Category Archives: Higher Education

#SAGrad Wrap Up: Lessons Learned & Life Moving Forward

“She believed she could, so she did.”~Anonymous

I am still processing the fact that I am finished with my graduate school journey. My classes are done and I have the degree. I am officially Angela M. Delfine, M.A.. What an incredible adventure the last 2 years have been, from crying over assignments to being so exhausted that I went to bed at 7:30PM to somehow managing to wedding plan in the midst of it all. This journey has made me stronger. I am more confident in my abilities. I feel capable and worthy of this degree. And for the first time, I feel motivated to continue this journey to pursue my doctoral work in the near future.

Going forward, I realize that I’ve learned a thing or two from my time as an SA Grad. Here are a few of my key lessons learned:

Celebrate the small wins. Life is too short to stress out about doing everything perfectly.  If you got a solid ‘B’ on that really difficult paper celebrate it. If you went to bed early for once celebrate it. Sometimes it’s the small things that add up to success.

Take time to get to know your cohort/colleagues in some capacity. One of my personal goals was to have some sort of positive relationship with everyone in my cohort. I knew that it wasn’t possible to be best friends with everyone, but I knew that I didn’t have the time or energy to have a bad relationship with anyone in the program. It is essential not to burn bridges with colleagues. Yes, there were moments of frustration with some individuals but at the end of the day, I genuinely feel that I have a solid professional network out there from those that I’ve met in my program.

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Make time for fun. Yes, academic work is the reason why I was in the program, but building relationships, making time for friends and family, and having fun is essential to living a fulfilling life. Make time for fun. You don’t have to do homework every single day to do well in graduate school, I promise.

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Don’t beat yourself up. It’s so easy to be hard on yourself for not living up to academic expectations or not scoring a job interview. Know that you’re awesome and everyone has rough days. Don’t beat yourself up over the losses. Pick yourself up and try again tomorrow.

Make time to reflect on your mistakes. Know that everyone makes personal and professional mistakes. That’s how we grow. Make time to reflect on mistakes, both big and small either on your own, with a colleague that you can trust, or a mentor. Reflection is the key to growth, especially in this field.

Take advantage of experiences without saying yes to everything. This is a tough one. It’s so important to step up and take advantage of experiences during your SA Grad career while also knowing when you need to step back and say no. A balance between the two is necessary. Also, take advantage of things that you know that you’ll enjoy. It makes things a bit easier.

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Chaperoning is a super easy & fun way to get some professional experience in the field! This is me with some of the UPJ College Democrats during a trip to Philadelphia.

Make time for self-care. Yes, my usual go-to. The greatest thing to remember is that self-care isn’t always bubble baths and spa days (although those are both great). Self-care is drinking water every day or going to bed at a decent time. It’s having a healthy meal instead of grabbing take-out again. Self-care is self-preservation, especially in grad school. It’s so easy to lose yourself at this time, so make sure that you always recenter yourself and focus on your wellbeing.

The girl writing this today is not the same one who started her student affairs journey at Saint Mary’s College 5 years ago. That girl had no confidence in her voice or in her professional abilities. She had no clue who she was or what her place was in this world. After a life-changing three years in Notre Dame, IN and 2 years in the IUP SAHE program, it’s safe to say that I am prepared for this world. I understand my calling to this profession and I’m motivated to do good things for the field of student affairs. I am an educator, a friend, a colleague, a resource, and a scholar. I am a strong female leader. I am confident. And for the first time, I feel prepared for the success that I deserve.

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Picking Myself Back Up #SAGrad #SAJobSearch

I’m writing this blog post for those who, like me, are also feeling a little beaten down today. Who aren’t on their “A” game. Who are struggling to stand up and say “I’m awesome and I’m going to get through this.” I like to practice what I preach, and even though I really try to find the good in everything I still need to be realistic. Sometimes life gets the best of me and drags me down.

Like many other SA Grads out there this job search feel endless and completely defeating at times. I’ve worked so hard, yet the uncertainty of my future is still lingering. Where will I be two months from now after graduation? Why aren’t half of these jobs calling me? What is wrong with me? Although I need to keep my head held high, I still have moments where I wonder whether or not I’m going to be jobless. The job search process in the field of student affairs is, to be blatantly honest, terrible at times. Yes, I know that everyone says “trust the process,” but in reality, the best that we can do is keep reapplying for jobs and surviving.

Of course, moments like this come with everything stressful happening all at once. A million assignments. Personal family issues. Anxiety. Complete exhaustion. When it rains, it pours. Always. And even though it’s cliché, I still have to keep reminding myself that it can only go up from here in these moments. Because it can. And it will.

So if you’re also on this SA job search journey like me, know that there are others out here struggling. My last blog post was about maintaining positivity throughout my journey,  and I’m going to commit to just that. I am deserving of the opportunities I have been provided. I will end up somewhere where I am meant to grow. I am strong, confident, and competent. I will not let rough weeks when life, family, and everything else goes wrong destroy me. I can do this. We can do this. You’re strong, confident, and competent, too. Now let’s show them what we’re made of.

