So am I.
There are weeks, especially this time of year, when it looks like a unicorn who devoured a bag of Skittles threw up on my Outlook calendar.
But the number of hours I work in a day and the number of meetings I attend don’t define the work I do. I can spend 14 hours in back-to-back meetings and contribute nothing to my campus. On the flip, I can spend six hours at my desk and make significant progress on a project that will benefit our students.
As a society, we’re in a love affair with our own busyness. It’s an endless topic of conversation in my social media feeds — another 12 hour work day, another string of meetings, another late night student organization meeting. And it’s easy to get caught up in world of competitive calendar comparisons. But it’s also dangerous.
Your self-worth is not tied to your calendar.
I get it. We work in student affairs, a field that can be nebulous in regard to how we define success for ourselves or our students. When I leave at the end of the day, I don’t have a standardized report of what I accomplished and how many things I fixed. I can’t compare my productivity day to day with a graph and I don’t have a sign hanging in my office that says, “Target met for XX days”.
We have to find ways to find meaning ourselves, to measure our own successes in a way isn’t tied to what’s on our calendar. For me, it means writing down three successes I had every day before I leave the office. My little yellow notebook is filled with things that may be inconsequential to others, but are victories for me. They are sometimes tangibles like completing a timeline for a project; they are sometimes intangibles like having a good conversation with a staff member. I’ve done this for three years now and while it occasionally feels like a chore, it reminds me to find my own meaning in what I do and to stop keeping score with calendar items.
It also means, for me, finding victories in little moments — like a great parent phone call, a refined process, a connecting moment with a colleague. While these things may appear on my calendar, they are surface level descriptions. It’s the depth of what happens in those time blocks that matters most.
How will you exit the world of competitive calendar comparison and find meaning for yourself?
We haven’t met, at least as far as I can recall so allow me to introduce myself –
I am an alumna of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism (BSJ, ’02) and of the College of Education (MEd, ’04). I am not at all influential at Ohio University, as I am one of thousands of alumni who crossed both through Class Gate and the threshold of Scripps Hall. I did not pursue a career in journalism; rather, I followed my passion for higher education and now work as a college administrator. I have found opportunities to blend my journalism and education interests — I contribute frequently to a field-specific magazine (edited by a Scripps alumnus), and regularly blog about higher education and student affairs.
All of that is provided only as context for my understanding first-hand the balance of being an administrator and educator. I am writing to express my genuine disappointment in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. It appears that the celebratory annual banquet was held last night, the first night of the Jewish holiday of Pesah, or more commonly Passover. This is a night with deeply meaningful historical and religious connections. And so a night that was about celebrating the accomplishments of student journalists undoubtedly excluded some of them or forced them to choose between a rite of their faith and a rite of passage of their education.
One could certainly argue that an important component of student development is helping students confront and reconcile similar situations, as these moments will not simply disappear after the stage is crossed at Commencement. But one could also argue that there is a responsibility of due diligence for a college or university to maintain an inclusive environment. Certainly there was no conversation of holding the banquet on Good Friday or Easter Sunday.
In my heart, I am giving the benefit of the doubt — this year’s revised academic calendar must have meant shifting the event to another time frame and this was where it landed. But I also know that, more than once, similar situations arose during my time as a student because of a lack of consideration or maybe a lack of understanding. As a society, we have fallen in a complacent trap of assuming that if our decisions or behavior offend, someone will bring it to our attention. Rather, shouldn’t it instead be the expectation that we give universal consideration for how our decisions may impact others?
I am sure that I am a lone voice. It’s unlikely you will hear from anyone else on this topic. For many alumni who shared a similar experience to mine during their tenure, it’s just the way things are and have always been at our beloved alma mater. I hope for better — and I’ve seen improvement since my time on the bricks. In that hopeful thread, I’ve included the contact information of Rabbi Danielle Leshaw of Ohio University Hillel below this message. Rabbi Danielle and the other staff at Hillel are an excellent resource not only for students but also for faculty and staff. I genuinely hope that you also see the potential for the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism to be better for its students — all students — and take advantage of the resources available to create a more inclusive environment.
Best wishes for the remainder of the semester.
