Why I Stayed

I log in, after scribbling a few bullet points on professional hopes and dreams in a notebook.

The button reads, “Write.”

Click.

That brings us to now. (I told you I wasn’t leaving.)

Several months… okay, almost two years ago, I wrote about my departure from higher education and student affairs. Almost two years later, I am still with my “new” employer, and I continue to build upon the foundation set by my learning and experience in student affairs.

I have also learned a fair amount about myself, about how to be more honest with what I want and what I need. Recently, I have been having conversations about what comes next for me; this requires multiple conversations and layers of unpacking, as I cannot seem to travel down a linear pathway. In my world, linear pathways just don’t exist.

I’ve learned that, while I certainly have a propensity to gravitate towards service roles, working with customers, students, and clients directly, there are strengths and interests I need to tend to and cultivate. I miss research and writing–activities nearly exclusive to my undergraduate and graduate career; I miss those hours spent synthesizing disparate sources to compose and share knowledge, and to create further questions and learning for myself and others. I have not had the space to be as intensely passionate (oh dear, I used that word) as I was about spiritual development or identity development or even the idea of how a concept as abstract as “trust” plays into the development or lack of relationships. I crave it.

Today, I shared with another person a sliver of my dreams, and as soon as I had a moment to start to elaborate on an idea I had, about a topic I thought I had a remote interest in, I found myself speaking without taking a breath, engrossed in elaborating on the questions I wanted to know more about. That spark I knew I still had is very much alive, and it’s up to me to continue to stoke the fire. Somehow, somewhere along my recent professional journey, I didn’t allow myself to truly pursue that which gave me energy because those things were “scary” or because I believe myself to be woefully unqualified.

Now, this isn’t to say that I’m bad at the jobs I held or what I currently do. It isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy what I do or the organization I’m at. In fact, everything I process in my head and put down on paper confirms that I am exactly where I want to be. Because of that, I also have the ability to finally allow myself to pursue ways in which my dominant strengths will flourish.

So what if I don’t have an MFA, nor have I ever held a position in which learning and development or training or writing were a significant component. Do I possess the skills to excel in roles that might demand these things? Sure. Do I possess an amount of confidence in myself to continue to learn, explore, and make positive impact on the community around me? Of course.

Am I committed to cultivating a mindset for success?

Well, I sure hope so. The only way to know is to stay long enough to find out.

But Why Not…

“Okay, #SAchat. I have something to admit: I feel like I’ve let you down. I feel cynical and uninspired, and I’m uncertain how to change it.”

I sent out the above tweet earlier today. I sent it out right in the middle of a weekly #SAchat happening, but it wasn’t directly related nor triggered by the conversation. In fact, it wasn’t even related nor tied to particular #SAchat threads. No, it’s something I’ve been sitting on for quite some time, and I can’t even pinpoint how long ago that I started to feel this way.

Since making the move from being a student affairs graduate student to being a full-time professional, I’ve seemingly disengaged, and I’ve done so much, much more than I expected. As a #SAgrad, I was thirsty for knowledge, to learn, to immerse myself in the information about student affairs and higher education. I was ready to be the catalyst that sparked students’ “a-ha!” moments. And in many ways, today–I am. Sometimes those moments are difficult, like when I have to gently explain that the major for which I advise is not a viable option. And other times, those moments are wonderful, like when I can help a student reframe what it is about their current major that will help them in the long-run, especially when they can’t quite connect the dots between the “now” and the “yet to come.”

I have made new connections. I have strengthened many existing connections. I’ve lost several connections, too, though, and I was saddened to see how far removed I had become from several specific contacts. They used to be major drivers behind why I was pursuing my degree, and they believed that I would go out and do great things in the field. And to see that they’re just now on the peripheral of my professional life makes me step back and wonder if I’ve slipped into mediocrity. I feel like a promising college quarterback who went on to the NFL and just did… alright. Not bad, not outstanding, but just… okay. “Meh.”

I like to think that I do a good job. In my recent six-month review, I was pleased to see that I could identify where and how I’d fulfilled my job description and many of the goals I set out for myself. I presented at a national conference. I’m gearing up to present at another conference next week. My students wave and smile when they see me (hey! They know me! They like me!).

