Looking for WISA Wednesday?

Come on over to the new NASPA website to get this week’s WISA Wednesday courtesy of Colleen Marquart: http://www.naspa.org/constituent-groups/posts/quarter-life-realization

Please update your bookmarks to view the new WISA KC blog via the NASPA website: http://www.naspa.org/constituent-groups/kcs/women-in-student-affairs. If you have Women in Student Affairs checked as a Knowledge Community that you follow, all blog updates will automatically appear on your personalized home page. If you are not following WISA or are not sure if it is a KC that you follow, do the following:

Log-in to the NASPA website

Click on “My NASPA” in the top corner

Select “Engagement Portal”

Select “Click Here to Update Your Member Information” from the top center of the Engagement Portal page

Communities and Groups will be one of the first sections to appear. Add any Knowledge Communities that you would like to join and receive updates.

Thank you for joining us on this exciting transition. See you on the NASPA site!

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Demystifying Mentorship by Melissa Morgan and Christina Gilmore

We have a unique kind of relationship.  We started off being thrown together on “accident” during Christina’s first year as a residence life grad and Mel’s last year (for now) as a residence life professional.  What developed was a deep professional bond through supervision that shifted to friendship and mentorship throughout that year working together and the following years.  We wanted to share our story and some things that we’ve learned about mentorship together as we move through this field, but as we sat down to write, it became clear that we didn’t know anything about formal mentorship!  No one else came to their mentor/mentee relationships like we did, so what could we have to contribute to this conversation?

It turns out, through our conversations in creating this blog post; we have a few things to share outside of the “mentorship” box that may help you find a few of your own successful mentoring relationships.  We think that the best part of having a mentor or mentee is that this person helps you to be a better version of yourself.  S/he can help you avoid common obstacles, as Mel did for Christina during her first round of conferences.  S/he can help you see yourself accurately in a new role, as Christina did for Mel when she transitioned into her Assistant Dean position.  So, what follows are some things we’ve compiled to share with you about mentorship, some stories about what it’s meant for us and maybe even how to demystify it for you.

  • First thing… It’s not complicated.  It’s about relationships, as is everything else we do in student affairs.  We sometimes build up the idea of mentorship as something akin to the unicorn, but it’s just about relationship building, which is what most of our work is about when we boil it down.

  • Embrace the weird in our relationships, but don’t let that undermine their importance.  Mel married her first student affairs mentor and still calls Drew for help when she’s stuck at work.  Now, even though we work at a different institution than where Christina and Mel met, Mel’s partner is now Christina’s supervisor. Yup it’s weird. We have all found ways to negotiate multiple roles and respect our boundaries to all get what we need out of these friend/mentor/mentee relationships and it works because we embrace the weird and are clear about what we want/need

  • No one person can do it all.  Mel calls her former colleague and friend Karl when she’s in an ethical quandary.  Christina calls her former supervisor Alexis when she’s needs support on how to best advocate for students.    Mel calls her mentee and friend Christina when she’s in a confidence downward spiral.  We call different people for different needs.  Build your team of people according to your needs.

  • Mentors don’t have to be formally named or “ahead” of you in your career.  As previously mentioned, Christina is as much a mentor to Mel as Mel is to Christina, especially when Mel doesn’t follow her own advice.

  • Some people need strict boundaries of what they share with friends and what the share with mentors.  That hasn’t worked for us.  Sometimes we designate a lunch as “mentor time” and a walk through campus as “friend time”, but mostly, they bleed together and that is ok.  So don’t feel guilty if you don’t define things so strictly either.

  • Not everyone can be a mentor-mentee match.  We’re taught in student affairs that we should be able to work well with EVERYONE.  While that may need to be true from a supervisory standpoint, it’s not necessarily so in voluntary relationships like mentor/mentees.  Successful relationships across the board have some sense of shared values, goals or beliefs, which is true for mentors and mentees as well.  We sometimes meet with new colleagues and instantly want to engage in that relationship with them, while others we are grateful for a collegial relationship and nothing more.

  • Be open to new opportunities that arise for mentorship.  Someone that you may not immediately think will have a positive impact on your career may do just that.  Mel’s colleague Karen came to Student Affairs through different channels and started this work 3 years ago in her office.  When Mel first started as her peer, she didn’t initially see what things Karen could help her learn.  However, the more Mel works with her, the more wisdom and insight Mel finds, appreciates, and learns from.

