Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Top 5 reasons why writing "dear diary" can change your life

I've kept a journal since I was in middle school. Thankfully I don't have the ones I wrote then (I fear to know where my mind was then) but I do love reading the journals I've written in college and beyond, reading reflections from my past. 

We live in a fast paced culture that leaves almost no time for reflection. We rarely pause (unless we're talking a DVR snack break). 

So much happens in the world, in our communities, and in our daily lives, and yet before we know it there is a new day and we've barely been able to process the one before. 

Reflection, however, is vital for growth. Learning comes from reflection. 

And that includes learning about yourself and what you want to do with your life during and after college. So below are the top 5 reasons why starting a journal and committing to writing in it at least once per week can improve your life. 

1. It's easy to stereotype journaling as "dear diary, the cute boy looked at me today..." but it can be so much more. Journaling helps you reflect on the current situations in your life and see them more clearly. It gives you a chance to think and, often, come up with solutions to your own problems. 

2. While journals can be great for venting, I've actually found it's best to keep them as positive as possible. Who wants to remember or dwell on the bad things? Writing down what was great about your day or what you are hopeful about for the future will improve your mood

3. A journal is a great place to start mulling over your goals and what you want out of life. Sometimes you may talk about your day, but if you're anything like me, you'll want to fill your journal with rambling thoughts, hopes, and questions about the future. A journal is a great place to get to know yourself. And knowing yourself is key to succeeding in college and in your career. 

One of my rambling journal entries from 8/12/07: I don't know what I want to do with my life. I feel so lost. Growing up is happening so fast - I can't believe I start my junior year at Stetson in a few weeks. I'm excited for my major but I still don't know what I want to do. All I know is I want a job that is fun and flexible and that inspires and encourages people. Real specific, right? Ah! I would love to write a book. How wonderful that would be!? I've always wanted to write a non-fiction book. But what am I good at? What should my career actually be? I still don't know exactly and I feel like I'm running out of time. [isn't it funny that 'author' as a career popped up...my journal was vital in my journey to figure out my career].

12/18/08: What will my job be in only...5 MONTHS?!?! Ahhh go away real world!!!! [lol]

4. A picture's worth a thousand words, but sometimes a few words paint a great picture. Sometimes if I don't have a lot of time I'll just jot down a few random things about the day that I know I'll love to look back on. Journals are a fun and insightful read once a year - as good, if not better, than a photo album (or a Facebook timeline). 

Bullets from a journal entry of random thoughts on 11/2/07: *Poetry is so incredible when read by its writer.*Revelation: I'm always more tired the 2nd morning after I've had little sleep. *I miss 7th grade sleepovers.*Starbucks isn't that exciting to me anymore. *I love my comparative politics class. *Eating 2 nutrition bars and a frosty is not a proper dinner. *I like fake flowers.

5. Buying a journal you love is really fun. From splurging on a super-flowery blue Vera Bradlely notebook to buying a small turquoise one for $2.97 that says in silver "She's a dreamer, a doer, a thinker. She sees possibility everywhere" - I've always been drawn to journals that make me feel something, that shine like a precious treasure waiting to hold my life. Find something that inspires you when you open it each day or week. I was drawn to the first significant college journal I ever bought because of what was written in white cursive on the dark navy cover: 

just when the
thought the 
world was over,
it became
a butterfly.

Monday, July 30, 2012

How an unlikely mentorship encouraged one student to pay it forward

I recently interviewed Stephanie Bravo, co-founder of the free national online mentoring service, StudentMentor.org for a Fox News Latino article.

While I've interviewed her for the blog before, this story was about her experience having a mentor who was very different from her, and how the relationship not only helped her get into medical school (which from what I learned is an incredibly daunting year-long application process), but also ignited within her a passion for paying it forward and developing mentorship programs that can break barriers in students' lives, just as the mentoring program at Stanford did for her. 

Check out her story below, and see if your college community (or a professional association in your desired industry) has a mentorship program you can get involved in. If not, perhaps Stephanie will inspire you to start one :)

Latina Stanford Student Creates National Mentoring Program
"Four out of five low-income students fail to attain a bachelor's degree by their mid-20s. As astounding and scary as the numbers are, they motivated one woman to take action. Stephanie Bravo, a Mexican American from San Jose,California....Read more at Fox News Latino

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Something to consider before you choose your next book

If you've read this blog, well, once, you probably know I'm in love with reading. 

