Ten Years Wandering

High school ended exactly ten years ago, as of June 4th, 2014. I can’t recall what I imagined for myself ten years ahead as I sported my red graduation gown back in 2004. All I knew was that I was leaving for college that following September with the intention to major in music, and that anything could happen.

I decided to change my major early on. To what, I wasn’t sure, although I eventually arrived at Communication paired with a Business Administration minor. I remember the indecisiveness, flipping through the course catalog numerous times, bookmarking several majors that caught my attention. I also remember considering transferring, but that passed after several weeks (and how different things would be if I had).

The last ten years have been full of crossroads. I’ve made choices and decisions, turns on this journey that keeps unfolding. Some have been impulsive and sharp; others were carefully analyzed, processed, and then finally acted upon.

Here I am, 28-years-old, employed full-time at a research university, living in a city I grew fond of, lifting weights, writing things, being single and happy but also harboring a mad crush at the same time, trying to figure it all out. I certainly have more debt than I expected; that part is stupid. But that debt defines me no more than my status as a single woman. It is a current part of my situation, and I am working on it. Most of it is student debt, and really–it’s manageable. It is in-line with the field I’ve gone into, for the degrees I obtained. It could have been less, but there were two defining quarters and several big events that changed things.

I only worry because I’m impatient, I want to travel, and I also want to be able to pursue doctoral work while being able to continue training in an athletic capacity that has captured my attention like very little else ever has before. I want to see my dollar sign net worth in the positives.

But that net worth isn’t the essence of Ardith, I remind myself. I’m a young woman who is constantly becoming.

I have had my heart broken what seems like a hundred times, but I have come out of it stronger, wiser, and ultimately learned to love who I am (debt and bad skin and crappy double-unders and all).

I traveled abroad and would never trade those times for anything. (And if I could travel more often, I would be the happiest girl alive, I think.)

I kept writing through it all, refining a skill I seemingly always had, turning it into a form of release, sharing it with the world and baring my turmoils and triumphs to an audience I often forget includes my friends, my family, and also complete strangers. (Hello to all of you.)

I have made poor decisions in other avenues, and I learned from those mistakes. I moved forward anyway, equipped with new perspective.

This is all priceless.

Graduation from high school was the catalyst for so much good. Even though nothing is perfect in my life, it is a life I wouldn’t trade. Yes, it can be stressful and sad at times, but I have seen some of the best slowly come out of those seemingly hopeless times. The valleys and peaks are endless, and I always keep trekking through, ready to see where the path takes me next.

Where am I going in the next ten years? Who knows. I’ve never really known. It will, at least, be somewhere that is the result of opportunities taken and decisions made.

Besides, when asked that question at college graduation in 2008, I replied, “I’m not sure, but wherever I am, I hope I own a hot tub.”

Let’s go see how this all unfolds.

In Which She Reminds Herself Why She’s Here

Another mental block. Another dry spell. I haven’t felt like decompressing via my usual online sources like normal. Maybe it’s partially because I’m still bothered about a particular friend/colleague/role model/trusted confidant who ditched me on all forms of networks without so much as a, “I apologize, but you’ve gotten to be too much,” and I feel like I’ve been let down or deceived and like maybe I’m just really not that awesome at the field I chose. I’m hurt by it, but I suppose that’s life, and sometimes that’s what you get when you tell someone, “Hey! It’s been awhile. Let’s catch up!” Of course I have trust issues. No surprise there.

Or maybe it’s just because the shininess of student affairs has worn off or because I’m moving into intermediate ground in CrossFit and the wonder has turned to frustration at stupid skills I still can’t master, as well as celebration for new, more complex skills. Or maybe it’s just a lack of time in my day.

I’m realizing that things I thought I cared the most about in grad school aren’t what I truly, deep-down want I to pursue. I’m realizing that all those times in the working world that I felt energized and inspired were those times when I was involved with athletics and fitness and being active and well. Spirituality, transition, holistic education, experiential learning, identity development, communication, and health and wellness–all off-shoots of the idea of cultivating wellness and developing that idea of purpose by really honing in on what makes an individual move towards a more satisfying state of being.