  • Mentoring relationships are important.  The further Mel gets in her career, the less strong, brilliant, capable and ethical women there are for her to consider as mentors.  That’s why she feels more and more compelled to reach out to new professionals, and tries to see if there’s a connection that may benefit both parties.

  • Women especially seem to always feel the need to have it all put together and mentors are important because they help us see our truth.  Mel learned through one of her current mentors, Melynda, that sexism still exists, that it’s ok to not always have it all “together” and that our work still has to get done, even if the previous two things are true.  What a valuable lesson to see played out in real life.

So reach out, form a relationship and help other women work through the phase of “having it all figured out”.  None of us do, but we can rely on each other to help us believe that we’re OK, we’re doing good work and that we’re going places with our careers.  Having a mentor who believes in you is a priceless entity in any field, but is critical in student affairs.  Don’t be mystified by the concept.  It’s just like everything else we do.  It’s about relationships, development of people and ethic of care.

Melissa A.L. Morgan is the Assistant Dean of Students at Washington State University. Connect with her on Twitter: @malm721.

Christina Gilmore is a Residential Education Director at Washington State University. Find her on Twitter: @Christina714

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Laughter—Connecting the Dots, Connecting People By Heather Matthews Kirk

Have you ever had one of those belly laughs that is so good your sides ache? Or that even makes you snort a little bit? How about a slip of laughter that just won’t go away? Even when you try to subdue it, the chuckles just keep bubbling up.

I am one of those people who will always laugh at your jokes, even the cheesy ones. My laugh is a little too loud and often cuts through the noise in the room. A short, big burst of happiness when something hits me just right. Sometimes, that something is another person’s own laughter.

Laughter feels great. Even the physicality of making that “ha, ha, ha” sounds releases endorphins.

It is indeed the best medicine, and I think we need more of it in student affairs.

Impactful programming. Assessment. Persistence. Mental health concerns. Risk prevention and accountability. Inclusion.

All of these things are crucial to our work. From contributing to student development to trying to prove the effectiveness of our departments, there is much that seems serious about our roles and actions as practitioners. We take ourselves so seriously … that sometimes the students we work with don’t quite track with us. In the incomparable words of the Indigo Girls, I propose there would be great benefit to “[taking our lives] less seriously, it’s only life after all.” How? Through humor. Through laughter.

Laughter, the reaction to humor, predates mankind. It’s been noted to help improve blood pressure, reduce aggression, energize, and even boost the immune system. For student affairs professionals, humor can have a real impact on connecting with students and others, as well as promoting learning.

Outside of the higher education realm, corporations believe in the power of humor. Even those as big as Microsoft train their employees how to integrate it into their daily jobs. For Microsoft, it is one of the 13 competencies for professional individual excellence, alongside traits like compassion and listening.

People pay attention to things that prompt emotion and easily forget things found boring. This seems like common sense, but brain science backs this up. When we try to understand a joke, the areas of the brain connected to learning are activated. Humor works like a brainteaser. Laughter helps people create associations. When used in the classroom, a little comedy can boost student performance as it increases motivation and cuts anxiety. When humor is interspersed in a lecture, students are more likely to recall information, even on detailed and complex subjects. As the learning process becomes more enjoyable, students grow more confident, motivated and engaged.

Humor doesn’t just benefit the students; it benefits us.  Students perceive humorous instructors (or practitioners in our case) as more competent communicators who are more in tune with their needs. They respect those who can poke fun at themselves.

If humor works in statistics and math courses, it can definitely work in our educational programs or even one-on-one advising meetings. So many times when we need to discuss difficult topics with students, we seek to have this epic conversation that will help them see the light, understand their grand purpose, or move from one vector to the next. We approach such conversations with the gravity we think they deserve; sometimes (even unbeknownst to us) we miss the mark.

How could using humor help? A clever metaphor or even a bit of healthy self-deprecation cuts tension and anxiety and help us explain the situation. It makes us more human, more approachable. In the moment, it opens the door to connections in a situation where the student might perceive a closed door. In the long-run, it creates a higher probability the student will remember the lesson.

When you can laugh together, it strengthens your connection. It’s why inside jokes foster friendship—they create a shared experience. When used appropriately, humor shows empathy and understanding. It unites people.