I'm always looking for new books, and there is one highly acclaimed book that I've seen on the shelves over and over again for the past two years - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - and I've always passed it by. Why? Because I thought it was mostly about science.

I was wrong. 

I'm a huge fan of science of course, but it isn't on my top 100 list of what I love to read about in my free time. However, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is no ordinary book about science - it reads as exciting as a fiction book, with drama, depth, and grit, and by page 60 I knew it was going to be one of my favorite books of all time. And I just had to tell you about it.   

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks features the story Skloot uncovered after ten years of research into the life of the woman who died in 1951, whose cancer cells are still alive and used in research today - something Henrietta never knew. Skloot's depiction of Henrietta and her family illuminates issues of ethics, race relations, and the pain and long-term effects endured by those who live in poverty.

If, like me, the thought of reading a book with a plot that revolves around a scientific discovery terrifies you, don't worry. The plot is really anchored on the woman herself, Henrietta, and her family's crises to make sense of it all. The scientific information that is weaved in the story is related to cancer research and other medical break through's you will recognize - the behind-the-scenes knowledge will grip you. Skloot brings science to life

(And if you do love science that is just icing on the cake.)

Skloot's quiet dedication to unearth the story behind the famous HeLa cells featured in almost every biology textbook is moving, as is the charming chaos and insight gleamed from the Lacks family's plight. I left some crinkled teardrop stains on the pages for sure (sorry Seminole County Library). 

Some of the underlying themes that shone throughout the book were the privilege of knowledge, the power of learning, and the necessity to help others understand. 

I cannot fully do this book justice. All I can say is: don't pass it by like I did. It's one of those books that makes you feel like the world is bigger, smaller, darker, and more precious. It's one of those books that you close and wish you could open again for the first time. It's one of those books that add a forever color to your lens.

And remember me and my love for this book next time you're browsing the shelves of your favorite library or bookstore. Choose a book you may not normally choose. It will expand you into new shapes, and make you better. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How exercise can improve your grades

In the past year I have read three books that have explained how exercise improves brain function (i.e. Brain RulesStop Saying You're Fine, and The Compound Effect). Stop Saying You're Fine by Mel Robbins cites how Naperville Central High School had its students begin the day with exercise, leading to astounding grade improvements

Most of us understand all the benefits of exercise. And yet for me, the one that always appealed the most was that it could actually improve my energy and brain function and thus help me be more effective each day - a type-A personality's dream. Hooray!

The only problem is, that enthusiasm doesn't always hit when your alarm shrieks that it's time to wake up and exercise. 

But since exercise can improve your focus, energy, and brain power (3 things desperately needed to succeed in college), below are the tips that helped me make exercise a fun part of my life, and not the chore it always used to feel like (or, let's be honest, the chore I always used to ignore). 

1. Read about the part of exercise that inspires you most (yes, I've even worked reading into a list about exercise, please don't hate me). Whether it's a book or researching articles online, learn as much as you can about the benefits of exercise that most excite you.

Whether it's losing weight, improving a health problem, getting buff, toning up, or, like me, improving brain function and energy, search for information linking exercise to the benefits you want. The knowledge alone will motivate you more than you know. 

2. Try a lot of different types of exercising to figure out what works best for you. There are so many ways to be active, too many to list here, but in general there are: fitness classes, gym memberships, DVD's, fitness TV channels, running clubs, biking, self-defense classes, iPad apps, and more. 

In addition to enjoying the benefits, you'll want to enjoy the activity itself. Figure out if you prefer working out alone or with others. Do you need a gym atmosphere or prefer your home? Do you enjoy cardio or weights? Do you like machines or doing movements on a mat (e.g. Yoga)? Explore and narrow. 

3. Discover your college facilities. Many community colleges have fitness equipment or even a gym that can be used by its students. Find out if your college has a place to exercise and take full advantage of it. (One community college gym helped a student lose over 210 lbs). To get some of the most immediate brain/energy benefits, try doing a light work out before class or before going into the library to do homework.

