Perfectly Imperfect: Learning to Embrace the Errors



This post originally appeared as part of the #SAFailsForward series on the Student Affairs Collective Blog on June 6, 2014 at

Many of us have been in this situation before: you unveil a new program or initiative. It goes off pretty well and you’re feeling pretty good about introducing something fresh or different. Most people are complimentary and give you a pat on the back…but there’s that one person who just can’t wait to tell you what you did wrong. From the moment your idea started, that person was already staring with a magnifying glass ready to catch the minor snag or malfunction, and they are sure to let you know about it.

When this happens to me, I generally go through the Idina Menzel stages of emotion – there’s the anger (No good deed goes unpunished) the defiance (Take me or leave me) the acceptance (Let it go) and then the recommitment (I’m flying high, defying gravity). If imperfection is a gift, as our Student Affairs sage, Brene Brown, tells us, then I’m like Richie Rich on Christmas morning. I’m quite comfortable with failing, in part because I practice reflection. I know my mistakes almost as soon as they have happened, and I’m ready and willing to not just admit them, but to learn from them as well. While at times I might be a tad overly self-critical, I have come to a point of being able to not allow my failures to outweigh my successes in my own mind – and to recognize those times when the failures actually do.

But my message is not to my brothers and sisters in flawsomeness. I’m directing this to those who feel the need to keep what I like to call the failure scorecards. These are the individuals who keep meticulous notes on where others go wrong; the folks who are, in fact, more comfortable noticing the speck of dust in the eye of another while ignoring the plank in their own.

Some of you might have rationalized this behavior into a form of motivation. By pushing others to always do “better”, you convince yourself, you’re pushing them to be the best versions of themselves. And this strategy might work on occasion. But, the danger of this behavior is that it can breed mistrust and resentment and actually stifle growth. Innovation requires risk. Attempting to do something that hasn’t been done before means it hasn’t been tested. There will inevitably be bugs to work out and adjustments to be made. But if those who work with or for you are convinced that your feedback will always be critical, at some point the intrinsic motivation may no longer be enough. Instead, they will be more inclined to mimic practices they know are likely to receive the least negative feedback. People will no longer grow, but rather, maintain. People will tell you and give you what you want to hear instead of what you should hear. In the end, you have strengthened others, but actually weakened yourself.

So you’re mistake scorecard keeper? Congratulations, acceptance is the first step! So what you can do to try to change this behavior?

  1. Don’t burst the bubble: It’s not likely that you will forget what didn’t go right with a program, initiative, or idea, but is it really necessary to share that information immediately? If the initiative was generally a success, allow the individual to bask in that for a moment before deflating the elation.
  2. Process instead of Prescribe: When you finally do take the opportunity to offer feedback, process with the individual instead of for them. Ask them “so how did you think it went overall” “What do you think went well?” “Is there anything you might do differently or adjust for next time?’ If the individual feels supported by you overall, then he or she is more likely to give an honest assessment, and they just might identify what needs improvement on their own.
  3. Reframe: Instead of telling a person what they did wrong, try, instead, to teach them how they might improve. Your critical feedback might very well be based on your own rich knowledge and could be quite beneficial. Someone else is more likely to hear and absorb it if its perceived to come from a place of caring about helping the individual do better rather than making it seem that you want to prove that you ARE better.
  4. Don’t cross the praise and criticism streams: Sometimes we think if we lead into critical feedback by cushioning it with praise, it will be taken less harshly. But what ends up happening is that the other individual doesn’t even hear the praise because its immediately washed out by the criticism. Critical feedback IS important to give, but if praise is deserved and warranted, then make sure it is allowed to stand on its own.

We can talk about “failing forward” all we want, but the reality of failure is that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. People can fail forward onto the next step or into a pit. To create a system that allows failing forward to actually be a progression requires the rest of us imperfect souls to serve as spotters to either nudge back up or, when necessary, catch before they crash. If we truly value authenticity, then we need to accept that with authenticity comes imperfection. Persian rugs are said to be created with an intentional imperfection – they are “perfectly imperfect, and precisely imprecise”- and that is how you can determine an authentic Persian rug from an imposter. When we are able to embrace and appreciate those perfect imperfections in those who work with and for us, we then gain the benefit of their authenticity and all the beauty they have to offer.

