“What You Do Speaks So Loudly, That I Cannot Hear What You Say” by Monica Marcelis Fochtman

Growing up, my mother used to say this all the time. Like most children, I rolled my eyes and walked away. Now, I am the mother. I am also a wife; PhD; advocate for childhood cancer awareness, funding, and research; an academic specialist/advisor at an amazing Big Ten University; and a mid-career, higher education professional who is still trying to figure out who and what she wants to be when she grows up. In these roles that I negotiate, people are watching how I behave and paying less attention to what I say. On a cognitive level, I know this. In parenting and in student affairs, we lovingly refer to this as “the fish bowl effect.” We live in a glass bowl where our words, actions, and mistakes occur out in the open for all of the world to see and to judge.

It is one thing to know that people are watching me and it is quite another to let that knowledge influence my choices. My two young sons are watching everything I do. Every choice I make, whether intentionally or unintentionally, sends them a message about the choices and sacrifices I am willing to make for them and our family. My choices also show them how much I value myself and my own well-being.

I finished my doctoral studies in August 2010 and immediately began searching for “the next step” position. I had the credentials, the requisite years of experience, and the desire to be a mid-level, mid-career professional. I applied for many, many positions. On the recommendation of some colleagues, I applied for and was offered a Director-level position at a small, Catholic school. I bought some new professional clothes. With my degree in hand and self-righteous assuredness, off I went to my next step. I had made it!

I worked hard. I met some wonderful colleagues. I got to teach a first-year seminar course. I was a voting member of six or seven different university committees. I managed a quarter of a million dollar operating budget and I supervised five professional staff. On paper, it is the next step position.

That is what it looked like on the outside. On the inside, I was tired. All the time. I was spending three hours a day in my car. On a bad day in the snow, it was more like five hours. I was not exercising, ever. I never ate breakfast with my boys. I missed almost every event at their school. I missed my husband and my children. I had severely underestimated the physical, emotional, and financial toll that commuting would take on me and my family.

Worst of all, I wasn’t being true to myself because I wasn’t bringing everything I could to each of my roles. I was not living with integrity. I said to myself and to anyone who would listen that my family was most important. But, my life was not letting me be with them. When I walked in the door at 530pm every night, one of my sons would not speak to me because he suddenly realized that I wasn’t there before and he was mad. I am sure it felt like I was never there. It felt that way to me, too. Yet, every chance I got, I was touting myself as an example of someone who was successfully negotiating mid-career, family, and personal interests/passions. I was openly advocating for working mothers and mid-career professionals, “Look, I am doing it! So can you!”

Integrity is defined as: 1) adherence to moral and ethical principles, soundness of moral character, honesty; 2) the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished; and 3) a sound, unimpaired, perfect condition. I was not living a life of integrity. I was not being honest with myself or my employer. I was certainly not in a state of being whole, and I was not in perfect condition.

In November, I accepted a position at a university ten minutes from my house. I let go of my Director-level position. I gave up my seat at the Alice Manicur Symposium; hopefully another mid-level, mid-career professional was able to go and get from it all that she could. I no longer commute. I exercise at lunch now. The other day I helped a young woman with her resume and I introduced her to Twitter. These things do not make me a hero. But, they are little things that I am doing to re-align my words and my actions.

I eat breakfast with my boys every morning. Some days, I take my children to school. I am re-connecting with other working moms. When I get home, both of my boys greet me at the door and we go play, because I can. I have the time and mental energy to blog and tweet and volunteer with childhood cancer organizations about which I am passionate. I made choices that work for me and I am doing the best I can to actively live in to those choices. I am happier than I have been in almost two years.

Who is watching you? Your supervisees. Your supervisor. Your children. Your partner. Maybe a new professional is watching you and wondering if the student affairs “lifestyle” is really something s/he wants. Maybe it is a mid-career professional who is deciding between taking the leap to the “next position” and leaving the profession altogether. What are your choices telling others about who and what you value? Are you living with integrity?

Life is indeed a trade-off, a constant negotiation of roles, responsibilities, and choices. Turns out, my mother was right. What people do speaks volumes about who they are and who they value. I need to parent, lead, and work with integrity. There are two very important people watching me.

Bio
-Monica Marcelis Fochtman, Ph.D. is an academic specialist at Michigan State University. She is married with two young children. She also volunteers with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, raising money and awareness for childhood cancer research.

Connect with Monica on Twitter: at @monicamfochtman or email mfochtman@hc.msu.edu

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30 Comments

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30 responses to ““What You Do Speaks So Loudly, That I Cannot Hear What You Say” by Monica Marcelis Fochtman

  1. jenesha penn

    i love this. thank you for speaking your truth so eloquently…and for validating to those of us who aspire to have a family, obtain the doctorate, and continue to work in higher ed that it CAN happen…you just have to negotiate. i just read your dissertation (i’m in the proposal phase) and am absolutely in awe of your talent and insights.

    all my best,
    jenesha

    • Thank you for your kind words, Jenesha. As women in student affairs, we must never stop trying to carve out a path, for ourselves and for others. My mentor told me “you can have it all, just not all at once.” Best of luck to you with your doctoral studies. Please let me know how I can help.

