Book Review: The Niche Movement

8gnwvxVb This past weekend I finished reading my digital copy of the new book from Kevin O'Connell, The Niche Movement: The New Rules to Finding the Career You Love. I'm really excited for this book to finally be out into the world, since I've been a long supporter of Kevin's and also proudly donated to his crowdfunding campaign last year to help publish the book.

Simply stated, this book is great. It excellently captures the frustrations many (myself included) feel with the status quo of job searching and workplace culture and gives some fantastic insights as to how to control your own destiny and do work that is fulfilling, whatever that may mean for you. Kevin weaves his career advice with unique stories of people from all over the country working in all sorts of fields that help send home and support his points. To top it off, he sets you up for success by giving out contact info for everyone mentioned in the book, so if you want to keep the discussion going with someone who really intrigued you, you have the means to do so and are even encouraged to reach out.

While I supported the effort to get this book published, I had no creative input in the production of it, but I trusted Kevin to create a superb product and he delivered tremendously, and that is my objective opinion. Many of the points he mentions I've heard before, which only further provides credibility to his work here. It has helped inspire and motivate me to get some things ramped up for my life, and I know it will do the same for you.

Check out The Niche Movement site for more awesome stuff, and reach out to Kevin to connect about the book. He's a pretty cool dude!

Thanks for stopping by!

Reflecting On All the Things I've Done

Clist2 I have felt at some points in my life that I have had a tragically mundane, ordinary life that hasn't had much good or bad happen in it. It was a depressing thought to consider, especially in my darker moments, but recently, I've taken time to sit down and put my mental energy to work writing down all my "greatest hits" (just like with Charlie Pace in one my favorite television shows of all time, Lost). Moments in my life, big or small, that I'm proud of. They include the places I've traveled, the accomplishments I've achieved, and the small things we should all think of more. Here are some specific examples of what I'm talking about:

  • Smiled so much my face hurt
  • Presented at a national conference
  • Visited Las Vegas, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC
  • Gone to a comedy club
  • Gave good lives to my pets

Some of these things are concrete experiences in my life that I am happy to have done. Even if they aren't that special to others, they're special to me. Others are things I look back and affirm for myself. People can have regrets, doubts, and think negatively about the experiences in their life, but I challenge myself to think positively. I can never know for certain if I gave a good life for my pets, they can't tell me, but I choose to believe that I did based on the memories I have and the things I did for my two wonderful dogs I had growing up.

I'm keeping a list of experiences I want to partake in before I turn 30 in a few years. I'm making intentional efforts to accomplish them and keep updating my list of "greatest hits". It will help me in my darker moments realize that I have lived a full life and have the ability to take actions to make change my life.

I encourage folks to do something similar to this to keep the positivity flowing in their lives. Things like this or a happiness journal can let us be more mindful of what happens around us each day, and what brings us joy.

Thanks for stopping by!

Reflections from My First Year as a #SAPro

18dichotomy I've been waiting a while to write this post. I hope it is helpful to some people out there as a snapshot into my life for the past year. I feel it is important to reflect often, and I've had a lot of feelings about my work that I've wanted to share. I appreciate your thoughtful consideration and openness to what I'm about to share.

I started working at my institution on July 1 of last year. I just finished my first full academic year as a full-time professional at a small, private university, which is unlike any other place I've been at, in a state (albeit where I was born and have visited many times) where I have never lived, away from any friends I know and was mostly left to my own devices to find my own path. It's been a weird, wild journey, and I've learned a lot from the experience. While there have been some things that I wish I had known before I started working and living here, I'm grateful for where my path has lead me.

To put my year in context, we started out without a permanent central office for our department and also without a dedicated director to supervise us. We never got any of these things resolved during the academic year (still haven't), so we made it work without them for the entire time. This was unfortunate and frustrating but we still did our work to support our students as best we could. I can understand that there are several different variables beyond me that played into this situation becoming reality, but it still felt like we weren't valued enough to be a priority. There still are no discussions now about how the search for a possible supervisor is going to occur. We have an interim supervisor still overseeing us but they can't focus on us in the same way a dedicated departmental director could.