My Positive #SAJob Search

I’m sure that many of you 2019 Student Affairs grads can agree that the tedious, exhausting job search process is not necessarily one that we are looking forward to. Yes, we’re excited to graduate and move into the “adult” world, but I know that I personally would rather have the option of just automatically having a job handed to me instead of doing all-day interviews. The student affairs job interview process is extremely mentally taxing and exhausting, especially to all my fellow introverts, which is why I decided to step back and reflect on how I plan on surviving the search over the next few months. As some of you know, I worked professionally for 4 years before returning to grad school. I’m no expert (and I’m just as anxious as everyone else about getting a job), but I did learn a thing or two the first time I searched for a student affairs job. Hopefully these “words of wisdom,” hacks, or whatever you want to call them will help to bring some peace and organization to your job search process as well.

Everyone’s job search process won’t be the same. Try not to compare yourself to others.

The first thing to keep in mind is that we are going through this process together, but none of our processes will be the same. This is why I hate the phrase “trust the process.” By saying the process, there is an implication that all of our job search processes are the same. Based on our functional areas of interest, skill sets, locations of interest, etc. our job processes will all be very different. I know that I’m personally conducting a location-bound search, so I won’t necessarily have as many options as my peers who are comfortable moving all over the country. We will all end up where we are meant to be at the end of our individual processes.

Try not to compare your skillset to your peers as well.

This is especially important to keep in mind if you are applying to the same jobs as your peers. Know that we all carry different skillsets and have different personality types that may be a better fit with certain institutions over others. Try not to be discouraged when you don’t receive an interview with an institution, but a friend in your cohort does. You just may have a skillset that aligns better with another role or institution.

Support your cohort members and build each other up.

Yes, this is a competitive job search process, but we need to accept and to celebrate the achievements of our peers and cohort members. There is no reason to disregard the relationships we gained over the past few years in order to be combative during this competitive process. This process is also very mentally draining (and disappointing at times), so we need to move forward into the next few months with kindness, support, and encouragement.

Take Care of Yourself.

Again, this is a mentally draining process for many, if not all of us. It’s ok to take breaks from sifting through job search sites and postings (even though I’m currently struggling to stop doing this). Make time for you. Schedule specific times to job search and complete applications instead of allowing it to dictate your entire life.

 

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Celebrate your small wins.

Remember to keep your confidence during this process and to celebrate the small wins. Even something as simple as getting your first phone interview is exciting! You have a lot to bring to the table, so try not to bring yourself down when you don’t find a job right away. The first time I completed my process, I only had my bachelor’s degree. I had maybe 20 phone interviews and 8 on-campus interviews before I scored my first job. It’s easy to become discouraged (and completely okay at times). The important thing is to bounce back and express gratitude for the good things happening during this process.

Stay Organized.

Keep a spreadsheet of every institution that you apply to and every institution that you are highly interested in. It would be extremely disappointing to complete an application and then to finally realize that you already submitted one to that institution. Something else to keep in mind is that some institutions do not post to hiring platforms like higheredjobs because of the costs, so it’s a good idea to check HR websites of institutions of interest as well.

Remember that institutional fit is just as important to you as it is to the hiring committee.

Always keep in mind that you are also interviewing the institution when you have an on-campus interview. You want to make sure that the institutional fit is a good one for you as well. Don’t settle if an institution gives off “bad” vibes or something doesn’t feel right. It’s also important to make sure that the mission of the institution aligns with your values for the most part or if there are some policies that you do not agree with, that you can still work with them and maintain your personal values. Also, ask about the basic requirements of the job. Not every “Resident Director” position, for example, is the same. You want to make sure that you are aware of all of your requirements before going into the position.

Be as genuine as possible during interviews.

It is just as important to be as “real” as possible during interviews as it is to be on our professional “A game.” You can still let your personality shine through while maintaining professionalism. During my first job search I would make a joke about not judging my professionalism based on my dining habits when I would share a meal with interviewers. For the most part, the individuals would laugh. When I interviewed with the institution that ended up hiring me, a colleague (who later became a good friend) accidentally spilled water on her shirt during the meal. We all laughed, and I knew at that moment that the institution was a good fit for me. When you’re genuine with colleagues during an interview, it shows.

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Me right before attending my first job placement conference at MAPC!
The reality is that many professionals in our field don’t find their dream job right away. The important thing is to keep searching. Hold your head up. Try to continue to build your skillset wherever you end up so that you can continue to that next professional step in the near future. Every day we can do something to better ourselves both professionally and personally. To my fellow class of 2019 grads and others who are job searching right now: I’m rooting for you. I hope that you all get your “dream jobs” (or something close enough) where you’ll continue to grow and bring a lot of amazing skills to the table. We’re going to get through this. Keep your head held high every step of the way and to remember that you’re not alone in this.

