More than crumbs

On the boys’ last day of school, I posted this photo on facebook and instagram:

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100+ people liked it.

I was not one of them.

When the weekend was over and the high of the first days of summer waned, I looked at this photo. I didn’t see a happy mother whose arms are full of boys. I saw make-up that needed re-touching, crow’s feet, and gray roots. I saw all that was missing. Or, what I thought was missing.

I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and the first thing I had to do was step on the scale. Blerg! The numbers staring back at me were high. Higher than they have been in a long time. I texted a friend and said “Must exercise. Now.”

All of this is happening as I prep to go back to our cottage in Pentwater (where the above photo was taken ) tomorrow and spend a kid-free week (A WHOLE FREAKING WEEK!!!!!) with some girlfriends to celebrate my 40th birthday. I am hoping for some sun and naps on the beach. That will require a bathing suit and usually involves more self-loathing.

Not one of my friends will say anything to me about my appearance in my suit. And if they did, screw them. That’s not a friend! They are coming to have fun, to also have some kid-free down time, to drink wine, and laugh. As well they should. As well I should.

Not one of my friends commented on what was “missing” from the photo above. Because, nothing is missing. I am complete and whole and worthy just as I am.

So, why am I saying these things to myself? Why am I quick to uplift friends and support them unconditionally, but just as quick to tear myself down? There is a meme that circulates that says, “How you speak to your children become their inner voice.” The same applies to me.

My goal for the rest of 40 is to really focus on being kind with, and to, myself. I am worth it. I can no longer give and give to others and leave the crumbs for me. No one made me do this. No one has guilted me into acting and feeling this way. I have done this to myself, as I know many other women (especially moms) have as well. I got myself into this and it is just as important for me to dig myself back out.

Yes, I need to exercise again. But, I need to do it for me. I need to do it because it helps me mentally. I need to do it to relieve stress and have fun. Exercise is free therapy and a great salve for depression. I know this. I need to focus on this. If weight loss happens as a result, great. Just like I would say all these encouraging things to a friend, I will start saying them to myself.

Self-Advocacy While on the Student Affairs Path

THANK YOU to The Student Affairs Collective for the opportunity to share my experiences as a mid-career professional. You can see the original post here

During a recent #sachat about leaving student affairs, I posted this final thought: “you have every right to advocate for yourself, family, personal, mental, and financial health. If that means leaving, so be it.”

I am hesitant to publicly state that I want to leave. It seems so final. And I fear that by declaring my intentions, I will become invisible to colleagues and friends or worse, that my current efforts will be discounted because I lack stamina. In reality, these possibilities are remote. But, they feel real to me personally. I have devoted my entire “career” to higher education. It is all I know. If I leave, what the heck would I do? And, didn’t I spend a lot of time, money, and energy earning a terminal degree in this field? Where can I go where I can contribute to a team in a meaningful way and where my degree and experience would be valued?

Like many mid-career professionals, I am at a crossroads. As has been discussed before, to move up the ranks, I would have to move out. This means either relocating to another part of the country (not possible for us right now), or actively pursuing more advanced roles at my current institution. Both of these choices would require a significant lifestyle change in terms of the amount of time required to do the job well. Ideally, moving up would also mean a salary increase or some other form of compensation. But, if I am honest with myself, I am not sure that the modest salary increase would be “worth” the extra time required.

So, here I am: 15 years of experience in different functional areas at different institutions, Ph.D. prepared, and feeling lonely. What should I be when I grow up? From my doctoral research about the work-life strategies used by mid-career women in student affairs, I know that I am not alone. This sense of career path instead of career trajectory is a common one for women and especially for women with children. Yet, I am hesitant to make the leap and try something else. We advocate for students. We teach them how to advocate for themselves. I believe that we also need to advocate for ourselves. This gets tricky for most of us, myself included, because in student affairs we are supposed to love what we do. That love is supposed to be enough fuel for the long haul. Most of us probably didn’t get started in this profession for the residence hall director salary or glamorous lifestyle. In the beginning, it was about students and relationships. On many levels it still is about students and relationships. But, at mid-career, it has also become about paperwork, politics and red tape.

My desire to change the system from within has been tempered by the reality that higher education is slow to change and often resists outsiders with new ideas. My final thought from #sachat is true. All of us have the right to advocate for ourselves and our own well-being. This means me, too. I am quite comfortable advocating for the student organizations I advise and more than once I have encouraged my colleagues to create proposals asking for conference funding or time away. Now, at mid-career, I need to turn those advocacy efforts inward and advocate for myself. Since the Twitter chat, I have devoted serious time to thinking about how to use my training and experience and leverage them to make the next right step for me and my family.

