Modern-day Bias: Overcoming the “Where” Barrier

Wonderful thoughts!

Gwen Dungy

It’s funny how the mind works. Or, perhaps I should say, how my mind works…

In The New York Times last Sunday, Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed piece seemed to be just the validation that student affairs staff need. It offered outside confirmation about the importance of skills that are not generally acquired in the classroom but in the work and interactions students have outside of class, usually through service and their involvement in the areas within the bailiwick of student affairs.

Rather than focus on these main points of the article, however, I keyed in on this sentence: “Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many nontraditional ways today, hiring officers have to be alive to everyone—besides name-brand colleges.”

This statement stood out for me because I am so disappointed in search firms and colleagues who overlook good people when hiring and good ideas when…

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A letter to my sister

Your story is yours to write. 

Be the author of your own story. Sure, as you read mine watch my plot develop, there are many lessons and hidden pathways exposed but in no way does that mean those lessons are for you or those now visible pathways are the map to your life.

Though we share our genetic make up, nothing about how we live our lives is meant to be identical.

  • I am the typical first born. Living up to all the expectations, a quiet rule follower, most of my days.
  • You are bound by nothing! No rules will hold you down and everyone will hear your voice.
  • I am built for speed.
  • You are built for power.
  • I grew up in a home with our family.
  • You grew up in a broken home without our family. 
  • I work hard to learn the rules of the game in order to beat my competition.
  • You create your own rules and force your competition to play your game, because you can.
  • I lead a cautious life with the future in mind.
  • You live in every moment of the present experiencing boundless adventures. 

The expectations that you some how live a life like mine are not possible to meet. You see, your story is meant to be great. You are meant to leave a noticeable mark on this world. As you search for the path that leads to your greatness, remember, you are the only author of your story. You decide the characters, the many settings, the plot, how to triumph from setbacks, and most of all, how the story ends. 

No one can write your story better than you. Know that your story is amazing! Believe that I love you most for all things about you that I am not!


Imperfectly Perfect

My world is full of learning experiences. I am a momma to a two year old. I work full time. I am a doctoral student. I am a wife. I am an ultrarunner.

How do you balance everything? A common question I am asked. Outsiders constantly judging my commitments as too much, wondering if I can truly handle anything more and retain my focus on being a good mother to my son. I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on this questions, trying to drill down and find out what exactly it is that makes all this possible for me.

There are two key pieces to success in my life. The first being the fact that I am confident in my decisions and know beyond a shadow of doubt that I am the best mother for my boy – mistakes included. I think this is because I whole heartedly believe that my world is imperfectly perfect and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There are a million little things, some big things I may “mess up” on or “fail” at from time to time. My perspective, however, is that there is much to be learned in each misstep and there is no way I could be the person I am without each one. I value my imperfections as they are what makes me perfect.

The second key piece hit me over head while I listened to the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. There is a point in the book when Sandberg talks about the need for a true partner to achieve success. My partner is just that, perfect! He helps me work though problems. He kicks me out of the house to go run insisting I not feel guilty for leaving him with the boy. He rises early with the boy to allow me to sleep in (he understands the sleep diva that I am). He encourages me to be me. He catches me when I momentarily fail. He argues with me to challenge my brain to function at its highest level. He pushes me to continue to follow my dreams. We are in this together! He runs ultra’s with me, he is an equal parent to our son and he is my cohort as fellow doctoral student. Not to mention he does all the cooking and the laundry! He is essential to my success.

I am imperfectly perfect and I know it and that is how I accomplish what I do when others wouldn’t dare try.

How do you handle what’s on your plate? What is it that helps you be successful?

Until next time, keep it real and keep showing up! 

Footprints in the snow

I headed out for a run this morning, knowing it would be a fight between me and mother nature. It was 30 degrees but due to the massive wind guests, it felt like 12 degrees. It was a hard run. Having to pay close attention to my footing. The need for high knees in longer durations than I ever care to due to the depth of snow drifts that blocked the sidewalks. At moments, when the wind was silent, feeling like I was over dressed. The next moment, as the wind reminded me it was still winter, feeling like I was under dressed. Wearing my sun glasses down one street to keep the blowing snow out of my eyes. Having to take my sunglasses off on the next street because the wind was at my back and my glasses fogged up and I couldn’t see. It was quite the battle!

