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. ūüôā

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!

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!

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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!