“You’re not meant to do what is easy. You’re meant to challenge yourself.”
Sometimes being a #SAPro is difficult when your staff hits a “wall.” When I talk about a “wall,” I’m talking about crippling senioritis, doing the bare minimum, and struggling to push themselves harder. When I chose a staff of primarily seniors (which was unintentional FYI), I knew that Senioritis would be a consistent challenge. Yes, I have a staff of strong, empowered, confident, creative young women who love what they do, but let’s be serious, we’ve all been at that point during our senior year of Undergrad when we wanted to live it up, do the minimum, and just make it to graduation. Because of this, I have been consistently working to challenge my staff in new ways while coming up with a range of new activities that we can conquer together.
Here are a few that I came up with:
During 1:1’s last week, I challenged my staff to think of the following 2 prompts. Prompt A: what is one way that you can build community (in your section, staff, or building) that you do not normally do? Think of a simple task or gesture. Many of my RAs talked about placing post-it’s with positive messages on the bathroom mirrors or inviting a student to a meeting on-campus that she would not typically attend. Prompt B is a bit more challenging: think of one way that you can be a leader this week (staff, section, community). Think of something concrete. A few RAs mentioned taking initiative to plan a staff event or writing letters to each staff member and posting them during on-call rounds.
During my first staff meeting this year, we had a conversation about the significance of staff collaboration regarding programs and bulletin boards. A few of the boards and programs last semester were becoming a bit lazy, so my leadership team of Senior RAs and I challenged the RAs to take their programs and boards a step further. Needless to say, their bulletin boards for February are gorgeous! I can’t wait to see what programs they come up with in the future.
I asked my RAs what “real world skills” they hoped to gain before graduating. As a Hall Director, I feel like it is my role to help prepare my ladies for the real world in whatever way I can. My staff came up with a great list of things, including Taxes/Financial Planning and cooking. I’m looking forward to planning a few of these “workshops” together. I also think this would make great staff bonding time.
I now challenge you #SAPros to consider the same. Are your staff members struggling to reach their potential? Are they finding themselves in the “bare minimum” mindset? I would love to hear what many of you have done to help reengage and challenge your staff to grow (I also need some more ideas as the year goes on).
“I declare there is no enjoyment like reading!” – Jane Austen
Jane Austen knows what’s up. As we start to end another year, I thought it would be great to reflect on some of the awesome books I have read this year. All of these relate somehow to Student Affairs, and would make a great addition to a 2016 SA reading list!
Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing your Messy, Beautiful Life, by Glennon Doyle Melton
This hilarious and well-written non-fiction book provides great insight into why it’s important to embrace vulnerability and your past mistakes. Once we understand that no one is perfect, we come together as human beings. This was by far one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Thrive, by Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington is the queen of self-care. She blends a lot of excellent self-care statistics with inspiring stories and tidbits of advice. One of the greatest things I gained from this book is her insight into the importance of getting an adequate amount of sleep every night. Every SA Pro definitely needs to read this.
Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg’s non-fiction call to female equality in the workplace has gained plenty of attention this year. She provides a number of inspiring stories from highly successful businesswomen, and proves to us all that women can be highly successful while balancing our personal lives.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Although I typically read non-fiction, The Perks of Being a Wallflower has always been a favorite fiction novel of mine. I reread it for the first time since high school this year and fell in love with it again. This novel delves into suicidality, mental health, gender and sexuality discrimination, the “drinking culture,” and a number of other topics that we often witness as Student Affairs professionals. Also, you will probably cry at the end.
The FRED Factor, by Mark Sanborn
Sanborn’s non-fiction book tells the story of Fred, a local postal worker who goes over-and-above to bring exceptional customer service to the people of his neighborhood. This book, which was a required read for our HD staff this year, has definitely opened my eyes to the significance of going over-and-above to make someone’s day. I also have used excerpts in my staff meetings and my RAs absolutely love it! I challenged them all to be a “Fred” in someone’s life by doing random acts of kindness. They all had a positive learning experience and I plan to continue my “Fred Challenge” in the coming semester.
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
In The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin spends a year going through a number of the tips and tricks that authors, researchers, philosophers, and other individuals have claimed promote happiness. Each chapter is dedicated to a different topic, such as “building friendships” or “being a good parent.” What I love about this book is that Rubin was completely happy with her life, she just chose to try to make things better. I love the tips she provides, and can’t wait to try them in the New Year.