I want to learn more about what makes our hearts race, what makes our minds clear up, what makes our eyes recapture that gleam they lost at one point or another. When I start talking about exploring how sport can create community, or how coaches’ training and curriculum is possibly missing elements we so respect in student affairs, or how life is not a linear, two-dimensional path but one punctuated by chaos and the unknown–that’s where I come alive.

I obsess over my writing and my skills in the gym. I feel alive when new thoughts about these topics “click” in my head, or when I call out, “Time!” and know my body has accomplished something my mind once called impossible. These things remind me that I am far behind mediocre. I am not average.

And I will push past those barricades, whether they be a careless end to a friendship, a heavy weight, a stupid much-hated skill I cannot for the life of me understand (double-unders can die), or my own self-doubt.

This is the evolution. I love it, and I don’t care.

The Calling and the Purpose

A lot has changed in the past few years since starting to pay more attention to this concept of “purpose.” I switched career tracks, switched industries, and signed up for a lifetime of being over-worked, underpaid, and under-appreciated (or so the “common knowledge” says), all in the name of having some sort of impact on this crazy world.

Since identifying higher education as my ideal setting, I’ve been working to further refine that idea. What do I want to be able to do as I progress through this career? “Helping students” is so generic and broad, but I’m starting to get an idea of what it is I want to do.

The two-year college is an environment that I’ve always been drawn to. I was lucky enough to land a job in my first-choice realm*. Now that I’m in, I’ve been realizing that it’s open access that drives a lot of those admirable traits I see in the two-year college.

It’s not a perfect world, though. There are still many policies and procedures throughout this kind of setting that create barriers. There are specific populations who are more affected by these barriers, and I have an inkling that my eventual role will be to analyze and create policy that betters these experiences.

For now, I need to keep brushing up on my technical skills and my soft skills. I need to look further into what I want to know more about, what drives my curiosity.

How about you? Is working a means to an end? Or is work something that takes your interests and talents and churns out something bigger than you imagined?

*In case you’ve been wondering, my top choices for work environment go, in-order: 1. two-year public; 2. four-year public; 3. four-year private Jesuit; 4. four-year private Catholic

The “Better” Shun the Best

This is one of those Monday nights where I thought I had lots of great things to say and share, but then it turns out, I’m just kind of a big happy mess from a week straight of working out/training and getting all hugely re-inspired about what I do for a living.

However, here’s one thing I’ve been pondering all day, but forgive me if this ends up being convoluted–my glasses are in the other room, and it’s just too much of a chore to go get them right now, and I’m a bit tired and rambling.

My good friend over at This is Not Real Life shared her thoughts on this New York Times article. I read her post, and then immediately flooded her poor dashboard with several full-length comments, all in support of her ideas and, naturally, in support of my beloved public institutions.

As a new student affairs professional, I’m still all alight about the role that I have in affecting students’ lives. But I’m not going to analyze what it is that these “elite” institutions need to do to attract the high-achieving poor (I’ll save that for another day). Instead, I’m going to share my story and my ponderings, too, because–as you should know–storytelling is an important aspect in the ongoing development of one’s identity.

There’s no doubt that my parents weren’t rich growing up. We were secure, that’s for sure, but we didn’t live a lavish lifestyle. I got dance lessons and music lessons, and I don’t remember applying for financial assistance for field trips or lunches, but I do remember that my dad questioned me one time as to why I absolutely needed to spend $60 or so on track team sweats.

I also remember that my parents told me not to go to my audition at Cornish, that it would be too expensive if I went there, and I shouldn’t consider it a college choice. While I’m certain a lot of this had to do with the fact that my parents just knew I would change my mind away from music, I’m also fairly certain this also had to do with finances.

Cornish was the only private institution I really considered. It was because, at the time, I wanted to study music; of course, I didn’t even think about the fact that it was a private institution. I just knew it was a music conservatory, and the other schools I was looking at were “just” universities.

The other “real” private institutions had long been ruled out. So had the out-of-state schools. I don’t specifically remember any conversations my parents and I had, but I think I remember saying something about a California school, and Dad briefly scolding me about the expenses involved–something along the lines of, “No way. That’s too expensive; you’re looking in-state.” The only private institution I was encouraged to think about was Gonzaga, although for the life of me, I really don’t know why. (Any insight, Mom? You know, Seattle University is a Jesuit university, too!)