The culture here is also very relaxed, almost too much for my tastes. I like that about it but there seems to be a lack of urgency to get things done quickly or to go beyond the bare minimum. Communication is lacking, the infrastructure and procedures for our work feel out of date, and resources are very limited. Students enroll and withdraw from their coursework and the residence halls consistently, making things even more difficult (higher education in Maine is struggling with this). The Student Life team is tiny here and seems to be low on the totem pole of institutional support. While we aren't a required part of the student experience (they are coming there for their degree after all) we are increasingly what makes it meaningful and memorable for our students.

Even with all of this, I'm mostly glad that I'm here. I shared some thoughts relevant to this before, and especially after my job search, which was emotionally difficult for me, I am happy that I found full-time employment in my field very soon after graduation. The pay is fair, the benefits are good, and I am not stressed out by my job (unless I get into a negative mindset and get frustrated about all the quirks). I know I'm learning a lot and I've been given some great opportunities here to help with New Student Orientation very closely as well as sit on numerous search committees hiring full-time colleagues.

I write all of this to try to give a candid picture of my experience. I've had students cry in my office, parents and students genuinely thank me for helping them, I've had late nights, early mornings, long days, and programs not succeed how I wanted them to. I didn't get to do all that I hoped for in my first year, and a lot happened that I couldn't expect, good and bad. All I can say is that life is funny that way sometimes, and I encourage folks to always make sure you are very thoughtful in your decision-making. If I had ended up somewhere else, far from my partner, that was like where I am now, I probably be in a much worse emotional state. Since I have her and my family close by, I'm much better off.

I hope this didn't come off as airing dirty laundry. I don't intend it to seem that way. I didn't know what I didn't know about what was to come here. Some of it I couldn't possibly know. I just have had an experience here that isn't what I want for myself going forward. I don't seek to make any definitive qualitative statements about my institution. I just know it isn't for me. That's been a very helpful point of growth for me to learn that. I'm sharing my truth and I hope some others can perhaps normalize what I've gone through, since I don't have much to compare my experience to, and perhaps give advice.

Thank you for taking time to read. I appreciate any and all comments.

Geeking Out: “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

I have a problem. I’m borderline obsessed with the new Netflix series, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” I am on my third round of watching the series and I am unapologetic. This has been incredibly easy to do since there are only 13, 30-minute episodes and the writing is so fast, and so funny, that it is easy to lose yourself in the series. Throw in the incredible Ellie Kemper in the lead role as Kimmy, amazing supporting characters, and the series being the brainchild of Tina Fey, and I was hooked. maxresdefault

There is so much to geek out about this little gem of a series. The pop culture references, the hilarious turn of Jon Hamm in the most unexpected of roles, Tina Fey doing a spot on impression of Marcia Clark (one of the lead attorneys from the OJ Simpson trial, for all of those people not of age in the 90s), plus Kimmy’s roommate Titus Andromedon being one of the most entertaining characters in recent history, the series makes for pure fun. The premise of the show puts Kimmy as one of four women who were locked in an underground bunker as part of a doomsday cult since 1990. We meet Kimmy and the other women as they are rescued from the bunker and attempt to start their lives after being without TV, internet, phone, magazines, or music from 1990-2015. As you can imagine, hilarity ensues with the “Indiana Mole Women.”

Kimmy moves to New York City to start her life again. She is 30 years old, has missed everything from the past 15 years, and has to unlearn so many things about how the world works, but her positivity never wanes. Kimmy has a lot to be angry, resentful, and depressed about after being locked away for 15 years. She missed the Clinton era, Hurricane Katrina, *NSYNC, purple ketchup, and more. She thinks her boss’ MacBook was a giant iPhone, calls hashtags “hashbrowns,” and is thrilled that her closet of a room has a window.