Give a Penny, Take a Penny: Mentoring by the Moment



Give a Penny, Take a Penny We’ve all seen them in our local convenience stores – the “Give a Penny, Take a Penny” trays. The idea is simple, if your purchase requires an extra penny or two, and you find yourself short, you can take a penny from the tray. In return,  if you buy something and end up with a penny or two in your change, you can drop them in the tray for someone else. No one keeps track to make sure you give as many as you take. There might be a string of visits where you find yourself needing a penny over and over. You might always drop a penny without never actually needing to take one yourself, but you do it because you have it to give.

In student affairs, mentorship plays an important role in our work. It’s often characterized in the relationships we build over time. One professional takes another one under their wing. Sometimes it can be heavily one-sided or last for a defined period of time. Other times it can be a lasting relationship, offering reciprocity where both individuals learn from each other at different moments. But mentorship can also happen in brief “give a penny, take a penny” moments. It can happen when someone sits with you for coffee at a conference. It can happen when someone takes the time to hear you spit ball a new idea. It can happen when someone coaches you for an upcoming interview in a functional area or school type you might be unfamiliar with. You might be in a time of your life where you need to keep taking a few more pennies than you can give. No one is keeping track, though. Just remember to give a little back when someone else can utilize what you have to give.

Time and experience are both precious commodities. When we choose to invest either, the returns are immeasurable. I know I have benefited tremendously from those willing to share both with me at various moments in my career. I try to do the same whenever I’m in a position to offer guidance or advice. Mentorship doesn’t need to be ongoing to still have an impact. Sometimes all you need is to make yourself available.

There’s pennies in the tray. Take one if you need one. That’s what they’re there for. Just don’t forget that when it’s you who has the pennies, to leave a few behind.

Professional Development Soul Food


, , , ,

IMG_6810As I head home from one of the most innovative conferences I’ve attended, I’m taking some airport time do some reflection of not just this past ACPA, but of my conference experiences as a whole. I’ve attended some sort of conference every year since my first year of graduate school in 2000 and this year I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend both ACPA and NASPA. While I could probably write an entire post on how different the two experiences were (and maybe I’ll save that for another time), I’m thinking now about the one strong component they have in common for me.

Each of the conferences had sessions and conversations that provided me with resources, connections, and ideas for implementing new approaches for my work. It’s safe to say that my mind has been sufficiently nourished! I have notes I will review and contacts I will reach out to in the next week to continue conversations and ask for additional resources. But at the moment, as I scroll through my pictures, look at the Instagram and Facebook posts, I’m reminded of how conferences also nourish my soul.

I know there are some who criticize the conference experiences, and there is definitely validity in that criticism. There are some who believe conferences are merely institutional sponsored socialization. While I can attest to the fact that what I have learned over the years either directly or indirectly through my professional engagement, I also believe that the social aspect of conferences DO play an important part in our work.

The work we do occupies a significant chunk of time in our overall lives, and it’s invaluable to me to have a network of individuals who nourish my soul by being advocates, challengers, sounding boards, cheerleaders, or just….there. These are the people who know my vernacular and understand the acronyms. They get the frustrations that may seem trivial to the outsider and understand the significance of the triumphs that overcome them. These are the people who feed my ideation and provide me the space to dream.

I promise you, a lot of work happened in between the pictures and laughter. But I won’t shy away from the fact that there was celebrating as well. If we are to call conferences, meetings, trainings, etc “professional development” then why shouldn’t they be holistic? My students, my co-workers, and my institution benefit from having me returned energetic, hopeful, and renewed. I’m grateful for the people who help make that happen. Thank you, my friends, for making me a better professional and for feeding both my mind and soul.