Finding Time to Balance it All

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I haven’t written much in a really, really long time. That is because I’ve been struggling to swim in the midst of the chaos that is my life this semester. On top of 2 classes, an assistantship as an Area Coordinator, and a practicum experience, I am also making an attempt to get my health in check (with a new diet plan), mentally preparing to begin the job search, working really hard to get my 7-9 hours of sleep, and somehow managing to make time for me. Oh, and did I mention that I got engaged?? (Which is SOOOO exciting, but also…wedding planning! Fun stuff, but again, more on my plate). Despite the chaos I’m somehow managing to breathe. Over the past 3 weeks I’ve committed to finding time to live a full, positive, successful life in the midst of the busyness. I’ve also tried (and sometimes failed) to look past the “culture of busy” in order to make meaning of all the things I have going on. So yes, I’ve had so many days this semester where I fell apart, but by changing my mindset, I feel more full overall. This is how I’m working to balance my chaos:

Do NOT compromise your health & well-being for ANYTHING. 

The first thing that I have not done in a while is compromise my health and well-being. The Angela from last year would have worked to solve her stress with a very unhealthy (yet oh, so satisfying) meal out. Stress eating is my weakness when it comes to having a lot going on. Over the past few months I started Weight Watchers in order to hold myself accountable and to live a healthier lifestyle. I can honestly say that I’m building healthier habits and feeling a million times better in the process. Instead of binge eating or taking a nap at 7pm, I take a brisk walk instead. I also make time to cook a healthy meal almost every evening. I make time to do things that are good for my body instead of reverting back to the bad habits of my college days. I’ve also significantly cut down on drinking alcohol, which has definitely helped me with feeling more alive and healthy. No matter what, do an evaluation of your health and wellness “bad habits.” Think about what you need to break in order to be your best self. And no matter what, don’t make excuses. NOW is the time to make a positive change for yourself.

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This is me a few weeks ago when I was struggling with some depression. I fought to force myself to attend Zumba & felt AMAZING. Don’t compromise your health & well-being!

Get things done EARLY.

This one is easier said than done. I always make strides to get my work done early when I can. In grad school, the homework readings pile up significantly quicker than in undergrad. Every week I make a huge list of all my homework tasks for the following week and I work to start them at least a few days in advance. Yes, there have been weeks where I’ve only been able to do the work the night before, but for the most part, I am preparing in advance which helps me to feel more knowledgable of the content and less anxious.

NEVER compromise time with your loved ones.

My fiancé helps me to hold my shit together. No matter what, I make sure that I make time for him as much as I can. It’s easy to push away those that we love when we are busy and struggling to make time for enjoyment. Every time I spend a weekend with him, I try to get my work done in advance so that I don’t have to focus on the stress that comes with thinking about my to-do list for the next week. He is also my person so spending time with him is also good for my mental health as well. No matter what, don’t forget about your person in grad school (or during life in general). They’ll make sure you stay sane throughout it all.

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This is my person. He’s pretty cool. Don’t forget about your person, ok? 

Maximize your time.

My latest goal is to maximize my time to feel recharged and productive. I’ve been trying to be more attentive to my productive times while listening to my body when I need times of rest. I make sure that I can go to bed early when I don’t have events and that I wake up about 2 hours before work so that I can get things done in the morning. In addition, I tell myself that no matter how exhausted I feel, I will be a million times better with a good walk or workout. Figure out what your body needs and make time for it. You’ll feel more recharged and productive later. You’ll also feel better mentally!

Don’t stress over the little things & live in the moment.

The greatest thing I remind myself of is that it’s a waste of energy to stress over the little things. I do so much better when I take a breather to recharge and then work to complete whatever stressful/anxiety-inducing task is in front of me. I’m also working to live in the moment. Sometimes it’s more fulfilling to take a beautiful sunset walk than to get my homework done right that second. Or instead of getting annoyed that there are students laughing in my office I should put my work aside and join in their laughter. After all, that’s why I’m in this field in the first place. Make time to enjoy things. Don’t stress over the small stuff. Remember to live.

Overall, you CAN balance it all. The journey isn’t an easy one, but it’s worth it in the end. I’m sick of living a lifestyle where I’m completely exhausted all the time. Life is entirely too short to focus on those things that bring you anxiety. Sometimes you need to check yourself and your behavior in order to move forward in the right direction. Now go & focus on what you need to do to get your life in order. I believe in you!

A Year of Positive Living: My #SAGrad Journey

Originally posted by my friends at Involvio @ blog.involvio.com. 

The journey of a Student Affairs graduate student is not an easy one (as I’m sure many of you know). Many SA grads like myself have to balance an assistantship, classes, internships, volunteering, family, friends, self-care, and a million other things. Last year I quickly learned that a combination of many stressors can bring a person down.

This is why my goal for the second year of SA grad is to be more positive and to make more time for myself.

