gratitude: how to measure a year

I thought long and hard about what my one word for 2014 should be.  For the past two years, my words have focused on what I wanted to do and accomplish in each year.  This year, I want to focus more on the small, everyday things that bring me joy, make me smile, or give me pause.  I find that life is passing by far too quickly, and I often struggle to remember all of the moments that make up a year.  In an effort to measure my year, I plan to share a daily thought on what I am grateful for that day.  I might tweet, write a post here or share a photo on Facebook in order to create a log of the year. I also hope this will help me to re-focus on my blog writing.

I know that 2014 will be a year of change and transition, so practicing gratitude will be especially important.  I have much to look forward to and I can’t wait to share this with you.

gratitude 1

For day one, I am expressing my gratitude for the warmth and comfort of home.  After traveling for the holidays, it is great to return to a warm, comfortable home.
Have you decided what your one word will be for 2014? I’d love to hear the story behind it! 


#atozchallenge: x is a hard letter to write about

I am going to cheat a little here.  “X” has got to be the most difficult letter to begin a blog post with.  So, I’ll highlight a new tune that I dig.  The band is called The xx and they’ll be featured on the Great Gatsby soundtrack (not the song I am sharing here though.  If you want to hear the Gatsby song, click here).

Have any new favourite songs? Share them in the comments. 

For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.


#atozchallenge: why worry?

why worry

I love this quote from Walt Disney.  I used to worry about a lot of things.  I am starting to let go of that.  When I look back, a lot of the things I worried about never actually came to fruition.  I realized that was a lot of wasted time.  Time that could have been used more productively.

I think that worry goes hand-in-hand with the “would have, could have, should have” game.  When I was a student, after I’d written an exam, or submitted a paper, I’d think about all of the things I could have said.  I worried that I wouldn’t receive as high of a mark, because I hadn’t included those additional thoughts.  The truth is, I did fine.  I graduated with an honours degree, and was involved in my campus community.  I loved my undergrad experience and am a proud UW alumna.

This followed me into my professional life.  I would second guess myself, asking “did I say the right thing to that student?” or “I should have said X, Y, Z in that meeting.”  Instead of focusing on the past, and we all know that we can’t change that, I now try to be more solutions oriented, and instead of dwell on the past, reflect on what I have learned and take the lesson with me.

This is not always easy.  Sometimes I’ll look back and think about how different things would be if I had chosen another path.  At the same time, I think that I am the sum of my experiences – which means I am always learning and growing – and that if I had done something differently, I wouldn’t be who I am today.  Complex, isn’t it? I’m sure I’m not the only one who tows this line.

So when I start to go there, to worry about things I can’t change, or things that may never be, I think of this:

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
-Leo Buscaglia

What do you do when worry creeps into your life? 


For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.

#atozchallenge: virtual value

I often talk about the benefits of social media sites like Twitter.  Twitter has helped student affairs practitioners from around the world to connect, share and engage.  Before we had this borderless opportunity to connect, our professional networks were more limited and confined.

Now we’re only limited by ourselves and what we are, and are not, willing to do.  When I hear someone discount the value or usefulness of Twitter, I see that as a fantastic conversation starter and educational opportunity – especially if they are a student affairs professional.  I’ll ask them if they’ve ever been able to attend an international conference without leaving their office, or if they know where to look to find resources on the top trends in higher education. If you are trying to convince a non-believer to join Twitter, share your story.  Tell them what you have learned and how you have connected.

The time commitment and detraction from in-person connections are often reasons why people shy away from joining the Twitterverse.  Yes, social media can be time consuming. Setting boundaries and scheduling time to scroll through your Twitter feed are great ways to combat the “time consumption” fear.  And of course, what we do online should enhance and add value to our day-to-day lives and in-person interactions.  It’s pretty cool when you get the opportunity to meet a Twitter colleague in person, at a conference or other event.  The common phrase when this happens is “I feel like I’ve known you for years!”

It’s almost like a flipped-classroom model.  We meet and connect online, discover shared interests and then agree to follow-up in person (either via skype, on the phone or at a conference) to continue the conversation.  It’s also a great way to maintain professional relationships.  Liking a colleague’s post on Facebook or retweeting a resource they shared on Twitter is a great way to tell them “I like what you’re sharing and I value our relationship.”

social media mantra

As a final thought, I like this little reminder.  I call this my social media mantra.

How do you cultivate and sustain your professional network?  How does social media contribute to this? 

For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.

