About Anne R Stark, PhD

Director of Residence Life at the University of Central Florida. Passionate about talent development, curricular approach to out of the classroom learning, and reducing the achievement gap. Avid runner. Momma. Wife. PhD in Technology, Leadership, and Innovation from Purdue University's Polytechnic Institute.

How do you do it?

if-you-want-something-go-get-it-period

I completed my PhD in December 2015. I tackled my entire program in 3.5 years, start to finish.

During those 3.5 years:

  • My husband began his PhD journey the same day I did and also worked full time.
  • My baby grew into a little boy. He was 13 months old on my first day of class and 4.5 years old the day I graduated.
  • I worked full time, mostly as an assistant director of residence life, more of a life style than a job.
  • My father-in-law became ill and died from cancer (we lived close by and provided the support we could when not at work or in class or doing homework).
  • I completed a job search and became the director of residence life for the largest residence life program in the state of Florida (which resulted 1,000 mile relocation).
  • We are ultra runners – we run really long distances…for fun. 🙂

Now that school is over, I am writing, presenting, working, spending time with my kiddo, and training for my first 100 mile ultra marathon (Keys 100).

When people learn all this about me, the first question, without fail is …

“How do you do it?”

Simple.

I wanted it bad enough so I found a way (and shit-ton of privilege).

Period.

Those who want whatever “it” is for them, bad enough, will eventually go get it. There is no perfect time. You will never be ready. There will always be _______ in the way.

Wanting something bad enough doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, sacrifices will have to be made, schedules will have to change, relationships will be strained, lost or strengthened.

We never do it alone, there is always a village to provide support each step of the way!

It’s never perfect and it’s always messy!

It will be hard.

The good stuff always is!

Now, go get it!

Post-PhD Depression: That sh*t is real!

phd-survivor

The journey to get there is tough. The journey through is treacherous. Walking across that stage and having the hood descend over your head…priceless!

What we don’t talk about enough is the struggle bus that comes after graduation. During the journey there are many feelings of excitement, regret, unworthiness, loneliness, defeat, triumph, and the second wind (similar to what runners experience on long runs).  Being called Dr. does not prevent these same feelings from rearing their ugly heads again and again in the post PhD haze.

Graduation is exciting! You made it! It paid off! Then there is this weird haze where time passes as you reenter the human existence. Because you have worked so hard for years before graduation, the year after graduation is spent reintroducing yourself to your friends, family and co-workers. Once the haze wears off, the depression can set in.

  • What’s next?
  • When are you going to publish? You only have three years before your research is out of date!
  • When are you taking a new job?
  • What are you going to do with all your free time?

The truth is, you have spent years in a process, I swear, designed to break the human spirit. What’s next?…getting my shit together!

Publishing is the last thing from your mind as serious imposter syndrome may have set in and you are terrified to reopen your dataset for fear of finding all the mistakes…then what?…

A new job is a true goal for some but for others this journey has not been about finding a new job.

And let me tell you about free time! All that free time is now spent catching up on all you missed while you were up to your eyeballs in research (kids, spouses, partners, friends, families, community engagements, self-care, personal health…you get the picture).

For me, I barely got into my program. I was the only leadership doc student in the technology, leadership and innovation program. My program was not a cohort program (pluses and minuses there). I was often one of two domestic students in my classes (grateful for that eye-opening experience). I was often the only one who worked full-time as well as went to school full-time. I met very few mothers, let alone mothers of young children (mine was 13 months old when started) in my program. I was in courses with people who were building robots to fight fires when buildings became too dangerous for human fire fighters, and students trying desperately to discover better methods of growing wheat to help fight hunger in sub-Saharan Africa…you get the picture…I was there to study burn out. Spend years like this and it takes a toll on you.

Re-entry into the human existence is hard and takes awhile. I had a similar experience when my son was born. The lack of control of time and energy, the serious lack of sleep, the poor health habits that can form out of necessity to simply survive. It takes a couple years, literally, to regain your focus, your strength, your schedule, your time.

First you over compensate from being “gone” so much to complete school. Then the pendulum slowly settles in the middle and start to feel like a human again. Then you get to begin the work addressing the imposter syndrome.

