The Evolution of Strength

In the English language, we use “strong” to mean many things, whether to mean physically strong, mentally strong, resilient, persistent, unrelenting, and so forth. Several years ago, following Stratejoy’s suggestion, I created a theme for the year. The theme that year was Beauty Through Strength. The main purpose was to remind myself each day to stay mentally tough, to accept obstacles and learn from them.

Right now, I’m reminded of that time in my life. Currently, I am processing a transition to a new city and new job, wondering how to appropriately balance where I’ve come from and where I’m headed. It isn’t smooth, and there are some jagged edges of which to be wary, and I have spent some time discussing and venting with several people.

One of my closest friends nudged me to think of this more as evolution, not vacillation. I am not floundering; I am trying to make sense of the new and the old, reconciling some of the development I did over the past three or so years with on-going development and contradicting thoughts that overlapped with the entrance back into the full-time working world.

I am also unlearning some “truths” about myself that are quite personal, but I can say that CrossFit and the people I have connected with through the community are largely responsible for this. It’s lovely, and it’s leading me to consider a more involved and dedicated position.

What I am beginning to discover is that I have been holding back (and hiding) from my true potential in many ways, and it will take nothing but strength and perseverance to reach all my goals. That is why I am making a slight shift in direction and focus here. Maybe I am not simply an adult in transition. Instead, I am a human being who is changing, growing, evolving, and I anticipate this to be the case forever.

And I love reflecting on my own growth and adventures in my blog, but I also love going out and challenging others to be their best selves, too. I don’t necessarily like to recount how I affect others because it seems unneeded and self-indulgent, but I like having those moments to connect and synthesize how challenges and successes, interests and weaknesses, all contribute to a fuller, more purposeful life.

I won’t lie in saying I think these revelations will take me beyond student affairs and education. On a broad enough spectrum, the world is our classroom. Well, actually, it’s beyond the classroom. And that’s the beauty of learning–that as long as people can engage and think critically, then we have opportunity to learn and grow.

For now, this space will still chronicle my journey, but I hope to develop this into something bigger. As always, stay tuned, and come along for the journey.

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Affirmation

The other day, I was buying coffee at the bookstore on my campus. A student was next to me, checking out the refrigerated lunches. He turned and saw me, then said, “Ardith? Hey! You’re my advisor!” I recognized him, and asked him how he was doing. He responded, “I’m doing well, but my time at Clark is done. I just got accepted to Eastern Washington.”

To which I simply raised my hand, and we high-fived.

Yeah, I like what I do.

Returning to the Stars

“One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.”
from Doctor Who (Series 2, Ep. 4 – “The Girl in the Fireplace”)

Does anyone else remember my letter to the Universe from 2011? It’s a perfect glimpse into my life when all that was seemingly good shattered, one thing after another. That pattern continued, and it continued for months afterwards.

Now, nearing the end of 2012, I still walk cautiously through many of my adventures. I am learning more about myself, primarily in terms of finance and budgeting, as well as health and wellness. I am much more aware and in-tune with my mood shifts (not swings, thankfully), and luckily, I am nurturing a new-ish relationship in which I can admit to not always being sunshine and rainbows. I talk about how I’m feeling more openly, which is scary, but it’s almost scarier seeing how it comes so naturally.

When you’ve dealt with so much utter crap over the past few years, you almost expect the worst. However, my transition to Portland has been very good for my soul. I still have some nights when I want to curl up and do nothing and just hope that I win the lottery in the morning; despite that, I persist. I persist because I have good people in my life, and I choose to focus on the good. Something I have realized about myself is that I have little tolerance for toxic people, and my biggest disappointments come when I realize someone I trusted and cared for ends up being a soul-sucker. The thing is, those people are gone from my life.

And I know for others, I’m a soul-sucker; there are some people with whom I will always have negative energy, and although we may be on good terms now, there is no need to be friends nor to revisit the bad moments in my head every time I see them. They are freed from my life, and while I miss certain aspects, it’s better to lead separate–and separated–lives.