4. Start with an 'easy' commitment. The benefits of exercise happen when it becomes a habit, a routine. So to avoid the danger of giving up when something is too big, choose an easy starting point you know you can accomplish without fail for a month or two, something like 50 sit-ups every other day or 20 jumping jacks every morning -  start small. Write it down, post it up, and do at least the minimum, which will usually inspire you to do more. 

Your brain will thank you :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to turn a first job you dislike into a dream job

For the majority of people, their first job out of college is not their dream job. 

For me, while every minute working with students as a Student Life Coordinator truly did feel like a dream come true, much of my job was spent working on logistics, managing budgets, cleaning up tiny bits of confetti, and throwing away half-eaten pizza with my bare hands.

The student-part was awesome, yes. But full-on 100% dream job? Not quite. But it was integral to where I am today, and I am so thankful for it, confetti and all.  

When most from our generation graduate, we tend to have this idea that with a college degree we will get some sort of magical dream job. It's what we were promised, right? It's what makes all those loans worth it, yes? 

Unfortunately, it doesn't exactly work that way. 

And for most of us, we don't realize this until we're moping up a students' sickness on the tile at 10pm because all the janitors have already left and we realize they never covered this in our major.

As I teach extensively in my book, the most vital thing that helped me figure out my next step was doing informational interviews with professionals I admired who had jobs to which I aspired. Every single one explained the difficulties of their first jobs. None of them were handed their 'dream' job, and for many of them, their current job really wasn't a 'dream.' It was still hard, just in a different way. 

But the best part for all of them, is that they had found challenges they really loved. They found a place where the hard stuff wasn't so bad, because they were genuinely interested in what they were doing, and felt like they had something to give.

So how do you get from a first job you may not love to a dream job? 

I feel incredibly lucky to be in my dream job right now, at such a young age. Working from home, writing, speaking, traveling, I literally wake up every day and say thank you. It is possible.

But it does take a lot of work, luck, strategy, work, hope, luck, work, work, work, and work. 

So here is the formula for turning a job you may not like all that much right now into your dream job. 

  1. Do not slack off on your current job. Do your best and value what you have. Instead of complaining about what frustrates you, try making a list of all the things you appreciate about your current job, and read it every morning. 
  2. Limit complaining about your job to 5 minutes per day. Even if you rightfully have a lot of complain about, try to limit yourself to no more than 5 minutes of venting to a close friend/family member/significant other. Then stop. Because in the end, complaining will start to make you feel worse and never better. 
  3. Explore what you really want to do. Notice what you do love about your current job and what makes you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon. Pay attention, objectively, to where you thrive and where you feel useless.  
  4. Start searching job openings online and pay close attention to what they are looking for. Think about how you can build those skills in your current job and/or how you can build related experience outside of your job. 
  5. Approach people with jobs you'd like to have and ask them for 15 minutes of their time in person or on the phone. Take them out to lunch or coffee, or call them on your lunch break. Ask them how they got started, and listen carefully to the steps they took between their first job and the job they have now. 
  6. If your job is somewhat related to what you want to do, tell your boss you really want to contribute and ask what you could do to help him/her reach the department/organization's goals. Don't worry if you don't get a project you love right away, just show you want to help your boss first and do whatever they ask to the best of your ability. Go the extra mile, even if it seems no one will care. 
  7. After you've proven yourself, built a good relationship with your boss, and paid close attention to your organization's goals and needs, think about your best talents and the kinds of projects you really want to do, and propose a new project to your boss that would use your best skills and talents and prepare you for what you desire to do next.
  8. During your free time before and after work and during your lunch break, develop the skills you need for the next step you want to take. Spend that time reading books on the subject, actually doing it on your own if applicable, and getting to know people and attending events related to what you really want to do. 
  9. When the time is right and you feel like you've developed the skills to be qualified to move on, begin applying for other jobs and seek advice from your professional mentors every step of the way. 
  10. Continue to engage fully in your current job and give your 100%. The only way to ensure you'll be qualified for a job you really want in your future is to start developing the habits of hard work and dedication right now. Get involved in your job in the same way I encourage you to in college. Go to extra events, volunteer for projects that interest you, go to Human Resources development classes or programs. Get to know people. Thrive. And most importantly - learn. 
And that is the key to it all. Constantly learning. Every successful person I've ever met has developed the habit early on to engage fully in every experience, even if they didn't love it, and to learn from each and every job by being fully engaged. 