This may seem a bit extreme but trust me, some level of this exists for many doc students post graduation whether they tell you about it or not. However, knowing about it can help those headed in the same direction to prepare and feel normal as they process their post-PhD depression. You are not alone!

ProD: It’s not always about you!

Let’s take a moment to talk professional development.

What do you think of when you think of professional development?

I used to be one who felt that professional development was all about what I wanted to experience and how I wanted to grow as a professional and sharpen my craft. I also used to feel these experiences were approximately half new knowledge and half networking. Now that I have made a few laps around the proverbial track, I am starting to look at professional development through a different lens.

First and foremost, professional development is about the growth and development of your organization so that the organization is better able to meet the needs of the students and achieve organizational goals…not solely you.

If your department is moving in a new direction or has clear goals for the future, your professional development needs to be focused on moving the organization in that direction. The organization can have a larger impact on the lives of students than one singular person.

Secondly, professional development does not equal conference attendance.

What meetings have you been requested to sit in for your supervisor? How did that experience help you grow?

What committees have you served on? How has that experience shaped how you view your work now?

What networking opportunities have you taken advantage of and how will those interactions assist your organization is achieving its goals?

What have you written and published? How have you contributed to the literature?

What have you read both in your field and outside your field to help broaden your understanding and perspective? How you can you apply those readings to your work?

Finally, there are experiences that are valuable for individual development. In shifting our overall mindset to serving the organization and helping it to achieve goals related to student success, you will professionally develop far beyond any one conference experience. However, “you” should not be the only goal of development.

By modifying your focus from the individual to the good of the whole, we all succeed and most importantly, so do the students we serve.

Alone we can do so little

Never Enough: A Promise

I sit here with a blank page not knowing what to say or where to start. I’d fight for you, I’d take a literal and proverbial bullet for you…but that’s not what you want nor what you need. Rather my fight should be focused on disrupting a system that favors me over you.

The problem is, I don’t know how to fight that fight. But I’ll try. I can’t undo what I’ve already done. I can’t unlearn nearly 40 years of acculturation into a system that favors people who look like me. I can’t teach myself about thoughts, words, phrases, and actions that may be problematic if I don’t know that they are in the moment I display them.

However, I can make a promise.

I promise to unlearn as much as I can in the years I have left. Though, it will never be enough.

I promise to learn the truths and many perspectives of others. Though, it will never be enough.

I promise to read. Though, it will never be enough.

I promise to dedicate my time, talent and re$ource$ in order to try to pay back the harm my people have caused. Though, it will never be enough.

I promise to pay closer attention and call out symptoms and actions of systemic racism when I see, hear, feel, and read them. Though, it will never be enough.

I promise to decrease the time needed in reflection to notice the issues previously stated in order to responded closer to the moment at hand. Though, it will never be enough.

I promise to help educate my people. Though, it will never be enough.

I promise to raise a privileged son whose eyes are as open I can get them so that he may continue along this path of waking and disruption. Though, it will never be enough.

My promise will never be enough. I will get it wrong and mess it up way more than I will get it right. I will find grace and let go of perfection in the journey of becoming better today than I was yesterday.

It’s too late for our wilting friendship to blossom. The damage of my ignorance has been done. Today, I find peace in my heart and an abundance of gratitude for your impact on my journey. I promise to learn from this moment and do better tomorrow; even though it will never be enough.

photo credit: Cymone Wilder On Drible

No Longer Yours

To all those whose expectations I have been trying hard to meet,

Thank you, but no thank you, I am no longer yours.

You tell me to act like this, dress like that, find your voice but keep it quiet. Be yourself but only on a diet. Say these things in this way just as prescribed. Your thoughts, words and full self can be too much and cause others to feel insecure at your side.

I am no longer yours.

If I am to succeed in your definition of success then here is the path you have thoughtfully shared. The problem is our definitions do not align and to walk the path you described dilutes the gifts and talents I provide.

I am no longer yours.

Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your well-intended guidance. I appreciate your efforts to refine this mess. Thank you for the lonely silence when my “performance” was always less. Though, all I have ever felt is compounding distress. I no longer wish to sit on this tight rope wearing your expectations as a dress.