Here are tips from my experience (and learning from others) to integrate humor in your work:

  • Embrace the funny stories in your own life and find moments to share them with others. What have they taught you?

  • Even in challenging situations, look for irony where appropriate.

  • Use clever metaphors when teaching or advising to create memorable connections to complex material.

  • Start conversations or presentations with a joke or amusing anecdote.

  • Think about things your students will find funny, like this or this, or even things we practitioners laugh at, like this or this. How can you replicate the humor in these “tools” in your communications or programs (even when educating on serious topics)?

  • Keep something playful in your space that prompts laughter, like a childhood toy or funny sign.

  • Avoid humor that is inappropriate or puts down others. This might include mockery, sarcasm or ridicule.

  • Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. Self-humor is safe and has been shown to increase respect.

  • And laugh out loud! After all, it is contagious.

Heather Kirk is the Director of Education & Communications for a national women’s fraternity. You can find her on Twitter @hmk0618.

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Taking care of yourself is your most important job by Shelly Morris Mumma

This is the time of year that seems like there’s never enough time, there’s always a student(s) at my door with a question and I never get enough sleep.  But, this year, the beginning of the year felt very different for me with a renewed sense of the importance of still taking time for myself.

You see, last year at this time (almost to the day), I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Needless to say, this thought preoccupied me to the point of having difficulty remaining focused on those ever present questions from students and the variety of tasks that needed to be completed.

Fortunately, my original diagnosis was considered Stage 0 with an excellent prognosis.  Because of my family history, it was caught very early.  And, even though my diagnosis changed during the process of surgeries, biopsies and radiation treatment, the ultimate prognosis and result was excellent.  I am happy to say that I was given a clean bill of health by the 3 doctors that coordinate my care now.

Of course, my family was the first group of people that we told about my diagnosis.  After that, came my staff members that I talked to individually.  After that, I began to email students, colleagues in other areas of my campus and friends across the country.  My goal was to put together a circle of support for myself in order to deal with some days that I assumed would be difficult.

Here’s what I learned throughout this process.

  1. I have the best family, friends and colleagues on earth.  People I love, both near and far, reached out and supported me.  Being a person that hates to ask for help, this forced me to ask for and accept help in a variety of ways.  My husband and daughter were a huge support and for this, I am especially thankful because I know this was an experience that impacted them just as much as it did me.  It was a different impact, but just as upsetting.

  2. I also work with the best students.  Here I sent emails that I had carefully drafted about the cancer in order to communicate my diagnosis in a straight-forward manner, but also to reassure them that my prognosis was good and that I was planning on only being out for a short amount of time.  My fear was that this would be upsetting for them.  It turns out that my students were also an excellent support system.  I received so many responses about personal or family experiences with cancer or other serious illnesses that I was shocked.  And, every single story had a happy ending.  It’s unfortunate that cancer has become so common, but I’m glad that so many instances have a positive outcome.  So, instead of me having to coach them through this, many of them coached me – possibly unintentionally.

  3. Always – no matter what – take time for yourself.  This is something that we forget during this hectic, chaotic time of the year.  And, as women, all the messages we receive from society tell us to take care of everyone else before we care for ourselves.  This experience reminded me that I am the most important person for whom I need to care.  This is why I sometimes make choices to not attend campus events that aren’t sponsored by my area or to say no when I’ve been asked to help with one more thing that isn’t a part of my regular responsibilities.  Even though there are many nights when I take work home, I also purposefully make the choice to not bring work home as often as possible.  And, even with everything I’ve been through this past year, I still sometimes feel guilty for these decisions.  While I consider myself to be an assertive person, it is still difficult to say no.

  4. I’ve learned a number of other things specifically related to my medical experience that I won’t detail here, but I will say this.  Get educated about your family medical history.  Visit the doctor regularly and ask questions.  Get the information you need or want.  Advocate for yourself with the medical professionals whom you see.

I share all this, not because I want to show what I’ve overcome or appeal to anyone’s sympathy or bring anyone’s mood down. (Talking about cancer definitely makes a conversation become awkward and I talk it about pretty naturally now. My 18-year-old daughter would probably tell you that I’m just awkward anyway.)  I tell you all this to let you know you need to take care of yourself now….before you have a disturbing medical diagnosis or a serious illness.  You need to learn how to say no before it becomes a dire need to cut back on your responsibilities.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family, friends and/or colleagues.  And, take time for yourself.  Even if that time for yourself is a standing date to watch a particular television show, read a book with absolutely no redeeming intellectual value or to just sit and absorb your surroundings.  I’m not judging and nobody else should either.  Take care of yourself.  You are the person that knows you best and that’s the person you should trust.