But even then, I feel like I’m sitting on my own potential. You’ve probably all seen how rabidly obsessed I became with CrossFit. Why does this hobby, activity, sport, lifestyle get to me like nothing else really has? Why am I writing about my fitness non-stop but not the profession that I spent more than two years writing about non-stop?! For starters, I can point to the team aspect and the part where I’m getting in the best shape of my life.

Beyond that, CrossFit is something that is truly difficult for me. CrossFit is actually something that I’m bad at, despite all my posts and affection for it. I suck at CrossFit. I was worse when I began, and I’m better now, but I have a very long road ahead of me. In other words, it challenges me like nothing ever has before. But I see what I’m learning, I can apply what I’m learning to many other aspects of my life, and this silly sport might be just what I need to kick my own butt into high gear.

I’m talking beyond fitness. The thing about what I do professionally is that I like it, I feel like I do make a difference, and I feel like I am constantly applying theory into practice. But it just doesn’t feel like enough. I don’t mean that I don’t have enough to do; I have many projects to balance, and I enjoy the variety of things that I do in my capacity as an adviser and “curriculum support specialist” (we never settled on an official “ampersand” part of my Academic Adviser title, but this gets at it).

What I mean is, if my dad were still alive, he would probably lecture me on not challenging myself enough. He would be telling me to write more. He would be telling me to travel more. He would be telling me to go out there, ask questions, and use my noggin. What I’m basically getting at is, I would continue the good work I do now but take it a step further. He would back me all the way if I said, “Then I suppose I need to pursue my doctorate.” I want to feel the same drive about my career that I do about my fitness. Staying hungry. Wanting more.

I am beginning to think that “research” is when I thrive. I say “when” because I mean the act of formulating a question, seeking out the information, crafting the information, writing the information, sharing the information, and then repeating the process… actually, I just got really into what I just said there. That’s… that’s where I’m supposed to fit in.

CrossFit, for example, fascinates me. The premise of it is basic enough: high-intensity, constantly varied, etc. and so forth. In terms of what it does to my body physically, I’m not super-interested in that. What I’m interested in, though, are ideas of:

Why do I, personally, keep going back for more? The workouts are high-intensity, and I routinely think, “I hate this. What am I doing?” What’s at work, psychologically?

Who are the people that keep going back for more? Do we share common themes (e.g., extrovert/introvert; team-sport background; social interaction needs, wants, ideals; motivation)?

Who are the people that aren’t participating? Who doesn’t the model work for, in terms of who starts and then subsequently stops (e.g., personality type; athletic background; motivation)? Who is not starting and what are the barriers (e.g., socioeconomic status [Is CrossFit a grittier substitute for the country club?]; cultural norms)–and this question in particular then also feeds into deeply-rooted sociological issues that aren’t necessarily going to be changed by CrossFit or the athletes… but they are things I think of.

Pair this with my interest in holistic wellness and spiritual well-being, stemming from graduate school. If learning happens outside the classroom, then learning also happens outside the walls of institutions. What can I do with this? What are the burning questions I’m trying to get at here?

Well, I’ve got a few questions I’m developing. Now… I guess it’s a matter of starting the research. Slowly, with Google Scholar and whatnot.

When I came out of graduate school, I had a very clear of idea of where I wanted to begin my journey: academic advising. However, I had no clue where I wanted that path to go next. Framed just in terms of administration, I couldn’t pinpoint very many things. I thought I wanted to avoid the hard work of more advanced education, as well. I thought I wanted to avoid pigeon-holing myself into scare tenure-track faculty roles. I thought I wanted to avoid further student debt.

But then I got to thinking about all the people who believe in me (and those that would, if they were still here). And they would believe wholeheartedly that by going after the scary things, the impossible things, that beyond the odds, I would find my place.