I am no longer yours.

I am finally brave enough to say I have had enough and it ends today. I like my flaws, no I love my flaws. There is so much beauty and strength to be found there. And if I am to live as designed by my creator then walking my own path is where I must reside.

I am no longer yours.

On my own path I’ll likely be alone. There will be many obstacles to over come. But it will be my path, my success, my journey or none. It will be hard work to carve out my space and completely worth it in the end to see the accomplished smile upon my face.

To all those whose expectations I have been trying hard to meet,

Thank you, but no thank you, I am no longer yours.

3 Points to Ponder: Writing Goals for the New Year

‘Tis the season of goal writing and New Year’s resolutions. We reflect on the closing year and wonder where the time has gone. We take note of our accomplishments and areas we wish we would have done differently. With the new year upon us and hope of a better year ahead restored, many of us sit down to write new goals and resolutions. Before you write yours, I offer the following for pontification:

What are your values and are your goals and resolutions aligned?

Goals and resolutions that are aligned with our core values will be much easier to accomplish over the year ahead. Trying to stick with New Year’s resolutions that are not inherently yours means you will not only be chasing the resolutions but attempting to transform a piece of you into someone else at the same time. I don’t know about you, but I have tried to be so many others and, in the end, I am happier and more successful at being myself. So before writing goals, identify your values.

How long is your list?

As an over achiever I can tell you I love lists and I am excited by attempting to accomplish what others deem impossible. In years past, that has meant lists of 15- 20 goals per year. One year, it was a goal a week…really! I failed at crossing everything off each one of those lists. And, at the end of those years, I felt like a failure. However, I noticed I was able to accomplish 4-5 of items on those lists each year. Therefore, this year, I will challenge myself to commit to 5 goals, maximum. If I identify 6 or 7, I will push myself to really consider which are my top 5 that most align with my values and only commit to those. I challenge you to do the same.

From where will your accountability come and what methods work best for you?

Accountability comes in many forms. For some, public accountability works wonders. Those humans, are the ones who proclaim their goals to the world and share their work towards those goals all year long (I do this with my running goals). For others, a trusted and honest friend is all the accountability they need. A common goal this time year is related to one’s health thereby making the various ways of measuring those health goals an accountability tool (scale, heart-rate, sleep analysis, and so on). Accountability looks different for everyone, even when we might have the same goal. Know what works for you then next to each of your values aligned goals for the year, write the appropriate accountability measure to keep yourself motivated and on track for success.

what-are-your-goals

These three guiding pontifications should help you write more productive goals for you in a way that will help you stick to your goals throughout the year! Best of luck on your journey to accomplish your values based goals and resolutions in 2018!

My Limitations Are Not Yours

I have heard many stories over the years about how people (women and people of color specifically) were held back due to the limitations of others rather than their own. 

Picture this. 

A group of leaders in an organization are huddled together in a room to discuss areas of growth for the organization. During their discussion, it is noted that additional leaders will need to be tapped to carry out the vision of the future. This immediately sparks a conversation regarding the “up and comers” and those “loyal” to the organization who would be ideal to accomplish the needed tasks. 

One by one, the talent is put up for judgment and scrutiny. 

  • What about Chen? He has been with us for 20 years and knows our history. Well, he is recently divorced and going through a hard time. I am not sure he can take on such a big task right now. 
  • What about Charlie? She’s bright, talented, and brings a good deal of positive energy. Well, she is pursuing an advanced degree right now and I don’t think she has room in schedule for this big task. 
  • What about Jamal? He consistently demonstrates strong relational and stragic leadership skills. Well, he hasn’t been here very long and would struggle getting up to speed with our history. 
  • What about Shelia? She has been with us for 10 years and has done good work. Well, she disagreed with us on that one policy. I worry she will be difficult to work with on this project of high importance. 