If you haven’t seen the series, all you may know about the show is the catchy as hell theme song that [fair warning!] will be stuck in your head for weeks. While the jokes are funny and storylines are ridiculous, the best part of the series for me is Kimmy’s unbreakable spirit. She is positive, in the face of horrific circumstances, and that is what makes her simultaneously relatable and aspirational.

I have found my professional home in student affairs, particularly within residence life. There are lots of things that I love about my work, but there are so many things that are hard, jarring, depressing, and life-altering about the work of supporting students. On a typical day, we deal with physical altercations, or students who come to our campuses with severe psychological issues that only intensify once the added stress of classes and independent living descends. Students come to us experiencing gender-based violence, extreme financial stress, unrealistic family expectations, citizenship challenges, food and housing insecurity, and varying levels of parental involvement, ranging from suffocating to non-existent. And, on our worst days, we comfort families and friends in their shock and grief when members of our communities pass away.

Meeting students in some of their hardest moments takes a toll. It can be hard to find anything positive in a hard day, and yet, very much like Kimmy, student affairs has the opportunity to be unbreakable. It seems like every day there is another expose, talking head, or article pointing to the demise of higher education. Where the hell are we supposed to start? The ballooning student debt crisis? The rampant racism running throughout campuses? Gender-based violence finally seeing the light of day? Those in the academy who blame student affairs administration for the financial bloat which is contributing to these problems? It’s overwhelming.

And yet, I find myself enjoying my work. Having fun, laughing, taking moments to appreciate the moments of change and challenge. Does this make me a Pollyanna? An ostrich with her head in the sand? Hopelessly naive? Or does this make me like Kimmy, albeit it on a smaller scale? Could it actually be possible to hold both of those concepts simultaneously, that awful things happen on our campuses every single day, but we still have the choice, and perhaps the responsibility to approach our work with a positive attitude?

In one of my favorite episodes, Kimmy stands in her truth, fully aware of her traumatic history, in the middle of Times Square, and says to her roommate, “Life beats you up. You can either curl up in a ball and die or you can stand up and say, ‘We’re different and you can’t break us.’” Student affairs, take a lesson from this Indiana Mole Women: Let’s be unbreakable.

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Marci Walton is a student affairs professional interested in residence life, social justice, service, and the intersectionality of identity. Passionately curious about social media, women’s leadership and finding the perfect spot to admire the Pacific. Current Californian, but a Buckeye through and through. Connect with her on Twitter and at her blog.

Figuring Out What is Truly Important

why-holding-hands-feels-so-good * This posted was originally featured on The Student Affairs Collective.

My decision to move to Maine last year to continue being close to my partner was a simple one, but it has had major implications for our lives together. 

I've talked about my job search story before, so I won't go to much into that part of my journey. The choice to move up to my home state and be close to my partner was an intentional one on my part. I picked up and moved (after having also moved a short distance for graduate school just two years before) leaving behind a lot of things I enjoyed about being in the Mid-Atlantic region. Delaware was where I grew up and could envision my self settling down in the future. Nevertheless, I couldn't see myself being happy being far away from my partner (someone I see myself spending the rest of my life with). I wanted to be able to help her feel supported in a stressful time in her life as she began graduate school. It was also a nice chance to live in my home state for the first time (I've visited often but never lived here) and be closer to my extended family than I've ever been before.

My decision making during my own anxiety ridden job search felt easier when I gave serious thought to what I truly wanted and what was important to me. My relationship trumped all other things since even if everything else was going wrong, I'd have my partner to support me and spend time with. While there are times we both wish we were back in New Jersey, we're glad to be here in Maine together exploring a new area and meeting new people. We've been able to spend a lot quality time together and become closer than ever before. Our relationship would have been strained if we ended up hours apart and I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to support her and continued to strengthen our bond.

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As we all move forward in our lives and careers, I encourage you all to give mindful consideration to what you really want. Family, region, significant others, functional area, or any other reasons are all valid as long as they're your own reasons, not someone else's or what you think you're "supposed" to be doing. Do what you want and do whatever is best for you. I did, and I would never have chosen differently.