That is the secret to moving forward in your life and yes, actually making some of your professional dreams come true. It can happen. But it does take time and it does take a lot of extra work. But once you find something that's worth that extra work, you'll realize it starts to not even seem like work, but almost like, dare I say it, fun.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Do not wait until you're 50 to start....

This past Friday I was honored to speak at the memorial service for Art Grindle. While in community college I was a part of the Art and Phyllis Grindle Honors Institute, named because of their 1-million-dollar gift to the program. 

Art was the kind of guy who wore hipster-black-framed glasses beneath his white hair and shining clear blue eyes. The kind who stayed late after a charity auction to dance while everyone else went home. 

And during the few times I attended these events with him as an honors student, he always left a lasting impression. He inspired me.

At the memorial service they played a video of him talking to honors students, where he said this: "...you have gifts, and you are talented. Do you have to wait until you're 50 or 60 or 70 to start giving? No! Start now."

I had never heard Art say this before, and it really struck me because I had already planned to write a blog this week about starting the habit of giving and philanthropy early in life.

Because we often assume that we'll be able to give to others when we're "rich." While of course in the state of things now there is no guarantee we will be "rich," it is easy to fall into the mindset that when we're young it has to be all about our own growth and success, and that once we have tons of money then we can start to give. 

But habits start early. And whether you're a multi-millionaire philanthropist or a poor college student sharing a few bucks or dropping off a few cans to a food pantry, each is equally valuable. It's the percentage of things, the thought, the habit.  

So as Art said, do not wait until you're old. Start the habit of giving early, no matter how small it is. 

Look in your local community or your college's scholarship foundation or food bank, and find out what needs are there. Or maybe you know someone in your own family or circle of friends that you could help. 

A great example of starting young is Phi Theta Kappa's Oberndorf Lifeline to Completion scholarship. The CC honors students raised over $125,000 last year and are looking to raise another $125,000 to help students with unexpected life challenges (such as illness or natural disaster) to complete college. Most of that money has come from the students themselves. A few bucks here, a few bucks there. It makes a difference. 

Below is a brief excerpt from my speech for Art: 

In most cases, money naturally causes distance between the wealthy and the poor. As a tutor and nanny I often noticed while driving to work that the biggest houses had the highest walls, closed off, private.

But then there are those rare people like Art, who chose to use his money not to build walls around himself, but to break them down for other people.

Whether you have tons of money or feel like you might be in need of that kind of help, we all have something to give. Whether it's money, food, or your time, your efforts will impact someone else. Art taught me the immense power one person's existence can have on another. 

And in case you haven't realized it in yourself yet, I want to tell you that you have that power too. And you don't have to wait until your hair turns gray to start using it. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The look of potential

I'll never forget the first time a professor looked me in the eye and told me he expected me to do great things in the world. 

In an age of social media and texting, we don't look people in the eye when we communicate that often. I sure don't. But that doesn't change how powerful it is when we do. 

When I worked as a student life coordinator, I was amazed at how students lit up when I looked them in the eye and told them the leadership potential I saw in them. This was part of my job - to encourage students with potential to apply for leadership positions. But what surprised me was the impact this seemed to have on the students themselves. I could feel them come alive.

Sadly I think too many people with potential never live up to it because they've never had anyone in their life to tell them of their greatness. 

And while, yes, there are plenty of arrogant people out there who need to be brought down a notch, I think there are many more people who are just desperate to feel valued, brimming with gifts to give to the world, but unaware that anyone would want what they have to offer.

So today's blog is a two-fold challenge:

1) Think back to a time when someone looked you in the eye and told you they saw potential in you. What did they say? Write it down and read it often. 

2) The next time you are face-t0-face with a friend or someone you appreciate, look them in the eye and tell them what potential you see in them and what you appreciate about who they are. If that makes you feel awkward, you can start by saying something like this: "hey I read this blog that challenged me to tell one person what I think of them this week, and I thought of you and wanted to tell you that..." Focus on the qualities/talents you see they naturally possess and what you could see them doing in the world. 

