Because of L

This morning, within 30 minutes of each other, I received a text from a friend that a local young man named Luke died of childhood cancer and a call from another friend that my neighbor was having surgery.

I didn’t immediately think about my own Luke, and thank God that it wasn’t him. I wept for Luke’s parents and brothers. For their permanent emptiness and the courage it will take to grieve.

About my friend, I thought, “that’s awful, how can I help?” not, “why didn’t she tell me?” I share this not to brag about how wonderful I am, but rather, to offer two thoughts.

First. Healing is possible and thank you for your help in my own healing journey. Years ago, amid my own grief and its corollary of self-absorption, I would have made my friends’ tragedy- and it is that- about me. Or, I would have diminished her experience altogether. Saying something (to myself at least) cruel like, “well, at least they caught it early.”

Second. A gentle suggestion. If When you are in the same situation- because tragedy finds us all- respond with love and empathy. Offer to help. Some of us believe that among #HurricaneHarvey, #DACA, #HurricaneIrma, the wild fires in the PNW we are in tragedy right now.

Grief was supposed to make me kinder, softer around the edges. It has. Healing is possible. But It’s one hell of a road. And you must do the work. You have to stay on the mat, as my friend G says. Stay on the mat. Don’t hit the easy button. I’ve learned that deflection and comparison are my easy buttons. I’ve also learned that they’re thieves. They steal people of their own grief and they rob me of the chance to be kind, to be a friend, to be a Christian, a fellow human.

Healing doesn’t mean “over it” or forgetting. I will never be over L’s diagnosis or the collapse of my career, or the betrayal of friends…or whatever events mark my life as before/after.

Healing means using my grief as fuel, instead of as a weapon. Healing means letting things impact me without defining me. Healing means action.

They will know we are Christians by our love. And love is a verb. Love and prayers are awesome and they helped us. They continue to help me. But don’t stop there. Too many of us Christians pray and think that’s enough. Pray, of course. All the time, for everyone. Pray to be inspired to act.

I donated to St. Baldrick’s in honor of Luke. Some friends and I are rallying to create a schedule to help our friend with housecleaning and meals. I hope you will feel inspired to act as well.


Passion is a luxury

I had passion. I was 25 years old, Master’s Degree in hand and a year of full-time service with AmeriCorps under my belt. I was a faithful, faith-filled, world-changing, ass-kicker.

And then I grew up.

Then my kid got sick. Then my life changed course. Then I lied to myself and told myself to keep going even though I knew it felt wrong. It still feels wrong- like wearing shoes that are too tight.

Part of our student affairs messaging has been that “how you do stuff matters” and I bought that hook, line, sinker. I built my career and my education on it. But the last six years have shown me that that message is only the message. It doesn’t translate to practice.

I was passionate until I got burned. Until I was betrayed by friends in multiple job searches.Until I have seen colleagues with questionable moral compasses and inappropriate office etiquette get promoted. Until I called HR and aired serious concerns about fellow “professionals'” behavior, only to be told that “it wasn’t illegal.”

It takes courage to stay in environments where you’re not passionate. I do not say that to be a martyr. But to give people S P A C E to breathe. To give myself room. I am drowning. I am bitter with words that I have choked back for years for fear of…what? Being labeled negative? Too late. For being labeled aggressive? Also too late. For fear of not getting hired, or branded right, or or or or? What?

I am so tired of hiding. Of not sharing my personal truth for fear of haters and trolls. The fact that I feel this fear, and have felt this fear for years, speaks volumes about how we treat whistle-blowers and dissenting voices in our profession. I know I am not alone. I have Twitter DMs and email streams from my fellow passion-naysayers. Yet, so few of us take the time to write about the shadows we all experience.

At 40 years old, with two small children, multiple mortgages, car payments, orthodontics, and a college fund, passion is a luxury I cannot afford. The flip side of the passion coin is obligation. I have obligations that I have chosen. As a grown-up, I cannot and I will not toss them aside to pursue my passions. My passions are: chocolate, wine, writing, reading, reading, napping, and binge-watching old school episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Last time I checked that was not a full-time job with health and retirement benefits. If you find such a position, please share my LinkedIn profile with the committee. Because, my LI is up to date and properly branded 😉

Passion is a bullshit bill of goods that we all got sold in grad school to make up for crappy pay and long hours. I have friends who are teachers, pharmacists, state employees, and accountants. The only people talking about passion are the teachers and I think part of that is because they get snow days and summers off.

Work can be work.  Passion is a luxury that many people can’t afford. Passion also reeks of privilege, but that’s another post. So, let’s practice what we preach and start doing for each other what we profess to do for students. Let’s back-off the passion rhetoric and let people B E. Let people choose what works for them.

My hands are shaking and there is a voice in my head screaming at me not to hit publish. I am feeling shame and vulnerability right now. I am choosing to live into it and share my story. Brene Brown says that writing messages doesn’t give the message power, it gives you power.

I hope she’s right. Here we go…..


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,