The more I read of Lean In, the more it resonates with me. I’m not more than halfway through, but have several quotes highlighted and ideas for conversation topics with the women in my professional life. But something keeps bothering me –
There has been no mention of privilege.
Oh, sure. There is reference to male privilege — the belief that men are inherent leaders, the privileges associated with being males in a classroom or boardroom, the privilege of being a less involved partner or parent that falls to men.
But Sheryl Sandberg has yet to identify or mention her own privilege. Maybe it’s coming later in the book — I hope — but for me, it needed to be acknowledged early. That’s part of leaning in, isn’t it, understanding ourselves and who we are? Sandberg wholeheartedly wants us to know what holds us back — and I agree with that idea — but we also have to pay respect to what launches us forward.
For Sandberg, it appears to be the privilege of an Ivy League education, both undergraduate and graduate degrees. There is, of course, no discussion of how this education was financed, but she does reference her father’s career as a renowned physician and the volunteer work her mother did. The Harvard education undoubtedly opened more doors for her, created more opportunities for her, likely ones that my state school education wouldn’t have in a similar major or field.
And so it becomes critical, as we read, that we ask ourselves about our own privilege and understand how it affects our seat at the table and our voice in the room. As someone who feels the tremendous weight of having leaned in most of her life — I can’t remember a time I didn’t ask for what I wanted including additional compensation and more opportunities at work — I also know that tendency to lean in comes from feeling like I was at a disadvantage in many situations and needed to advocate for myself.
I know that my education, on par with my colleagues, is a privilege in many facets of my life. I know that my current socioeconomic status affords me opportunities to travel, connect, and give of my time. I know that my parents’ socioeconomic status afforded me an excellent public education, including extracurricular activities and leadership opportunities. I know that my privilege is inherently tied to my opportunity, and as I help other women on their path, I need to be respectful that we have all had different experiences and are not playing the game with the same hand of cards. In fact, many of us are not playing the same game or even using the same deck of cards.
As I said, I hope Sandberg touches on this later in the book, though I have a lingering suspicion that the topic will never come up. Sometimes it’s the absence of acknowledgement that provides the most meaningful context. And so I will move forward in the book thinking less about where I am going and instead where I came from.
I’ve never seen my social media feeds so amped for the release of a book as they have been in recent days for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. And the more I read of the debate and discourse surrounding the book, the more frustrated I get. I don’t dispute Sandberg’s factual points that women are underrepresented in leadership roles, particularly in corporate America. I don’t negate that women face obstacles that men would not recognize if they ran into them face-first.
I’m tired of being told how to be successful and what success should look like. And I’m mostly tired of it because it’s other women screaming these messages at me in conference sessions, via social media, in books, in blogs, in networking opportunities.
Ask for that.
Volunteer for this.
Network with this person.
But don’t talk to this person.
Go to this conference.
But don’t wear that.
I won an award last year from a professional organization and instead of congratulatory messages, the messages I most often received were about how I could do more, be better, and be more visible in my field. This award was a launching pad to larger, greater successes. And those messages came from women. Men in my field, including my mentor, congratulated me with a handshake or a hug with no expectation of how I would use this to get closer to where I am going. And maybe it’s because they don’t have to think about that regularly, but I grew to resent the unsolicited ideas and feedback on where I should go next to be successful because no one was asking me where I wanted to go. I stopped being a person and started being an example of how a woman can succeed and, in turn, that somehow turned me into a token of success instead of a person with her own plan and path and definition of success.
We talk regularly in my professional circles about how women need to support each other, how we need to lift each other up. But there’s a faction who confuse lifting with pulling and dragging, who have stopped listening to individuals and made assumptions about where a person wants to be or should be.
I regularly have conversations with one of our entry-level staff members on campus about this, about how success looks different for different people. And as we talk, I know in my heart that she’s going on to do great things no matter her path because she has a clear vision of what success means to her. She knows what it is and what it isn’t. She knows where she wants to be and how she’s going to get there. She takes the help offered to her, but refuses the help that conflicts with her own values. And at 24, she’s a role model for women in ways they won’t recognize right away. I listen to her thoughtfully process what she sees from other women in the field and reconciles it against her own plans, which involve next jobs, her family, her partner, and maybe adopting a pet. She hasn’t leaned in to her career; she’s leaned in to herself.
