day with anxiety.
In student affairs, we often find the need to bury personal mental health concerns because there has been the consistent belief that by having anxiety or depression, along with many other mental health conditions, we are weak and cannot help others. The same goes with introversion and extroversion. I wish I had a dollar for the number of times that someone has told me that “[I] don’t act like an introvert.” Just because I recharge by being alone does not mean that I can’t be the energetic, charismatic, and quirky leader my students need. It does not mean that I’m a socially awkward recluse, which essentially has unfortunately been the consistent perception of introverts throughout the years.
Why is it that these perceptions exist? Don’t get me wrong, the negative stigma around mental health has been slowly decreasing throughout the years, but there is still that awkwardness that comes from a conversation about mental health. Why can’t we talk about anxiety and depression like we talk about a diabetes or celiac disease? They are all things that affect our overall health and well-being. They do not define us, but surely they are a part of who we are. It also becomes frustrating when people try to tiptoe around those of us with depression and anxiety. Yes, we need to be supported as coworkers, relatives, partners, and human beings in general, but we don’t need to be coddled. For many of us, we know what our support looks like and we will ask for it when it is needed. Personally, I simply say that I need to get off-campus or leave the room when I am having a panic attack and many people respect that. That doesn’t mean that I need to walk away every single time that a conflict or stressful situation arises.
At this point, you may be asking what I’m getting at with this post. I simply ask you to reflect on how you can be open about anxiety and depression in student affairs or conversations in general. Maybe that means something simple, like having a program or doing a mental health bulletin board. For me, I have personally disclosed my depression and anxiety with a few students who have disclosed it to me. The point of the conversation was not to simply undermine their concern or to talk about myself. It was simply a gesture of solidarity. A moment to let them know that mental health is something we can talk about here and that their condition is not something to be embarrassed of because a lot of us struggle with it. It was an opportunity to give them a safe space.
I also ask you to reflect on how you can support your partners, coworkers, and family members who struggle with depression and anxiety. Simply ask them how they want to be supported. Don’t coddle them or assume that you need to text them every 5 minutes to see if they’re okay. For many of us, we have it under control. We may simply need a supportive listener or someone to check in when we walk away from a panic attack. Overall, we need to just work together to reduce the negative stigma that still exists when it comes to mental health. We need to stop judging others for their conditions and accept that we are all human beings who deserve the same respect despite the different battles we are all going through.
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” – Brene Brown
Building coworker relationships is not always easy, especially if you all work and live in the same place. The dynamic gets even more challenging on a 4 person HD staff at an all-female institution. I’ve gone through many years of either witnessing divided Hall Director staffs in my undergrad to experiencing them myself in my professional life. This year’s HD training, however, has been going so exceptionally well that I needed to stop and process what went right. Of course, a huge factor is that we all have similar personality types, interests, and communication styles (so many INFJ’s and blues here). Regardless, us returning staff members were very intentional about how we went about welcoming our new coworkers. Here are a few that I would like to share:
As a student affairs professional (and human being in general) I embrace that I’m a quirky, energetic person (I’m the notorious quirky cat lady on the HD staff if that puts anything into perspective for you). Don’t be afraid to show who you truly are from the beginning while maintaining that professionalism in your conversations. Your coworkers are eventually going to be around you so much that they see the real you. Why not learn how to embrace that from the beginning? Also, it will allow your coworkers to feel more comfortable about being authentic with you from the beginning.
As a product of Catholic Benedictine higher education, we were taught to strive for living the Benedictine values in our everyday lives. One that has always stuck with me is the value of hospitality. I love to make people feel welcomed, loved, and accepted. Before HD training started we coordinated an HD brunch with the new staff members so that we could chat and enjoy a meal before getting into actual training week. Reflect on how you will make your coworkers feel like a part of a family, rather than just a staff. When you build these healthy and more personal relationships from the beginning, it’s much easier to grow together professionally.
Before the new HDs even arrived to campus, my friend (the other returning HD) and myself talked through all the pro-staff issues we had the previous year and vowed that it wouldn’t happen again if we could help it. We worked hard to be more intentional with our initial conversations with the new HDs, and wanted to do more causal HD bonding from the get-go. We also talked about how important it is to discuss “pet peeves” with the other HDs early on so that we can all be more aware of one another in the work place.
Be real about the issues.
As we all know in higher education, we are constantly striving to make improvements in our departments. It’s okay to discuss the issues of previous years and things that would be great to change with your new coworkers (in a professional manner of course). As we have learned, our 2 new HDs have SO MANY incredible ideas for the future of our office, so connecting and discussing our challenges/issues was definitely a positive.
We have to recognize as SA professionals that we all come from a variety of backgrounds and student affairs experiences. It’s always good to open up conversations about what the new staff members are uncomfortable with in regards to the job, whether that is on-call situations or having difficult conversations. When we start these conversations, we can help to reiterate to them that we have their backs as a staff. We also have the opportunity to brainstorm some ways that we can help make them feel more prepared and supported in these situations (like on-call shadowing or mock conversation practice).
I challenge you all to reflect on how your will support your new coworkers. Yes, we’re not always going to be best friends and we’re going to have our moments, but it’s important to be a unified front right from the beginning. It also makes overcoming future challenges together a bit easier.