Every so often though, I would see the foot prints of a runner who had already run this path on this day. Those footprints reminded me that while I might feel alone, fighting a battle against nature, I am not really alone. Others have done this before. My footprints will be there for those who would run after me. We are in good company!

There is a saying, that as a leader, it’s lonely at the top. Having spent the last 18 months adjusting to a new role of leadership, I have often felt this “lonely”. I am confident this “lonely” is more pronounced and prevalent the higher one climbs up the organizational lader. I am equally confident there are many battles against nature one faces the closer they get to the top. However, for all of us, there are footprints in the snow to remind us we are not alone. All we have to do is reach out and connect with those who came before, having left the footprints for us to find. To pay it forward, we’ll need to look back, see who is following our footprints and help them to realize they, too, are not alone.

The next time you feel alone, look for footprints and know you are in good company!

Until next time, keep it real and keep showing up!

The world tells me I am lucky.

The world tells me I am lucky. 

I met my best friend and life partner at the age of 17. We married six years later. In five short months, we will celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary.  

The realists and the cynics are quick to site the stats that less than half of all marriages survive. We are only 10 years in and still young in our relationship as compared to those who make it 40 and 50 years together. However, we love each other. I mean undoubtedly, unwaveringly, truly love each other. We also respect, challenge, support, celebrate, and hold each other. 

I listen to stories of those on the hunt for what I have already found. I hear about the abuse others endure for those tiny moments to feel loved. This one’s partner left them. That one’s partner is no longer emotionally available. Those two just simply grew apart. She rushed into marriage or a commitment too soon. He only stuck around to avoid the feelings of being lonely. She is too strong and driven and doesn’t need anyone in her life… so she tells herself. He is constantly worried she is cheating on him. She feels the need to get pregnant so he’ll stay. He is looking for his fair maiden and she her prince in shining armor. 

You combine the stats and stories (both real life and what is portrayed in the media) and the world tells me I am lucky. The reality is, I am grateful for what I have, but what this message of “I am lucky” has done is caused to me to hide what I have; afraid that somehow sharing my story would hurt, offend, and/or push away, others. For many years I have carried guilt for being happily married. There is likely no logic in these feelings however, they are real for me. They exist. And, as a result, I have hidden that part of my story. Or, I have shared it as “we are ‘that’ couple…” and quickly turn the conversation back to the story of others. 

The truth is, there are people out there who need to hear that good relationships do exist. Great partners do exist. Building a solid foundation with another human being for a life-long relationship is possible. It’s a heck of a lot of work, takes endless commitment to success and the constant sharpening of our communication skills.  And it does exist. It is possible. My marriage is proof.

The world tells me I am lucky. 

After seven years of marriage, our little one was born. He has grown into a 2.5 year old little boy who calls me “Momma” and tells me “I love you very much” before bed at night. I was celebrated and critiqued for returning to work after maternity leave. I was celebrated and critiqued for quitting my job to try being a stay-at-home-parent. I was celebrated and critiqued when I returned to my job five months later with the confidence that being a stay-at-home-parent was not for me. I was again celebrated and critiqued when I decided to accept a promotion and start a PhD program one month after my son celebrated his first birthday. Constantly, I am celebrated and critiqued for my choice to have only one child. Still more celebrate and critique that I continue my sport of running ultra marathons.

I have learned and accepted the fact that I will always be celebrated and critiqued for the choices I make as mother. But there’s one thing that is certain, no one, I mean no one, can be a better mother to that little boy than I am! I say that with great confidence. For that, I am grateful. There are parents out there who need to see and know, that as they make the best decisions for their families, they can have confidence that they are doing just that; making the best decisions for their families, regardless of all those who may (let’s be real) will, celebrate and critique those decisions. 

