2015 in Review

I hesitated to write this year-in-review post because looking back at 2015, I kept saying to myself, “Not that much happened, really.” I think that’s the thing with mothering and adulting- the days are long, but time flies. And the older I get, the shorter the years feel. So it makes sense that the past year didn’t immediately stick out as remarkable. Sort of.

I spent the early part of this week going through old emails and Outlook calendar appointments. I also deleted a ton of old emails. That was liberating! Taking the time to look back is important. It’s a reminder of the growth that happened and milestones achieved. It’s also totally OK to look back with a sense of pride and feel good about your time.

Turns out my family and I did a lot in 2015. I had a big milestone birthday- 40! Funny that I glossed over that initially. I started a business and a book. These are not small things.

In my experience, women do this a lot. We downplay things for fear of sounding braggy. It’s also a parenting survival strategy; if you dwell too long on the “stuff,” you’ll spin your wheels and get overwhelmed. As 2016 revs up, I vow to not downplay things. I will speak with confidence. I will give myself credit. I have earned it (and so have you!).

Turns out, 2015 was remarkable. In big and small ways. Here are the highlights:

  • February- First annual winter family trip. In Christmas 2014, Santa brought fewer gifts and a little cash for us to go somewhere. We voted for Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City and had a blast! This tradition will definitely continue in 2016.
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Great Wolf Lodge, Feb 2015

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Legit small business owner in Michigan- Sheldrake Consulting!

  • March 15- L reached 5 years off-treatment and is now officially in remission.
  • April 13- L went to his first Long-Term Survivor Follow-Up clinic appointment. He also officially graduated to one appointment/year!
  • April 19- I am godmother to my nephew, Patrick and spent an early birthday with my entire family and best friend back in Jersey.
  • April 21- The BIG 4-0!
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Lulu Buttercup- My pink beach cruiser bike!

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Celebrating with my boys. Nothin’ better.

  • Late June- As a birthday present to myself, I rented Hilltop Cottage for (and from) myself and my girlfriends and I went away for a kid-free week in the sun. This was one of the best weeks of my life.
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PTW with the girls! Fun. Life-giving.

  • Professionally, my colleagues and I survived the summer while down two full-time staff people. We were supervisor-less from August until December. This honestly was one of the more challenging times of my professional life. I learned a big lesson, too. If more responsibilities are forced on you, ask for more money. I didn’t. I should have.
  • June/July- I created a blog series called #SAMid, designed to highlight the joys, struggles, and realities of being a mid-career professional in higher education. Colleagues contribute heartfelt and thought-provoking pieces. Search #SAMid on the blog to find the awesome-ness.
  • Labor Day weekend my mom, Grandmom Jersey, came out to PTW and we all swam in Lake Michigan! In September!
  • In September I was diagnosed with tennis and golfer’s elbow- despite not playing either of those- and began PT. Apparently you can get a “sports” injury from too much typing. Ah, 40.
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Physical Therapy ain’t no place for sissies!

  • September is childhood cancer awareness month. I was invited to speak to the Nursing Student Association about our journey. It was a packed house. What an honor!
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Thank you, MSU NSA for going #gold!

  • Fall- C’s soccer team, the Okemos Fireants, went undefeated!
  • Fall- I conquered my fear of home improvement and: 1) stained an old desk that is now in my writing corner and 2) painted our coastal living room.
  • November- I participated in #NaNoWriMo and began our family memoir, Dear Boys. I’m 30K words in! Stay tuned for official release in 2016.
  • December brought L’s tenth birthday and our annual trek to Jersey (Joisey!) to visit family and friends.

Whew! What a wonderful year. Looking back on it, we did do a lot. I highly recommend this year-in-review exercise.

Cheers to you. I hope 2015 was a good one for you and yours and that 2016 is even better.

I am lucky and grateful to be here and looking forward, with confidence, to 2016.

I’m a mid. But, I’m not sure my profession knows

Special thanks and shout-out to Jessica Keefer for this contribution to the #SAMid series. Being in the middle (the mid) looks different for everyone, yet the profession seems to honor traditional degrees and trajectories. Jessica shares her experiences and thoughts about that here.

On Monday morning I woke up and rushed my kids through their waffles and cartoons. Drop off at daycare was hurried, so I ended up feeling guilty all day about not having asked my son’s new teacher how his first days of kindergarten had gone. But I had a long day of student affairs work to do, from representing my office at the M Climb (our traditional first year right of passage) to attending faculty conference, serving as leadership on a First Year Experience committee, and holding a training for the 135 people that teach the course I coordinate. I am a mid level professional. I had a job to do.

For me, being mid level is as much about my age and stage in life as it is about my career. I am 37, the mother of two, and married to someone who is also mid level in his field. I have been out working in “the real world” for 15 years now. I spent last night teaching my kids about Nirvana (which led to a discussion about the Foo Fighters, of course), and I am excited by craft fairs and antique shops. I’m a mid. But, I’m not sure if my profession knows that.