It’s much better to put effort into keeping life-givers around. For example, one of my best friends lives hours and hours away (by plane); we logged on to FaceTime to catch up this weekend, and it was just as good as when we were in college and met every week to get coffee together. It’s not easy to keep relationships sound and meaningful across time zones, but it’s incredibly worth it for the right people. It’s also worth it to put for the right effort for the right people regardless if they live a block away or half a world away. Friendship, then, is becomes transcendent of time and space; it becomes something ethereal.

Whose energy keeps you going in this lifetime? And why is it important to continue to grow those relationships?

Inconsequential

A father who was a guidance counselor, a teacher, a principal, and a worldly traveler.

A mother who was a teacher, a music-lover, and a traveler at heart.

A teacher who believed in my talents, and now recalls how fantastic parent-teacher conferences were with my parents, and praises me for doing something good and meaningful with my talents.

Parents who cared and were involved, but made me fight my own battles, driving my independence.

Professors who saw potential in my writing and hesitation in my verbal expressions.

An advisor who showed me that people that look like me can be educators, too.

A colleague who was only a virtual friend at first who encouraged me to look at OSU’s program.

A best friend who I met at summer orientation before my first year of college, who jokingly suggested I look at OSU because she grew up in Corvallis.

A professor whose wisdom and even-headedness reminded me of the father who believed in me and pushed me to become much more.

Professors with Ph.D.’s who pushed me to think even more critically, to write even more precisely.

Supervisors that were thrilled with my enthusiasm and perspectives that came from outside education.

Friends that dealt with my tears, my frustration, and a nagging undertone that I’m not good enough to do x, y, or z.

All of you got me here. All of you helped me look in the mirror and say, “Maybe I am something more than this. Maybe I can change the world.”

And if someday, I become the advisor that pushed a student to pursue his or her talents to the fullest, then I have done something right.

Rushing Like the Sea

“My job is to believe in other people’s children.” – Dr. Larry Roper, during a recent visit to my AHE 548 class

I’m a purpose-driven individual; that should already be clear. I think a lot about what I’m doing, trying to make sense of the why factor mostly. Why does education draw me in, specifically colleges? Why, in the face of mounting budget cuts, do I envision myself a fixture in our public institutions? Why do I care when so many people complain that college isn’t worth it anymore?

Because I’m supposed to be larger than life**. Because I’m supposed to be a rare beacon of hope. Because I am capable of leaving behind a legacy.

My job is not only to believe in your children; it is to believe in those children whose parents don’t believe, to believe in those children who have lost the ability to believe in themselves. My maternal instincts haven’t fully kicked in because it’s more important for me to believe in your children first. Maybe after I see if I can truly make a difference, then I’ll give myself the chance to bring someone new into the world–and hope that the world believes in him or her.

My lessons this year have centered around belief in myself. Believing I can get through my graduate program. Believing I can find meaning in my work. Believing that someday, I will have a love story that ends (and begins a new story) with “happily ever after.”

Look, this blog reflects a side of me you won’t necessarily see in face-to-face interaction. It’s here to give me a place to exercise the full depth of my personality. I’m not just the pretty, funny girl that is easily “one of the guys.” It’s here so people aren’t surprised to see tears in my eyes or hear my voice quake over the phone. It’s here so you know I’m not strong all the time, that I have–and always will be–a complex person. And knowing that and understanding that makes me more effective–and more real–than pretending to be a one-dimensional laugh factory.

On a related note, something I’ve been thinking about a lot… well, one thing I’ve learned recently is to abandon the concept of “all or nothing.” I’ve had this idea that boys that are my friends, stay as my friends; boys that are supposed to be “more than friends,” can be like that for awhile and then that stops, and we lose touch. Those boys in my life that mean nothing once our “relationships” are through were not meant to stay; I can think of several off the top of my head.

Then there are those that I confide in, who have been there through the roller coaster that has been my life (and the ones who seem to be joining the ride over the years)–those are the ones that matter. They are the ones that will stay. They are the ones in whom I find comfort and I find safety, even if I don’t find romance with them (and one can add, “At this point in time.” That uncertainty bit is so tricky.).

But then there’s a few who do so much and do it well. We care about each other as more than friends but we’re not together as a couple. We’re in this gray space that scares folks. Like, “How can you be so close to an ex?” or “But you have feelings for each other,” or this or that. I used to ask myself those same questions.