Letter to my Daughter, by Maya Angelou
This captivating novel provides stories, quotes, and words of wisdom that Maya Angelou would have given her daughter. This is an absolutely beautiful book, and I would say that it is one of the best books I have ever read. My favorite quote from the book is, “We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.” Amen to that.
“We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions; that we’ll screw up royally sometimes. Understanding that failure is not the opposite of success. It’s part of success.” Arianna Huffington
One of the most challenging parts of being human is accepting that we aren’t perfect. In a world that stresses the importance of self-confidence, it’s easy to find ourselves slipping into defensiveness, rather than simply accepting that we screw up at times. As human beings, it’s important for us to accept our failure in order to grow. Without accepting that we screw up we will never change for the better.
I recently understood the significance of accepting my mistakes when I was challenged with a work-related incident. Without going into details, I will admit that I made a mistake and was extremely frustrated and initially, defensive about the situation. After we determined that the situation was going to work out, my supervisor told me that we need to just accept the mistake for what it is, appreciate that it is fixable, apologize for the mistake, and then move on. I understand that if I wish to succeed, I need to take these words to heart and to learn from my errors. Self-reflection is also key and believe me, I’ve done quite a bit. I am so thankful that my situation turned out well, that everyone was satisfied with the outcome, and that I have the ability to learn from my mistake.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I am extremely grateful for what I’ve learned:
It’s okay to make mistakes. We are all human.
I have the ability to challenge myself in order to grow from the situation
The situation worked out
I have the opportunity and ability to apologize, accept the mistake for what it is, and move forward
Yes, we all need to be confident in our abilities and strengths. We need to be proud of who we are. However, we also need to accept that humility is the key to being a successful, happy, likeable human being. By accepting our imperfections, we become more relatable to those around us.
“Give thanks in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 18
As I move into another Thanksgiving week, I am taking time to look back on what I am most thankful for this year within my job. Although many people to not respect or even understand the nature of Student Affairs in Higher Education, I can honestly say that working in my field is truly a gift.
Here are some of the things I am most thankful for as a #SAPro:
1. The ability to learn from my students
The past year-and-a-half as a Hall Director has completely changed me as a person. I know that I constantly say that I have grown personally, professionally, and spiritually from my students every day, but I sincerely mean it. I have the incredible opportunity to work with two residence halls of outstanding young women at an all-female liberal arts institution. I have had the privilege of sharing empowering conversations about feminism, faith, the future, and a number of other topics. When I first came to Saint Mary’s, I was intimidated by the fact that I was the leader and that my students looked up to me. Today I can honestly say that I am confident in my abilities as a Residence Life professional and a young woman.
2. The ability to promote self-care
Although it is typical for Student Affairs professionals to experience burnout from extensive on-call hours, challenging student conversations, and other time-consuming tasks, I am thankful to work at an institution that values self-care. In today’s society, we are often commended on the number of all-nighters we pull or how many hours we work a week. I am glad that I have learned early that these things are irrelevant when we take care of ourselves and still manage to succeed in supporting our students.
3. Knowing that I have influenced a student’s life
Often we find ourselves struggling for some affirmation that we have positively impacted our students. Yes, assessment can statistically show us the impact of our actions as SA professionals, but sometimes having a concrete conversation or a thank you note from a student means so much more. At the beginning of the semester, I was in a position where I had to have a challenging conversation with a student about her overconsumption of alcohol. I was thrilled when I started to see her showing up to all of our programs. It means a lot when a student understands that she wants to be a part of the residence hall community; it also shows me that I have somehow made a positive impact on her life.
4. It’s not weird to hand out free candy or have coloring books in my office
I don’t think this needs an explanation. My job is awesome.
5. My RA staff
I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have an incredible group of RAs. Residence Life staff members are meant to support each other throughout struggles and triumphs. I know that my staff will always have my back when I need it the most and I will always have theirs.
6. The ability to be myself
Often times professionals struggle to incorporate their creativity and personality into their work. I love that I work in a field that promotes vulnerability in daily life. I can decorate my office with my crazy student drawings and collection of door tags. I can have life chats with my students about my personal college experiences. Student Affairs is such a real profession, and I am thankful for that every day.