Take Me or Unfollow Me: Noise, TMI, and the Eyes of the Beholder



Unfollow meThe past few days have seen a bloggerfall of posts addressing varying aspects of how and what we choose to share in our corners of cyberspace (do we still even use that word?). A few of those posts were shared by Vijay PendakurValerie HeruskaKristen Abell, and Matt Bloomingdale. Since I have an opinion, and a blog to share it in, I decided to hop into a barrel and take the plunge on the topic as well.

Back in my senior year of high school, the person I was dating decided to take me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art one day. Art was a major part of her life, both the creation and the appreciation, and wanted to share this part of her world with me. Being ever the supportive boyfriend, and always up for a trip into the city, I happily went along. My eagerness shifted to bewilderment as we started to view some of the “modern” pieces of the gallery. Once we hit “Blue Panel”, I lost it. I actually laughed out loud and exclaimed “This isn’t art, it’s a joke and we’re the punchline”. My definition of “art” ended at anything that was created by someone for whom a Ninja Turtle was named after. Obviously, my companion was deeply hurt by my reaction. For her, art wasn’t just something you put on the wall, but was an expression of identity, and I had, essentially, scoffed at hers.

Fast forward years later. I’m in the office I shared with a co-worker, where we would take turns playing tunes through the computer (that was new back then). I was just finishing a medley of showtunes performed by some famously talented Broadway actresses when my coworker exclaimed “Oh thank god that noise is over”. Noise? These were some of the most talented singers to grace the stage! This wasn’t “noise”, this was beauty! Well, the same music that raised my consciousness to another level made my coworker wish that she was unconscious.

Growing up, if a song that I thought fell into the “hip-hop” genre began playing on the radio, I immediately changed the station to something – anything – else. It wasn’t until I was a graduate student at the University of Maryland, when I had the opportunity to support the planning of a “Hip-Hop Conference” that I realized the depth of the expression that this genre of music represented. While I wasn’t converted into a fan, I realized I should no longer be dismissive of it (you could practically witness my shifting through Perry’s stages of development right then and there).

Like art and music, social media is yet another area that provides space for expression. While social media is definitely not new, as we were reminded by the 10-year anniversary videos being shared throughout Facebook, many of us are still figuring out how we navigate and own our social media corners of the sky. As educators, our approaches to social media have a few layers. The first is how we view social media in relation to the students with whom we work. As we watch them share the many aspects of their lives, we feel an obligation to help them navigate them “appropriately”. But I think we too often get caught up in the “do’s and don’ts” instead of helping our students to think critically about what they choose to post and share. Barring posts that violate laws, policies, or the rights and safety of others, I believe we should come more from a counseling approach. When we spot a post that might induce a cringe, let’s hold up a mirror to help provide our students with an outside view of what they posted. We might even want to say “this is how your post appeared to me, and how it could appear to a professor, co-worker, future employer, etc”. But ultimately if the students decide this is how they want to present and express themselves, so be it.

The other layer is how we approach each other (colleagues, friends, family, etc) in our social media spaces. I think we’re too quick to say what others should or should not be posting in their own spaces. We need to stop putting the onus on others to provide what we perceive to be as valuable to our own social media feeds. For many, including me, the people we have connected with via social media are part of our extended communities. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to use your social media tools. If we have an issue with what we see being shared or posted, maybe its as much about us as it is about them. Who decides how much information is actually “too much”? Maybe it’s too much for you, and that’s ok, but that’s about you, not about them.

So, if you’re tired of seeing my posts of my infant doing infant things, of my pictures of my daughter and I make silly faces, or of my slogging through 3.14 miles last night hide them or unfriend me. It’s ok, you do what you have to do. If you have had enough of my tweets about community colleges or award-show snark, shift me to another list you read less frequently or unfollow me. Don’t worry, it’s happened before. I won’t be offended. It’s ok. But if you continue to follow me, understand that I’m not going to change. It’s not because this is my “brand”. No, it’s because this is part of my identity. The collection of my posts throughout whatever account I’m using at the present moment are all expressions of who I am. And please, if something makes you cringe, let me know. I’ll either say “Wow, I never saw it that way, thanks for letting me know” or I’ll say “Thanks, I disagree, but I do appreciate you reaching out”. But know this – it’s not my responsibility to add value to your social media feeds, its yours to cultivate the environment that works best for you.