Although I am typically a very self-aware person, I often forget how challenging life becomes when I do not make enough introvert time for myself. My first lesson learned is that I need to create concrete, scheduled, non-negotiable introvert time for myself during the week. Another really crucial thing for me to realize is that I should not listen to people who tell me that I am not an introvert because I am “too outgoing” and that I am “not quiet at all.” Introversion and extroversion are the ways that we recharge when we are at our busiest. So yes, I am very outgoing and bubbly but I am still in need of my time to recharge and refocus in the ways that work best for me.

In addition to taking care of my needs as an introvert, I also learned that venting is a very unhealthy coping mechanism for me. If you know me, you would say that I am not typically a negative person. The unfortunate reality is that I allowed myself to fall into a very detrimental, dark mindset where I struggled to find positivity in the world. I struggled with managing my negative emotions and did not process through those emotions in an appropriate way. I am now getting into the habit of stepping back and reframing my mindset before I speak poorly of a situation or individual. Yes, the world is not perfect and bad things happen, but this is not a reason to continuously speak out of negativity. It is a challenge, but I know in my heart that this is the right thing to do. Although venting is a healthy coping mechanism for others, it certainly is not the best one for me.

Finally, I learned that I need to celebrate each moment and to appreciate this experience. Again, life is not perfect and graduate school is extremely stressful at times. I need to step back in order to be thankful for this journey. I also need to live in the moment because the experience goes by quickly.

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In conclusion, I want to leave you with some things that help me with living a more positive #SAGrad life! I hope that you will make it your goal to do the same.
• Write in a gratitude journal daily. I write 3 things that I am grateful for in the morning and at night, and then write 3 goals for myself each day. Instead of writing job or school-related goals, I write simple things like “laugh a lot” or “make self-care time.” I find it easier to accomplish these simple, yet fulfilling goals.

• Take care of your mental health in the ways that work best for you. I feel a drastic difference in my mental health when I take the time to go to workout classes and eat healthy. I absolutely love yoga and Zumba because they are a fun way to get in a workout. Some other strategies that are helpful to me are attending regular counseling sessions, getting enough sleep at night, and taking my medication. The more we talk about our mental health needs, the less stigmatized it becomes. It is important to find out what works for you!

• Make time for the people that mean most to you. I am a very family-oriented person, so I spend the majority of my time with my fiancé, my family, or my fiancé’s family. This means that my friends sometimes fall by the wayside, which is not okay. My new goal is to make time for my friends, especially the long-distance ones, and to give them a call at least once a week. I also plan to schedule time for my friends in the area at least once a month. Grad school is tough and many of us abandon our friends for a period of time because of our insane schedules. By scheduling out my time, my hope is that I can continue to stay connected to the people who mean the most.

A Life Worth Living: Lessons Learned Through my Journey Toward Accepting & Loving Myself

It took me a very long time to recognize that I deserve the beautiful life that I have. Often times we find that our struggles define us and for some people, it’s nearly impossible to get past the bad times in our lives. I’ve been taking a lot of time to reflect on my journey. I’ve reflected on how far I’ve come as a person despite my past relationships, traumatic situations, and at times, having the cards stacked completely against me. No life is perfect. It may seem that some people have it all together but what we need to realize is that we all have a journey and all of our life journeys are sloppy at times. Here are just a few of the life lessons that I’ve learned from my beautiful, yet sloppy life.

I Deserve to Be Where I am Today (& so do You)

I worked a very long time to get where I am in my career. Although I’m only halfway through graduate school, I’ve had quite a journey so far in regard to employment and my career life path. Throughout my whole life, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. In the fall of 2013 I quickly realized that this wasn’t my life path (right when I was in the middle of my student teaching experience). I truly believe that I had a mental breakdown at that time. I knew that I wasn’t happy. I came back to my room and had panic attacks every single day. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t on the right path. And so I decided to quit student teaching to focus on my mental health. I worked at a Barnes & Noble for almost a year (which I loved, by the way) and focused on taking on side projects in student affairs (which is what I really love). I’ve had at least 10 random part-time jobs and work study positions over the years. I made it through undergraduate school despite the challenges of being a first-generation student. And now I’m here, working through grad school and doing work in Residence Life. I hope to continue to be successful after graduation. I deserve it.

No One Can Define You But Yourself

People are mean sometimes. Yes, I believe that people are mostly good but in reality, people tend to be mean when they are not happy in their own lives. I suffered through years of bullying as a child. I was called names because of my weight on a daily basis. Fast forward into high school and college. I was in an abusive relationship and other relationships with abusive tendencies. I learned to hate my body and everything about myself. I was never pretty enough or smart enough or thin enough or outgoing enough. It took me roughly 24 years to love myself and the life I’ve worked for. My time working at Saint Mary’s College was the turning point for my self-confidence when it came to my body image and my career. I took an intentional two year break from dating. I focused on “dating” myself and reflecting on the things that I love to do. I also reflected on and refined the skills that I am good at. I truly learned that I deserve to be where I am: happy and successful. I am the only one who can define my life. By learning to love my body and myself I took away that power from those who would try to hurt me with their words and actions.