You will make their day more than you realize, and you'll be surprised at how good you will feel as the messenger of someone else's potential. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to find a professional mentor

If you've read my book or heard me speak you know the #1 advice I give everyone I meet is this:

Find a professional mentor.

The next question, of course, is how. I dedicate 1/3 of my entire book on how to find a professional mentor, because the process itself changed my life. 

In fact, the most popular question I get at advice@communitycollegesuccess.com is how to find a mentor. While I explain it in depth in my book, I wanted to give you a quick overview to get you started.

What is a professional mentor?

  • Someone who offers you advice when you are trying to figure out what you want to do with your life and/or trying to move forward in your career. 
  • The best professional mentors will have a job that you desire to do one day. 

What are the benefits of having a professional mentor?

  • They'll teach you about what your desired job is actually like to help you figure out what you really want to do (before it's too late).
  • They'll share their story and help make the job search less scary.
  • They'll give you invaluable guidance on how to apply for jobs in your field, help you make further connections, and may even offer you an internship.
  • If you're already in your career, your professional mentor can be in another field to help you make a career change, or can give you guidance on moving up in your current field. 

Where do you find a professional mentor?

  • It's best to find a professional mentor who is doing a job you'd really like to do one day. If you work full-time already sometimes you can find a great mentor at your job, but this can be difficult when it comes to office politics. You'll usually feel more free to talk openly if it is someone outside your organization.
  • The best way to find a professional mentor is to start by thinking of at least one job you would love to do. I recommend exploring InsideJobs.com if you're unsure. 
  • Once you have the job title, start thinking about the local companies you'd like to work for that employ someone in that kind of job. Search their company website, LinkedIn, and/or a general internet search to find the e-mail address of someone in that job. Some positions are easier to find than others, but if you're dedicated, there is always a way.
  • Never underestimate asking your family and friends (e.g. Facebook status) if they know anyone in a particular job you want to learn more about. This is the #1 way connections are made, and it changes everything. 
How do you get them to talk to you?

  • Once you  have the e-mail address, send them a genuine message explaining (briefly) who you are, what makes you unique (e.g. college student, first generation, etc.), and why you admire them (be specific), and then ask if they would share their advice with you for 15 minutes in person (ideally) or on the phone. 
  • When they respond (and more will respond than you realize), work around their schedule and pick a time and place. 

What do you do when you meet them?

  • Though this sounds intimidating it is so easy. Because all you have to do is listen. 
  • Ask them how they got to where they are today, what they love about their job, what is most challenging about their job, and what advice they have for you. Notice how you feel when they talk about their job. Does it spark your interest further?
  • Take notes and thank them afterwards.

How do you keep up the mentorship relationship?

  • Thank every professional mentor you meet with, and ask them if they wouldn't mind if you e-mailed them from time to time with quick questions as follow up to their advice. 
  • If they say yes, act on one of the pieces of advice they gave you. Then e-mail them telling them how it helped, and ask another follow up question.
  • Keep this up and a mentorship relationship is born and will come naturally. 

As much as possible, always start your mentorship relationships in person. Nothing can compare to the bond that is created when you look someone in the eye. However, when it comes to keeping up the relationship, e-mail works great. 

Good luck and as always feel free to send your questions to advice@communitycollegesuccess.com!

And for a more in-depth look on how to find professional mentors, including an e-mail template, how to follow up, a list of questions to ask, and more, you can check out my book on Amazon.com

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A must-do before your summer ends

Okay, so I know what I'm about to say won't be very popular. But I promise, it will make you feel so good. Are you ready?

Before the summer ends you must clean your room/apartment/house. And when I say clean I mean really go through every drawer and closet and get rid of everything you do not need/use. I just did this today and it felt so unbelievably fantastic.  
If you're a pack-rat or very sentimental about your stuff, here is a question that might help you clean things out. Ask yourself: have I used this in the past six months? If not, get rid of it. 

I do have one box that I've labeled "memorabilia" and that is where I keep all the sentimental stuff I know I'll want to revisit when I'm older. 

The key - just do it! There is a feeling of freshness that motivates you towards the next chapter of your life, whatever it may be. So pick a day this summer and dedicate it to getting rid of anything you don't use anymore. 

And then enjoy the free space :)