  2. The WISA blog has become one of my favorite sites to read. Each week brings a blog post that touches my heart and my mind. Thank you Monica for sharing your story so that others can be inspired by your leadership and integrity.

  3. Wow! I connected to so much of this and continue to feel convicted about my choices and where I choose to spend my time. Thank you so much for being open to sharing your experienes, it will definitely help others along the way, me especially!
    With Thanks,
    Kelley Stier

    • Kelley-
      Thanks for your note. I am glad that my post connected with you. I hope it helps others, especially young professionals who are examining ways to negotiate their work/life roles & responsibilities.

  4. Monica- you are a powerful, beautiful voice and our community advances every time you share your truth. Thank you-T

    • Teri-
      Thank you! I am just trying to speak from the heart and hope that it helps someone on their journey. I really appreciate the opportunity and am grateful for the WISA (and #WLSALT) communities for creating a place for it. Best,
      Monica

  5. LOVE this post – it so speaks to what I’ve been going through in my job/life over the last year. I am happy to see that making those choices to spend time with your family and on yourself is paying off – I think we don’t hear that message in our workplaces as often as we hear the message about climbing the ladder. Well done, and kudos to you, Monica!

    • Hi Kristen- Thanks for your encouraging words. Leaving a Director position was really tough, but I finally realized that the commute and related stress were not good for me or my family. I am grateful to have found a place to land that allows me to be fully who I am- mid-career professional, mother, and childhood cancer advocate. I think it is so important that we share our whole stories, not just the climbing the ladder stuff as you mentioned. Best to you and yours! Love your blog 🙂
      Monica

  6. Lee Karraker

    Thank you for writing about this topic. As a new professional thinking about my future, I now know that I can do it all. I just need to be honest with my self and make compromises that uphold my integrity.

    I love Wednesdays because I get to read so many amazing women’s stories.

    • Hi Lee- thanks for your nice words. I love Wednesdays, too! Such timely and honest reflections from people who are actually out there living it. I wish you well as you make your way through the profession. Hold on to your integrity. Really, at the end of the day, it is all we have.
      Best,
      Monica

  7. Valerie Bruce

    Great post, great topic! In a busy time of hiring season- this is just the type of blog post I needed for inspiration, motivation and remembering what is most important.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  8. Deb Schmidt-Rogers

    Monica – Thanks for speaking words of truty. No woman has the same path, no path is always the right one, my path only works for me, your path only works for you, every decision has consequences, it is okay to change your mind. Sending love and hugs. Deb

  9. Beth Goad

    Thank you, Monica. This is beautifully written and just what I needed to hear.

  10. Ciji Ann

    Monica, this is such a well written and inspirational post. Your message(s) of living with integrity, as a whole person, and aligning your words with your actions are so powerful. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Amber Garrison Duncan

    Friend, I have always admired your integrity and resilience to live a life according to your values. The most freeing thing any of us can do for ourselves is to live the life we have imagined and value most. We must empower each other in a world that constantly tells us we are not enough and paints exact pictures of who we should be. The most freeing thing we can do for each other is to not pass judgement on each other for those decisions. I stand in awe of you once again. You inspire me daily.

    • Amber-
      Thank YOU. Really, I am kind of speechless. I appreciate your love and friendship along the way and feel so fortunate to call you friend and colleague. And yes, we must constantly “push back” against the messages that tell us we are “not enough.” Being who we really are is always enough.
      Monica

  12. Gage Paine

    Wonderful post! A great reminder that a balanced life looks different for each of us, and at different times (and on different days!) and that priorities change over time. I’ve found that the future I imagined early in my career, wasn’t exactly what I wanted when I got there. I’ve also realized that the reality is much richer – and much more complex. Thank you for sharing your experiences to this point.

    • Hi Gage-
      “I’ve found that the future I imagined early in my career, wasn’t exactly what I wanted when I got there. I’ve also realized that the reality is much richer – and much more complex.” YES! So well said and so true. Thanks for sharing this insight. I appreciate your thoughts.
      Best,
      Monica

  13. Thanks so much for sharing your story! I am constantly reminded by my wife & children who it is I truly work for. Congratulations on your recent career shift and for being happier than you’ve been in quite some time!

  14. Thank you for writing and sharing your story Monica. It’s been inspirational to watch your adventures and trials with your family and especially your son. Above all I appreciate your honesty and transparency in your journey. Thank you for not pretending that it’s ever as easy as it looks or that you’ve had it all figured out…. you give the rest of us permission to do the same.

    • Hi Becca-
      Thanks so much! I definitely do NOT have it all figured out 😉 In fact, the further into this stuff I get, the less I feel like I know. But, I am also learning all the time. I appreciate your kind words (and all of your great tweets!)
      Best,
      Monica

  15. tamar

    Monica:
    Thanks for sharing these wise words. You are a roll model and an inspiration.

    Wishing you happiness and success in your current position.

    • Hi Tamar-
      Thanks for your kind words. I am just doing the best I can with what I have and trying to enjoy each day. I hoe I can model for others that “the way” may not look the way they planned, but that is okay.
      Best,
      Monica

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