My husband always has been and forever will be leading the celebratory crowd when it comes to the decisions I make. 

The world tells me I am lucky. 

I am an excellent wife, mother, athlete, student and professional. Far from perfect and full of mistakes, but excellent none-the-less. It is not easy. It takes a good amount of work, commitment, intentionality and a true partner. But, it’s possible and there are people out there that need to hear about it.  

The world tells me I am lucky. I say I am privileged to have experienced all the good times, the bad, the sleepless nights, the laughs, the tears, the fights, the struggles, the celebrations, the opportunities, the growth, the partnership. It’s all imperfectly perfect and it’s mine and am truly grateful. 

Are there great parts of your story untold? I want to hear about them, and so do many others!

Until next time, keep it real and keep showing up! 

Leadership lessons from 3 consecutive snow days with my toddler

The weather channel is calling the recent deep freeze and snow a “snow-pocalypse”. As a result of this sever weather, the city where I live (the whole state really) shut down for three days. No work! Woot! I can catch up on writing, reading and social media. I can take time for me and maybe enjoy a long hot bath. Nope. Daycare was closed, too. There is no such thing as quality down time with an active 2.5 yr old at home who can’t go outside due to the -40 degree weather. 

All in all, it was great three days. I have an outstanding kid! He reminded me of a few leadership lessons while we were stuck inside:

1. Patience – you can’t be part of or fuel the drama (ie temper tantrums). As a leader, you need keep calm, attempt to communicate in different ways to have your message heard, even try a distraction tactic or two until the storm passes. Once the drama calms down, productive developmental conversations are able to occur with success. 

2. Creativity is a must! Using what’s around you to create a new and challenging environment. A metaphorical cave built with quilts over and around the dining room table ignite creativity in those around you. This leads to hours of fun and new ways of interacting in an environment that had become stale and boring. 

3. Well-timed discipline can clear the air. Sometimes a time out is just what the doctor ordered. Clears the air, allows clear communication to occur about desired behavior, reinforcement of value (via a hug with toddlers) and the day continues with everyone in a better place. 

4. Alone time is essential. Time to think, zone out, relax…whatever, can add a good deal of value the remaining interactions of the day. My son will sometimes get really cranky outside of nap time. We set him up with a snack and a movie in the basement (finished, great play place for a child). About 30-45 minutes later, he comes up stairs and is happy and ready to play. We all need down time away from another to revitalize. 

5. Routine makes everyone happy. Knowing what to expect next creates a sense of safety thus allowing for greater risk taking. My caution here is to keep to a high-level routine that keeps the general overall flow of the days the same. Stay away from routines that schedule every single minute. These are stifling routines that can drastically reduce energy, engagement, creative and risk taking. 

6. Listen, hear and respond. My kiddo is determined and stubborn. He will repeat the same thing over and over and over and over and over again until you acknowledge what he is saying by showing that you heard what said, understand it, and are contributing to the progression of the conversation. We all want to be heard. We know we are heard when others respond to us. We know we are heard and valued when others authentically engage in the conversation with us. 

Life lessons come from the strangest of places if you pay attention and listen! I look forward to future lessons from my son!

What lessons have learned in unexpected circumstances? 

Until next time, keep it real and keep showing up! 

Just be you, already

We know that media is constantly sending us images and messages about how we should look, behave, dress and progress through life. For the most part, I try to block these messages out. I am sure there are some that get through on a sub conscience level no matter how hard I may try to block them out.

What I have noticed to be sneaky messages as of late are all these blog posts telling us what words we should stop using at a certain age, fashion mistakes that age you, how our generation compares to others, and (insert other topics here). These posts might seem entertaining and fun at first but what internalized messages are we taking away from them? Should we really be engaging with these messages, entertaining or not?

Everyone has an opinion on how, what, when and where life should happen to/for/around us. It’s like taking a year to travel from coast to coast in the Unites States. There is plenty of time and likely more than a million routes from one coast to the other. Seeking perspectives and advice of others along the way is a good thing. However, in the end, I hope we are able to celebrate the routes chosen by others as well as find strength and confidence in the route we have chosen for ourselves – no matter how many times our route changes over the course of our travels.

