Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Photo by Lisa Mathewson Photography

There is a photo from our wedding that I think about often. Almost a year later, the moment sticks with me. A bride ugly crying while her mom holds her and cries with her too. Beautiful and ugly at the same time.

It was captured in a moment where, amidst all of the happiness and joy of the day, I was deeply sad. I knew that our wedding day had the potential to be particularly hard, but I had no idea how it would hit me in that moment, watching Chris and his mom dance. That the ever present hole that is there would open up just a little bit wider in that moment and release all the feels right in the middle of something beautiful. Sadness. Embarrassment. Jealousy. Guilt. Shame.

Today marks 9 years since we said goodbye to my dad. I don't feel the loss in days. I feel it in moments.  I am still learning how to miss someone this much.

The tears can be tough. But they can also be healing.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Spring Goals

It feels dangerous to even say the word...Spring.

Living in Wisconsin, I realize that we could still see some chilly weather ahead. Yet with some warm temps right now and the snow melting away, I can't help but get excited for fresh air and a change of season. Which also means it's a great time for new goals!

Looking back at my winter goals, my focus was definitely on finding focus. Focus in what I'm eating, focus on productivity and work. It all felt very serious. Which has definitely been great and I've done well. In mid-February, I completed my first Whole 30, and am continuing to carry a lot of the concepts forward. We have also done very well with grocery shopping, meal planning, and eating at home more. It has been great. And now, along with the fresh and air sunshine, I'd like to bring in more fun for spring!

In honor of the first day of Spring Break, here are my spring goals:

Eat: Pie! On Pi Day of course! This year is the most-Pi Day of all Pi Days, as it will be 3/14/15. So in celebration with my fellow nerds across the world, I'll be eating some pie at 9:26 am tomorrow.

Drink: Some Guinness for St. Patty's Day. It brings me back to our awesome honeymoon in Ireland, and I love celebrating our Irish heritage. Responsibly, of course. No need for a green beer, give me the good stuff (although, it definitely does taste better in Ireland, in case you were curious). I am also excited to check out the St. Patty's parade here in Milwaukee tomorrow.

Read: More books! I've finished 12 of the 52 for this year already in the Pop Sugar Ultimate Reading Challenge. Right now I am reading Looking for Alaska by John Green, to check off "A popular author's first book." I would love suggestions for the following categories if you have them:
  • A book written by someone under 30
  • A funny book
  • A book of short stories
  • A book with antonyms in the title
  • A book with bad reviews (?)
  • A graphic novel
  • A book by an author with my initials...KD...anyone?
Watch: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. Have you seen it? It's totally spunky and upbeat - the perfect show for Ellie Kemper. After binge watching House of Cards Season Three in one season, it's also the exact opposite kind of show. Which is great for restoring my hope in the world.

Listen: To audio books! I've been mixing in audio books with my podcasts, which is part of how I've been able to get through books more quickly. Why not listen to a book while doing dishes or folding laundry? It's great! And I love a good funny book, like Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler, Bossypants by Tina Fey, or Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling.

Wear: Clothes from my new slimmed down closet. One of my decluttering tasks over the winter was to pare down to the basics in my closet. Those items that I really love and/or wear all the time. It's amazing how many things I pulled out that either still had tags on them, or were just not in great shape to keep wearing. Or those items that I don't feel my best in when I wear them. Right now all of the items that came out are in a temporary storage location (laundry basket). If I pull them out to wear over the next few months, they are in consideration to make a return to the closet. Otherwise, they'll go.

Finish: Decluttering. Right now it's still in progress, which also means our house is a bit messy. So I need to wrap this up so we can do a thorough spring clean.

Plan: For our garage sale! We have now been in our place for over three years, and we've definitely accumulated stuff along the way that could do well to find a new home. Plus there is all that stuff that we moved in and put directly in our basement and haven't looked at in years. Once the snow melts, it will be time to put out our junk for others to find and love.

Create: An inviting space in our dining room that isn't a dining room. A sitting room, perhaps? Previously, it has been a room primarily functioning as a drop space for clutter. We took out the desk - the biggest drop zone we have, and are in the process of cleaning and re-imagining the space. I think it could be a great place for reading books. Stay tuned!

Find: Calm through Yoga and Meditation. I know that many folks find yoga to be an important part of their wellness routine. The first few times I tried it didn't go very well, and so I have always resisted going back. And then, I finally decided to just give it a shot again and signed up through a class at work. It is on Fridays over the lunch hour, and the first class was great. I'm excited to go back. And I'm doing another meditation cycle with the Deepak and Oprah 21-day meditation experience on Manifesting True Success which starts on Monday.

