Monday, May 30, 2011

A Taste of LeaderShape I Hope You Chase

“Leadership involves living in a state of possibility, making a commitment to a vision, developing relationships to move the vision into action, and sustaining a high level of integrity. Effective leadership takes place in the context of a community and results in positive change. “  LeaderShape, definition of leadership

I just returned from the best week of my professional life, and I almost don’t even know how to capture with words what I experienced. I just spent a week in Boston, MA at a beautiful retreat center serving as a Cluster Facilitator with LeaderShape.

LeaderShape is a leadership program that has been helping college students discover themselves, their visions, and their potential for 25 years.

I would love to capture for you all I gained from this experience, but alas, there are some things words cannot do. So all I can really tell you is find a way to go to LeaderShape.

Simply click on the link above and learn more about how you can be a part of LeaderShape by attending as a student, facilitating as a professional, bringing the entire program to your campus, or even donating to this incredible non-profit.

While it’s difficult to encompass what LeaderShape was like, I want to pose some questions that I thought a lot about this week that I hope will help you as they helped me.

The answers to these questions will be as varied as those who dare to ask them of themselves. The key is to listen to your answer.

1.Who do you want to be?
Often in life we are asked “what do you want to do?” I am guilty of asking this almost on a daily basis to students I work with and I have to catch myself. It’s not that this is inherently a bad question, but beneath its surfaces lies a pervading message that who you are is what you do. And for people like me, that can spur us into an abyss of identity crisis and failure, wondering if we are “doing” or seeking to do the “right” thing.

The next time someone asks you what you want to do, take that time to ask yourself instead, “who do I want to be?”

2.What are your strengths?
I feel like I am constantly on a journey to discover what I’m really good at. I’ve taken a variety of strength and personality tests, and have intentionally paid attention to what I excel at in life and what I don’t (e.g. geography – I literally didn’t realize Boston was on the east coast until I clicked to the “where are you now” channel on JetBlue that showed our flight progress - embarrassing).

 While I don’t spend my energies on endeavors that require adept spatial understanding, I am constantly trying to figure out what I am really good at and how I can spend more time on and make greater contributions with those strengths. 

What are you good at? What do people often compliment you on? What parts of your personality do you love? How are you using those things in your current and future pursuits?

3.Where is your pain and how can it be turned into passion?
I’ve always found some of the greatest contributions to our world have stemmed from knowing some kind of pain. From those that have known in some way something unfair, unjust, hurtful, ugly, who - once healed of that pain and empowered in their own potential - are able to create beauty in a place of darkness.

What tough things have happened in your life? What things do you see that could be better? Do any of those, coupled with your strengths, sound like something where you could make an impact?

4.Are you directing your energy towards problems or possibilities?
The most powerful lesson I drew from LeaderShape was when, in illustrating vision, they showed a few minutes of MLK Jr’s classic “I Have a Dream” speech. They highlighted the fact that in creating vision, he didn’t focus much of his inspiration and energy on the problem – a problem and a persecution so great and worthy of hatred – but on a vision for what could be.

I am guilty of focusing on problems, lamenting about what is, instead of refocusing on what could be. Instead of asking what can I do about it? If nothing, maybe I should stop complaining.

But more often than not, there is something – albeit how simple – that I can do. From a change in attitude to a drastic alternation, frustration can often be a wonderful precursor to positive growth. 

What do you find yourself complaining about? Is there a solution in that strife? Is there a better way you could direct that energy?

5.Are you pursuing wealth or richness?
There was a video at LeaderShape that illustrated a man who built a business he measured not by profits, but by the amount of people he helped. How do you measure your success? How do you measure your worth?

I know we’ve heard a billion times that when people are on their deathbed they are not worrying about work or wealth, but as much as we hear it and know it, do we let it affect how we live day to day?

Whew okay so I know that was deep. I can’t help it, I had to go there, because this week really helped me dig into the depths of many things and there was simply nothing else I could write about.

Answering these questions this week helped me feel renewed and excited to go back to the “real world.” Excited to live and contribute.  I hope that wherever you are in life, the same excitement finds you. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Are You Stalling?