Oh, and if you are tired of the Nike runs, or the Buzzfeed posts, or whatever else it is that is making your user experience less than optimal. It’s actually pretty easy to change. I offer an example here of how you can “opt out” of seeing them.

Unfollow Nike

Comparison is the Thief of Joy….and Success


, ,

Joy TheifAs 2013 comes to a close, our social media feeds are chock full of “best of”‘s and “years in review”. Twitter has a highlight reel, Instagram has a top 5 photo montage, and Facebook has its own retrospective. After viewing a few of the Facebook montages of some friends, I ventured into my profile to create my own. As I ran through my draft, I thought “this is it” and I felt a sense of disappointment. I then looked through my feed from the past year to see what I might have missed and how I might add some milestones and achievements. I finally stopped and thought about how downright silly I was being. Yet it was a familiar trap I had found myself caught in far too often – judging the merits of my own achievements against the successes of others (something my friend, Lisa Endersby, covered eloquently in her own post, “Behind the Scenes”, a while back)

While I have found so many positives to having grown my personal learning networking through social media over the years, there has been one danger (for me) in bearing witness to all of the wonderful news and accomplishments that flow through my feeds on a daily basis. There’s a temptation in scrolling down and thinking “they’re better than me” or “they’ve done so much more than I have”. It’s easy to forget that our social media feeds are, in fact, often highlight reels. And there’s nothing disingenuine or inauthentic about that. The good news, the awards, the milestones – they deserve to be shared, to be shouted, to be lauded! What I need to remind myself for the future is to focus on celebrating with the individual rather than as a cause for comparison.

I’m now in the midst of year 8 of what was a “5-year-plan”. My first 5 year plan pretty much went exactly the way I had imagined it, ironic given the fact that I’m anything but rigid when it comes to planning pretty much anything in life. But during the course of the last 8 years, I moved to a new state, got married, had a child, bought a house, seen quite a bit of positional transition around me at work, and, in just about a month, will see my life blessed with a second child. Each one of these instances has brought about the uncertain, the unplanned, the challenges and unexpected joys. In some ways, it would be too easy to hold up what I had hoped to have accomplished personally and professionally against the achievements and others and think that I had missed the mark. But that would dishonor all of the fabulous and wonderful occurrences I have had in my life in that same time frame.

Working at a community college actually provides a useful framework for thinking about the idea of success. We’re constantly pushing against the use of graduation rates as the measure of success – as we work with many students for whom graduation, at least from here, may not be the goal. For some the goal is getting back into an academic mindset after years of being away. For others the goal might be to save money for a year before continuing on at a four-year institution while for others it might be gathering up prerequisites close to home. We see quite a few successes here that don’t fit into the external measures – that doesn’t make these successes any less meaningful or important.

We define what success means to us. And, the beauty of that fact means it doesn’t need to be written in stone. Like the stairways in Hogwarts, what success means to us can change depending on where we’re stepping or what door we’ve just exited. Failure of achieving a goal can actually be a success if it resulted in learning more about who we are or about what our priorities may be. So I’m going to scroll through the highlight reels and appreciate them for what they are – not examples of what I should or should not be doing, but simply for what the people I care about are choosing to celebrate. Instead of allowing my joy to be stolen – because the only one stealing it really is me – I’m going to ENjoy the happiness around me, while I also take the time to celebrate the joy and success in my own life.

Here’s to a successful 2014.

Who Decides What’s “Authentic”?




An original Suedle from Sue Caulfield

An original Suedle from Sue Caulfield

This past week’s #SAChat topic was on social media conduct as a student affairs professional. Unfortunately for me I wasn’t able to join in until the conversation was winding down. Even thought social media is no longer “new”, it still can be a vexing issue for student affairs professionals, especially because it can embody how each of us approaches our overall work/life integration. On social media, the boundary lines can be more difficult to navigate, particularly if you are less about integration and more about separation.