The thing is, just like student affairs theory teaches us, it’s dangerous to use blanket theories to understand people. We have to learn to relate to people on a one-on-one basis, and that’s tricky, but it’s worth it. We’re all here for one reason or another, I believe. We can’t know the full extent of anything unless we give up some control and let the river take us for awhile.

Those guy friends I’ve mentioned, the ones who have shared ups and downs and conflicts and the deepest secrets? Here’s the thing: they believe in me, and I believe in them. We’re not quite adults,* and that’s okay. We don’t have it all figured out, but we know we’re supposed to be around in one way or another.

If I had a partner at this point in time, trust me–the projects on which I’m embarking would not have surfaced. I am pushing myself to become something I am still frightened of. I’ll reveal more when the time comes, but I can say I need all the good thoughts sent up to God and the Universe or whatever Supreme Being you may (or may not?) believe in.

As 2012 rolls around, perhaps my theme will be, simply, “Believe…” Open-ended. It was “Believe in the impossible” the other year, and that’s fine. This isn’t a paring down, but a broadening. One word to give myself the chance to dream and to ground myself, all at once. I am still in a stage where I need that. I need something to wake up to, to remind myself why I do what I do.

To remind myself that when I was younger, I said, “When I grow up, I want to be something great.”

I believe you will, Ardith. I believe.

———
*Not Quite Adults by Richard Settersten, Ph.D. and Barbara E. Ray. Dr. Settersten teaches and works at OSU, and he was recently a featured speaker at the NASPA Western Regional Conference. Although what he shared was probably intended to inform older generations about today’s young adults, what he actually did was talk about people like me. I might be 26-years-old, but I’ve been slowly floating down the river of life. The only milestones I’ve probably hit are graduating from college, getting a job, and living on my own–only to return back to the academic world.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, check the book out.

**Feelin’ LOL-worthy? Here! Larger Than Life

Week Five in Review

Well, seeing that Week Four basically didn’t happen, this week was full of scrambling. I have meetings to set up and assessments to develop for my internship, and I have a fairly big assignment due Tuesday. I am also leaving tomorrow for a Girls’ Weekend in Vegas.

The end of Week Five also means this term is almost over.

I feel rushed, and there’s a nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something. The reality is I have lightened my load compared to last fall, and I’m probably comparing the two terms in the back of my head. I’ve delegated responsibilities much better for the student organization I oversee this time around, and the class I’m teaching has much more structure. I am in the groove with spacing out my assignments and readings, and I am definitely finding personal time.

My biggest jams are job searching and emotional health. Those are different challenges that are significant in different ways. Negotiating them into my life is difficult, but not impossible, and I am very hopeful.

Oh, also, we had a wonderful speaker in class on Tuesday. The president of a local community college came in, and he is inspiring and down-to-earth. He has a very “normal” background, involving switching majors as an undergrad a whole bunch, failing a class, and never setting out to be a college president.

He had great things to say about how higher education’s purpose (or perceived purpose) has shifted away from “How does this benefit my community?” Actually, he focused on purpose–purpose of college, personal purpose, and the like. “Purpose” is a thread woven through my SA grad experience, and it will be what guides me in my career. I am here to help others be their best by realizing their purpose and pathways.

A good week, in hindsight. More good things to come, I hope.

Just Readin’ a Book

It’s not entirely original to rip a quote from Eat, Pray, Love¬†and paste it into a blog–especially a blog entitled “An Adult in Transition.” That said, here’s a quote I found and liked:

“The classical Indian sages wrote that there are three factors which indicate whether a soul has been blessed with the highest and most auspicious luck in the Universe:

1. To have been born a human being capable of conscious inquiry.
2. To have been born with–or to have developed–a yearning to understand the nature of the universe.
3. To have found a living spiritual master” (Gilbert, 2006, p. 124).

I asked a cohortmate if a particular professor and leader in our program counted for #3. He affirmed, so with that–I conclude that I am an incredibly lucky young lady.

My internship begins tomorrow, and my colleague and I are relocating to an apartment closer to campus. I’m not sure if I’ll have connections to the internet, so if my blog posts are missing for the next few days, you’ll know why.