 Hi Everyone, I am in Boston, MA this week facilitating LeaderShape. We are asked to "unplug" for the week and have little access to the internet, so I have asked my good friend and fellow community college graduate and Jack Kent Cooke Scholar - Tiffany Mathis - to guest post for me. You will love her. Please feel free to share comments or e-mail me and I'll be sure she gets your love :) I will have lots of inspiration to share when I return! - Isa

“We cannot discover new oceans unless we have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Anonymous
When Isa asked me to write a blog last week I wanted to say no... should have said no, but I said yes.

This week I had to come down to Miami Beach for a conference. Miami is really, really hot in May so I tortured my self by sitting by the pool, sweating and procrastinating, before I decided I should start writing the blog.

Then I spent about an hour laboring to find the perfect font; I went through all of the fonts on my Mac, found myself torn between Century Schoolbook and Helvetica, and then I read wikipedia articles for the topography tie breaker. In the end I decided on Helvetica, because it's obviously a super great font for blogging. 

But even after I was properly fonted, I wasn't inspired. So I got a giant doodle pad and I started sketching this huge cloud outline, not content, just really big clouds with lines. In the end, I just wanted to email Isa that I was throwing up all over my hotel room and couldn't write the blog right now.

And that was when I realized I was stalling.

So I grabbed a pen and forced myself to write because stalling wasn't option. 

In just the last few weeks my entire world transformed -- I graduated from UF with a degree in broadcasting, decided I didn't want to be a broadcaster, started thinking about jobs because I felt like every one else was, and watched all my friends pack up four years of memories and hit I-75. 

Everything around me started shifting and moving forward, but not me. 

I started digging my feet into the sand hoping not to get washed away with the influx of changes. I sat in my apartment surrounded by my roommate's boxed up things, stalling my life, because, in all honesty, I was afraid of the shift from college to real life because I didn't know what was next. 

Then last week, in the middle of my hiding, my phone rang and on the other end was my first real job offer.

Instead of peeing my pants with excitement, I stalled. I was suddenly straddling the line between before and after, old and new. All I had to do was step over to the other side to start the new chapter of my life. 

But instead of making the leap, I froze. I felt like I was having a panic attack.

And then in the middle of tunnel vision, it hit me: I have always been scared of these life transitions. 

Before high school graduation, my mom had to dress me in my cap and gown while I hyperventilated in a paper bag because I didn't want to leave high school. 

Before my first week at UF, I passed out in an Office Max aisle when I smelled fresh school supplies. 

But if I hadn't put on my high school cap and gown, I never would have been a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar or met my best friend Matt. And if I hadn't gone on to university I would never have stood on the top of the Eiffel Tower or co-produced a documentary. 

And suddenly in that moment, being scared was irrelevant. I had to move forward. 

Stalling wasn't an option. 

The transitions in life are scary - they are uncertain and force you to face new things, new people, and new places. But by being to afraid to take the next step, I risked not experiencing life.

In the short years of high school and college, the amount transitions are overwhelming and filled with growing pains. But if you find yourself afraid of crossing the threshold into the new stage of your life, remember that this isn't the first transition you've encountered and it won't be your last. 

You can't know what doors will open in life, but if you hold yourself back because you're scared, you'll never get anywhere. Being afraid isn't a good enough reason to stop yourself from experiencing things like meeting your best friend or going to Europe.

If you never let yourself find out what is next you'll never get to experience what's next. 

And what's next could be totally awesome.

So take chances, embrace changes. Because stalling just isn't an option.

PS: I took the job - I move to D.C. in two weeks. Wish me luck :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

10 Ways to Stop Procrastination Today (NOT Tomorrow) ;)

“Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” –V.Kiam
I recently had one of my readers, Maya*, ask me to write about procrastination. Now I’ll be honest with you, (please don’t hate me), when I was in college I was that girl who had her paper written at least a week before the due date. I always did things way ahead of  time, and never stressed about homework. Seriously, never.

And no I’m not some huge super-nerd.