While, as I already mentioned, social media is no longer new, it IS an area that is still very new in our professional discussions. The literature guiding our profession traces back almost 100 years. We’ve developed theory and ethics of practice to guide our work. While they can most certainly be applied to how we use social media in the work we do, I think it’s safe to say that none of our theorists had even a notion of the concept of social media at the time. This means that we’re left to develop our approaches largely on our own, which also means there’s room for new experts and “best practices” on the topic, some of which was heard during the conversation, and can be heard regularly at our national conferences.

At some point, as often happens in these conversations, the idea of authenticity was connected to how we use and appear on social media. I struggle with this connection, not because of the idea of being authentic, but because inevitably there are some who decide to define what authenticity means for others. I mentioned that the conversation about authenticity could be a case study for Perry’s Stages of Intellectual Development. It’s surprising for me to see how many folks approach the conversation from a place of dualism. In fact, some can sound downright self-righteous as the proclaim “Well, I have one account for everything because I have nothing to hide” which of course insinuates that someone who has two accounts is obviously hiding or embarrassed or living some dual existence.

I was one of those “two-accounters” on Facebook. In fact, if Facebook did not offer the list function as it does now, I probably would still have two accounts. I have always been more of an early adopter when it came to social media. I had both Friendster and MySpace accounts the moment I discovered them and once Facebook opened up to anyone with an .edu account, I signed up for one too. Of course, since you had to have a college e-mail address, most of my initial connections were the students at my own institution. It was an easy coexistence until I faced the day where I became aware of a policy violation via Facebook. Because it was all still new, there was no precedent for addressing the situation. I was still a newer professional, still learning how to react to a lot of situations, and this was no different. Once I moved on to my current institution, I decided to start fresh and open a brand new account just for connecting with students and co-workers. I would get grief from some colleagues, but this was how I decided to navigate my spaces in the social media world.

Once the Facebook list function came live, I then decided to discard my second account (which is, yes, a violation of Facebook TOS). I still pick and choose very carefully which posts are seen by whom. Most are able to seen by most of my friends, but there are other posts that I limit from students and coworkers. Why? Well, for one, as any friend will attest to, I use humor quite frequently in managing the world around me. My humor has many levels, and at times it can skew a little sarcastic and snarky. Until someone finally invents the sarcasm font for social media posts, it’s easier for me to keep those comments from those who might not understand my sarcasm as well out of context. I am also quite opinionated about political issues. While I generally share posts that are related to issues of social justice openly, other posts that are obviously partisan in nature I try to limit to certain audiences. I want all of the students I work with to feel that I’m open to them and to their opinions. I’d have no problem being honest with them in person, but in a situation where we can have an active dialogue. Commenting on posts can get out of hand and uncontrollable, and I’d rather keep that to the people I’m just as likely to have yell at me from across a dinner table.

Those are just a few examples, but I’m sure there’s probably more. So does the fact that I only let certain people see certain posts make me less “authentic” – less real? I believe that there can be contextual relevance that applies to authenticity. As I mentioned during the end of #SAChat, if I invite coworkers over to my house, I’m not going to be walking around in my bathrobe and slippers. Does that mean I’m not truly being authentic to them because I won’t let them see how I am in my own house 90% of the time? It’s not a either/or situation. Authenticity, like so many other aspects of our lives, has multiple dimensions. Most importantly, no one can define what authenticity is for me, but me.

Losing the Fear of Being Wrong


IMG_5252A friend of mine posted this quote on his Facebook page (and even made it his profile picture). I told him then I was planning on writing a blog post about this concept. Fast forward to today and a conversation I had via twitter with Mallory Bower and Courtney O’Connell about how we don’t share our failures as easily as our triumphs…and that was enough to push this post out of the queue.