Stop: Making excuses and start running again. I really do miss running. Hoping to train for a fall half marathon again and also add some fun runs into my summer. I know it won't be fun to get started again after so much sitting on my butt, but it's worth the tough part to get back into shape.

Go: To Boston! We are so excited to make a spring trip out East. We will get to see family, go to a few Red Sox games, and explore the city a bit. I'm taking any suggestions folks have of must-sees and must-eats in Beantown. Send 'em my way!

Celebrate: One year of marriage to the best person in the whole world! I can't wait for our first anniversary in May.

What are your spring goals?!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


One of the first unspoken expectations that I think most folks hear and internalize when they go into Student Affairs is that your time is not your own. I don't think we are outright told this, but it is made pretty clear in most job descriptions that student affairs means working nights and weekends. It makes sense - student life doesn't happen in the 9 to 5. Some jobs are more regular business hours than others, but you can usually find folks still on campus in some office after the official work day has ended. And often, how our time is spent often feels established by the students with whom we work.

My entry into student affairs involved a graduate assistantship where I was regularly working over the 20 hours I was paid for. I'm not alone, I have found that is true for most grads. Eager for experience and opportunities to learn, they cram it all in and say yes to everything, just like I did. A snarky twentysomething at the time, I once turned in my actual hours for the week on my timesheet. It was somewhere around 55, and I don't know that it was even a week with a giant program. That was quickly met with an e-mail reminding me "We can only pay you for twenty hours, so you can only put twenty on the timesheet. Please redo this." Message received. I knew what I was doing and that it would get sent back, but I also wanted to make sure there was an awareness of how my time was being spent. I didn't repeat it, but I did continue to track for myself.

When I jumped into my first job, eager to build relationships with students and be a "good advisor," I made sure to be at every single meeting and event. It was important to me to show my students that I was investing in them, and that I cared about them being successful as leaders and in their organizations. I was living in a new city where I didn't know too many folks, minus colleagues from work who became friends, and the two grad school friends who had also moved to the same city. We all had crazy hours, and throwing ourselves into work was just what we all did. When we weren't working, we were together, commiserating about all of the hours we worked. I distinctly remember a moment where a coworker and I asked our boss if we could move into one of the student apartments on campus so that we didn't have to worry about the time it would take to get home to our own places and sleep in our own beds. Our office had a couch that more than one of us napped on. If it had a shower, we would have been set and moved right in. Thankfully, once we got some sleep in us, we realized that was probably a terrible idea.

Things took a turn when a new supervisor set the policy that, no matter how late we worked the night before, we were expected to be in the office from 8:30-5 pm everyday. We were a business, and there would be no such thing as flexing our hours. For those of us averaging more than a few nights leaving campus at 11 pm or later due to student meetings/events and late night programs, it became clear that the value wasn't necessarily on our health and well being as individuals. It was also made quite clear that if we didn't want to do it any more, another fresh graduate of a students affairs program would gladly take our entry-level student affairs job. As this message was delivered, I watched a colleague crumble inside. She would regularly work a 24-hour day when she'd be leading students through concert production. And she was told that didn't matter. Because our supervisor lived to work, so should we. I imagine that this is sadly also a shared experience for some others in the field, although I hope less and less so.

A former supervisor, who had experienced major health issues after basically wearing herself out trying to keep up, told us to be careful and not make the same mistakes that she did. At that point, many of us chose to move on, because it simply wouldn't be sustainable any longer and we weren't feeling valued. The quality of experience we were creating didn't matter as much as being present in the office did. Although I left that position then, I will admit that it has taken me almost four years to realize how much that experience has impacted how I have viewed and valued myself as a student affairs professional. While it should have said more about her, I took it for what it said about me - that I couldn't hack it any more and that I was easily replaceable.

When I started my current position, I didn't actually have many night and weekend commitments. My position was brand new, and I had the opportunity to define much of what I'd be doing. Exactly the type of position I love. But one that can be dangerous for someone like me. I found the standard hours to be boring and missing the excitement of student meetings and events. Over the past four years, my position has grown around me as we have built new things. I started out advising one group, and now advise seven. I have given the opportunity to help plan campus traditions. Every new meeting or event has been something connected to my personal philosophy of student affairs and the mission of our program and department. And most of them are things that I considered highly important. It wasn't until this past December that I realized I hadn't seen much of my husband since our October honeymoon had ended. Our glorious honeymoon where I had time to relax, explore, and eat. Between both of our work commitments, our schedules were out of sync. And we needed another one already for some quality time together.