There are ways to stay connected to higher education and college students without being part of a student affairs division. Maybe that means combining my true passion for childhood cancer awareness with my higher education experience and helping foundations recruit students as fundraisers or campus ambassadors. Maybe it means starting a coaching or consulting side business. Maybe it means another lateral move or truly taking all of my vacation days next year. What I said before about higher education being all I know, that’s not really true. And, it’s not true for you, either. We have a tendency to undersell our gifts and talents because so much of our work is behind the scenes. Let’s advocate for ourselves and stop doing that.

As a Ph.D. prepared professional, a mid-career administrator, mother and advocate, I know how to get stuff done. The skills that helped me negotiate a doctoral program, our son’s treatment, and my career thus far are the same skills I will take with me when I go. In student affairs, the typical timeline for career ascension is somewhat clear: Master’s degree-first job-Assistant Director-Director-VP. There is no roadmap for leaving. And leaving doesn’t have to mean forever. It could just mean that it is what’s next. I am trying to be patient and think in short-term achievable goals, rather than an all-out career leap. It’s a path not a trajectory.

No more tiaras

I am the proud godmother to three amazing little girls. It is an honor to be chosen for this special role. In addition to serving as a role model of faithfulness (eek!?) I also believe that one of my duties as godmother is to role model feminist, inclusive leadership and work-life negotiation strategies. I haven’t yet told the parents of these girls that this is how I see myself as godmother. Hopefully they are okay with this since they chose me! Two of them are my siblings, so I think I am okay.

Two of my three goddaughters recently had birthdays and I refused to buy them tiaras. I bought tutus, wands, journals and feather pens, and pretend play shoes and jewelry. But, I drew the line at a tiara. When we were in Toys R Us, my sons kept pointing them out and asked why we couldn’t get them. I fumbled over the answer and tried to explain in terms they would understand what a tiara represents. I did not do so well on the spot. After some reflective time, my answer is this: Tiaras imply weakness. Tiaras imply something that is given to a young girl for superficial reasons- looks, personality, bikinis. Tiaras are usually given to girls by a “higher” power, usually a man, because said higher power has deemed the recipient worthy.

Here’s the thing. We are already worthy. We are already enough. My goddaughters don’t need anyone to give them a tiara. If they want one, they can go out and earn it (or a promotion, or a raise, or whatever a tiara means to them). Which, given what I have witnessed from them already and their amazing parents, I have no doubt they will! Go get it ladies! (Note to parents and others with special little women in their lives. I am not anti-tiara. I am anti what tiaras represent. If your little girl loves dress up and pretend play and tiaras, then carry on!)

Professional tiaras

I recently had my own tiara-resistance moment. I have applied for a job. It is within my current setting, but with a completely different focus- alumni development. On paper, it is a dream position- develop relationships, network with, and create programs for young alumni. Swoon! I knew that the position was going to post and I thought about just submitting my materials and then waiting. Like I have done with every other job search in my life. In the past, I have absolutely been guilty of the Tiara Syndrome. Carol Frohlinger of Negotiating Women, Inc. says that TS involves keeping your head down, doing good work, and waiting for people to notice and reward you.

Instead of waiting to be noticed, I emailed the person who would be my supervisor if I got offered the position and I asked him to coffee. I was bold. I was direct. I did not wait, I advocated for myself. I said, “I would like to learn more about your office and what you do. Can I take you to coffee?” I have never done this before in my entire life. I was absolutely terrified. Was I too bold? Was I pushy? Would it be awkward if he said no?

He said yes. We went to coffee and I learned a TON about the office, his style, the position, and what he is looking for. I told him that I would be applying and then indicated why I would be a strong candidate. Again, I have never done this before in my life. Guess what? It didn’t hurt. It was actually really fun. It was useful, helpful, and informative. Even if I don’t get offered an interview, it was a good use of my time, personally and professionally. Even if I don’t get the job, I know more about Alumni Relations and what the “work” is. This information will only help me.

This morning, this article came across my Twitter feed: “Don’t ever apologize for being a good parent and other lessons for hard-working women.”

I am in love with this post by Stacy Janicki. It says, for me, so many things that I am trying to practice in my own life and work. It says so well the career counseling and leadership advice I am trying to share with my students. She talks about the tiara syndrome and how to combat it. She encourages women to learn self-promotion skills and to ask for what they want.

Yes!

No more tiaras!

No more tiaras!

Have you had a tiara-resistance moment?