I have a saying that I’m quite fond of – “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough”. Playing it safe is easy…it’s comfortable. The environments we work in do not make it any easier. Success is measured through “A’s” – the word failure is equated with the big red F at the top of a paper. When we’re asked to compile our annual reports, it’s often framed as a list of our accomplishments. At the end of the day, it’s about what we achieved.

One time I heard an administrator say at a meeting “the way to make sure you don’t get thrown under the bus is to make sure you’re riding on it”. It wasn’t the most inspiring of messages, but it did set a tone. How often is that tone affirmed at our institutions? The people who get recognized and rewarded are those with longevity and who made the fewest waves. We celebrate those who hit the mark…but do we ever celebrate those who tried and didn’t?

Celebrating failure may seem counterintuitive. For those of us who preceded the much maligned “millennial generation” we often bristle at the thought of everyone getting a medal. But recognizing attempts, even those that failed, is different. When I started running, I heard the saying “you’re still lapping those who are sitting on the couch” over again. Being the fastest or the first wasn’t as important as just getting up and doing it, even if you spent most of your journey walking.

We can start by setting the tone in the offices we supervise. Don’t just publicly recognize the people who “won” – remember to also honor the work of those who tried something different; who tried to forge a new path or think differently, even if the result didn’t match the desired outcome. We also need to lead by example and be honest about our own mistakes. At our recent club fair, I handed out a simple one-question survey to those who attended. It asked attendees how they became aware of the event. I included all the different ways I publicized the program: flyers, digital signage, calendars distributed during welcome week, e-mail blasts, and Facebook posts. The almost universal response was that students heard about the event simply because they saw it while walking past. All of work I had done to publicize had failed to make a mark. I decided to share this data with my colleagues at a division meeting. While it made clear that my promotion did not work, there was a valuable lesson for my colleagues about how best to reach our intended audience.

We value our role as “educators” when working with our students. Yet when we, at best, ignore failures and, at worst, punish them, we lose an opportunity to educate our staff members. We also create a culture that discourages innovation because, if people fear being wrong, then they will fear trying something that might not earn them recognition. Many of history’s innovations came as a result of countless trial and error. We need to make sure our offices and institutions are laboratories and not factories. We need to balance the endless litany of “best practices” with “earnest attempts” because the lessons can be just as, if not more valuable. Imagine seeing the title of just one session at a conference have (after the colon of course) “a failed attempt at…”

I close with a quote from Mauro Porcini, The Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo, from this month’s issue of Fast Company:

It’s important to have a culture that doesn’t punish you if you make, eventually, a mistake. It’s part of the innovation process. I always joke, saying “What scientists call experiments, marketers call failures or mistakes

Taking a Ride in the Parental Helicopter


, ,

Copyright All rights reserved by Beast 1A little over 2 weeks ago, my daughter went through what is a rite of passage for many children – the removal of tonsils. The procedure is routine, taking a little less than an hour and the patient is home that day. But, this being our first our “baby” although at 4 1/2 not so much a baby anymore) just the concept of surgery was harrowing for my wife and I. Leading up to the procedure, we did as much preparation as possible – met with the doctors, read every entry we could find on Google, WebMD, Wikipedia, etc, and asked friends who’s children had been through the experience for tips. We bought and read this wonderful book, Good-Bye Tonsils, to our daughter and tried to prepare her as well. The day of the surgery, we were as ready as we were ever going to be.

Prior to the surgery, my wife called “dibs” on being the one who would accompany our daughter into the operating room. However, since she’s expecting, she reluctantly passed the baton to me. One of the nurses remarked that it was “better when the dad goes, because the moms tend to get more emotional”. This nurse obviously had never sat next to me during a Hallmark commercial or ESPN Make a Wish special. As the morning went forward, all of the medical professionals were outstanding in providing us with as much information as possible and walking us through everything that would happen. Each person who would play a role in the surgery sat with us separately to say what they were doing, to talk to us in plain language, and didn’t leave until we were sure we had no questions. The moment finally came where my daughter was wheeled off into the operating room. I held her hand while she drifted off to her anesthesia-induced sleep and then gave her a kiss and told her I loved her, at which point the Dr. promptly (but gently) escorted me out so they could get to work.