Although I’ve been working for 15 years, I’ve only been in Student Affairs for 8. I was never an RA or a student ambassador. I didn’t have a calling to graduate school directly following undergrad. I never had an assistantship or a live on position. Instead, I worked in finance for 6 years after graduation. I specifically did customer service, collections and fraud for various credit card companies. I hated it with a white hot hate, but it made me a kinder and more understanding person. I learned how to deal with difficult people and be solution oriented. I can also calculate a mean APR. I didn’t go to grad school until I was 30 and I worked full time at the university to pay for my tuition. I defended my capstone project while 8 months pregnant. None of this matches with the paths of my colleagues and supervisors.

Flash forward, and I am currently an Academic Advising Coordinator at a public STEM institution. I love it with all of my heart and I joke with my supervisor that I am never leaving. This is my fourth position in student affairs and I feel as though each job I’ve taken has been a step up from the last. I hold a great deal of responsibility including coordinating two courses, managing a caseload of 450 undergraduate students, maintaining a large budget and supervising student staff. I serve on numerous committees and I am respected by my faculty and staff colleagues across campus. But if you go by title alone, I am a coordinator. Depending on area and institution, that may appear more entry level. I also do not currently supervise professional staff, which I’m learning is the new chicken-or-egg conundrum. And the problem is I am driven and determined. I DO eventually want to move up.

What I have learned is that as much as people cling to titles, and even hire based on them, they are arbitrary. The work and responsibility that are required of me as a coordinator is just as much, if not more, than many assistant or associate directors at other institutions. Sometimes I wrestle with whether that is “fair.” I honestly don’t care what my title is- I know what I do and how important it is- but if it determines my next position or how much I am valued, then I do mind. Those title conversations are when the impostor syndrome creeps in and I wonder if I will ever make it as far as the person who spent years in the Residence Halls or the one who is nearly a decade younger than me and already managing their own department.

I am also starting to feel a nagging anxiety when it comes to realizing my career goals. None of us have good work-life balance, it’s the nature of our jobs. But I know that if I really intend to move up the ranks, I will need to get my PhD. I fully intend to do that. Still, I will always need to work full time, proving my worth, grit and dedication along the way. And then I have these two kids at home. The ones I rushed through their waffles. And I just wonder how I will do it all.

I am so very lucky to be supported entirely by my family and my institution. My husband and supervisor both tell me regularly what a great doc student they think I’ll be. My colleagues think I’m a great mom. My kids think I toast a great Eggo. My mom thinks I’m pretty (and posts it awkwardly on Facebook). They don’t mention who will take care of sick kids, cook dinner, and fold laundry while my husband works a weekend shift. We don’t talk about how I will afford my education. But I have to be honest, I believe in myself. I am happy where I am for the moment, and I know I will find my path to my next joy and challenge. I always have.

Jessica Keefer

Jessica Keefer is an Academic Advising Coordinator at the Colorado School of Mines. She has worked in several advising and student services roles over the past 8 years. She is an alumna of both Ohio University and University of Denver, and is currently eyeing various PhD programs. Jessica is interested in social justice, first year experience, fostering meaningful relationships, and Cleveland sports. When not at work, you can find Jessica wrangling her two small children, hiking, enjoying cheese, or collapsed on the couch. Connect with her on Twitter: @jesslkeefer

Comparison is the thief of joy

I’ve wasted the last 72 hours of myself being all riled up by an article I read on the lovely interwebs. Then of course, my feed blows up with similar junk (it’s scary to me how that happens…like because I work at a university, that university’s advertisements are all over my facebook. Weird). All of these messages are screaming at me that I am not enough. I am not hungry (well, I AM hungry, but not the RIGHT kind), I could save more money on car insurance, PASSION, vocation, career, life hacks to save you two seconds in the morning… Blah, blah, blah!

Then, I saw this image and reposted it on instagram (you know, that other social media thing that needs to be constantly fed to help me perpetuate my “brand”). It’s from @emilymcdowell. Check her out here. Good stuff.

Preach.

Preach.

I also shared said article with my spouse and some friends. The best advice I got FROM THEM was this: take what works for you, discard the rest.

Ahhh. Yes. I know this. In my core, when I am tuned in to MY internal voice, I know this. Advice is only good when someone follows it. So, why was I comparing myself to everyone on the internet, most of whom I don’t know, and then trying to force their advice onto my life? I’ve been comparing myself to:

  • single women
  • single women without children
  • divorced women
  • married women with no kids
  • married women with one kid (one is one, two is ten!)
  • empty-nesters
  • working moms with live-in nannies
  • working moms with stay-at-home partners
  • working moms with cleaning ladies
  • mompreneurs
  • solopreneurs
  • married-preneurs

There is NOTHING wrong with any of these people. But comparing myself, my life, my “career” to theirs makes me feel less than and robs me of my joy. I’m NOT them, so I need to stop idealizing and idolizing their lives. My journey is mine alone.

I took facebook off my phone a long time ago. Finally took twitter off last night, too. If instagram gets catty & pushy like twitter, then that sucker’s next!

I know who I am. I know who my tribe is. I need to fill my feed and my soul with news from THEM.