Shelly Morris Mumma is the Director of Leadership, Student Engagement and First Year Experience at St. Norbert College.  You can find her on Twitter @ShellyMMumma.

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I Can Only Be Me by DeAnnah Reese

When I entered my graduate program for higher education I was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend… the list could go on. Of these different hats that I seemed to wear simultaneously the most challenging was being a mother and wife while trying to “prove” that I deserved to be in the program and that I was just as competent as my peers. I remember feeling so disconnected from my cohort because I could not engage like others did with faculty after class or during evening gatherings. While I was confident that I was making an impact on students through the work I was doing I began to feel within my program’s cohort I was not good enough because I could not devote the same amount of time they devoted to things within the program beyond classes. It almost seemed like having a daughter was viewed as an inconvenience or hindrance to being “actively engaged” beyond class. I was fortunate enough to have supportive faculty members that understood the challenges I faced as a new mother and wife in the program. I was fortunate to also have a few peers who have become good friends because they decided to take an interest in me and actually learn about my contributions to the campus community and capabilities as a professional. They were all great supporters then and continue to be a support system for me today.

As I entered my first year as a professional, new to Residence Life, I faced similar challenges. I found myself measuring my success by what others around me were doing. I was the only entry level professional in my department with a child and spouse and I watched others devote countless hours after programs or normal business hours to their staff and students and I was not able to be as available as my colleagues. I felt as though I was not doing enough but at the same time did not know how I could possibly do more. It was easy to suggest bringing my daughter to certain events or evening programs, but that was a strain on my child because my husband worked evenings so I would still need to prepare her dinner and bathe her, which would have her going to bed close to 11pm some nights, to then get back up at 7am for preschool.

I finally realized that I was my biggest critic. When I began to simply own the fact that I am a mother and that alone makes me phenomenal, I began to look at things much differently. What makes me even more phenomenal is that I find ways to be there for my staff, students, and my family. I make an impact just as equally as others, it just looks different sometimes. I then began to wonder if there were other women that struggled with this feeling of being “less than” as a professional because they had maternal responsibilities. What even causes these feelings?  This is something that I feel should be more openly discussed especially with new professionals. It’s easy to simply say to just be confident in the work that you are doing but until you have experienced what its like to feel this need to always prove yourself and feel like the 100% that you give is not enough, you may not really understand the internal struggle that takes place.

So why did I choose to write about this particular experience in my life? To motivate and inspire other graduate students and new professionals who are women with families that require their attention. Having a child does not make a woman less competent or less capable of doing her job, it just may look a little different in how she does things because she has another life to take care of. And many times I think as women we do not give ourselves enough credit for all we are capable of doing and have done not only in the profession but in our personal lives as well. If we are not proud of the many hats we wear and how we balance everything, who will be! Women already are often times fighting an uphill battle to climb the ladder of success and it seems the ladder gets longer when you consider being a mother and an African American woman. I have not discussed my feelings about this because I did not want to appear weak and as a result I internalized my feelings and I overworked myself to the point of neglecting self-care; well not anymore. I hope that this snapshot of a fraction of my story can inspire, motivate, or spark conversations among women in higher education that may encounter similar feelings and support women trying to navigate career growth, motherhood, and anything else in life. I can only be me and that IS more than enough!

DeAnnah Reese is a Residence Hall Coordinator at the University of Delaware. Find her on Twitter: @deannahstinson.

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“I Am a Recovering Perfectionist” by Ashley N. Robinson

I remember vividly the first time I was called a perfectionist. It was during my first grade parent teacher conference. In preparation, everyone in the class had been traced on a large piece of paper and given the project of drawing ourselves. On that day I had worn a floral shirt, so all week in class, I obsessively applied myself to drawing every single tiny flower, but the project ended up incomplete. I can remember the gut wrenching feeling of not having done well enough, feeling that my parents would be disappointed that I didn’t have the best project, that I was less than all of the other students with my half-empty life size drawing of a shirt.