No sooner had he left my side and I continued my walk down the hall did I turn into a blubbering mess. I, with the greatest of parental irrationality, felt like I was abandoning my precious child. I wanted to turn around and go back. I, with my extensive knowledge gleaned from the internet, wanted to carefully watch every move made by the doctor, a well-respected ENT with 20 years and countless surgeries under his belt. Don’t get me wrong, our doctor was wonderful and we trusted him implicitly, but this is OUR daughter and the only way we could completely be sure that she was ok was to see so with our own eyes. And it was that moment (at least in later reflection) that I realized the empathy I now felt for the parents who leave their children in our care for the first time.

As I replay the day in my head, I realize how eerily similar the image of me walking down that hospital hallway was to that of my mother, walking away from my residence hall room while I watched her shoulders heave up and down. And that’s an image replaying itself over and over again over these last few weeks of August on our residential campuses across the country – parents leaving their precious ones, many for the first time, hoping that those with whom they have entrusted their care will treat them well and keep them safe.

While we have gotten much better about how we include parents in the orientation process since even I was a college student, there’s still an air of, at the worst resentment and at best of inconvenience, directed toward the parents of our traditional-aged students. The term “helicopter parent” is often used disparagingly, with the belief that the parents of our students need to back off and “cut the cord”. Yes, there definitely are parents who at times are a bit too overinvolved, making all of the decisions and fighting all of the battles. But many of our parents are hovering, not from an inability to let go, but rather from a need to make sure their children are ok.

The needs of the parents of our first generation students are even more intensified. For them, the entire college experience is uncharted territory. What I appreciated most from our daughter’s medical team was how no one made assumptions or judgments. They didn’t use any medical jargon but they also weren’t condescending when trying to make the information as simple as possible. No question was dismissed or deemed unimportant. While nothing would alleviate our anxiety completely, and every moment of the longest hour of our young parenthood experience was still filled with nervousness, we also felt empowered and confident that our daughter was in good and capable hands.

So, as we prepare to spend another school year holding onto our hats as the helicopter propellers are felt overhead, let us all try to remember that many of these parents are trying to balance keeping a safe distance with the role they have played for 18-19 years – a role that has seen them hold hands during frightening moments, hug tight after bad dreams, and dry tears of frustration, pain, and disappointment. It’s a role that will constantly evolve, but for those who cherish it, at the core, it will always be the same. The questioning that might come of us doesn’t necessarily come from a lack of faith in our abilities, but from a need to make sure their children are in capable hands. While the college experience is, for many, a right of passage of adulthood, these burgeoning adults will always be someone’s child.

Rediscovering Your “Why”


This post originally started in my head as a response to Mallory Bower‘s fabulous post, Find Your Why, reflecting on her recent successful job search. For the proper context, I recommend you read that first and then feel free to head on back here….I’ll wait….

So, a few years ago, I was feeling my “5 year plan” itch and decided to dip my toes into the job search waters again. I had no real motivation – I had a great job with great coworkers…in fact, I couldn’t have designed a better overall situation for myself back in graduate school. But, I got teased by the “grass is greener” mentality, seeing friends moving up the ladder, and started daydreaming. The challenge (if you can call it that) of working at a place where people enjoy working is that no one leaves, which leaves promotional opportunities few and far between. I was also feeling chafed at having interviewed for a position that, in retrospect, quite a few of my colleagues were definitely more qualified for. So I brushed off the resume, and kept an eye out.

Fast forward not too far in the future and I was a finalist for a position at a private residential institution (pretty much the complete opposite of where I was). I was a half-step up – one of those “assistant dean that’s really a director” positions. I left the interview feeling confident, which says a lot for someone who has always had a self-confidence issue. Still, there were some red-flags. First, the commute would have been significantly longer than my current one. Second, it would have returned me to a life of significantly more nights and weekends, something that working at a school that closes the gates at 9 PM had gotten me quite used to not having to do. Even so, I started wondering about how I’d respond when I got the offer.