I just felt so accomplished after getting things done early, and chased that feeling. And doing things ahead of time ensured I never had to turn down hanging out with friends, never did homework past 8pm, and always turned in the high quality work that only time can produce.  This recipe ensured many 100% on essays and tests, and A’s for life.
Yep, I mostly got 100’s on my tests. And trust me, I’m not a super genius (see my SAT/ACT/GRE scores). However, if I can study for a test I will ace it. And I will not give up my social life. And I will enjoy the process.  And you can too.

So if you’re still reading and haven’t gagged in your hatred of my non-procrastination I thank you. I only say all this because I want to help those who want to end their procrastinating ways.

Maya is one of those rare and wonderful students who actually want to their overcome their procrastination. And I’m guessing you’re one of those too or you wouldn’t have gotten this far.

Maya asked me about tips to help her stay motivated and not procrastinate, and explained one of the issues she struggles most with is:

I find excuses why I don't have to study right at that moment. It's like I trick myself into believing that I'll eventually get it done and it'll be fine, but it never is. Because of this, I end up just giving up on trying to get things done on time because I feel like such a disappointment when I give myself goals that I don't accomplish.”

Maya is not a lazy slacker. She obviously wants to succeed and wants to accomplish her goals, but her motivation dies in the middle of the semester and she said she finds herself still cramming at the last minute, especially in the midst of the disappointment she feels when she doesn’t meet her goals.

So below are my top 10 tips for Maya and for you to stop procrastination from limiting your life and your potential.

1. Analyze the consequences
What are you procrastinating that’s actually limiting your life, draining your energy, and keeping you from a 4.0?  If you procrastinate picking your clothes up off your bedroom floor but it doesn’t bother you, then it’s not really a big deal. However, if you aren’t getting the grades you want, missing opportunities, or disappointing yourself and others, then it’s time to seriously change your habits.

2. Know your excuses
Pay attention to the excuses you make to continue your procrastination. Excuses are those little voices inside your head that tell you it’s okay to put something off.  Recognize any of these?

“I work best under pressure”
“I’m too tired”
“I’m not in the mood”
“I’ll do it tomorrow”
“Procrastination is a natural part of college”
“I can write this paper in one draft”
“I’ll live with a C”
“I won’t get an A anyway so why bother”
“This won’t take that long – I’ll have plenty of time later”
“I’ll start this after…”
“This won’t be that hard”
“I’ll eventually get it done – I always do”

I’m sure you could add many more to this list. Notice your excuses and label them as excuses, not comforts. Stop that little voice and replace it with action. 3. Take control
When you procrastinate you may think you are controlling your homework by putting it off until the last minute, but in reality, when you procrastinate your homework controls you. Deciding to complete a project ahead of time allows you to control the timeline and your grade.

4. Break it down
The first thing I do when I consult with students about time management and procrastination is for them to show me their to do list (if they even have one). Most lists say things like “English essay” or “read Huckleberry Finn” This is the worst possible way you could write a to do list.

First of all, if you look at “English essay” all you’re going to think is “ugh I do not want to write a whole essay right now.”  It is much easier to begin a task if it says “write 1pg. English essay outline.”

All projects should be broken down and divided over a timeline you create (i.e. you are in control, and you can create pressure for yourself if you do work best under pressure).  But of course, tasks can only be broken down if you create your plan AS SOON AS YOU GET AN ASSIGNMENT.

Every item should start with a verb (e.g. write, read, outline, do) and then be as SPECIFIC as possible and represent a task that would take you no more than 2 hours.  So for example, “read Huckleberry Finn” should be: “Monday: read pgs 1-30 in Huckleberry Finn.” Suddenly this task doesn’t seem so daunting.

5. Schedule study time in a productive environment
Especially when you commute to college your instinct is to schedule your classes as close together as possible so you can drive, go to class, and then leave. Resist this urge and schedule your classes far apart and make that time your designated daily study time.  
Find a great spot in the library (avoid studying in your room at all costs), sit down and create a to do list JUST for that scheduled time, do NOT open Facebook, and then don’t stop until the time is finished.

6. Stay motivated
       Maya mentioned she knows breaking tasks down and time management are important, but she finds what is most difficult for her is maintaining momentum and motivation through the end of the semester. She makes plans to get ahead and then falls behind and then feels so disappointed.