And isn’t that more important? To understand ourselves, to know our own strengths and plans and goals? To be resilient in the face of unsolicited advice and expectations? To be content with the path we’ve chosen if it’s where our heart is?
Lean In is currently downloading on my tablet. Having not read it yet, I can’t make promises that I won’t be back to share more thoughts and opinions on its promise of new age feminism and how it integrates with student affairs.
I have extensive conversations with people via Twitter Direct Message. This is hilarious to me. I’m using a medium specifically designed for short bursts of information to have long, complicated discussions. But it forces me to make a point quickly and succinctly and, in most cases, forces me to think fast.
This morning I was having one of these conversations and was told that my reaction to something made me sound, in short, like a sixteen year old girl. This wasn’t at all offensive; it was a completely accurate reflection of the petulance and flippancy with which I’d responded. I was deflecting the gravity of a situation because it’s out of my control now. I made a series of poor choices that has likely tarnished my professional reputation with at least one person I respect greatly. Though I’ve worked hard to redeem my reputation, it’s improbable I’ll fully recover.
But I knew all that before our conversation.
What I didn’t realize was how transparent my lack of self-confidence is when called out. It was a moment that exposed a vulnerability; I responded by deflecting. Instead, I could have said, “You’re right — I own that mistake and will make it better. Or at least keep trying.” I chose to laugh it off and couch my discomfort in the idea that I wasn’t good enough for anyone to notice my mistake.
We all have these moments, right? Because we all have sore spots and self-esteem that’s perhaps a bit worn down in some areas (like the S key on my keyboard — just noticing). We have a response that’s now environmentally engineered, programmed into us by years of salt in open wounds and beating ourselves up a bit more than necessary. I’m a firm believer that it’s how we respond to things that defines us, but I also know that sometimes my responses are rooted in my belief that I’m not good enough and that I don’t matter.
I don’t have a solution because, truthfully, I’m probably going to keep deflecting. At least for a little while more while I think about how to be vulnerable in a more authentic way. But I’m also going to keep having conversations that challenge me and expose those vulnerabilities so I can keep growing and learning from them.
I stopped blogging regularly. And for me, it’s important to clarify that I’m still writing — oh, am I writing — but that blogging has fallen off my plate.
Or maybe I pushed it off my plate?
At lunch today in the cafeteria (turkey burgers, in case you’re curious), I had a conversation with three of the Residence Directors with whom I work about blogs and the narcissistic tone they take on. It takes vulnerability to blog publicly, certainly, but posts very often become noisy “Look at me! Look at the great things I’m doing and laud me for them!” moments.
We giggled at the idea of blogging about the things you suck at doing in your job. No one is writing that blog post, though it’s part of our brand, isn’t it? Just as much as the ways we’re good at our job, our shortcomings and our hard days are also part of the deal. It’s disingenuous to share only our rainbows and unicorns moments. Because there are days when work is hard, when we cry in our offices, when we advocate without being heard, when we lose battles, when we aren’t the person we wish we could be.
In many ways, blogging became less of a priority when I began working with a larger staff. I’m sensitive to their growth and development, knowing that what I see in a moment may not be the end result of a long lesson and reflection. It became less of a priority, too, when my lessons became entangled with theirs — when our struggles and accomplishments started moving together. For more than three years, I worked in a department of two people and the considerations were different. Now, though, my accountability is to my team and to all of us growing together.
And in the meantime, there will be more lunch conversations that inspire me to be better, to do more — not as blog material but because it’s the right thing to do.
In previous years, my One Word came to me easily. Nothing resonated with me for this year, though, and I offhandedly considered giving up. I debated a few for several days, but as I tried them on, none felt right and so I discarded them to the side. I considered not having a word as my word — a blank canvas — but even that felt wrong. When Michelle tweeted she was having a hard time coming up with a word, I sympathized.
I tweeted moments later that I’m terrible at sitting quietly, which I noted while sitting in the salon waiting for my color to set. I am an extrovert. I love being around people. I derive all of my energy — every single ounce of it — from my proximity to other humans. Beyond that, I need noise — conversation, music, background chatter. I regularly talk to myself, narrating my actions or asking myself questions. I make up songs about my face wash in the shower because the solitude is otherwise unnerving. I fill all of the space around me with noise, some meaningful, but much of it not. My husband has called me A Noisy Little Thing.