My challenge for 2014 is that we all begin/continue to own our unique ways of thinking, acting and being. Find strength and power in that struggle and just be you already!

Until next time, keep it real and keep showing up!

2013 ACUI Women’s Leadership Institute Reflection and Impact

Last week I attended ACUI’s Women’s Leadership Institute. The event was held at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island in Florida. You cannot beat the beauty and comfort of the location! The content was wonderful, the people were amazing, the food was to die for and the views were breathtaking.

I attended with expectations of having my mind blown by the content of the experience and the opportunity to meet new people. What happened instead, has had my head spinning for the last few days.

My group arrived at the hotel five minutes before I was scheduled to meet up with a few others who were also attending the conference. I rushed to my room, literally threw on appropriate attire and raced to the meeting location nearly out of breath. From there, dinner were served and the networking with new people began. As an introvert who rushed into the event, it took me a few minutes of observing others before I caught on to how I should behave in this environment. I began to slowly make connections while internally editing my behavior in relation to others. The night ended much later than my usual bedtime – it had been a busy but good time to this point.

The following day, a more typical conference style structure provided me with a bit of comfort. I took in what was being shared. Shared my thoughts and dreams with small groups and took time for an afternoon run to reflect. Again, the night ended much later than my usual bedtime – the good time continued.

I found my grove the next day. I branched out and interacted with many more people as well as shared more and more of my thoughts during the small group time. The content was seamlessly orchestrated and I was finally riding the high I had expected. Another afternoon run provided more endorphins to fuel my conference high. That night, however, was brutal.

My roommate was a woman I had never met in person. As it turns out, we were a perfect match and hit it off from the beginning. Candace Denning is an amazing woman! We had been engaging in great conversation each night thus far. This night was not any different; until she unintentionally and unknowingly shoved me off the proverbial cliff with one short sentence: “You will find your voice.”

Hearing that sentence was like my mind running full speed into a closed glass door. I asked for clarification and she explained. Her feedback was legit and continues to haunt my thoughts. To steal an out of context quote from the movie Juno, “What does that even mean? I continue to reflect and journal on this one sentence and what it means for me.

I am grateful for my roommate and that sentence for creating the most meaningful experience of the institute for me. My reflection on that little sentence is far from complete but, thanks to my roomie, it has at least begun!

#WLI13 wasn’t what I expected. It was so much more!

Have you ever had someone make one small statement to you that quickly altered your thinking?

Until next time, keep it real and keep showing up!

Don’t Throttle Back

We have a made up verb we use in our house: “to Anne something”. I have a habit of making a decision and going full throttle in that direction, 100% commitment to the idea and the achievement of a goal; thus, to Anne something.

An example. I was talking with my husband about his desire to run the Keys 100 in May 2014. I finally worked my brain around to the idea that I could do this with him. A few hours later, I had found a training plan for 100 miler first-timers, learned what we should be doing to prepare in regard to eating on the run, and started our own blog as form of accountability and reflection of the experience. I totally “Anne-ed” the idea of joining my husband on the Keys 100.

I recently had an experience with a woman I highly respect. She asked if I wanted to read the book Lean In with her in preparation for the Women’s Leadership Institute we plan to attend in December. I responded with the fact that I had already read the book and would happily engage in conversation/discussion with her. To this point, I had not yet “Anne-ed” the situation.

Reflecting on this conversation triggered me to send a follow up email where I outlined a personal/professional development curriculum I had experienced over the last few months consisting of Lean In, Multipliers, Start With Why, Daring Greatly and (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor. Yup, this is the point where I “Anne-ed” the situation.

After work, I was telling my husband about the situation. I was in the middle of asking him if I went too far and his response was simply this: Don’t throttle back, be Anne!

I grinned, grateful for a supportive partner and agreed. I can only be me. And that means I will continue to “Anne” things…it’s how I do!

The take away, Don’t throttle back, be you!


Until next time, keep it real and keep showing up!