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Me & my last RA staff from Saint Mary’s College. I grew so much as a person from my experience there.

Laugh so You Don’t Cry

Life is stressful. There will always be stressful days and things that go wrong. I learned that I need to laugh things off instead of constantly crying over them and letting them destroy me. It is so easy to let negativity consume our thoughts. When something goes wrong at work, I try to step away and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. When I think about something particularly sad, such as the death of a loved one, I try to reframe and think about a joyful memory with that person. Laughter is truly the best medicine. When we try to find the good in our unfortunate circumstances, we have the power to reclaim happiness instead of letting negative emotions to destroy us. 

Happiness is Something that You Create

I know a staggering number of people who say that they would be happy if they had more money or a new car. I’ve learned that waiting for happiness to come to us is not how we should live our lives. Happiness is something that we personally define and create. Yes, having money or other things may ease some difficulty in our lives but that is not truly the answer to a happy life. We need to take steps to create our happiness. Go out for coffee on a Saturday. Make a phone call to the people you love. Do whatever you can to create happiness for yourself. Your life will be so much more fulfilling. 

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In March of 2015 I decided to go on a trip to visit a friend in San Francisco. It was one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken.

Capture Life in Moments, not Things

At the end of the day, you’re going to find the most joy from the moments that captivate you than from the newest electronics. Yes, buying new things is nice (and often necessary), but when you have the option between going on an adventure and buying something for yourself, I suggest that you go for the adventure. Life is all about the little quirky moments that make you happy, not about the new expensive things that you want to buy. For example, this year for our anniversary, my boyfriend and I decided to take a trip to Washington D.C. instead of buying gifts. We had an amazing time, laughed a lot, and had the opportunity to spend a super fun weekend together. We have no regrets about this decision and plan on trying to do it every year if we can!

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My boyfriend, Dave, & myself. We had an amazing time in Washington D.C. for our anniversary. Spend time with those you love. You won’t regret it!

It’s okay to have a Career that you Love without Allowing it to Take Over your Personal Life

In America, we have this tainted perception that in order to have a career that we are passionate about, we must give up a lot of other things, like a family, relationships, self-care, etc. It is important to know that you do NOT need to pick or choose which of these things you want. Life is all about balance. I am currently a full-time graduate student pursuing a career that I absolutely love and feel called to. I also spend every weekend I can with my significant other, his family, and my own family. I map out the workout classes that I want to attend every week. I also make sure that I go grocery shopping for healthy food so that I’m not eating like crap. If you plan out things accordingly, you can have it all. Yes, having a career while balancing a life is extremely stressful, but you need to know that it will all work out if you make the time to invest appropriately with all aspects of your life. Yes, I love my job, but my family and my significant other come first. I want to be successful in my career and to help others as well. It is okay to want both of these things.

Make Self-Care a Priority

I say this all the time, but one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to make self-care a priority. Self-care doesn’t have to be extravagant trips to the spa or vacations to Hawaii (although those sound amazing). Self-care is simply the daily, weekly, monthly or yearly things that you do in order to maintain your balance, to refocus on your happiness, and to take care of your body and mind. My self-care practices involve getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep every night, taking coffee breaks when my anxiety is high (I know this doesn’t make sense, but grabbing a cup of coffee really helps me to recenter myself despite the caffeine), talking to my loving partner every day about the good things and the bad, grocery shopping instead of doing takeout, and going to yoga and Zumba classes as much as possible (which is about 2-4 times per week when I can). Self-care is saying no to things that you cannot add to your “plate.” It’s about advocating for yourself in the workplace and knowing that it is okay to speak up about your feelings. Taking care of myself is not selfish. You need to know that this is a part of life. If you don’t take care of yourself and practice self-love, you will not be able to love and take care of others. 

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A good cup of coffee, time in the sunshine, & blogging are all good self-care practices!

My Mental Illness Does Not Define Me (& neither does Yours)

Mental Illness is often difficult to talk about because many people are still extremely judgmental about the validity of mental health needs. Although we are doing much better as a society at reducing the stigma, there are still many people out there who choose not to understand what we go through. I’ve learned that even though my Depression and Anxiety are a huge part of my life, they do not define me. I am not my mental illness. It has taken me years of hiding my mental illness and refusing to accept it for what it was. I went of medication when I thought that I was “better” (which I wasn’t). I still have days where I want to hide in my room because facing the world seems too difficult. I sometimes have panic attacks when I have a million things going on and my brain does not know how to cope. I’ve grown so much in self-awareness when it comes to my mental health. Your mental health journey will look very different from the journey of others. Just know that your needs are valid. Learn to embrace and understand your mental illness in order to practice the self-care that you need. Also know that what works for one person may not work for another.

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It has taken me a very long time to finally believe that I am deserving of love & happiness. My mental health does not define me. It just makes me stronger.