And it was in the moment after clicking “send” on the tweet that I realized my word should be Silence.
I’m uncomfortable in Silence — aren’t so many of us? And now I’m planning to dwell there for much of the next year.
I’m going to embrace the Silence in conversation, allowing the lack of noise to expand and give me time to reflect before reacting.
I’m going to purposefully invite Silence into my environment, including turning off the background noise.
I’m going to force myself into Silence, requiring me to listen more to those around me.
And in all of that Silence, I’m hopeful I will hear more and learn more than I ever did in all of the noise.
Tonight I participated in an impromptu conversation via Twitter about the role of humor, cynicism, and satire in our work in student affairs. The blog post below has been saved in my drafts since March 2011; it’s been a long time coming. After this evening’s conversation, it felt particularly relevant.
For the past year and a half, I have been the voice – both written and oral – of Irma Pelt. Many of you will claim to have already known this, and you will be right. Some of you will claim that you knew this, and you will be lying. And some of you couldn’t care less because you have no idea who Irma is.
Indulge me for a minute.
I was recruited to write for CronkNews in December 2009. I sent a tweet completely unrelated to student affairs while out to dinner on a Friday night. Leah Wescott responded and said she wished I would write for her. Hours later, I sent her an e-mail asking for more information. I was a fan of CronkNews long before I was Irma so to be asked to contribute to something of this magnitude, a conversation that was so important to higher education, was flattering.
Over the past eighteen months, some people have been offended by Irma’s tweets and articles. People have expressed belief that Irma doesn’t contribute meaningfully to our field and work. People have found ways to marginalize a woman – a fictional character – who had a voice different from the crowd’s. I’m always surprised when people are offended by Irma because, if you look carefully, Irma has never targeted a specific person or group of people. If you read what is actually written, you willl see Irma points out bigger concerns and engages in discourse about issues global to the work we do.
The parts people find offensive are the parts of their own identity they’re inserting into an article. We all do it – I won’t claim innocence. It’s human nature to be hurt and claim offense rather than taking a step back to look atwhy we have that reaction. What is the actual trigger? Is it the comment, or is it our own insecurities?
For all those who have been offended, twice as many have responded positively. So many people have bravely engaged in conversation, debate and dialogue with Irma, even not knowing who was behind the purple pillbox hat and feigned love of Boone’s Farm. People have agreed, publicly and privately, with the challenging statements. More fascinating to me is how open people have been with Irma, sharing their own experiences and observations. There is a conversation that needs to happen in our field, and there are voices that need to be heard. Too many people are being silenced because they are not of the popular opinion. I am not the brave one – I have hid behind an avatar and a fake name to share these thoughts. The people who, as themselves, have openly shared and discussed are the ones who are truly brave.
What I’ve learned as Irma is that we’re all correct in these debates. We simply don’t extend the same kindness and openness to others in our field we do to our students. We love our students’ opinions and stories; we want our colleagues to share our mindset. We love our students’ individual contributions; we want our colleagues to approach our work in the same way we do.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned as Irma is that I am not alone. You are not alone. There are hundreds of people who want to break free of the sometimes sheep-like mentality of student affairs and higher education. They want to get our field back to a place where conversation and debate is encouraged, where voices are heard, where what we bring to the table is more important than who we sit next to at the table or what our place card says.
I have never regretted being Irma because, from where I sit, I see the conversations started and the connections built. I see the wheels spinning for those willing to look beyond the satire and see the real issues facing our field. I do regret I have hidden for so long while others have been openly brave with their voices.
I chose Irma’s name based on the former Dean of Women at my alma mater, Irma Voigt of Ohio University. Dean Voigt was revered by students for her authentic approach to her work and her relationships with students and colleagues. For two years, it was my honor to serve as a resident assistant in the building named for Dean Voigt. It was this experience that inspired my career in student affairs, particularly spending time going through historical archives to learn of her approach to building community and encouraging meaningful academic discourse. I didn’t know Dean Voigt – she died more than 40 years before I set foot on Ohio University’s campus – but I like to think in some way I’ve kept her spirit alive by challenging systems and pushing our field to be better. I see the potential we have as individuals and as a field to move forward and to grow.