7. The environment and opportunity to grow
I am thankful to work in a field that promotes self-growth and reflection. I have so many opportunities provided to me, and often find myself being challenged by my supervisor and coworkers to take that extra step or to learn from that additional project. In order to grow, it is important to accept those areas that may not be the strongest. At the beginning of the year, I disclosed to my coworker and friend that I was still nervous about handling certain mental health situations. Either before or after every situation that I handled, she would sit down and walk through the process with me (without using student names). At this point, I am confident in my abilities to handle mental health situations thanks to her. A good coworker will help you to overcome your challenges and will help you to get to that next step.
I have so much to be thankful for this year. I know that I will continue to grow throughout my #SAPro journey thanks to the wonderful opportunities that I have been provided. I challenge all of you to reflect on why you love your profession as well.
“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived”- Eleanor Roosevelt
I like to think that I’m living a happy life at this point. I am content with where I am, who I am, and what I am doing with my life. Despite my current state of contentment, I decided to pick up the New York Time bestseller The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. The book delves into Rubin’s decision to fulfill a year of finding happiness by experimenting with the practices recommended by scientists, philosophers, popular culture, and others. What I love about this book is that Rubin was already content with her life; she just wanted to maximize her experiences to make sure she was “living life to the fullest.” In the first section, Rubin takes advice from the great Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, who established a list of virtues that would help to guide him toward his fulfillment of happiness on a daily basis. Rubin decided to create a list of “Twelve Commandments” that she would adhere to daily, and so I have decided to do the same.
The Twelve Commandments of Angela
Okay, so I definitely stole this one from Rubin. I think that it’s essential to refocus and to remember to be myself in all that I do. I need to embrace my flaws, my strengths, my quirks. I need to run with my passions and embrace my creativity. I think this is something everyone needs to keep in mind in a world that makes it easy to doubt yourself and to struggle with self-confidence. Being you is a good thing so embrace it.
Find beauty in the simple things
Recently I’ve made a personal commitment to walking at least once a day outside, rather than just working out in the gym. I’ve been embracing more early morning walks and appreciating the nature around me. The late October leaves have been incredible, especially as the sun starts to rise every day. I find so much peace when I observe and appreciate the simple beauty of our world: a heart-shaped leaf on the ground, breathing in a fresh cup of coffee, finding a moment of silence in the midst of a hectic day. Appreciating these things completely changes my attitude.
Let go, Let God
Sometimes it’s easy to think that I can control everything in life. As a type-A perfectionist, I have a tendency to overanalyze everything that crosses my path. I’ve learned that some things are out of my control and completely in God’s hands. I need to understand the value of living in the moment, being the best that I can be, and understanding patience.
I find myself saying “thank you” on a daily basis (thanks to the awesome manners I learned from my mom). Sometimes I don’t think about it as I’m saying it, which is a problem. Do I really appreciate what that person has done for me? Am I being genuine enough? And am I appreciating more of ordinary gifts that have been provided in my life? When I take time to actually think about what I am thankful for rather than just saying it (#mindfulness), I find that I am more genuinely appreciative.
Find time for reflection
I find that I am most at peace with myself and my world when I self-reflect. I have learned to evaluate my past experiences (and current ones) through reflection. These are the times when I grow the most and understand the best decisions to make. Self-awareness is something that we can all benefit from (although it doesn’t come easily) so that we can embrace our flaws, strengths, and passions.
Find time for self-care
No this is not a joke. Yes, I do know I am a Hall Director. Self-care time is essential to being a successful, healthy, happy human being. In today’s world, it’s easy to get caught up with emails until midnight, to take on more projects than we can handle, and inevitably, to easily burn out. Taking time each day to read, walk, bake, or do something else for myself helps me to lower my stress, gather enough introvert time to “be social,” and to find balance. I also value getting 6-to-9 hours of sleep every night, which is sometimes impossible in the Student Affairs world. Despite this challenge, I strive for it daily. My super cool Fitbit also yells at me when I don’t sleep enough, which is really helpful.
I need to be genuine in everything I do and in everything I say. We build relationships from being genuine to others. People connect to others who legitimately care about them, share common interests, and legitimately want to talk to them. If you’re genuine in your daily life, you’re going to connect to others in a deeper way.
“Do small things with great love”
This absolutely fabulous quote from Mother Teresa is one of my favorites and I strive to live by it daily. Doing small acts of kindness can change our world. Every week I send achievement notes to residents who have been recognized by their RAs. I have had so many residents come to my office to thank me for the notes. It’s such a blessing to know that I am helping to bring a bit of joy to someone’s day.
