A Year of Change

The first blog post I wrote on this website almost a year ago was about the “One Word” that I was choosing to live by in 2012. With what I now recognize as an impressive amount of foresight, humility, and a good dose of crippling fear, I chose “change”. Even now, it feels empowering to say that I chose change, instead of feeling like change was always choosing me. I knew then that change would define this year, and I’m grateful that I embraced it.

Without question, this has been one of the most change-filled years of my life. When I look back to last December, I’m looking into a totally different life. I was on the brink of transition, ready to find the next phase of my life. I was preparing to leave behind a place that had defined me for years (and which will always hold a big piece of my heart). I was unknowingly about to experience months of heartbreak, soul-searching, doubt, questioning, and ultimately, self discovery and renewed confidence. There were many times in the months that followed that I sat on the floor and sobbed, whether out of confusion and frustration at a relationship that was rapidly falling apart, fear and sadness for leaving the place I loved, exhaustion from tirelessly working to finish my degree, or the mixture of apprehension, anxiety, and abandon that I fondly refer to as “quarter-life crisising”.

In those and numerous other challenging moments, “change” became my mantra. I have reminded myself quite frequently over the past 12 months that I am choosing change. I want change; I love change. It hurts like hell sometimes. But when I commit myself to something, you had better believe I’m going to follow through. Had I not gifted this magical word to myself at the beginning of the year, would I still have gotten through all of the transitions in my life? Most likely. However, I really believe that I met these challenges with greater conviction, grace, and faith than I would have otherwise. I defined myself as a lover of change; I chose my attitude in anticipation of what I thought was coming for me. In many ways, I got more than I anticipated; but I was ready.

Today I feel that I’m better off than I was a year ago. Yes, I have a degree and a full-time job now (whew), but it is more than that. I have a better sense of who I am and what matters to me. I have, in many ways, reclaimed permission to fully be who I want to be. I realize that my life will always hold changes. Likely, there will be other years similar to this one, during which I will turn to my good old friend Change and ask her to hold my hand along my journey. After all, Change and I are well-acquainted now.

Belonging.

Nancy Schlossberg’s theory of Mattering and Marginality has always been one of my favorite student development theories.  This is partially due to the simplicity of it and partially because it (and her transition theory) are ones that I so easily and consistently apply to my own life.

Schlossberg’s theory outlines five aspects of mattering:

  • attention; the feeling that one is noticed
  • importance; a belief that one is cared about
  • ego-extension; the feeling someone else will be proud of what one does or will sympathize with failures
  • dependence; a feeling of being needed
  • appreciation; the feeling that one’s efforts are appreciated by others (Evans et al, 2010).

It’s really a theory of feeling like you belong, like you have friends, you are important, and simply, that you matter. It should be no surprise that these can be hard to come by for many college students and for anyone that is taking on a new endeavor in life, especially for us new professionals. If you don’t get those five aspects, you can feel marginalized, depressed, and likely to give up on your environment.

Being a new professional in student affairs is, for many reasons, unlike working in any other field. Many new professionals are young, single, fresh out of grad school, and picking up everything, moving to a new city or town, a completely new campus, a new culture, new everything. We go where there are colleges and universities (which is frankly, often the middle of nowhere) and for those of us in housing, we live exactly where we work. It requires an intense level of engagement with the campus, which most of us in student affairs first experienced at our alma maters.

After six years at the University of Maine, it had truly become my home. I’m pretty sure that I “mattered” there more than I’ve mattered anywhere else in my lifetime (except for with my family). I was known on campus and I was an expert on UMaine. I had an outstanding network of friends, colleagues, peers, classmates, mentees, and mentors based on the shared experience of being a Black Bear. I knew how to get things done, who to talk to, and had a sense of ownership of a variety of programs, organizations, and even physical spaces on campus. I didn’t just know the history of UMaine; I was actually part of the history of UMaine.

My experience at UMaine is a perfect example of mattering, of how I went from being an out-of-state student who didn’t know a soul in the state of Maine to being so much a part of campus that my picture was in a slide show presented by the President. Which made starting completely fresh for the first time in six years completely scary.

It’s one thing to know in my mind that I’ve made a great choice in my career by coming to UConn; I knew that months ago when I accepted the position. It’s another thing to feel in my heart that I belong here; that’s a feeling that comes only with time and experiences. And those things don’t come in a job description or an offer letter, but by building relationships, getting invested, getting to know students, and putting my unique mark on my work.

Although I tentatively approached the prospect of starting over, this experience has made me value the process of becoming someone who belongs here. It has helped me to get closer to the experience that many of my students are having and reminds me of things I used to take for granted, like recognizing people on campus, learning the history and traditions of a university, and truly getting to know some awesome people.

References: Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student Development in College (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

One Word: Change

As a means of christening the New Year and, of course, keeping up with what’s hot in the Student Affairs Twittersphere, I’m choosing One Word to define my 2012. I am not going to lie and say that I do not have a resolution; I do. It is to use mouthwash twice everyday. “Mouthwash”, however, is not exactly what I expect will define my year. Although dental hygiene is very important and my mouth feels cleaner already.

What will likely define my year, however, is change. So Change is my One Word for 2012. I figure that is what is going to happen regardless, so I might as well choose it and own it before it sneaks up on me. As you know, I like change. I think that it’s important and I’m a big advocate for social change. But I think that my challenge this year is going to be embracing personal change. Like graduating, getting a job, moving away from my home for the past 6 years, being a grown up, and other very serious things of that nature.

So, there you have it. Change. The tide in my life is moving and I can either catch it or get all swept up and end up with seaweed in my hair and sand in my mouth….you get the picture.