       To stay motivated, write out your short and long term goals for your life and post them on the inside of your binder or book.  Remind yourself why you’re in school and where you want to go in life constantly. If you don’t have that clear picture yet, start searching now.
 If you don’t have a clear goal and are not excited about what school is going to help you accomplish, then it will be almost impossible to muster up motivation to do things ahead of time. 7. Be accountable Get a mentor or a friend to keep you accountable with your procrastination during a semester. Buddy up with someone in your class. Find a college adviser or mentor and tell them your goals for overcoming procrastination and ask them to follow up with you. 

Surround yourself with people who care about school and who do not take pride in procrastinating. These kind of people will help you stay motivated and will not distract you.

 8. Don’t be hard on yourself
       Maya said she often felt disappointed in herself when she didn’t reach her short-term anti-procrastination goals. Don't be too hard on yourself – it doesn’t work and only serves to deflate your motivation even further. 

Do not punish yourself, but instead when you find yourself cramming and are wondering how you got there, make a plan to avoid this next time. Figure out what went wrong and instead of slapping yourself on the wrist, promise yourself you’ll implement a new plan for the next test. And when you do, reward yourself and compliment yourself. 

9. Take one day at a time
Remember procrastination is a habit and like all habits it is hard to beat it overnight. However, you’ll never beat it if you don’t start today. 

10. Eat That Frog
Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy is one of the best books on procrastination. You can preview the concept in this short 1:28 video and/or buy the book here. In short, Tracy says you should do the hardest thing you have to do as early as possible because it will give you huge dose of energy.  If you had a frog on your plate and just ate it and got it over with, you would be able to enjoy the rest of your meal. However, if you put it off, it will drain your energy and you will slowly be filled with dread and stress.     

Stress causes so many problems, and believe it or not, college does not have to be stressful. In fact, done right, it shouldn’t be stressful. If it is, talk to someone and change your habits. Thanks Maya – I hope this helps!

*name has been changed for privacy 

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Bi-Racial & Bi-Collegiate Identity

I’m half Puerto Rican and half white.

I’ve come to appreciate both sides of this part of my identity. I love country music and black beans and white rice.  Sometimes we had fried chicken and tostones for dinner. I got all A’s in my Spanish classes but could never get the accent perfect. I am not very good at camping.

I never really thought about myself as bi-racial until college. Suddenly there was a plethora of diversity around me, and people grouped themselves together based on a variety of identity associations. I was especially struck by how proud people were of their cultures, their heritage, and their language.

I have found that most people also develop that kind of pride about where they went to college.  

But when you go to community college, this can be difficult. Not only do their names change from junior to community to state, but you spend a quick 2 years in a place where you build bonds, have an incredible experience, identify with a variety of clubs and organizations, and then leave and it’s time to try again.

I imagine some people are quick to link up with their new universities and create a sense of pride as universities are more equipped with sports and alumni associations and residential life that typically lend itself to this kind of community.

I can also easily understand why people continue to latch so strongly to those collegiate identities, especially after college. For one, college is fun and having something in which to root for, to bond over, creates a rare sense of community, especially in our increasingly technological world. 

However, when your identities feel split in a million different directions, and especially once you graduate college and have to add some kind of career identity, you may feel more torn apart than ever.

I did.

When I graduated college I did feel that identity crisis they talk about happening in your 20’s (see one of my favorite books and websites by Christine Hassler), and I often wished I had something to latch on to, to root for, to feel pride in, especially when I didn’t have a job and was wondering who the heck I was going to be when I grew up.

And then, I read a phrase in the book 20-Something 20-Everything, and in it the author asked “how often do people ask you what do you want to do?” And why aren’t we ever asked “what do you love about yourself?”

And then I realized what I love about myself is that I’m bi-racial. And that I had the privilege of attending an amazing community college that’s now a state college. And that I got to go to a really great university. And then  grad school. And then try out a few jobs and then work with students every day and write for fun.  

And I really like watching the ducks in my backyard. And I’m not funny but I’m a good audience for funny people. And I drink tea. And I love finding a good author and reading every book he/she ever wrote. And I love going to Disney, listening to people’s stories, wearing dresses, and the feeling I get when someone starts a conversation with me.