And I hope you do, too.
[Edited 12/20/2012: Irma lives on, of course, through me. Though I write far less often for CronkNews, I've learned to be authentic in challenging systems and owning my own voice in the field.]
When I told my co-workers I was working on a blog post about personal and professional boundaries, they laughed at me. And so I feel like I have to come clean early in this post, otherwise they will out me in the comments:
I suck at creating and maintaining boundaries between my work and personal life. The bleeding of the lines goes beyond leading a blended life; I work constantly.
I respond to emails while grocery shopping, getting a pedicure, watching a movie. I say yes to almost everything asked of me by my employer and professional organizations, wincing inside at my overcommitted calendar. Colleagues call my office after hours and expect me to answer because I so often do.
I recognize that I have no one else to blame. I created this self-culture and put these expectations on myself. My employer, especially my direct supervisor, has no expectation I respond to emails after hours (or from the produce aisle). Since I was in graduate school, I have prided myself on my work ethic. Somewhere along this career path, though, I confused that work ethic with constantly being available to a campus community and professional organizations.
In April, my partner sat me down and told me candidly he felt like I was working too much and was both worried and sad. He had the conversation with me that no one else dared, challenging my notion of what is reasonable to ask of myself to give to others. He framed it in the context of my own health, but also in the quality of what I am able to give to others.
And so since then, I’ve enrolled myself in a self-imposed boundary rehabilitative program. I’ve started turning my work email off when I leave the office at night and on weekends. I still check it occasionally in the evenings, but am able to make better decisions about what needs immediate attention and what can be triaged in the morning. I am still saying yes to professional organizations, but doing a better job of negotiating deadlines and expectations with them. I refer opportunities to other professionals, and I’m pickier about the opportunities I pursue for myself based on how they will integrate into my life – while, most importantly, still allowing me to have a life.
The same co-workers who laughed at the notion of this blog post have been critical to my success in my rehabilitation. When one of my supervisees went to my supervisor to tell her he was worried about how much I was working, I knew I wasn’t role modeling appropriately. When they started high-fiving me as I left the office on time, not even early, I knew I needed to get into better habits about my work hours.
It’s a slow process of changing. Over the past four months, I’ve celebrated little victories – leaving the office during lunch to work out, writing a task list and walking away from it, declining invitations for more involvement. But I still have much work to do this area, especially as I look at a new group of young professionals in our office and how I want them to think about this work we do.
What boundaries do you maintain? How do you enforce them for yourself?
To read more on the idea of boundaries and blending, visit Ann Marie Klotz’s blog.
Social media has done funny things to our society.
We get our news faster. We get it from different places. We rely on a rapidly changing landscape of microbursts of information to piece together entire complicated stories. In so many ways, it has made us better consumers of news. More people pay attention to the news because it’s in front of us in our Facebook news feeds and our Twitter streams.
But it also means we get our news in a condensed version, likely not representative of diverse perspectives. Think about who your Facebook friends are. Who do you follow on Twitter? Probably people most like you.
This afternoon I watched as a non-United States based company made a social media gaffe. They saw Aurora was trending and made a joke about it being related to a dress they carry in their fashion line. Besieged by tweets of people who were offended, they deleted the tweet and apologized. Part of their justification was that they aren’t based in the United States and didn’t know why Aurora was trending.
Whether you believe that or not, the issue of ethnocentrism in our news consumption is clearly a prevailing issue. I can’t imagine a PR person not exploring the reason for a trending topic before making a comment on it, but it happens more of than we know.
But the ethnocentrism runs both ways. How many of the people who were angered follow news closely in other countries and would know of a similar incident in a German or Egyptian city? It’s easy to immediately become indignant and forget that most of us aren’t avidly consuming news from other countries… but we expect others to know about our news in our part of the world.
There’s no easy fix that I can see, and really, this issue is comparably small on a day that started with violence and has continued with microagressions and victim blaming. But it’s at least a worthy small side note on this day and something to consider moving forward…