#atozchallenge: opportunities are out there

In today’s economy, it can be difficult to achieve the goals and aspirations you set out to achieve. Things are different now. It is rare for a student to graduate from university, obtain a full-time permanent job and stay with that company. We are all too familiar with contract or internship work, unemployment or under-employment, and a lack of benefits and security.

After I completed my undergrad, I went to teachers college, with the intention of becoming a secondary school teacher. I missed the teacher shortage in Ontario by just a few years and so when I graduated with my teaching degree, jobs were scarce. Having been involved in residence life as an undergrad, I knew that student affairs was another rewarding career choice that would allow me to utilize my education background. After submitting a number of applications and going through multiple interview processes, I joined the housing team at Trent University in 2006. I didn’t realize at the time what opportunities would come from this, but looking back, this was the start of something big.

As a relatively small operation, our professional team wore many hats. We were encouraged to sit on institution-wide committees and connect with colleagues outside of our office (both on and off-campus). This is where my understanding of opportunities began. By saying yes, I took on roles I had never thought possible.

Seven years later, I have a much better idea of the opportunities that come from saying yes. Recently, a colleague asked me how I got so involved in ACUHO-I. It was a great opportunity to reflect on what I had said yes to and the impact those moments have had on me.

By saying yes, by raising my hand and saying “I’ll do it!”, I have had the opportunity to work with some phenomenal people and on some pretty neat projects and tasks. By saying yes, by serving our profession, I have become a better professional. I continue to say yes to continue learning and growing. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do this.

Now, I know that we hear a lot about “work-life balance” and that we need to learn to say no. It is important to know your limits and to not over-extend yourself to the point of exhaustion. Through this, I’ve learned to say yes to the things that bring me joy and add to my toolkit.

Opportunities are out there. Sometimes, the skills we need to advance in our careers are not developed through our full-time positions. We need to seek out, and say yes to, external opportunities. Join a committee, put your name forward to sit on a board of directors, write an article, or mentor a new professional. The opportunities are endless.

How do you make the most of the opportunities around you?

the art of expectations

Expectations.  We all have them.  We have expectations of ourselves, of others, of tangible and intangible things.  Expectations impact the work that we do on a daily basis.  Sometimes expectations encourage us to strive for excellence.  Other times, expectations leave us feeling inadequate and ashamed.

Before I unpack this, a definition of “expectations” is necessary.
According to Google, expectations (noun) can be defined as:
1. A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
2. A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

I recently attended the GLACUHO webinar; “Setting Expectations, Setting Up Success.”  The presenters focused on expectations for residence life student staff, but a lot of the content was applicable to many of the people (supervisors, colleagues, friends, spouses, etc.), and things, we have expectations of.   Not surprisingly, the take-away message was to generate dialogue when crafting expectations and to clearly communicate your expectations with those they apply to.

This webinar made me think.  How do we know when our expectations have been met? And how do we react to unmet expectations? I like to think that I am very clear in my professional expectations at work, but know that I can do more to communicate my expectations at home and in my personal life.

I often find myself asking: “Are my expectations too high?”  I have a tendency to work out the plans and details of events (vacations, birthdays, career moves, and so on) in my head and find that I’m often disappointed when reality does not match my expectations.  Being incredibly detail-oriented does not always serve me well in this regard.

I remember being in high school, and wanting to arrange a fantastic getaway for my group of friends over the Christmas break.  Everyone showed enthusiasm, and I took that as the “go-ahead” to start the planning process.  As an avid skier, Whistler, British Columbia seemed to be the perfect location for our fabulous getaway.  I ordered travel catalogues and researched accommodation options.  I looked into flights and other travel arrangements and presented my friends with a very detailed outline of our options.  Suddenly, plans fell apart.  No one would commit and in the end, we didn’t go anywhere.  I was obviously disappointed and felt that my hard work had gone unnoticed.

I can think back and conjure up a number of other examples similar to the one above.  Because I am so concerned with details and planning, I do not like surprises.  I assume that the surprise will not live up to my expectations, so why bother?  I often get caught in a catch-22 though.  I feel that I shouldn’t have to tell those that are nearest and dearest to me what I want, but then am disappointed if my expectations aren’t met.

When I think about this in a professional setting, it is absurd! I would never assume that  my staff could read my mind and intrinsically know what I expect of them.  Instead, I complete an expectations exercise with colourful post-it notes, where each person writes out their expectations of themselves, their colleagues and of me, their supervisor.  While I’m sure my husband would look at me strangely if I got out the post-it notes at home (then again, maybe not, he’s a student affairs professional too), I know that I need to be more clear about my expectations at home.  I strongly subscribe to the idea that I do not expect my staff to do anything that I myself am not willing to do.  I need to bring this into my personal life as well. This is something I am working on.

Expectations are a funny thing.  We all expect different things.  This is why it is crucial to discuss our expectations with others, both in a professional and personal setting.

How do you communicate your expectations of others? 

goal getter

Working in Student Affairs, we’re well versed in goal setting.  We talk about it with our departments and stress the importance to residence life staff during training.  We know why it’s important to set goals, know the tools to use to reach them and what to do to stay accountable along the way.   Just because we have this expert knowledge, does not mean that we’re expert goal setters or achievers ourselves.  I know I’m sheepishly raising my hand right now, admitting to being a part of that group.

Because September, not January, is more like the “new-year” for those who work in education, it’s the perfect time of year to reflect, revise and reset.  Reflect on the previous year: What was amazing? What do you want to change? What do you need to accept and move on from? Revise your goals from the previous year and reset yourself.  Use the new year as a new chance to start over in areas you want to continue to improve upon.

I had a great opportunity to put goal setting into action during residence life staff training this past week.  Like many of us do during RLS training, we went bowling one night.  There were five of us on a team, none of us expert bowlers to say the least.  The first game, we did okay.  We had fun and didn’t pay much attention to our score.  I think we ended up with a total team score of 380, or somewhere in that ballpark.  For our second game, we set a goal.  We agreed we wanted to achieve a team score of 500.  With encouragement, commitment and a lot of cheering, not only did we reach the goal, we surpassed it!  We ended up with a total team score of 517 (see photo for proof of sheer joy in zooming past our goal).  While this was all in good fun, it did make me think.  If we took the same level of encouragement, commitment and cheerleading to all of our goals, I’m certain we’d have some pretty stellar success stories to tell.

I have some pretty big goals for the upcoming year.  Some are professional, some personal, some health related, others focusing on finances.  I think where I have faltered in the past with goals is not having sound encouragement, strong commitment and no cheerleaders.  If I’ve learned anything from the big bowling win, it’s that I need those things to be able to successfully achieve my goals.  If I don’t tell others about my goals, how am I going to stay accountable?  Who will cheer me on when I need it most, if they don’t know to.  Who will I celebrate with if I try to go it alone?  These are all important questions that I’ll need to remind myself of along the way.

I’m excited about the goals I’ve set out for the year ahead.  It’s going to be a big year, I can just feel it.  I hope you are just as excited to get it started, and I look forward to embarking on the year with you all!