And then my teacher told my parents that she thought I was “a bit of a perfectionist”. I believe she meant well by this because she was a kind and caring woman who had watched me self-flagellate over this ridiculous project and saw that at age 6, I needed an intervention of some sort. However, something was lost in the delivery, either to my parents or to me, because I ended up wearing perfectionism like a badge of honor for nearly two decades. Being a perfectionist obviously meant that I was on my way to being perfect and that I was better than others and would be rewarded. I continuously rose to the top of my class, excelling academically all throughout school (including undergrad and grad school), earning awards, accolades, and scholarships. Sometimes I faltered or made big mistakes; when that happened, I fell hard, often jeopardizing relationships based on my reactions and usually never revisiting the task at which I had failed. I thought that I could be “perfect”, and so perfectionism became my goal. I carefully excised all “non-perfectable” areas (such as organized sports and advanced mathematics) from my repertoire.

As you might be expecting, perfectionism is actually a really horrible thing. It’s not a goal at all, but the root of most of my problems. So why am I now a “recovering” perfectionist? After many personal and professional experiences in which perfectionism did not serve me well (approximately all of my experiences…ever), I recently picked up Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. As many of you know, Brown researches shame and vulnerability, and Daring Greatly is about how to embrace and practice vulnerability in our lives to live more wholly and fully. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brown identifies perfectionism as one of the “shields” to vulnerability.

Perfectionism is addictive, empty, cyclical, limiting, and fed by the demons of shame and self-hatred. It is difficult to see, perhaps for a long time, because we perfectionists are rewarded when we get close to the perfection we seek. It’s easy to mistake it for excellence, but it is not the same as striving for excellence. Seeking perfection for the sake of perfection is empty, because the sole force of motivation is to avoid the feelings of hurt, pain, and inadequacy that accompany perceived failures, rejections, and losses. Perfectionism forces us to bury our mistakes, deny our feelings, not ask for help, and push others away for fear that they will see our true, imperfect selves.

There are several experiences that have shown me the dangers of my perfectionism, and as I read Daring Greatly, I could hear the complicated script of my own perfectionism in my head. These internal and often external thoughts became crystallized into textbook examples of perfectionism:

  • Only pursuing activities that I knew I would be good at.

  • Sitting on the sidelines and making excuses because I was afraid of not being good enough and others judging me.

  • Not being able to quit something or turn down an opportunity even when I was burning myself out because I didn’t think I would be valued by others unless I did everything (and did it effortlessly).

  • Constantly questioning whether or not others liked me, and intricately associating my self-worth with other people’s attitudes and behaviors.

Each time these things happened in my life, I had the same stomach-twisting “you’re not enough” feeling that I experienced as a first grader who couldn’t finish the project. Actually, these things continue to happen, because it’s not easy to undo a couple of decades of socialization and self-inflicted shaming. But now when that “you’re not enough” feeling bubbles up (Brene Brown calls it the gremlins), I do a better job of catching myself. I do a better job of saying “I am enough. And people care about me and love me. And I am an imperfect human being who is always making mistakes and learning from them.”

I believed for so long that success and joy could be achieved through perfection; that I could shut out all of the sadness and pain if no one ever saw me struggle. But I’m starting to learn that the struggle is the beauty in life. Love, friendship, education, justice, art—all of the things I care deeply about and value are made possible through shared struggles, through taking risks, falling down, and helping each other up. I have no visions of grandeur that I’ve now got life figured out at age 25, but I do know that I’m ready to take off my badge of perfectionism, the shield that I have been hiding behind, and to get a little dirty out there in life.

Ashley N. Robinson is a Residence Hall Director at the University of Connecticut. You can connect with her on Twitter at @AshleyNRobinson.

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Words of Wisdom Round-up: Recent posts from around student affairs

It’s a busy time of year. If you are on the quarter system, you may be in throws of training preparation and planning; if a semester, well, classes may have already started. For this week’s post, we wanted to share some of the collective wisdom shared by student affairs professionals across the web in case in the midst of moving carts invading your hall lobbies, parent receptions, putting up the welcome signs, and greeting all your new students you missed some sage advice floating on the interwebs. 