And then I didn’t get the offer.

I was actually quite shocked that I didn’t get the offer. Like I mentioned, I felt very confident after the interview. In fact, I felt more confident at the end of that interview than I had in any of the previous ones where I was actually offered a job. Perplexed, I pressed for some feedback…and respectfully kept trying until I was able to get a phone call. During that call, I was told “you were great and had everything we were looking for. But” (here it comes) “we have a lot of events at night and during the weekends and we were really looking for someone who would hit the ground running with those”. With that I had all the feedback I needed and I said thank you.

It was that moment that the grass on the other side appeared to brown a little. I thought back on my responses to certain questions and I realized that I tried to make it as clear as I could that I was going to create certain boundaries – to try and maintain the work/life balance that I have been fortunate enough to have crafted in my current role. That moment, I rediscovered my “why” – why was I searching in the first place if everything I wanted I had. That moment was important for me because I was able to reinvest myself, work on new initiatives, volunteer for new committees, take on new roles in association work, etc. Next semester I get to start a new challenge: teaching a grad class at a nearby university. It’s not always perfect, but no job really is – and if it was, then I’d probably get complacent and bored.

Many times, it makes perfect sense to start a job search, especially when you’re in an entry-level position that isn’t designed for longevity, when you want to be closer to family or a partner’s family, or your career plans change and its time for a career shift. Other times, however, it might be worth it to reevaluate your current situation to see if there are adjustments you can make to buy yourself more time. In any of the situations, though, it’s important to know…really know…what your “why” is.

Is Introversion Incompatible With Student Affairs?



The question is, of course, a rhetorical one…or at least I hope it is. Student affairs is, after all, a profession that values the ideals of diversity, balance, and inclusion. I am often surprised to discover just how many student affairs professionals identify as introverts, probably because even I assume that this is a field dominated by extroverts. And why do I, and many others, make that assumption? I know many introverts who have both thrived and succeeded in student affairs. Yet, I wonder if you conducted a survey and had people identify the “characteristics” of a student affairs professional, how many of those would align more with what we perceive to be extroverted characteristics? How many people believe that student affairs professionals are omnipresent, eternally peppy, and always ready with an icebreaker at a moment’s notice?

Yesterday, I posed this question to on twitter

Many of the responses I received, both on twitter and privately, that many folks had received some type of negative feedback. The response that resonated the most with me was this one from Jeff Pelletier

This is also feedback I hear frequently. I sometimes have to go the extra length to prove that I am, in fact, engaged and “present”. I most recently received this comment from someone who was in fact also an introvert. What made this especially surprising for me was that this person is often criticized by other (unfairly) for not being “present”. I decided to push back a little and ask the person to define what they meant by “present” and, as I expected, the person was at a loss to give a solid and measurable definition.

I think introverts are at the biggest disadvantage when compared with extroverted colleagues or predecessors. The gregariousness that often comes more naturally to the extrovert can make the introvert look almost anti-social. 16 hours into an Orientation Day, the extrovert seems almost to gain more steam while the introvert may often be running on fumes. While the extrovert may be jumping right into the middle of a crowd of students, the introvert may be on the perimeter, observing the activity and connecting with the outliers.

Now, as I addressed in a previous post, introversion cannot be used as an excuse for being overlooked or misunderstood. For me, I realize that I have chosen student affairs as my profession and if I do believe it is an “extroverted” profession, I have to do what I can to succeed in that environment. I can’t expect that all of my colleagues have read articles on how vital a role introverts play and how introverts are misunderstood. But I can work to help create a better understanding and appreciation for my introversion by doing what I can to dispel the myths while also demonstrating that I’m just as good (if not better) at my job as they are.

So what do you think? Is Student Affairs a natural fit for introverts? Is it not as compatible, but with a little work, we can fit in as well? Or is it forcing a square peg into a round hole?