Remember to breathe
I find it necessary to remind myself to breathe before entering a challenging situation, a difficult meeting, or answering emails at my desk. Taking a few extra seconds to collect my thoughts goes a long way.
Live with an open mind & an open heart
This one is pretty self-explanatory. I try to go into every situation with an open mind and heart so that I can fully understand where someone is coming from. Often times we will never know exactly what someone else is dealing with in life, so it’s important to embrace them and to support them no matter what the circumstances are.
Find your peace
When I was younger, my mum always taught me never to go to bed angry. I remember sitting up and talking through family arguments with her and my sister (until after midnight sometimes) so that we would be able to find our peace before falling asleep. It’s important to find peace with those you love, as well as those challenging situations with others that may be nagging you. Or if a challenging situation isn’t possible to resolve, find peace within your heart and hope that the other person finds peace within his/her heart as well.
Talk to your mom every day
I talk to my mum every day, often times 2-3 times a day. It doesn’t matter if you’re 23 or 43, talking to your mom makes everything better. If you’re not close to your mom, find your go-to confidante. It’s important to know that someone has your back at all times.
It is important to continue to better ourselves every day through personal reflection and growth. I am going to personally commit to my “Twelve Commandments of Angela” when I face a challenge or simply need to get through the day. Although it’s much easier to fall into the mundane, I find that I appreciate life so much more when I go out of my way to make the normal days extraordinary. I think this is something we can all strive for.
“I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sometimes it takes a complete “post-college crisis” to understand what you are called to do in life; sometimes you have to quit something and close the door in order to move forward, to grow, and to understand your passion. I’m saying this because I did that 2 years ago with my student teaching experience. I quit something important for the first time in my life in order to do what I love and it was the best decision I have ever made.
I have always felt called to life as an educator from a young age as I played school with my dolls and idolized my own teachers in the classroom. I knew upon entering Saint Vincent College in 2009 that I wanted to pursue Secondary English Education so that I could share my love of literature with high school students. I went through my entire 4 years of college knowing that I was called to be an educator, yet somehow deep inside, something felt off when I went into the classroom to teach. I had a very successful, happy life, yet nothing felt quite right. It was during my student teaching experience in October of 2013 when I fully understood how much I hated being a high school English teacher. I despised “teaching to the test;” matching every single thing I spoke about to a state education standard. I hated that students did not find passion in the same literature that I had loved so deeply when I was their age. I did not like the environment, and I no longer found passion in the classroom. And so in October, I quit student teaching because I wanted to find happiness. I knew that going through one more day of student teaching would not make me any happier, and so I quit to take on projects that I loved in Student Affairs in Higher Ed.
Throughout the entire student teaching experience, I was starting to realize how much I loved being an Assistant Hall Director (which was my other job during student teaching) and sharing those learning moments with students outside of the classroom. I knew I was called to be an educator, just not in the classroom. After quitting student teaching I began to seek more opportunities at Saint Vincent and gained experience making rubrics for the Office of Student Conduct and assisting the VP of Student Affairs with compiling our Annual Report for the year. My post-grad year at Saint Vincent was an extremely difficult, yet humbling experience for me and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I worked at a Barnes & Noble part-time while fulfilling my ARHD duties and completing side projects. During that time, I decided to start applying for full-time Hall Director positions, and in July of 2014, I ended up here at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN as the Hall Director of Holy Cross Hall.
My time at Saint Mary’s has been a huge period of growth for me personally, professionally, and spiritually. I have grown so much in confidence through the incredible young women I work with here. I have learned to challenge myself to go outside of my comfort zone in order to grow. Ultimately, I have learned that I am in a position that I love and I am finally fulfilling my passion in life. Throughout my time here, I have grown to be the extraordinary, confident young woman I am called to be; I wouldn’t trade my life for any other.
I am thankful for the courage to quit something I failed to love, to accept that failure in order to grow, and to move forward into doing what I love every day. My job is challenging, but fulfilling; I am an educator who helps students to grow as individuals outside of the classroom through their real life experiences, new-found independence, and daily challenges. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to turn my life around in order to do what I love. As I reflect on this past year-and-a-half, I realize that my time here at SMC has truly been a gift; I’ve learned to love and to accept myself for who I am in order to be a role model for the students I work with. I know that I’m in the right field, and that my next step (wherever that will be) will continue to help me to grow in confidence. I know that the future holds so many wonderful things for me (and I seriously can’t wait).