  1. How a children’s book can lead to a lesson that speaks to our work and purpose: Fix that Hole in Your Pocket by Sara Hazel Harrison
  2. Is the Beloit College “mindset list” truly a reflection of the average college student?: A Mindset by Any Other Name by Amma Marfo
  3. Why leaving what you built is hard, but focusing on what you have necessary: Watering the Grass by Mallory Bower
  4. Each day is an opportunity to live your dream; do it with a special focus: Be Mindful of your QTR by Christopher Sell
  5. How will you encourage your incoming class?: Reminders as We Welcome the Class of 2017 by Lindsey Gilmore via the Student Affairs Collaborative
  6. Remembering the parent perspective this time of year: Taking a Ride in the Parental Helicopter by Christopher Conzen 
  7. A reminder to savor the joy that’s in the hectic schedule of August: Slow Down, Enjoy the Ride by Becca Obergefell
  8. How building and nurturing your network can be part of your daily routine: Everyone Must Eat Lunch Right? by Bernard Little 
  9. Making the most of the long days and nights of a new year: When August Changes by Renee Piquette Dowdy
  10. The reality of the challenges in transition: Behind the Scenes by Lisa Endersby

What inspired you? What can you take away to help make the start of this academic year your best yet? 

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Developing Women Through Mentorship by Nicole Micolichek

We start asking kids at a young age who their role model is, who they look up to.  When I was younger, amongst the “insert Green Bay Packer player here” and “singing celebrity here” there were always a few mom, dad, sister, and brother answers.  This is all great, but when do we change the question to who is your mentor?  Role models can only play a small role in someone’s life.  A mentor, however, can help guide, develop and support in ways a role model never can.

In my time as an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to find great mentors who helped support me to attain my bachelor’s degree and move on to my graduate degree.  During my time as a graduate student I was able to pursue courses in gender studies, which I hadn’t had time to do previously.  I never would have thought that an independent study would change the way I practice student affairs, but the research I was reading seemed too important to not let it impact my practice.

My independent study was about how those of us in student affairs can help develop our female undergraduate students into confident leaders.  Although there is little research on this topic, one of the suggestions that came through was having a strong female as a mentor.  Which led me to grand ideas of mentor programs connecting our female students to strong women not only at the university, but in the community.

Being a grad student and working in housing didn’t leave much time to enact this grand idea, but I thought this blog may be the next best thing.  Getting out the word to other strong women in student affairs about how important it is to not only have a mentor, but be a mentor and help our students find mentors in and around the institution where we work.

Some of us fall into mentorship, and do not realize the impact we have.  I didn’t realize I was a mentor for some of my students until they told me how much I impacted their experience and how they had changed their thoughts, actions, or even life plans.  Once the realization of having a student look up to you hits, there is automatically more responsibility.  While this may seem like more work, what I found was a sense of purpose.  I didn’t have to be the female who was forgetting other women or pushing them down- teamwork is about success of the group, not an individual.

I can also promise that I did not come out and tell my mentors how important they are in my life before graduate school.  Although they did realize they couldn’t get rid of me; I just kept coming back.  This is probably old news to many of you, but as women in student affairs, I think it is important that we begin to make a bigger deal out of helping develop and mentor other women.

Help a young professional out in her dream to affect women and student affairs.  If we all start accepting that we are mentors to not only students but young professionals in the field, we can start intentionally helping so many more women.  Knowing that this blog is about our development, think about how much we could change and grow if we took the time to teach others what we know about surviving as women in the workplace.  One major issue is the dissonance between the ability to lead and one’s self-efficacy.  Women need to begin to be confident in their abilities, and who better to encourage that than a strong female mentor.

And for me- while I still may dream to be in Lady Gaga’s  shoes (not actually in them, I’d never last), I know that my support and mentorship come from two of the best women in student affairs, @shellymmumma and @nikirudolph. And because of their support, I can be a confident mentor to others both in and out of the field.

Nicole Micolichek is a Master’s Candidate in Student Affairs Administration and
Assistant Community Director at Michigan State University. Find her on Twitter: @nmicolichek.

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Feminist Friday: “Self-Doubt = Cold Spaghetti” by Vince Bowhay

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

I’m often told I am childish, or at least I was told so a couple of times today. I take it as a compliment, really. In my Early Childhood Development course as an undergraduate I learned that most infants operate at a genius level until around the age of one. Think about it… this is the time that they start to recognize faces, become aware of themselves and their surroundings, and solve the whole peek-a-boo conundrum of “where is daddy” (hint: he’s behind the napkin). Phrases like “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” aren’t even in their language yet.