So, long, long ago, I knew that I was going to go to a public institution without even consciously thinking about it. I wasn’t the most in-tune with my identity as a mixed-race female coming from a middle-class family. We were more towards the “not high end” of the middle-class spectrum, although Mom and Dad had so much in order that I never really considered our socioeconomic status. All I knew was we didn’t make enough money to send me to Stanford or Harvard, even though I was one of the smartest and brightest kids on the block.

I wasn’t going to go to an Ivy League school. End of question. My dad knew how financial aid worked. Maybe he was just trying to save me the disappointment of applying to those “highly selective” private institutions and finding out we’d be several thousand short despite PLUS loans and scholarships. (And I had a heck of a time securing scholarships my senior year, partially because I was lazy in writing the essays, and partially because I couldn’t sell my skills and talents and dreams without coming up short against the tri-sport athletes and virtuosos in my hometown.)

Like my friend (whom I eventually met in college), I chose Western. I chose Western Washington University because it was a good university, and because I was accepted into the music program there, and because my parents approved the price tag. I also got a scholarship! Whee! Granted, I was awarded a lot more free aid at Central Washington University, but I was keen on going west, out of eastern Washington and into the big (rainy) unknown. I never regret that choice because WWU became a driving force in my transformation into a much more conscious participant in society and a much more self-aware person.

After reflecting on all this, though, I still wonder about a few things. What if… I had been given the go-ahead to apply to one or two private institutions? Which institutions would I have chosen? My inclination is that I would have applied to Stanford, Harvard, maybe Notre Dame–those are the names that got people recognized, after all. Would I have worked harder to apply for more scholarships? How would I have reacted in finding out that the price tag on those “dream schools” was too much–or worse yet, still too much? Would I have then felt as if I was giving something up in choosing a public institution? Or would I have fought tooth and claw for the chance to go, no matter the cost?

I’m not sure about any of that. I mean, in my town, getting into University of Washington was a huge deal, and I turned that school down after acceptance.

I also wonder if–had the stars aligned in some strange way–would I have felt welcome at an elite institution? Would I have gone through my experience as “the girl here on scholarship?” What would that have been like for a young woman who had never before questioned her SES and was suddenly thrust into not just college culture, but a culture of social elitists and the privileged? I know that we ask those same questions in student affairs programs, but I wonder what’s being done to really help students that do make it to that final step of sending in their acceptance letter, despite all the barriers to their success.

In the end, it wasn’t a lack of awareness that kept me from the highly selective private institutions*. I was not a first-generation college student; my parents had plenty of experience with higher education. It was the reality that, even with a school’s help, there would be a steep price to pay. And as my friend brings up–am I losing out on opportunities because I couldn’t afford to brand my resume with words like “Harvard” or “Stanford?”

I’m capable of good work. I highly doubt that wealthier students my age were any smarter than me; it wasn’t purely brains that got them that Harvard education. The thing that kept this brilliant mind and many others out of those ivied walls were these ideas–no, realities–that an “elite” education has to mean absurd sacrifice for those of us not living lives of incredible economic privilege, and maybe–just maybe–an idea in the back of my head that, in the end, I just didn’t belong there.

I graduated from public school. Take THAT!

I graduated from public school. Take THAT!

*Also, just because something is “highly selective” doesn’t mean it’s the best. “The best” is going to factor in a lot of things, including cultivating meaningful members of society, providing opportunities for critical thinking and learning, etc. I know that if I have college-bound children, they’re going to be spending a lot of time articulating to me why they’re applying to certain schools and why it speaks to them.

Thoughts on “What Teachers Want to Tell Parents”

For all my friends who are having children and sending little ones off to school, here’s something to think about. Those who can and care teach: What Teachers Want to Tell Parents.

When I went to school, my parents held me responsible for my mistakes and my accomplishments. They took each and every parent-teacher conference seriously. They trusted that these professionals would do their best to help me learn, and sometimes, that meant that my teachers had to tell me the work I didn’t wasn’t my best.