You see, what could be happening here is a projection of personal limitations onto others. Just because you had a hard time with your divorce, doen’t mean Chen is having the same experience. Just because you did not carry a heavy workload while pursuing your advanced degree, doesn’t mean Charlie will struggle. Just because you may have struggled to lead large projects earlier in your career, doesn’t mean Jamal will follow in your footsteps. Just because you don’t fee comfortable speaking truth to power, doesn’t mean Shelis should be penalized for saying what needed to be said. 

I have heard these stories many times. I have experienced similar stories along my own journey. It makes me sad that we can so easily hold someone back because of our own limitations. 

No more. 

I vow to critically examine each time I might hold someone back to ensure I am not doing so because of my own limitations. Sometimes, the opportunity is not right for a person at the present time. However, I will not let that become my excuse when in reality, your limitations are very different from my own. Mine will not hold you back! 

Don’t forget your perfect

The season is upon us. The time of year when many freshly or soon to be minted graduate students find themselves in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the job search. Many graduate students and new professionals will do as they have been taught:

  • Seek out mentors
  • Network
  • Review your resume
  • Have many, many people review your resume
  • Tighten up your cover-letter
  • Have many, many people review your cover-letter
  • Choose the best interview outfit
  • Participate in mock interviews
  • Talk search strategy with close friends and mentors

What many often wind up forgetting amidst all the noise is what needs to be remembered every moment of every day of the search process:

Don’t Forget Your Perfect!

Yes. Your. It’s not a typo. You each bring your own perfect to the table. Your own unique set of skills and experiences. Your own values and work philosophy. Own it. Keep in the forefront of your search. Let it shine! The cost of not doing so is winding up in a workplace that does not align with your perfect and that can lead to you burning out long before your time is up in this work (trust me, I wrote a dissertation about this stuff).

Write on the mirror, on post-it notes, or tattoo it on your arms. We will all benefit if you are able to stay true to your perfect, including and most importantly, the students we serve.

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Little Pieces of Paper

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Junior high or middle school is an interesting time in life. For everyone, we struggle to find out who we are in that moment in time, how we fit in the social structures of young teenagers, to try to be cool or own our weirdness, and so much more!

During my moment in this time, I was trying hard to fit in. My elementary school from the “country” joined with the elementary school from “town” for junior high. Suddenly my little class of 24 students was thrust into a much larger environment with very different social rules and ways of belonging.

Sometimes in an attempt to belong, we do things that are not kind to others.

I vividly remember being in a language arts class not paying a lick of attention to the teacher when the idea to be mean to the girl sitting in front me ignited me into action. I chose to put little pieces of paper all over her long curly dark hair. The ‘cool’ kids sitting around and behind me began to laugh. This encouraged me to continue.

After about two minutes, I saw a piece of paper hit the floor from the side of my desk. That didn’t come from my hand or the head of the girl in front of me…panic set in. I slowly reached up to feel the back of my head. There were little pieces of paper all over my very long curly red hair. I was immediately deflated and embarrassed. I wanted to run and hide.

It has taken a few years but as I look back on that moment, I learned a few lessons.

  1. Don’t try to be cool – Own your weirdness!
  1. Your actions toward others will come back to you…choose wisely!

As a leader, you cannot be anyone except yourself if you want to inspire and have others join you on your journey. Keep this post in mind if you are ever tempted to speak poorly about someone, including your boss. In making tough decisions that will have a negative impact on someone, reflect and ensure the decision being made is with integrity and care.

What lessons did you learn during your moment of time in middle school?

Leggo My Ego: A Look Inside Defense Mechanisms In Workplace Dynamics

Today’s post comes from the deeply thoughtful and intelligent Brianna Franklin. Her words will challenge you to think differently about your workplace surroundings and dynamics. I am grateful to be able to share her words with you!

The Origin of the Ego

Sigmund Freud first exposed the world to the concept of the “ego”, which, if you were to ask many people today, they would deem his research as antiquated. However, I believe this proves Freud’s point more than ever. Our ego can both serve as a primitive drive for success as well as an inhibitor of honest vulnerability and development.

In order to protect our ego, Freud ascertained the utilization of defense mechanisms. One example is called compensation. “The “fluid compensation” principle (Steele, 1988, p.267) posits that people can recover from threat in one domain (e.g., a failed exam) by emphasizing their positive qualities in a different domain (e.g., close relationships)” (Rudman, Dohn, & Fairchild, 2007). It is my assertion that compensation is prevalent in various social settings particularly in the workplace.