What do you love about yourself?

Write it down. And identify with it. Wear it proudly every day. 

And remember no matter where you go to college, where you come from, or what you do in your life, you will always be who you are, and you will always bring those gifts with you wherever you go

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Does Dating Affect Your College Life?

Exams are finished and while many anxiously await their final grades, I recently had the realization that while grades and exams cause much stress in college, nothing seems to compare to the anxiety, stress, and frustration that seems to be caused by relationships. Specifically – dating relationships.

I recently had a conversation with some friends who were asking my advice on a plethora of relationship issues. Feeling very Dear Abby I was more than happy to play the part and dish out relationship advice. Who doesn’t love to play this role?

A few highlights came from that talk, and it made me think about how often relationships conflict with college. From nasty break ups to betrayals to heartbreak to long gossip trails, the anxiety and drama can so quickly envelop the day to day. And then grades, studying, friendships, and even health become lost in the swamp of relationship confusion.

Sure there are a few of those healthy mature relationships overflowing with genuine support and love  - the kind where you make each other better every day, grow and challenge each other, and enjoy each other’s company more than anyone else’s. These are a pleasure to watch and even more so to be a part of.

But what seems to plague most students are the troubled relationships. The one’s that seem great at first and then quickly spiral into great struggle that eventually turns college into a giant dumping ground of wasted energy.

Instead of delighting in the learning process, being challenged by new collegiate endeavors, investing and exploring friendships with a diversity of others, and discovering who you are and what you want to do with your life it is so easy to become encumbered with all the overwhelming feelings of relationship drama.

So the big question is, how do you avoid it? It’s easy to say just stay away, ignore the bad ones, find the good ones, man up, step up, get over it, he’s just not that into you, etc.

But the truth is, when you’re in the throes of a relationship, especially with someone you care (or cared) about, it’s difficult to see reason. It’s difficult to stay away. And it’s difficult to focus on school.

I’m not saying you have to be single to get the most out of your college experience. However, I do think it is important to consider who you invest in very carefully – at any period in your life – but especially in college as it is such a unique time in life when you are able to focus almost solely on your own self improvement, development, and growth.

Done right, that kind of self-investment can be the perfect recipe for eventually finding a great person to spend your life with.

Now I am no dating/relationship expert, but I have learned a lot from the incredible relationship I have with my husband as well as from the successful and tragic relationships of those around me. So college students, below are some points to consider for your dating life to ensure you are able to make the most of this time to grow, flourish, and succeed.

-    Be picky: Now please don’t start making a list that you want someone who’s “5 foot 6, black hair, blue eyes, plays guitar, has a red car, likes cats, wants 2.5 kids…..” In fact, I think it’s dangerous to be picky when it comes to the external.What I do think students aren’t picky enough about is finding someone who shares their values and who has the kind of character they are looking for. And most importantly, holding out for someone who really, truly, cares about them and causes more joy than pain. Be picky about who you let into your life.

-    Invest in yourself: In all the best relationships stories I’ve ever heard it seems they met while doing something they both loved or engaging in some sort of mutual activity. Enjoy college and enjoy being single. Engage in your interests and your friends and take full advantage of the unique freedom you have in college to explore so many avenues of life. Chase the experiences. Let go of the pressure.

-    Don’t chase: I find so many people trying to force relationships that just aren’t happy or beneficial. Typically one person is more into it than the other and one is chasing. Chasing may work in the short term but it seems to never work for the long term. The truth is, you deserve someone who wants to be with you.

-    Save the drama for your mama: Okay so I really don’t know what this means but I just wanted to say it. Essentially, catch yourself when you find yourself engaging in the drama of your relationship or a friend’s. It only leads to emotional self-destruction.

-    Love yourself:  I know this sounds super hippy and cheesy. But what I really mean is to engage and learn about who you are during this time. Being confident in yourself first is the most attractive quality there is. It is the kind of confidence that comes from the quiet self-discovery of your strengths and abilities, and the understanding and peace that comes from knowing that you are enough.

Always remember a relationship should be a positive addition to your life. All you have to do is continue to focus on making your life a positive addition to this world.