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
Sometimes being 23 is challenging, especially when you start a new professional job. Being 23 becomes more challenging when you work as a supervisor for 18-21-year-olds. Although being young has been a consistent challenge, I must admit that overall, I’ve found that there are a lot of benefits to being close in age to my staff members. Not many SA professionals can admit to owning The Lizzie McGuire Movie or being a 90’s child. I’ve learned to embrace the fact that I’m the “baby” of our professional staff as well. When some of my fellow pro staff members talk about their college or high school experiences, they will often ask “how old were you, Angela?” and I have to admit that I was in the single digits age wise. My supervisor also brought in teen magazines from her childhood and I had to admit I was in the 3rd grade when half of them were issued (who knew that Justin Timberlake was so old…).
Despite the common humor of my young age, I was challenged last week when a resident tossed the fact that I was only one year older than her back in my face. The resident was upset about a sanction I provided for her Code of Conduct hearing (lots of big Student Affairs words), and to simplify a long story, she brought my age into the equation because I was a “college student not that long ago” and could surely understand why she wouldn’t want to complete the task I assigned (which I didn’t agree with FYI).
So there is both a positive and a negative to this situation: the positive being that I am relatable to all students because we are close in age. Yes, drawing that line between friendship and supervisor has consistently been a struggle (like it is for all SA professionals at one time or another), but students appreciate knowing that I can understand where they are coming from because I’m only a few years older (for the most part anyway). The negative point is that I felt disrespected because of my age to a point. If I were older, the student may have respected my decision a bit easier (maybe) and would have accepted, rather than fought me on it.
I guess I knew that my age would always play a factor since I made the active decision to pursue employment before my MA in Student Affairs. Although I had that one challenging situation, I must admit that overall my youth has been a blessing and I’m thankful for that ability to connect and relate to the students I work with every day. I realize that I still have so much more to learn and to take from the world, so I may as well make the most of it.
Other Perks of Being 23:
I can get away with traveling for Spring Break in a little over a week (woo San Francisco).
It’s not weird for me to use Snapchat/I know what Snapchat is.
It’s socially acceptable for me to wear yoga pants all the time (ok maybe not, but I like to tell myself this).
I still get to go Grad School shopping in a few years!
It’s acceptable to read young adult fiction (a lot).
“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.” –Mr. Fred Rogers
The quote above is my favorite quote of all time by one of my favorite role models. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the popular PBS children’s show, you’ve definitely missed out. Fred Rogers, a native of Latrobe, PA (home of my undergrad, St. Vincent College), served as an advocate for the importance of children’s education for decades; with his words of wisdom and brightly colored sweaters, I still find myself inspired by his mission in another way (I also love brightly colored sweaters). I like to think of the quote above when I’m experiencing those rough days where I feel like I can’t just get it right or I’m not influencing the life of a student in a way I had hoped. I like to think that even though I have these moments at times, somehow, someway, I am positively influencing the life of another person.
See: Residence Hall Director.
Hall Directors are those essential, yet sometimes forgotten members in the world of Higher Education. We’re the ones who keep the building in line by supervising your lovely Resident Assistants, planning cupcake decorating events, and having those often dreaded, yet enlightening conversations about the 10 shots of vodka you overconsumed (and then vomited everywhere in front of security) last weekend. We process a lot of paperwork-y things (see: work orders for all things broken, see: key reports for all missing keys ever) and serve as a supportive resource when you’re not comfortable in your living space or struggling with a difficult situation. Despite the challenges, lack of sleep, and assortment of chaos, we love what we do (or most of us do anyway).
In July of this past year, I accepted a full-time Residence Hall Director position at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN, a beautiful little all-women’s liberal arts institution just a mile across the street from the University of Notre Dame. I knew when I accepted the position that I would continue to grow as a leader, a Student Affairs professional, and a strong young woman. Despite the challenges, I know that I was called to this place to be a role model for my young women and to somehow grow personally within my own life. I know that I will continue to learn from my mistakes, to grow as an individual, and to continue to develop as that extraordinary young woman that I am. I like to think that with every “hello” or “goodbye,” every roommate conflict meeting, every documented alcohol incident, or professional development experience, or community program that I am somehow, someway leaving a positive part of myself with someone else. Here’s to a fabulous final semester!