Life is not easy. It wasn’t meant to be easy. Life is sloppy at times. We have absolutely amazing days where we wake up and feel like we can handle whatever comes our way. Other days we can barely make it out of bed. I deserve laughter and love, a career that I am passionate about, health and happiness, family, a partner that I couldn’t live without, and an extraordinary life worth living. You deserve this too. Get out there with your head held high. Pick up your feet. Yes, some days are really tough but I need you to know that when you get to a point of true joy in your life that the journey will be worth it. 

#SAGrad First Year Wrap-Up: Lessons Learned & Goals Going Forward

I am happy to say that I’ve officially finished my first year of my student affairs masters program! Although it’s been a difficult transition at times, I’m happy to say that I’ve grown as a person, learned a lot about myself, & know what I need to do going forward into my second year.

The first thing I learned about myself is that I need to accept what I cannot change and to embrace the challenges that I am given.

Grad school is not meant to be an easy journey. Sometimes you’ll have 200+ pages of reading while you’re on-call for a big party weekend. Sometimes you’ll plan an event and no one will show up. There were times that I struggled deeply to accept my challenges for what they were. I complained a lot and ended up falling into a deeply negative mindset at times. I recognize that going forward, I truly need to reframe my mindset in order to accept my challenges and to understand how that challenge will help me to grow as a person and a professional. I also can’t fixate on the bad things that are happening. There is always something to be grateful for in the midst of the bad. I need to remember this.

I also learned that it is important to focus on self-care, even when I have a busy week with class, my assistantship, and life.

I have a tendency to say “yes” to helping everyone, eat terribly when I don’t have time to cook a healthy meal, make time for other people instead of taking introvert time for myself, etc. There were multiple times during the semester that I would let all of my stress pile up until I had a minor meltdown. Going forward, I truly need to work on establishing a balance, planning accordingly, and refusing to negotiate my self-care practices. Practicing self-care isn’t always the easiest when we have a million things going on, which is why it’s important to make it a priority at all times.

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Professionally, I learned a lot of lessons from my assistantship.

It was difficult at times for me to go from a private institution to public branch campus. At my private campus, I had control over a lot of processes and had more autonomy to create programs/events/processes for my residents. I have learned an important lesson about respecting and valuing the political structure and established processes of an institution. It took a long time for me to recognize the importance of this lesson, and I know now going forward that I need to take a step back in order to understand the institutional structure and processes while also working to understand the policies and procedures that may not make sense to me right away. I also learned that I need to reflect on institutional style when I apply for a job. Overall, I have gained a lot from working at a completely different type of campus, and for that I am truly grateful.

I learned to focus on being grateful for my students and what they teach me every day.

After all, working with students is why I am in this field! My students have challenged me, made me laugh hysterically, made me feel valued, and helped me to grow as a person more than I could have ever imagined this year. I am so grateful for them and the amazing work they do. It is also rewarding to recognize the impact that I’ve made on their lives as well.

Personally, I also reaffirmed the importance of maintaining a personal life outside of grad school.

As an older SA Grad I knew that I wanted to make sufficient time for my partner and my family. I am thankful that I successfully spent time with them almost every weekend, as well as some of my cohort friends. It helps to have a boyfriend who sits with me for hours at Starbucks when I write papers and understands when I need to take some time to finish my readings in the evenings. After spending 3 years living in another state, I am extremely grateful to have been able to spend more time with the important people in my life and to strengthen our relationships over the past year. Make time for those you love. You’ll regret it in the end if you forget about them during your graduate journey.

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My SAHE Cohort friends & I went to see RENT in Pittsburgh this semester!

Things for Future SA Grads to keep in mind: 

Based on my experience, I thought it would be good to pull together a list for those of you who are going into SA Grad year 1 next year to keep in mind. Essentially these are the lessons I learned from this year and I hope that they are helpful for you to know before you start your journey.

  1. Accept your challenges for what they are and take time to reflect on how they are going to help you to grow. Your experience isn’t going to be an easy one. Focus on why the challenging things are happening and what will come from them.
  2. Focus on your self-care practices. Don’t let them fall by the wayside. We slip up at times and forget about ourselves, but ultimately, we should make time to re-center ourselves to focus back on what we need to succeed.
  3. Understand the structure of where you are working. How do you fit in as a grad? What are the policies and procedures that you need to understand and to accept? Know these things and respect them. It is okay to question things respectfully, just don’t let the things that you don’t understand or those that you cannot change to hinder your experience.
  4. Start reflecting on what you want from your future institution when you are in the job search. That’s the point of this experience. You are here to not only fortify your skills, but to know what you need (and don’t need) from a future employer.
  5. Make time for a life outside of graduate school! And know that you’re not selfish for not making grad your everything. Yes, it is important, but you need to be human outside of it.
  6. Know who your support system is and embrace them. Make time for them and allow them to take care of you when you need them.
  7. Find healthy outlets to process your frustrations. I had a tendency to verbally (and negatively) vent this year, which was actually detrimental to my positivity. Although venting works for many people, I have a healthier outlook on life when I take time to actually reflect on and to process my frustrations. Blogging, journaling, and having constructive conversations with your support humans definitely help!
  8. Know that your journey isn’t going to be like everyone else’s and that’s ok. Sometimes we have more difficult weeks than others. Sometimes those around us are going through more than we know. Focus on your journey and don’t compare it to others.
  9. It’s ok to have bad days, but don’t let it bring you down as a person. You don’t have to be happy 24/7 as a grad or to know what you’re doing at all times. The important thing is to move forward when you’re having a bad day. Don’t fixate on it.
  10. Have fun! The biggest thing is to enjoy the experience because it goes by quickly!

