Everyone spirals. Embrace the suck.

I have had versions of this post in my drafts folder for over a week. I deleted it. I reposted it. Deleted it again.

Why? Why?

I care what you think, even though I pretend that I don’t. I am afraid that what I write here will be held against me later. Our profession preaches that “people are watching you” and “be careful what you say on social media.” We say this while also talking out the other side of our mouths, preaching about authenticity.

I got on this morning to post. I deleted it again. And then the universe sent me messages.

Mentally strong people don’t give away their power. Take responsibility for how you think, feel, and behave. #mentallystrong #mentalhealth

And then this from Momastery:

I’ve been writing directly from my heart less often than I used to. I think I just started putting weird pressure on myself. This place has gotten so big, and over time I convinced myself that everything I wrote needed to be shiny and shareable and big and amazing (emphasis mine). So I started writing essays instead of love letters. Meh. That’s not what we need all the time is it? We just need to show up for each other. Tired, full, broken, sparkling heart to tired, full, broken, sparkling heart.  (emphasis mine.) I am not here to prove myself, I’m here to serve you. Biggest difference in the world. Proving ourselves is full of angst and fear and striving and exhaustion. Showing up is just: Hi. Here I am. There you are. This is what I have to offer you today. Nothing more, nothing less (emphasis mine). I want to work from a place of service, not ego. Shift, shift, shift. Better. Truer.

Showing up > Showing Off.

So anyway, here I am. I’m going to write directly to you once a week. Nothing fancy. Just: Here I Am. Also sometimes I won’t. No problem.

This is what I want to say today. It will make some people upset. I’m sorry about that, but I’ve thought about it for a week and I still think it’s important to say. If it helpful for you, keep it. If not—please reject it and hold onto whatever understanding brings you comfort.

So I am taking a deep breath and hitting publish. I am using my power and sharing it, instead of giving it away. This post is not shiny. “Look, passion!” It’s broken. It’s real.

What I have to offer is this: Applying for jobs and being rejected is hard. It’s okay if you spiral. I was rejected from yet another position in my “profession.” I was humiliated. I was embarrassed. I cried. (In private of course.) Then I cried at home. I screamed. I threw some stuff (that was really fun, actually). I went deep into the shame spiral. Deep. Because despite what we do for students, we do not do for ourselves…I blamed myself and felt shame for being rejected. This is what it looked like:

I suck. This sucks. You all suck. This profession sucks. I played by the rules. I did everything right. It still doesn’t matter. Why did I get this PhD? What a waste. I am trapped here. I hate this.

I tortured myself for spiraling, which of course only leads to more spiraling. Why do I go to the darkness first? Why aren’t I a person who brushes off disappointment and instantly rallies?

Psst, Monica. Psst. Hey! You are a person who brushes off disappointment and you do rally. It’s only been 8 days since you were crushed. That’s really not that long. I’d say eight days is a rally.

Talking to the important people in my life- my husband, my mentor, my therapist, and God- brought me back to reality and pulled me out of the shame spiral. Doing those things helped me remember this: Everyone spirals. Read that again. Everyone spirals.

Resilience is a continuum. Resilient people rally because they are smart enough to know when they need help and they reach out for it.

Resilient people rally because they “embrace the suck” rather than denying it. In short, “Embracing the suck” means acknowledging the situation that you are in to reduce it’s length and it’s power over you. For more on “embracing the suck,” read here and listen here.

I finally finished this post because I reminded myself that lying about the suck dishonors my experience and my victory over the struggle. I pulled myself out of the depressive shame spiral. I willed myself out of it. And I had help. That victory will give me strength to face the next one. Because there will be a next one. There always is.

We learn more from heartbreak and mistakes than we do from success. So let’s be more committed to sharing them. This profession will break your heart at some point. How could it not? We’re humans in a human enterprise. Humans make mistakes. We hurt each other. We hurt ourselves. Life isn’t fair. Other people get picked. You get rejected from grad school. Your friend throws you under the bus. It happens. Let’s be honest about it and let others share their own sucks. It’s a disservice to them and our profession to not let them.

Life isn’t fair. The best we can hope for is justice.

Justice, wine, and chocolate.

Oh to be mid-level…and broke.

Thank you to @SylvesterGaskin for this contribution to the #SAMid series. “Moving on up” seems to always be an influence on mid-career and mid-level pros. But, finances and family are factors, too. Is the grass always greener?


As a young child, my father told me that if I worked hard and applied myself, then I would get a job that would pay me a lot of money. As a sergeant in the US Air Force, he was one to know about working hard yet not making a ton of cash. For all the work he did, it was the officers who raked in the large paychecks. As, a kid, I always remembered driving past the officers housing, with the large lawns and big patios, and comparing it to our sparse enlisted housing and thinking it wasn’t fair at all.

Once I got my first student affairs job, I was making the most money I had ever seen. Granted I was fresh out of grad school and living on a tiny monthly stipend, but I could afford actual groceries, pay for my health benefits, and put gas in my car when it needed it, not when I got paid. I could even (GASP!) take a vacation to somewhere non-exotic! And, I was told that if I applied myself and worked hard, especially if I got a Doctorate degree, in a few years I’d make a lot of money. Hell, even moving up to a mid-level position would pay more! I’ve been a mid-level professional for 3 years (after 2 years in an entry-level position and 4 years working in the K-12 sector), and I’m still waiting for that payday. I’m a doctoral student (done with coursework and typing the dissertation) and I’m hoping that once that’s done, that mystical payday will show up and I can live more comfortably than how I do now and not have so many worries about taking care of my family.

