Friday, August 26, 2011

I Catalogued My "Smile-Makers"

Inspired by a blog post from Becca Obergfell, I wanted to share some of the things that make me smile. Particularly in times of year that are busiest, it's good to remember what makes us happy, what carries us away from stress, and what else we love besides our work :) I encourage you to take a few minutes, maybe in the infrequent quiet moments of late August, to do the same.

  1. This scene from An American in Paris. If love at first sight could be captured in dance, this would be it.
  2. Waking up to a particularly good text message from a friend or my family. I turn my phone off before I go to bed, so it's a complete surprise.
  3. Hearing a great song on the radio on the way to work.
  4. That slight ringing in my ears after a fun concert.
  5. Fall weather. It's a rarity in FL, so anytime I feel it, I love it.
  6. Any and all things Disney (of course!).
  7. Watching small children who can't read, appear to be reading.
  8. Related: small children in really fluffy winter coats, or in tiny sports wear (baby sized jerseys).
  9. As millennial of me as it is to say, when I'm retweeted. I write whatever pops in my head, and it blows my mind whenever someone finds enough meaning in what I say to publicly post it.
  10. A particularly good first kiss :)
  11. Being able to share something I've learned that day in a conversation with someone.
  12. Realizing I love a song on a first listen.
  13. Baby animals. Puppies, kittens, pandas, and this video.
  14. Getting a new haircut.
  15. A really great run.
  16. Mail from a friend. Cards, gifts, letters...snail mail is underrated, and always a welcome find in my mailbox!
  17. Finishing a favorite book, no matter how many times I've read it.
  18. Realizing that a student really "gets" something we're working on, or has learned something from an event or conversation that we've had.
  19. Compliments. I never fish for them, and am always taken aback and blown away when someone gives me one.
  20. Thanks to Jeff Parker, this noise.
So, what makes you smile?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Retreated with UP

This isn't my first retreat. Far from it. I can't even say that it's the first retreat I've gotten to lead, or the first where I was working with such a competent group (because the CSI group is an amazing one, and I've loved working with them for the two years that I got to do so!) None of those things are true.

But I can already tell that this is a very special group. Union Productions and Club Downunder are entities that have a reputation that precedes them favorably not just in the music world, but in the world of student activities and student affairs. In two days with this year's staff, it's easy to see why.

These students wrongfully get a reputation for programming for themselves, for bringing only indie music, and in neglecting the interests of the campus as a whole. In watching them brainstorm, watching them teach each other, and make plans for the year, I saw a group of 24 (or so) insightful, inclusive, and professional young adults. I am so excited to work with, and learn from, all of them.

They're funny (with such personal goals as making a 4 lb. grilled cheese, adding 3 inches to a vertical leap, and eating the aforementioned 4 lb. grilled cheese), they're hardworking, and they take care of each other. I led a session on relational leadership (based on Southwest Airlines, in true Amma Marfo fashion), and I can already see that they'll take many of those suggestions and the ideas we brainstormed to heart.

This retreat had the desired effect. I've learned more about this group, we've set goals for success for the semester, and I am so energized to get going with them!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Forced Myself on the Charging Dock

One of the biggest ways for me to deal with my anxiety is to make sure that I create a sense of balance for myself. Running and yoga have been big parts of that, but I've also learned that sometimes my line of work feeds that anxious energy. So I'm being intentional in living my life in a way that doesn't perpetuate anxious feelings.

I'm about a month and a half into a new job, and thus far am putting a great deal of effort into creating a line between my work life and my home life. Prior to this point, I let the two worlds blur, bringing work home and spending time at work tying up loose ends on personal projects. But in making this transition, I opted to take a natural transition and turn it into an opportunity to make a change in my life.

Here are the rules:
(1) Be accessible to students...for emergencies. My customary response to a work call if I'm not at work: "Are you on fire?" "Is someone near you on fire?" If the answer to neither is no, chances are the issue can wait. The nature of my position here at FSU, with such an empowered group of students, makes this distinction significantly easier. Lori, my associate director, said we intervene in the event of "blood, flood or fire." I like that. It's less of a matter of trying to shirk work, and more a matter of preventing myself from jumping in all the time.

(2) To prove I don't wish to shirk doing work- stay in the office for as long as it takes to get it done, but once you're home, you're home. I try as often as I can to complete projects, and divide my day by addressing the most urgent of those pending projects. My anxious nature makes me worry that I'll forget something if I stop mid-task, so I know I have to finish what I'm working on. Sometimes that means staying in the office until 6 or 7, rather than leaving at 5. But for me, it saves the stress of worrying about forgetting details, and allows me to maintain a separation that I know that I need.