So… just a few final thoughts to wrap up my long-drawn-out story of why I’ve been so “blah” lately and why my #SApro and #SAchat friends may have been worried that I’ve fallen off the face of the earth, never to emerge again. I’m not jaded; I’m hungry for more knowledge. I’m not depressed; I’m not pushing myself like I should be. I’m not discontent with where I’ve landed; in fact, it’s given me the clarity and the setting I needed to start to conceptualize my potential. And this will all take time and planning and the occasional swift kick from friends and family.

I’ll leave you with this tonight, just to chew on it:

Successful people pursue hard things. Unsuccessful people avoid them.” – Greg Glassman (via way of a friend)

“‘…why not you?'” – Russell Wilson

 

 

 

Putting Up Numbers

“Coach, this time last year, I thought CrossFit was an eating disorder.”

True story.

What a difference time makes.

Now, here I am, grumbling about how my assisted pull-ups disintegrate after about ten reps and how thrusters are miserable and wall balls are clearly unfair to us short people.

We did the HEL5 last week, and I PR’d four out of the five lifts. I’m most proud of my deadlift attempt: 200lbs.! I’ve been working through 195lbs. since I competed in April, and it finally happened. I didn’t PR my shoulder press during the HEL5, but I had bested 65lbs. the week prior; I attempted 75lbs. during my second attempt in the HEL5, but did not succeed. So, I have a new goal. Thank goodness.

Here’s the evidence:

6/20/13 HEL5 results

6/20/13 HEL5 results

In order:
Back squat – 160lbs.
Strict press – 65lbs.
Deadlift – 200lbs.
Bench press – 100lbs.
Overhead squat – 95lbs.

We have also been doing quite a few benchmark WODs. This Tuesday was Fran, and I scaled the weight tonight to stay within the 5-10 minute time domain (it took me 11+ minutes at 65lbs. two months ago). My pull-ups absolutely collapsed near the end; I was not happy with myself. I know what I’ll be hitting hard (along with wall balls) for the next few weeks.

Anyway, things are going in the world of CrossFit. I have two skills left in the Basic test along with a sub-15 Christine. I want all of this.

***
On to something somewhat unrelated to fitness but definitely related to growth, I’m starting a GoFundMe fundraiser. I was recently accepted to co-present a workshop session at a national academic advising conference in October 2013. The problem comes down to I don’t have the funds to get myself there, along with two family weddings in the same month, and my institution also doesn’t have the funds to support me in my first ever national presentation. So, I’m figuring out what to do about the family travels, but I’m turning to peers and friends and family to help me out with this amazing professional development opportunity.

Here’s where you can find out more about how to help out: Help Get Ardith to NACADA!

Fun fact: If 190 people donate $5, I”ll reach my goal!

 

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

We Made It

Holy mackerel. The first week of Winter Quarter at Clark College is done.

The registration cycle is always a trying time, but today was definitely a reaffirmation that I do what I do because I love it. The day started off kind of rocky, with freezing fog ruining my morning commute. I slid around my turns on the way to the freeway–and once I reached I-5, it was a parking lot due to at least one accident. Once I got to the staff meeting, though, things smoothed out.

One of my colleagues led a diversity training portion today, and in a funny coincidence, I ended up with two other Oregon State CSSA alums in my randomly-numbered-off small group. It was good to discuss issues of power and privilege again, to be reminded that we have a lot of [good] work to be done in making education equitable.

Then, during my advising sessions, I got to have several good developmental conversations with students. I found myself showing them resources and helping them start the wheels turning in regards to what comes next. Whenever I can help a student think about a situation with a different perspective, I feel as if I’m doing something right. I sure hope so.

Anyway, I made it through another “start of the new quarter.” It’s time to regroup, polish things up, and prepare for the next round.

 

 

Also, I found out I have to sit in the middle seat for a cross-country flight next month. Both. Ways.

…………

!!!!!!!!!!!

20130111-202251.jpg

Envision Everything

The thing about my life right now is that it’s happier and stabler than it has been in quite some time. Friday, I posed some “new pro” questions that I’ve been pondering for awhile, and I’m glad that I have garnered some support, especially in terms of justifying personal time and focus.