However, I have to be realistic and understand that our field is not engineering, law, or some other discipline where the pay is greater and the workload is heavy. I’ve overheard many a professional say that they didn’t get into student affairs “for the money,” and the same could be said for me. I truly enjoy my work and wouldn’t change it for the world. However, I think that our institutions use that to their advantage: since they know we are so dedicated to our work and some of us would do it for free, then there is no impetus to pay student affairs professionals comparative to their academic peers. We are, to a fault, selfless about our work and want the best for our students, so we may be willing to sacrifice our financial gain so students can have a positive experience, thinking our salary savings go directly into student services and programs. Only once we get to VP style levels will the pay significantly increase.

Because of this, decisions to either make a lateral move or advance have to factor in compensation packages. It’s no longer about the title or the type of work that needs to be done, but more about “will I be able to earn a decent wage that honestly reflects the amount of work I will do?” And each person will need to think about their own individual circumstances. For example, I’m locked into a specific geographical location that has plenty of institutions but positions are highly competitive once they come open. In addition, I am looking at purchasing my first house, so the next professional move has to ensure I can make the mortgage payment. There is a good amount of pressure to make the “right” move, both financially and professionally, and that brings on new levels of anxiety and strategy. There’s the concern that the next move would be great for my pocketbook but terrible for my overall career, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has these thoughts in this stage of life. I certainly didn’t have this worry as a new professional.

Being a mid-level professional has encompassed many factors that I didn’t need to think about when I was a new professional, including finances and family matters. It provides a lot of stress and some reflecting about why I got into this business.

For all the pessimism I may have about compensation, I still have a little faith that if I keep working hard and moving forward, that payday may come true, just like Dad told me.

Sylvester Gaskin

Sylvester is the Assistant Director of New Student Programs at Towson University in Maryland. In this role, he is responsible for assessment for all new student programming, student training and development, and long-range planning for future orientation programming. He is also responsible for working with the Towson University Family Network and fostering partnerships with the Freshmen Transfer Program.
Prior to arriving at Towson in June 2014, he served as an outreach coordinator at Iowa State University, where he focused on intentional programming for underrepresented communities and data assessment on retention and graduation rates. He also worked for Bay Area Community Resources, a non-profit organization involved in providing community based services to schools in Oakland, CA, and was responsible for student activities and transfer orientation at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering and his Master of Education degree at Iowa State University. Sylvester is a professional member of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, the Association for Institutional Research, the National Orientation Directors Association, and Kappa Delta Pi-International Honors Society in Education. He is currently a Doctor of Education student (concentration in Higher Education Administration) at Northeastern University at their Seattle, WA graduate campus.

Reflections from year one in the middle

I hope you had a restful Labor Day weekend! #SAMid is back with this insightful post from Renee P. Dowdy. Leading from the middle looks and feels different than other positions. Thank you, Renee for sharing your story!

On August 19th, 2015 I marked year one in my first mid-level role as the Assistant Director of Student Staffing and Training at Marquette University. I returned to residence life from a role in association management and was itching to be back in the day-to-day problem solving, planning, and challenges that I love about this functional area. One of my greatest joys in the job is the work of developing and coaching staff. As I sat in RA training, watching months of planning flash before me, some of my most important lessons stood out.

When leading from the middle, one of your most important jobs is to give context. Tough decisions are made and entry level professionals develop their own perception and lessons from these observations. My role as a supervisor is to help provide a deeper understanding of the how and why behind these moments. It isn’t just about managing the now, but helping to prepare others for the hard decisions and stakes they may face later in their career. I want to protect our staff from unnecessary worries, but I also want them to be prepared for the very real challenges that are part of the job.

In that vein, what I say and do carries different weight. When I was a hall director, I had my 17 staff members who looked to me for guidance and support. Now there are 128 RAs, 225 desk receptionists, and 13 RHDs and grads who look at my words, behaviors, and choices as a barometer for professionalism. This may seem obvious, but the realization that I could have greater and broader influence at first overwhelmed me. I didn’t want to say anything wrong and the task of avoiding an error or mistake was mentally taxing. Now, further in, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve also maximized my influence. I’ve been able to own and apologize for mistakes, which is also a demonstration of leadership. But I’ve also been able to reach students and staff in some incredible ways. Which leads me to…

Share what you care deeply about. It will be contagious. People want to be surrounded by others who are not only invested but who offer something to get excited about, interested in, or adds new depth to their work. This year, I focused on basics of effective training methods and facilitation skills. I worked on this across all realms of my work and saw in August the impact this focus offered. After an incredible presentation by a team of RHDs, another staff member turned to me and said, “You made this happen.” I never expected that impact to be noticed but it made me so proud. At mid-level you are stretched in many directions. I knew to take our training to the next level, I needed to extend my knowledge and equip staff members with this knowledge and confidence to be an extension of my vision. And it was a success. Allowing others to be a partner in my work and to build their skills while at it was one of my smartest decisions in year one.

Many lessons lay ahead for me, but I can look at year one with pride. I took some chances and exercised great forethought to where I wanted to take our team and who I wanted to be to allow that to happen. Mid-level demands an ongoing focus on the details and the bigger picture. But most important within and between those aspects is the work of developing others. Looking forward to year two and the work and learning that awaits.

Renee P. Dowdy

Renee Piquette Dowdy is the Assistant Director of Student Staffing and Training at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Her work has taken her to Fort Collins, CO as part of Synergos, AMC, the University of Chicago, and Bowling Green State University. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband, Gavin, and Goldendoodle puppy, Maxwell. Outside of work, When not training and selecting staff, Renee enjoys yoga with a recent fitness certification, barre fitness classes, hiking, and home remodeling projects. Find out more from Renee by following her on Twitter (@reneepdowdy) or on her blog, www.reneepdowdy.com