(3) Create physical boundaries. In the month and a half that I've lived in the new apartment, I've taken my computer to my bed with me one time. Similarly, I've opted to not have a TV in my room and turn my phone off when I go to bed. This is less about creating a separation between work and play, and more about making sure that I rest. The less sleep I get, the more anxious I feel. In making my bedroom a true place of rest, I've felt far more refreshed in the morning, more recharged and ready to tackle all the aspects of my life with the energy that sound sleep gives me.

(4) I schedule free time. I know, it sounds so type-A and counterintuitive. But it keeps me in check, reminds me that I need to have my own time. The biggest way that I've done that is by scheduling races. I have, on average, a race a month for the fall. I know that I'll feel pressure to work all the time if I don't have days where I don't go to work. In scheduling races for myself, it gives me time to be away from work, and also gives me a forced opportunity to do one of the most rejuvenating and reflective activities in my life- RUN. Moreover, it forces me to make time to run before or after work, to make sure I'm prepared to do my best in those situations. For someone for whom running has become a great form of therapy, this has been the best way for me to calm myself down, relax, and escape from my thoughts.

(5) Forgive yourself. Will I slip up on these things? Sure. I probably will. I may need to get something off my mind by sending an email, or work on a presentation or committee project in time for a meeting. The key for me will be to let that be okay, as long as I have an overall level of balance. And I recognize that my balance may look very different from someone else's idea of balance. But in accepting that these things aren't going to be perfect, my mind can stop ruminating about wanting to change how I've done things, or worrying preemptively about letting the scales tip in one direction or the other.

How do you recharge your batteries, whether in student affairs or any other field? We all need it, do you make time? If not, what do you wish you could do??

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Got a Mentee

I've just returned from a retreat with the Student Activities Center staff, and am so energized about making the work that we do better, collaborating closely with my fellow staff members, forming good relationships with all of the grad students in our office, but at the same time honoring a commitment that I made to a USF student when I left.

I remember the first time I met Leah. She was one of a few students that we have that wait at our Winter Wonderland event for long periods of time (read: 6pm for an event that started at 9pm). I was excited to see that there were events that could draw such passionate followings. I was also curious to see where else such commitment could
manifest itself.

Sure enough, Leah came on our staff the following year as our Director for Special Events, which included the same event I had seen her so excited for the year before. Although I never directly advised Leah, it was great to be able to connect with her periodically, learn more about her as a student and RA, and to see her grow as a leader in the office. A few weeks before I graduated, she came to be and asked me to be a mentor for her. I was blown away by the request, and am so excited to help her through her senior year from afar.

However, I'm nervous about cultivating that relationship with her. I'm nervous because I know I'll be diligent in keeping up with her, being a resource for her, and making time to catch up with her. But I also know she has another mentor on campus at USF, someone with a very different style from me (a style I've actively chosen not to model my own career after), also advising her. It makes me apprehensive because I'm not sure what impact my advice will have from afar, or how my advice will be absorbed in comparison to that of the other mentor. One of the stages of learning how to deal with my anxiety is getting more comfortable with ceding control. And I'm taking this opportunity to challenge myself not to try and assert myself overly. I know the best I can do is state my case, offer my help and support, and leave it to Leah to interpret and pull from my words.

For those of you with more experience being a mentor, how have you cultivated that relationship from afar? What advice do you have about mentoring a student? And do we ever try to filter the information that students get? Or should we let them make those decisions on their own?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Advised a Grad

How often does the first day of work involve a serious game of Harry Potter Uno? And I mean serious--there was talk of office wars and shifting of office hours...

Today was the first day in the office for four new grads: Alyssa, Karli, Cassidy, and Sendi (the graduate assistant who I will directly supervise). Of the hats that I'll get to wear in this position, I've already decided that this is one that I will take the most seriously. Yes, advising students is also important, and I know I will take that role seriously as well. But given the fact that I am so grateful for the mentorship and opportunities that I had as a graduate advisor (they're a major reason for me being in my current role!), I want to be able to provide a similar experience to Sendi, as well as the rest of the group.

Sendi is a wonderful personality to work with. She's smart, cognizant of her role within the organization (for which I have Tyler Steffy, her predecessor, to thank!), and excited to make her mark on the role. Moreover, I can tell that she's ready and willing to learn. This might seem redundant, as she's a student, but I know of so many students who haven't come into a position with the thirst to learn that she has. I look forward to cultivating a good relationship with her, and learning along with her.