But as we grow older, our ability to take in new information slows down substantially. By the time adulthood hits, very few people can operate on the genius level (yes, even I was only a  runner-up in the 2012 MacArthur Genius Grant competition). Why is this information relevant for women in Student Affairs blog? Well, let me start off by saying – I finally understand the woman perspective: traveling with men sucks. We have absolutely no idea where we are going and we are never going to ask for a map. And for that, on behalf of the men in your life, I am sorry.

I am in Venice, Italy right now. A friend and I were looking for a specific place today for lunch. I knew, absolutely and unequivocally, that the restaurant was to the left. He insisted that the restaurant was to the right. I gave in and followed my friend. We made it to the right place, an hour later, where I knew it would be…. to the left. If I would have listened to myself, had I of been confident of my internal compass, I would have been on time and my feet would have been a little less sore. But why do we do this? Why do we let self-doubt creep into our relationships, our work, our vocabulary, and our lives?

Research suggests that self-doubt may be a learned behavior. I know we all want to blame our parents for every problem we have, but often times this learned behavior is imposed on us in a protective and caring way. When a child dreams of being a police officer, they are told “You can’t be a cop, it’s too dangerous,” or “You can be a writer, but you will not be able to afford rent or food.” It’s not surprising that these subtle sentences have evaporated the childlike amazement of the world around us and our sense of self. We’re conditioned to believe we can’t, when actually, we are capable of more than imaginable.

You’ll often hear someone say “self-doubt plagues” in a sentence – pay attention to this, because it should literally be considered a plague. People who continually doubt themselves are prone to:

  • Higher blood pressure
  • Uncontrolled depression and weight gain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Increased mortality rates among those with heart disease (1 in 4 women die from heart disease each year).

It is so important for us to curb these feelings of self-doubt, and to recognize when we need to tell that voice in our head to shut up (and maybe we stop blaming our mothers for everything at the same time).

Dr. Cynthia Thaik has a few suggestions on how to deal with self-doubt, so that you too won’t get lost on the streets on Venice and have to passive-aggressively order your meal while claiming not to be mad. I will paraphrase:

  1. Live in the Present
    Most of the time feelings of self-doubt are attached to memories of times in the past when you failed to achieve something or when someone told you that you couldn’t do something. Every day is a new start and just because you didn’t accomplish something then, doesn’t mean you can’t now. Focus on the present.
  2. Trust in Yourself
    We’re often our own worst enemies. If you tell yourself you can’t do something, then you probably won’t even try to do it in the first place. Have faith in yourself to at least try. We often tell our students to trust in themselves, but how often do we practice what we preach? It’s time to encourage our own hearts and remember that we are just as capable as anyone else.
  3. Counteract the Negative
    Listen to the voice(s) inside your head. Start to pay attention to whether or not they are negative. When this happens, make an effort to counteract these voices with positive thoughts. When you feel the negative flood coming, remind yourself of all the positive things you can do or have done, remember your strengths, and be proud of your life.
  4. Find the Source of Your Self-Doubt
    If you find yourself constantly telling yourself that you are not good enough, you should delve deep to see where these thoughts are coming from. You can choose to do this on your own, with a trusted friend, or a professional therapist. Once you identify and understand a problem, you can work towards improving your life and changing negative patterns.
  5. Spend Time With Others
    Friends and family are an invaluable source of strength. Simply voicing your self-doubt to others can often put it in perspective and make you realize how illogical this negativity can be. In addition, other people can offer advice or give you the support that will motivate you and give you the confidence boost you need.

I wish you luck on re-discovering the genius in you. I truly hope that you are able to conquer any doubts that may linger in your head, and make it to lunch on time – unlike I did today.

Vince Bowhay is the Assistant Director of the Memorial Union at Fort Hays State University.
Follow Vince on Twitter @VinceVassup.
He likes chocolate chip cookies (a bit too much).

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Living in an “E” World by Yoon Groves

For much of my life I was forced to be an extrovert. My parents were immigrants and did not speak English.  As an elementary student I had to make appointments, talk to strangers about my parent’s restaurant and translate my own parent – teacher conferences. The upside was I always did great in school… or so that is what I told them. I have three brothers. We were always competing for attention. Our house was always loud and full of energy.