#atozchallenge: understanding each other

The 5th habit of Highly Effective People is: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  So often we try to make others understand us, and why our idea/point/thought is more valuable, that we lose the ability to listen to others.  Sometimes, instead of listening to others, we rack our brains to quickly formulate our response, listening only for gaps in their argument.  This habit does not breed collaboration.  I know I’ve been guilty of this, whether during an argument with a sibling, or a project meeting with colleagues.

What I’ve learned is this: the more I seek to be understood first, the more disappointed/upset I feel when my idea/point/thought is shot-down or dismissed.    When I think about the times that I sought to understand first, I learned more about others’ priorities, expectations and motivations.  This helped me to understand how my perspective would be received and afforded me the opportunity to tailor it and put it in context for the other person.

Think about a conduct meeting with a student.  The meetings that begin with “Tell me why you’re here” tend to go better than those that begin with “You punched a guy in the face, that’s not ok. Why did you do that?” The first option opens the door to conversation.  The latter immediately puts the other person on the defensive.

Or imagine a new supervisor coming in to your institution.  If they start off with a “this is how I did it in my last job, this is what worked at XYZ university, so that’s what we’re going to do here” approach, they probably won’t win many people over.  Instead, if they put the time in to learning about the department, its people and processes, they will likely be in a better position to make positive change and obtain buy-in.

Today, as you interact with others, pay attention to your habits.  Do you seek to understand first? Or seek to be understood first? If it’s the latter, try to make a concerted effort to understand others first.  You might be amazed at the impact it has and the difference it makes.

How do you seek to understand others? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.


For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.

#atozchallenge: tea

teaI’ve been drinking tea for as long as I can remember.   In the UK, tea is more than just a drink, it is ingrained into the culture.  When you go to someone’s home, they don’t offer you pop or juice, they always offer you a cup of tea.  

Perhaps one of the best things about tea is its versatility and appropriateness in various situations.  First one up in the morning? Put the kettle on.  Mid-morning pick me up? Put the kettle on.  A chat with a friend? Put the kettle on.  Had a bad day? Put the kettle on.  Winding down in the evening? Put the kettle on.  

Tea can be enjoyed on its own, served with biscuits (for dunking of course!), or with any meal.  Growing up we would joke that the kettle was never cold.  While this sounds like hyperbole, it’s probably quite close to the truth.  Apparently the Irish are the biggest per-capita consumers of tea in the world, with a national average of four cups per person per day.  Our English/Irish household certainly upholds this – and then some!

Drinking all of this tea gives you a taste for it.  If you want to make the perfect cup of tea, follow these steps:

1. Boil water in a kettle.
2. Add 1-2 teabags (my preference is Tetley Orange Pekoe) to a teapot (for four or more people, add a third teabag).
3. Once the water has boiled, add the water to the teapot.
4. Cover the teapot with a cozy and let the tea brew for 3-5 minutes.
5. Add milk and/or sugar to cup before pouring the tea in.
6. Pour brewed tea into cup and stir with a spoon.
7. Enjoy!

For an extra special touch, serve with scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam (this is best known as cream tea).

*If you do have to make tea in the cup (clearly this is the inferior option), place the teabag in the cup, add boiling water to the cup, let the tea brew, and then add the milk/sugar.



What’s your go-to beverage? If you’re a tea drinker, when is favourite time to enjoy a piping hot cuppa? 


For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.

#atozchallenge: scaredy squirrel


I was going to add Scaredy Squirrel to my recommended reading list but knew that the “S” post was coming up.

Scaredy Squirrel is a children’s book by Melanie Watt.  The message in the book is all about leaving your comfort zone in order to discover wonderful things – a fantastic message for post-secondary students.

I use Scaredy in staff training, as it’s a fun (and low risk) way to start an important conversation.  We’re often happy to stay in our safe environments, and continue to do only what we know.  Through Scaredy, we learn that there are wonderful opportunities beyond that safe environment that we would never find if we never left our comfort zone.  When a student enters college or university, they face a lot of unknowns.  There are a lot of new decisions to be made, people to get to know and experiences to be had.  Luckily, there are helpful people there to make that transition a little easier.   Upper year students play a huge role in helping to make the campus a welcome and inviting place.  Using Scaredy Squirrel with student leaders (during training) opens the door to that conversation.  I get them to think back to their first few days and what made it scary, but also what made them feel welcome.  That leads to the discussion on the impact they can have on new students.

It’s also a good reminder that all of our training techniques need not include a powerpoint presentation.

What fun training tools do you use with student leaders?


For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.