Tag Archives: growth

#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!
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Let’s Talk About Anxiety: My thoughts on why we should stop hiding from conversations about mental health in Student Affairs

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.

 

 

Rejection, Reflection & Moving Forward in my #SAGrad Process

“If at first you don’t succeed…you’re normal!” –Kid President

After an unintentional 5-month blog hiatus, I’ve finally decided to write again. I guess it’s taken me this long to process through my year, to decide what I need from the upcoming year, and to finally come to terms with the fact that it’s already July (and I literally have no clue what happened to the summer).

In January of 2016 I attempted to begin my student affairs grad search. Despite my acceptance to the institution I wanted to attend, I did not get the graduate assistantship I hoped for. Essentially, I put all my eggs in one basket and made an “all or nothing” decision with this program. After a lot of processing and reflecting after my assistantship rejection, I decided that the best decision for me would be to continue a third year as a Residence Hall Director here at Saint Mary’s College while picking up my grad school search for the Fall of 2017 semester. Although rejection was difficult, I have come to realization that it was absolutely the best decision for my SA career and for myself on a personal level.

Initially, I hoped to attend the grad program because I absolutely fell in love with the city that it was in (mistake #1) . I didn’t take the time to process and reflect on the pros and cons of the institution and what it had to offer. Although Residence Life is my key focus area, the institution did not really offer other structured practicum experiences in other departments. I also did not reflect on the difficulties that a cross country move would be for me (financially and personally). Also as a Pittsburgh native, I feel more and more called to return back home each time I visit. How would I feel if I moved thousands of miles away from my family, especially my 87-year-old grandma?

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Pittsburgh will always be home! Thankfully I’ve had the chance to reflect over these past 2 years in order to realize this is where I’m called to be. Plus we have some of the best colleges around…

Although I really enjoyed what the program had to offer and decided to put all my eggs in one basket, I have to admit that the grad assistantship rejection was a blessing for me. Here are a few of the positive things I’ve reflected on and gained from this experience:

  1. I’ve learned that I really need to search for a program that is not quite as far from my family and friends. Yes, I understand that they will always be there to return to when I am finished with my education, but this experience has really helped me to realize where my support system lies. My family and friends are everything to me, and I truly believe that my grad school career would be much more enjoyable with them by my side.
  1. I need to reflect on what I need from both an assistantship and practicum experience. Although I know that I want to advance in Residence Life to a Director-level position, I understand the value in exploring other areas of Student Affairs. A few areas that I would love to gain more experience from are student activities, power-based personal violence prevention work, and multicultural student services.
  1. I need to accept this third year at Saint Mary’s as a finalization of my development here in this position. Through a lot of processing, I have determined some more of the skills that I need to build if I want to be a Director of Residence Life someday. Thankfully, I work at a small, supportive institution where my supervisor and Assistant VP of SA want to work with me on the experiences and skills that I need in order to make my dream job happen someday. I’m looking forward to developing more of these skills and experiences this year, especially co-advising our Residence Hall Association.

In closing, I want to offer some advice to some of my fellow colleagues that are starting their SA Grad search right along with me:

  1. Make a list of what you need from your SA Grad program and what you can do without. Also look at your assistantship and potential practicum opportunities (if the institution offers them) and reflect on which ones will help you to get to that next point in your development.
  1. Don’t be afraid to look at institutions that are close to your support system. I had a long conversation with my Assistant VP of Student Affairs about my desire to look at a program closer to my friends and family at home. I initially thought that I would be judged for wanting to move back home, but she truly commended my decision and said that we need to reflect on what is the best for us personally. If there is a phenomenal student affairs program close to home, don’t run away from it just because it’s near home.
  1. On the opposite end, I strongly encourage you to look at living away from your home in another state for a few years, whether that is during your SA grad career or if you decide to work in higher education before grad school (like I decided to do). I have grown so much as a person by living away from family and friends in another state for the past 2 years and I definitely don’t regret that decision. I have personally gained more independence, have learned to find my niche in the community on my own, and have taken the time to realize that Pittsburgh is where I inevitably want to end up someday in the near future. I have also had the opportunity to affirm my passion for Residence Life and student affairs overall.

I would love to hear back from other SA Pros who are starting their SA grad search or for those who have already gone through their graduate careers! Hopefully I’ve sparked some reflection for those of you starting the search with me (and have reassured you that the SA grad search process isn’t easy for everyone).

 

 

Committing to Happiness

“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

  1. Be 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.

  1. 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.

A picture from one of my morning walks.
A picture from one of my morning walks.
  1. 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.

  1. Appreciate

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Be genuine

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.

  1. “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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

This is my mum. She's the best!
This is my mum. She’s the best!

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.