Remember, sometimes our greatest learning opportunities came out of failure. Those of us that tried again even after failure became resilient, and I would sure as daylight love to be resilient as opposed to breezing through life because others fought needless battles for me.

Not every teacher is going to be the brightest shining star out there, but not every professional in every single job is going to be that shining star, either. Be intentional and thoughtful and articulate in the conversations you have with your children’s teachers; education isn’t simply an exchange of goods or services. It’s much more than that. It’s an opportunity to grow–and that doesn’t mean just for the children.

Super Bowl Funday

I was going to write about the state of things, but I’m in the kitchen and both of my roommates are cooking things I can’t eat. It’s delicious and distracting (D&D?).

This whole nearly-paleo thing is working out pretty well for me. Avoiding refined sugars and grains hasn’t been too bad. Somewhere, a purist is angry that I still eat yogurt and milk and cheese. Somewhere, another purist can’t believe I still have caffeine. Regardless, I’m wondering how to continue this “cleaner” eating lifestyle because I feel good and honestly, I look better than I have in a long time.

I am also clicking along in this student affairs first-year professional role. There are challenges that come with working in the two-year setting, and I am happy to face those. I am leaving for Georgia on Wednesday morning for a NACADA institute; excited for this work-related journey.

And with that, I’m going to go make some nearly-paleo hot wings.


A Heavyweight Heart

After a full day of work advising students from all walks of life alongside my amazing colleagues, I (and a few of those said colleagues) volunteered at a holiday party for the Boys and Girls Club. My job for the night hinged on helping kids make miniature gift boxes, which, at first, seemed really confusing; I worried that I would be spending a lot of my time apologizing for not knowing how to make the craft. However, I got it on the first try, and I spent the remainder of the night teaching kids how to fold and cut cards to make the little boxes. I may have made six or so for myself, just like some of the more enthusiastic kids did.

One of the greatest lessons I learned as a young adult was to never lose that sense of wonder (thank you, Don Johnson). I try to practice that, and I suppose it’s part of the reason that: a. I don’t want kids of my own at this point in time (because I basically still feel like a child myself); and b. Why kids and I actually get along (even though I’m not a “kid person.” It’s contradictory, truly.). Kids tend to like me a lot.

Today, though, a gunman wiped out the potential to wonder and marvel at the world for twenty children and several adults, including his own mother. As a non-parent, my feelings pale in comparison to those belonging to the families of the young victims. As someone who has worked and continues to work in visible roles, especially in education, I am upset.

I read that the principal died today. I read that she had been an administrator for twelve years and that her enthusiasm for education and the schoolchildren was unbelievable. I read her Twitter account, and from it, I could tell that she was invested in the future of those children.

And in that I see an investment that is familiar in my life. When both your parents come from education backgrounds, you understand that educators make sacrifices. Usually, those sacrifices are things like long hours, or staying up late to review a lesson plan, or volunteering at a school event, or being used as a verbal punching bag. The rewards are great, however, seeing the way students light up when they remember how you helped, and–from what I hear–when you run into them years later and hear about the things they have accomplished. Many of those attained goals would not be possible without losing the ability to imagine, to look forward, to wonder. And we are there to encourage them, to learn alongside, to grow and wonder just the same.

And we will be there, despite any outliers’ selfish motives to take out their revenge on the innocent. I would be lying if I said part of my training and education didn’t involve addressing the reality that someone could pull a weapon on me for making a mistake or saying something related to their education that they didn’t like.

“My job is to be a cheerleader for other people’s children,” as Dr. Larry Roper would say. You have my word on this, even though we know that school is not a sanctuary.

We should not, however, live in fear that our schools, our public spaces, our means of transportation are targets. We must shift the cultural paradigm somehow–and I don’t have the answers on how to do that–so that the fear those children and all the victims experienced is never replicated.

Don’t cultivate fear; don’t let it win. Cultivate wonder. Cultivate change by giving back to your community. Tell someone you love them. Ask someone if everything is okay.

And please, whatever you do, pray or meditate or do what it is you do to keep the victims of violence–of this act and beyond–and their families in your hearts.