When my parents moved the family back to Korea I was pushed into an unconformable situation. Suddenly, I was the one who needed translations. We previously only spoke English in the house or, as we affectionately call it, Konglish (Korean – English). I went to an International School my first couple of years in Korea. Most of the students were from Europe and Japan. I was the American girl! I played the part, acting spunky and tough (that was the stereotype at my school). When I transferred to a Korean-speaking middle school I was thrust into the center of attention once again. I enjoyed my new found popularity, no matter how awkward.

I returned to the US to finish high school and attend college. I was again the new girl. I joined several clubs and the dance team. I was trying to fit in as much as possible in the small town and all Caucasian school. In college, I joined a sorority and became very involved on campus. I always seemed to be surrounded by people.

For almost 15 years I wore the cloak of extrovert, but it did not always fit well. It wasn’t until I began working in Career Services and taking personality tests, for fun, that I understood why. I was an INTROVERT!  It made sense. I was always exhausted after sorority recruitment, orientation, etc. During busy pre-registration times all I want to do lie on the couch after work. I often felt awkward in large social situations.

The Oxford dictionary defines an introvert as “a shy, reticent, and typically self-centered person.” But being an introvert is more than being shy or quiet. Those who know me would not describe me as shy. If you met me, I don’t think you would guess I was an introvert. For me being an introvert is about getting energy by being alone, not always wanting be the center of attention, and enjoying small groups.

As an introvert, I live in an extrovert world. My home is full of extroverts. My husband loves a full weekend agenda. The success of the weekend is measured by the quantity of friends we hung out with. My husband likes to talk out ideas, problems and life situations with me. My son, following in his father’s footsteps, observes a few minutes and then bounds into any situation with no reservations and no signs of tiring. He talks non-stop for hours babbling about nothing, asking questions, making demands. When I start to tune him out he begins making up funny songs and words to make me laugh. My son does not enjoy quiet time or playing alone. Most of my friends are extroverts. Even our dog could not wait to be surrounded by people, happily running laps around everyone.

I work in world of ice breakers, high touch, and exuberance. There is not a lack of socials, activities and functions to attend. There are ample opportunities to make small talk. There are many occasions for me to learn my student’s story. This is why I love higher education. This is why I chose this profession. Nonetheless, I find myself longing for the energy that many student personnel professionals seem to find in the 25th hour.

Here are some signs you might be an introvert like me:

  • You would never think ‘The More the Merrier.’

  • You plan your night in.

  • Doing nothing is doing something for your night in.

  • After talking all day it doesn’t bother you to not say a word all night.

  • Being in large social situations is exhausting.

  • People think you are a great listener.

  • You have taken vacation days to be home alone.

  • You would never trap someone in a conversation.

  • You are not really disappointed when someone cancels plans on a Friday night.

  • People often ask you what you are thinking, because you have not said anything for a while.

  • Phone conversations are typically short, that is, if you answer the phone.

As it seems the grass is always greener…extroverts seem to have it so easy. They don’t seem to hesitate when entering social situations. They make conversation seem like an art form. BUT- there is a lot to be said about being an introvert. Just ask Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Warren Buffet or Abraham Lincoln. All self-proclaimed or perceived to be introverts.

  • Introverts can cultivate deeper conversations and relationships. Some introverts may have a large group of acquaintances, but only a lucky few get to be close friends.

  • Introverts can really push themselves out of their comfort zone. Often it takes a lot for someone to push themselves to do something they are uncomfortable with. Introverts do it on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

  • Introverts tend to make time for themselves. We all need a break to unwind and de-stress. Introverts make sure to get that time in.

  • Introverts internalize things. Ideas and thoughts are typically well thought out once an introvert introduces it to other people.

  • Introverts reflect on experiences before making decision or moving on.

  • Introverts can make great leaders. Introverts can cultivate deeper relations with their team members. They think before they act. Introverts are good at asking questions and hearing their team members.

So introverts rejoice! We can use these characteristics as our strengths. It is not a matter of whether we are too introverted for an extroverted world, but that our world is not introverted enough. Let’s all get together and celebrate our introverted nature…oh wait…or maybe just reflect on it from the comfort of a quiet home or office.

Yoon Groves is the Associate Director for Advising and Student Services at Washington University in St. Louis. Find her on Twitter: @yjgroves.

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