The thing is, most of the time, the time commitment was and is honestly really fun. I got into the field because my passion is helping students to develop their passions - and I actually get to do it, everyday. Some of my favorite memories are from spending spring break on service trips to Appalachia with fraternity & sorority leaders, bonding over gummi bears and cheese balls while on a retreat, or traveling to a conference. Why would I say no to this? The night and weekend events are some of the best parts of my job. And when the students you advise ask you to come to a program or event that they've planned, or actually enjoy you sitting in on their meetings, you don't question it. You just do.

But the whole thing goes back to sustainability. Burnout is huge in our field, which I don't think is a surprise. So many student affairs professionals invest all that they have into their jobs until they don't have anything to give anymore. I am not there yet, but I was definitely feeling drained as the fall semester closed. And I began to realize that my ability to keep doing what I have been doing is running out.  If Chris and I had a family tomorrow, we wouldn't be able to handle our current schedule. It's not happening tomorrow, but it's a possibility that I want to be able to consider without being completely overwhelmed.

So I consciously made an ask to my supervisor. "My goal for next semester is to work less nights and weekends." I asked for permission to try to get students to move some of their meetings to business hours. Or to at least help me stack them so that I might stay one or two nights a week. He not only said "of course," he also encouraged me to set my boundaries and stick to them. He values my personal wellness, and that sometimes simply not being at work is important.

Although I was nervous to do it, I simply put out the ask to the students with whom I work.

"Hey, one of the things I'm trying to work on is better work/life integration. I know that scheduling meetings across a bunch of folks is hard, but could we possibly look at meetings either during the work day, or right at 5 pm? I'm hoping to avoid nights where I'm here later as I'm feeling stretched. If later works better, I'd like to limit to no more than two nights a week"

The responses I got were awesome. I don't know what exactly I was expecting, but not a single person questioned what I was asking. Y'all, Students Get It.

I will repeat for fellow Student Affairs Pros who need to hear it again: Students Get It.

At one meeting, a student said "I totally respect that" when I admitted that I was trying to have more time with family.

Another sent out the e-mail asking fellow members to share their availability and that we were looking for late afternoon or early evening hours, without even mentioning that it was to accommodate me.

When one meeting was scheduled for 8:30 pm on Thursdays because that was the only time that worked for members, I asked if I could call into the meeting from home, rather than coming back to campus. The students agreed that was totally reasonable and that we would do what we needed to do to make it work. My commute is fairly short, but calling in while sitting on my couch in sweatpants makes a huge psychological difference, especially if I have already gone home.

It's amazing how many meetings we were able to make work at 3 or 4 pm. It is doable. And it doesn't make me a bad student affairs professional. I like to think I'm modeling better choices. I will still be on campus some nights for evening programs and events, but it will be on a more reasonable schedule. And it will mean more dinners at home.

I have come to the conclusion that time is all that we really have. Things don't really matter. How we spend our time and the experiences that we create with that time do. Even the ones that are seemingly mundane. Sometimes the greatest joy I get is from throwing a glitter ball for my overweight cat and watching her eyes get big as she wiggles her butt, ready to chase. Or sharing in the shoveling responsibilities with my husband, on snowy days like today. Or taking the time to make a dinner with delicious ingredients, and then sitting down to enjoy. Jack's Pizza is great (don't argue me on that), but I enjoy not eating it three nights a week because I'm cooking dinner at 7 or 8 pm and I know that it takes exactly 13 minutes at 425 degrees. Time spent meal planning, cleaning my apartment, and preparing for the week ahead is time well spent.

I wrote this tonight because I know how many others share parts of this story. I am thankful to know friends and colleagues who have made choices to focus on different parts of their lives and to message that it's okay to reflect, reevaluate, and make changes. At the end of the day, I am still achieving my goal of helping students find their passions. I am still getting my work done. And most of the time, when I feel that sense of urgency on something, it's usually coming from me, and only me. That's a tough reminder with all going on in the State of Wisconsin around higher education right now. It's easy to feel undervalued. I think many folks do. But I can choose to continue to do good in my work and to stay student-centered.

For me, 2015 is about taking the opportunity to rewrite my story. I do not have to be stressed and overwhelmed. I can be healthy in what I am eating, how and with whom I am spending my time, and what I am telling myself about my value.  I am choosing joy.    

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