This is going to be a learning process for me, I can feel it. I want to be able to make sure she's getting the most out of her experience, without neglecting other duties. I want her to feel as though she knows me as a person, but still keep those boundaries that are necessary for a working relationship. And I want to be able to keep learning, but also know that she is learning from me. Like she said during our first meeting last week, "we'll learn it together." I'm encouraged by the understanding that we'll both be learning from each other, and am excited to have that opportunity!

Anyone have tips on how to cultivate a good relationship with a graduate student, both personal and educational?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Got the Call About the Hokies

Like much of the higher ed world (And likely much of the rest of the country), I was transfixed on surrounding TVs and my computer with word that a gunman had been spotted on the campus of Virginia Tech this morning. While we had so much fear the first time such a notice was published, today was no less scary, despite my knowledge and immense respect for their clearly improved emergency notification system.

I remember being in the car with my roommate on the way to Panera Bread in Wickford, RI when we started hearing on the radio about a shooting that occurred on Virginia Tech's campus. I called my dad to have him turn on the news and update me. Like the religious CNN watcher I know he is, he already knew. And he was sobbing. I've only ever seen my dad cry once, and to hear him so overcome with emotion, being so far from home, absolutely broke my heart.

But the best thing about it was, the next call I received was from a friend of mine, reporting the whereabouts of our one friend who had gone to Tech for school. The friend was off campus that day, and thankfully was in no danger. I had been in a quiet state of terror thinking about this friend, but had no way of reaching him. It amazed me that our high school network was so strong that I got a phone call within 30 minutes of the announcement, letting me know that my friend was okay.

I thought about that connection today as I was glued to my computer, trying to find news about the goings-on at VT. Sprinkled among the concerns of my friends about the campus community, were well wishes and notes wishing to catch up from members of my grad school class. We've had an amazing and incredibly strong bond from the beginning of our journey together, and I'm heartened to know that we're still taking care of each other, despite the distance. While I hope to never have to get that call about any of my friends or colleagues, I'm encouraged to know that I have friends and colleagues that will go out of their way to stay connected, to think of each other with the care and concern that we all had for the VT community this morning.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Questioned My Own Niceness

I consider myself to be a pretty nice person. While I have my missteps, my moments of "bucket dipping" as they say (as do we all!), I hold doors for people, bless strangers when they sneeze, am a chronic thanker (I say thank you ALL. The. Time.). But one thing that I've noticed at FSU is how courteous and helpful the people are. A hallmark of this I've seen is asking people who look lost if they need help. I am the first to admit that I'm far from competent enough to be able to do that. And possibly, even after I learn the campus, still a flight risk to direct someone somewhere. But that's the sort of culture that exists here, and it lets me know that I really am in the right place.

In light of my surroundings, articles such as this one, posted in the Chronicle this morning, make me upset. Well, not upset. Sad, and a little confused.

The point of the article, for those not ambitious enough to read it (which is OK!), is that there has been a consistent drop in college students' ability to empathize with others, to see a situation from someone else's shoes and be able to feel accordingly. This to me is very interesting, given the rise in civic education and the general rise of activism in our generation. Stories of students who entered the Peace Corps and engaged in similar projects in the 60s are mirrored in today's organizations such as TOMS Shoes, Teach for America, CityYear, and AmeriCorps. And yet, our empathy is dropping.

Is it possible we've missed a step?

The only explanation that I can think of for such a chasm between our desire to help others, combined with a drop in empathy, is the division that is drawn between helping those who are less fortunate, and helping those who are viewed as "as fortunate". That is to say, we help people who appear to need help. But those who are in the same surroundings, to appear to be of well enough means to help themselves, are left behind.

I saw an example of this last night in our intramural kickball championship game. During the game, one of our players got hurt while baserunning. I watched an entire team of med students (as well as "Cheerleaders" also in their program) not only watch as he writhed on the ground, but several of them were encouraging the person holding the ball to tag him. It absolutely disgusted me- not just because it showed a lack of civility, another value that I hold in very high regard, but because it seemed to be wholly missing the empathy piece- how would you want someone to attend to you, were you in the same situation?

Those who work in civic education may be able to refute this, and I welcome more perspectives on the phenomenon- I'm admittedly an outsider in that area, and want to learn more about what you've seen from students in this regard.

What can we do to make sure that students don't just take care of themselves personally, and take care of those who are less fortunate, but also take care of each other?