Professional Manifestation of the Ego

The use of this defense mechanism, as an example, can be seen in meetings wherein individuals have an audience to perform for, generally one’s peers and supervisors. The air can be filled with power dynamics, image maintenance concerns, and often, one’s own undisclosed desires. In order to cope with the experiential dissonance perceived during such moments, we begin to take subconscious control back.

A phrase often heard in meetings is “I just want to clarify…” followed by many “I know that but…” and head nods to prove the point that the only information requested was of minimal stature. It’s as if there is a need to send nonverbal messages that indicate what an individual already knows. Now, some of you might assume that I am overthinking someone wanting clarification on a topic. I’m not trying to eliminate the use or purpose of the word “clarify”. Rather than dismissing these seemingly isolated statements as traditional meeting nomenclature, let’s look to see what they might be pointing to, which could be a bigger issue than previously assumed.

Personal Intersections of the Ego

What purpose does cushioning one’s response with layers of selective comprehension serve, particularly in a public setting? Those cushions protect one’s ego from damage. What does a damaged ego lead to? Vulnerability. There are two types of power when someone says “I don’t know”. On the one hand, power can be perceived to be lost due to lack of knowledge or awareness. On the other hand, the power of vulnerability can be shown when we don’t try to accompany our unknowing with supplemental knowledge. This is the type of power that fosters relatability and self-awareness.

It is my assertion that we would rather cling on to one iota of self-efficacy at the cost of sacrificing time and authenticity, than appear inadequate. This has a correlation with our self-esteem and how we are constantly searching for opportunities to rebuild our walls (even if those walls don’t intersect). In another instance, we might subconsciously feel compelled to communicate to someone all that we know or have accomplished when we feel robbed of some control or respect in our personal lives. “Similarly, Tesser (2000) argued that threatened people draw on alternate sources of self-esteem and that this process can proceed effortlessly, without conscious awareness. This reasoning concurs with response latency evidence that people with high self-esteem automatically recruit their positive qualities (and repress their weaknesses) following failure feedback (Dodgson & Wood, 1998)” (Rudman, Dohn, Fairchild, 2007)” (Rudman, Dohn, & Fairchild, 2007). We are not making conscious decisions to use our verbal and nonverbal efforts to send messages to others; however, it is important to denote that we seek out our positive attributes when we feel we have failed or that people could perceive us failing to protect one’s ego. This contributes to a cycle of unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others.

Conclusion

In conclusion, many, if not all, of these examples are deeply rooted within our subconscious and thus, this is not a conscious effort to blame others but to draw attention and encourage self-introspection that focuses not only on strengths. What can we do about this if is it not a conscious act? I propose we embrace the ideal that ‘perfection is the enemy of the good’ and move away from the mindset that mistakes are metaphorical ammo waiting to be used against us. When we unlearn our core held beliefs about self-worth, we can begin to be more mindful and aware of how our ego-protecting phrases are contributing to a culture of comparison.

We are people who are highly influenced by our surroundings and we learn very quickly how to survive and mold and protect others’ perceptions of us, but at what cost? Through active attention to these instances, teaching teams through interactive activities, and conducting an emotional inventory of ourselves, we can combat our own defenses for our greater good. I believe this unlearning and relearning will enhance our self-awareness, emotional intelligence, social connectedness, and vulnerability in and outside of the workplace.

coordinator-bri

Bri Franklin, M.A. is currently a Coordinator for Residence Life and Education at the University of Central Florida. She has two degrees from UCF, a Bachelor’s in Humanities-Philosophy, Religion, and Popular Culture and a Master’s in Counselor Education-Marriage, Couple, and Family Therapy. She has worked at UCF’s Housing and Residence Life Department since 2011 in various roles and has developed a passion for professional development and personal introspection. In her spare time, she likes spending time with family, friends, and her puppy, Mocha. If you would like to contact her, please email her at Brianna.Franklin@ucf.edu.