SA Grad is an incredible, yet difficult journey. You’ll fall at times. You’ll have many triumphs. You’ll meet a ton of incredible people. Know that your journey is what you make it. Whatever you do, make sure that you focus on what you want and need from this journey. And know that there are a ton of other student affairs professionals who are rooting for you along the way!

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Thankful to have learned so much from this incredible group of SAHE Faculty this year!

Recap of my First NASPA Conference #SAGrad

Last week I had the opportunity to attend my first NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) conference in Philadelphia, PA. Although I have been to other student affairs conferences, the NASPA annual conference was a whole new experience (in the best way possible).

During the conference, I had the opportunity to connect with other professionals, to attend a number of sessions in areas of interest, and to take time for self care with some friends in the city. Attending a NASPA annual conference as a student affairs graduate student is a bit scary at first, but inevitably I learned a few things that I wanted to reflect on.

Step outside of your comfort zone. Networking and connecting to other professionals is terrifying if you have never experienced it before. During my first small NASPA Regional conference in St. Louis, MO a few years ago, I challenged myself to talk to random people at the conference. I learned that a lot of others at the conference are sometimes just as scared to step forward and make connections. Sharing your mutual awkward feelings sometimes breaks the ice as well!

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Me in LOVE Park. It’s safe to say that I LOVED my first NASPA Annual Conference experience!

It’s okay not to do everything. As young professionals, we sometimes feel the need to take on everything possible at a conference. I have learned that it is completely okay to take time for self-care, sharing meals with friends, etc. at conferences instead of pushing myself to go to every possible session I can. Conferences are a time for us professionals to rest as well as to learn new things, so we always need to keep that in mind.

Go to sessions and speakers that will inspire you. During this conference, I had the opportunity to hear Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak and to attend a panel on Women AVPS and Deans. I was deeply inspired by both sessions and have a lot of words of wisdom to carry into my next few years. You don’t have to push yourself to go to sessions that will always teach you new things. Sometimes the best ones are those that reaffirm your passions and areas of interest.

Don’t be afraid to step away from your friend group. It is definitely easier to stay with close friends if you are attending a conference together. Although it is great to spend time with them, I encourage you not to build your schedule around one another. Our interests lie in different areas sometimes and we all need to do our own thing in order to get the most out of the experience. Plus if you are attending different sessions you will have different things to teach one another after the conference!

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IUP SAHE Grads supporting our Department Chair, Dr. John Lowery, at the conference. We were really excited to go on stage for this picture!

Be yourself! It is important to be as genuine as possible when connecting with professionals and other grads in our field. I learned that when I allowed my quirky sense of humor to show through I ended up being more comfortable with the individuals I was connecting with. I was able to give people a few laughs while also discussing important experiences and talking about where we are from. It is possible to be your authentic self and to show professionalism at the same time.

Overall, this was an incredible experience that I will never forget! Thanks to the generosity of a professional development scholarship (and reduced grad rates) I was able to afford and take advantage of this experience. I look forward to hopefully attending another NASPA conference in the future and I challenge you to find the opportunity to do the same!

 

What I learned from (fully) “Showing Up”

As many other Residence Life staff members know, 9pm staff meetings and programs are a normal in our functional area. Despite the fact that this is common, I still struggle with staying awake past my bedtime (I like to be home by 10 TBH) and finding the motivation to socialize later in the evening. This was the case last Thursday for our first year buildings area meeting. I was already dragging because I had just had another staff meeting at 7pm right before. I was also exhausted because I was getting used to my 6am wake-up time for the first week of classes. Needless to say, I was dreading the thought of going to another meeting.

Despite the fact that I was dragging, my colleague friend and I decided to put together a scavenger hunt for each of the 5 first-year Residence Halls staff so they could bond with new staff members. We added a number of funny items that the students would enjoy, such as taking a photo with the mountain cat mascot statue on campus, writing a poem to their AC (since there are 3 of us that oversee first year halls), and finding something Harry Potter related.

By the time the meeting came, I told myself that I had to put on a smile and fully show-up, both physically and mentally. By forcing myself to stay positive despite my exhaustion, the meeting ended up being one of the most entertaining and engaging experiences I’ve had with my students this year. The RAs were excited about the activity and had a great time taking the photos for the challenge. We all laughed until we were crying, which is more than I’ve laughed in a long time.