One of the things I have been doing is working on my health and fitness. I joined a CrossFit gym (if you hadn’t noticed), and I find it refreshing that I’m not being inundated with culty messages like I’ve seen in many a simple Google search for CrossFit. What matters to me is feeling as if I am part of a team, and that it is a team that wants me to grow and hit those milestones at my own pace.

I finally read the Vision and Mission Statement for my gym the other day. Everything written resonated with what I’d learned to practice as a student affairs graduate student, although this time, it was about fitness and not my chosen profession. Take a look. Does anything sound familiar?

THE VISION

Provide a physical training facility in which individuals are without fear, without ego, and come together to form a community of confidence and compassion.

Turn weakness into strength, train for chaos, and generally physically prepare for anything, anywhere, at anytime.

MISSION STATEMENT

To evolve the individual, physically and mentally, and infuse them with discipline, awareness, and humility so that they personify the highest ideals of integrity, strength, and courage and stand as equals in a family of fearless individuals (About CrossFit HEL, 2012).”

Maybe that’s why this gym fits. Maybe that’s why I can challenge myself to try new skills, and even if I’m not that great at those skills, I have done something new and I know where to go next. What I learned as a graduate student is not relegated to just the world of student affairs or employment. If I am mindful in applying my life lessons learned within or outside the SA world, I will do great things.

The questions I asked on Friday to seasoned professionals and the questions I’ll ask during a new workout both function in similar ways. I’m looking for direction. I’m looking for support. And–I’m looking for a voice to say, “Try this.”

So, I will do the least I can do. I will listen. And I will learn.

Grey Friday

I’m still in my pajamas, and the only shopping I did today was from the comfort of my own couch. I bought a LivingSocial deal for two pairs of yoga pants. $29 for $119 worth of athletic gear? Okay. I needed long stretchy pants that I can wear to my workouts anyway.

It’s raining outside, but I’m okay with that for now.

I’ve been doing some preliminary research into doctoral programs, even though I don’t imagine I’ll have the resources and/or the need to pursue a PhD or EdD within the next decade. New Zealand’s University of Auckland is a front-runner, given their pricing model and flexibility in studies, but University of Newcastle has my ultimate reach program, the Integrated PhD in Education and Communication. Of course, there are also several California schools and some other institutions in far-off corners of the world that I’ve identified (in the meantime). I know what it means is trying my hardest to attend and present at conferences, identifying burning questions to drive research and innovation, and staying on top of developing my connections and being aware of trends in higher education.

Part of the trouble as a new professional, though, is maintaining mentoring relationships and moving forward with a different support system, now that I’m out of graduate school. It kind of feels like I’m a big sister that is currently being overshadowed by the arrival of my new, cuddly student affairs siblings (a.k.a., the new SA grads). My needs are still attended too, but there’s an expectation of independence and proficiency that I haven’t yet developed.

Here’s what I specifically need help with:

– maintaining my involvement in professional organizations. I can’t afford my membership fees for NASPA or ACPA right now because my school isn’t affiliated with either, and $240+ for a $100 discount on the “maybe one conference” I can attend isn’t going to work.
– finding conference presentation opportunities. My other SA pals seems to be getting their foots into the doors as far as regional and national conferences go; why am I missing a lot of that same information? I’ve asked several times for resources on SA and related conferences, but have found exactly one database.
– solidifying mentors in the field outside of my immediate work environment. Most of my support personnel have new cohorts filled with shining stars to help out and I don’t want to appear needy, but… I am needy. I still need my hand held in some ways, and I don’t want to tax my colleagues’ patience in my new workplace. (Granted, I have great support at work! I’d just like to keep a strong, diversified network, you know?)
– lending my support to other new professionals and graduate students. I feel a bit disconnected, so what can I do to give back to a “new generation,” so to speak?
– getting started in research when I’m outside an academic program. This goes with solidifying mentors, I think. What should I do after I identify those fields of inquiry? Invade a school library silently? Lurk on the internet?

Any insight will be much appreciated. These questions and needs have been formed over the past five or so months, and I don’t want to lose my momentum now that I’ve made it into the student affairs field.

And in other news–I hope you all had a lovely holiday. 🙂 Now it’s time to reunite with some grad school friends, funny enough.