The biggest lesson I learned is to go into all my meetings and events with students with as much energy and charisma as I would if it were 11am instead of 9pm. That energy ends up being contagious and the students participate if you are excited about the event. It is so easy to pull into negative thoughts during times of exhaustion, especially in our field. On days when I’m struggling with a student or something that happened on campus, my supervisor reminds me to think about the small victories. Even though they are fewer than the challenges, those moments remind me of why I love what I do. We should all be celebrating our small victories. That’s what keeps our passion for SA fully alive.

 

 

2018 Goals: A Year of Reclaiming my Time & Refocusing on Myself

“You can’t be hesitant about who you are”~Viola Davis

January is a perfect time to start over, refresh, and refocus on all the goals that you failed to complete the year before. If you know me, you know that I’m obsessed with making goals and lists. I also love the opportunity to start over with a clean slate. I love finding inspiration in new beginnings. So of course, I wanted to take a few minutes to set my resolutions as always, except with a new perspective on things:

Eat healthy and exercise for the sake of feeling goodInstead of setting weight loss goals for myself (i.e. I’m going to lose X number of pounds by this day so that I can be skinny), I’ve decided to reframe my mindset. Instead of focusing on the number of pounds I want to lose, I plan on focusing on eating healthier for the sake of my body, how gross I feel when I don’t eat healthy, and my mental health. I also want to exercise because I feel strong and have more energy instead of focusing on exercise to be better than others or because I hate my body. I love my body and who I am. I need to reframe my mindset to focus on that.

Find peace in the midst of chaos. I’ve learned that being a grad and having an assistantship are a lot sometimes in the midst of a busy social and family life. I have a tendency to keep pushing myself to work harder or to push through the chaos with the intention of resting when the stressful moments are over. The tough part about this is that this theory really doesn’t work. When one challenging assignment is over I need to start focusing on the next one. When a super busy week of on-call is over it is only a matter of weeks before I have to do it all over again. When I fall into a continuous cycle of stress and chaos, I allow everything to build up and eventually either have some form of a mild breakdown or feed into the negativity that my brain is focusing on at the moment. My goal is to make peace for myself, whether it is stepping away to take a walk or giving myself time to turn off my phone everyday. I also need to work toward forgiveness and understanding the perspectives of others before jumping to conclusions. We ALL deserve peace in our lives, regardless of all the things we have on our plates. 

Don’t fall into a negative mindset, no matter how stressed you are. It is easy for many of us to fall into a negative mindset when things go wrong or we have a lot on our plates. I have a tendency to vent a lot when I’m frustrated. Instead of venting and word vomiting negativity, I am going to focus on stepping away when I’m feeling negative and trying to either do something I enjoy or reflect on the good things in my life. Yes, things are really terrible sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that everything in my life is really, really bad. It’s crucial that I step away so that I can refocus on the good. Staying positive is the key to staying happy, energized, and living my life to the fullest. 

Don’t let grades and school consume my life. This one is definitely challenging as a student affairs grad student. We always focus on comparing our grades, exams, and projects to the other students in our cohorts. Although it’s crucial to have the support of friends and to discuss how projects went, I want to refocus so that I’m not comparing my performance and intelligence to others in the class. I’ve had so many imposter syndrome moments this semester because I’m too hard on myself. This year, I’m committing to doing my academic work to the best of my ability, growing through my personal experiences, and not beating myself up over grades. I need to be thankful for where I am in life and for this opportunity. It is also important to make sure that I am balancing my personal life and making my relationships my priority. School is important but at the end of the day, I need to also remember my support system and those who love me. I will commit to setting aside one day a week that I can spend with loved ones or take myself on an introvert date. I deserve it. School isn’t everything.

Stop saying sorry so much. I am so guilty of this and I know many of you are too.  Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project and The Four Tendencies, writes about four tendencies that all human beings fit into somehow. One of the tendencies, The Obliger, is the one that I fit into. Obligers hold themselves accountable to external motivation but fail to hold themselves accountable internally. This fits into my “people pleaser” mindset where I tend to focus on doing things for others and failing to say no. This is also why I say sorry so much. Even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I find myself apologizing for my actions. This year, I commit to taking a step back and only apologizing 1.) when I do something wrong and 2.) when I actually mean it. When I say sorry too much, I invalidate my feelings. My thoughts and feelings are valid. 

This year I am refocusing on unselfishly loving myself, my body, and my mind. I’ve realized that it’s easy to forget to appreciate the little things and to recenter myself. This year I am making sure that I’m a priority so that I can be a resource and support system for those around me. As I’m sure you know, I absolutely love writing about self care. When it comes to practicing it, I’ve really let it fall to the wayside this semester. This is just another reminder that it’s okay to reflect on what I need to do better, accept that I’m not perfect, and to move on from here. I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings! Here’s to a year of falling in deeper love with my life and the world around me. I challenge all of you to do the same.