Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why it's okay to seek mental health resources on your campus

When I transferred to my four-year university I learned that they had a full-service mental health facility that provided a slew of counseling services for its students. 

However, for far too many students, on-campus mental health and counseling services are resources that are unknown.

And sometimes, especially for schools facing budget cuts, those services can often be understaffed or lack the resources to advertise themselves thoroughly to students on campus. 

But, that doesn't mean that they aren't there for you if you look hard enough. While there isn't always a formal center for counseling at every college, most community college advising offices have counselors who are licensed in mental health, or they have relationships with services that they can refer students to.   

Because when college gets tough, the difficulty of the day-to-day workload can wear some students down and cause depression. And they aren't alone

But like any obstacle that presents itself in college, steps can be taken to excel. If you are dealing with depression or anxiety during college, reach out to the awesome professionals on your campus for help.  

Because you aren't alone. And while I don't have a degree in counseling and am no mental health expert, I hope this blog can be here to remind you that those professionals do exist on your campus and are there for you if you ever need them.

No one can do college alone. Ask for help in every area where you need it. Your college may have more resources than you realize.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Procrastination Problem

Don't hate me when I say this:

I'm not a procrastinator.

I know, I know, annoying right? 

I've always done my work ahead of time, because I can't stand the pressure of a deadline looming over my head. 

My procrastination blog post is one of the most popular blogs and vlogs on my websites. Because a lot of people really do struggle with procrastination and want it to stop - my husband is one them.

He works well under pressure, he says, which works okay - until something goes wrong. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Printer is out of ink. You get sick. The paper takes longer than you thought it would. 

My husband is in graduate school right now, and he had a paper due at the end of Thanksgiving break. Tempting as it was, he decided to tackle the paper before Turkey Day (I like to think that is because even he takes my advice).

After he wrote down the outline of his paper he told me, "you know, I'm realizing that essays feel impossible before you start. Literally impossible and huge, which is why you put it off. But once you start, all of a sudden, it seems doable, and you realize it really isn't as much work as you built inside your head."

When you avoid your work, it grows.

And the thing is, the work really isn't as hard as you build it up to be. Once you start, especially ahead of time, the more you'll realize that you can do this. And as your confidence builds, your procrastination will wane.

So whenever you get a big project - especially an essay - start it that same day. It doesn't matter if you spend only five minutes thinking about it or jotting a few things down. Just put something down on paper to stop that ugly procrastination monster from growing.

Because as it turns out, The Procrastination Problem starts in your head. The good news about that? It's all under your control. 

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Choosing the best college major for you

Below is the latest episode of The SKiNNY that premiered today on TCC22. Check it to get some great tips on how to choose the best college major for you and your future (and if you're in a hurry, fast forward to around 22:20 to see what "not" to do when choosing a major...) ;)

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Monday, November 26, 2012

How to adjust to transferring after CC

One of the best things about community college is that you can transfer almost anywhere with your A.A. degree to continue to your bachelor's degree.

However, the transfer process is not always easy. Yes, transferring credits can be complicated at some schools, but what most students struggle with is the social transfer.

In my book, I write all about this in the chapter called "The New Kid Again," because that is exactly how I felt when I transferred from community college to a small university.

It felt like everyone already knew each other and had no desire to meet anyone new. Most of them had made friends in the dorms years earlier and/or in their sororities. It was a hard adjustment.

But I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. Because the experience I gained transferring helped me:

  • understand the work required to build and maintain friendships
  • learn how to step outside my comfort zone even when I'm afraid, and 
  • gain the courage to get involved and step up, which really paid off when it came time to be the 'new kid again' in the 'real world.'

Yesterday a student asked me about the transfer process on our Facebook page, and I wanted to share the Q&A with you in case you're ever struggling with or want to prepare for your transfer process:


Hey Isa. I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your book, especially Chapter 6, dealing with transferring to a new university. I am going through this now as a first semester transfer student and it's scary, lol. I wanted to ask you, how long did it take you to adjust when you transferred? 


Hi Maryann,

Thanks so much for your kind words about the book  - I'm so glad it's helping!  As far as transferring timing, it took me about a month or two to adjust. 

I remember the moment I finally felt good - it was after a study group when a girl and I really connected. After our study session she started telling me a funny story about her ex-boyfriend. We laughed so loudly waiting outside for our next class that a student had to come out and ask us to keep it down because they were taking a test (oops!). 

But it was the moment I felt like I was finally a part of the school. She became my closest friend all two years, and was also a transfer student. 

While I didn't make huge groups of friends (e.g. greek life wasn't for me and I was a commuter), just having one close friend made all the difference.

I also joined the dance team, the commuter club, and became an orientation leader for transfer students. Starting in each of those groups was terrifying, and I didn't always perfectly fit in with each group - but I never stopped trying.

The involvement also led to me becoming the commencement speaker when I graduated, getting a free trip to London and New Orleans, and winning the award for the top graduating senior at graduation (which also came with a $3,000 check!). 

I also had a great faculty mentor who helped me find out about and win all of those opportunities. It was weird being the speaker when I knew so many of the students were probably thinking "who the heck is this girl? I don't remember her at freshman orientation." 

Anything is possible for you when you transfer, including making friends and fitting in. It may not ever be perfect, but if you keep trying, you will find that you will grow in ways that will serve you the rest of your life; truly successful people know how to adjust to new and scary situations. 

Consider starting study groups, try out a bunch of clubs, and find other transfer students. Don't be afraid to invite people to lunch or coffee, and keep putting yourself out there until something clicks. And don't feel bad if it takes a while.
The very fact that you're asking about this shows you're on the right track :) 



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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

7 ways to pay for graduate school

I never thought I could go to graduate school. 

For me, graduate school was for "other" people. "Rich" people. "Academic" people. Doctors. Laywers. Professors. Not someone like me...

But then I won the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship and all of that changed. I fell to my knees and cried my eyes out because for the first time in my life I had realized I was holding myself back

Sure, it was easy for me to realize it was possible because in a moment it was paid for - but I cried at the knowledge that I could have gone to graduate school no matter what. I could have made it happen if I wanted it too. If only I believed I could. 

If you're like me and are the first in your family to attend college, graduate school can seem even more daunting and impossible. And yes, it can seem like too much money, and in some cases, going to graduate school doesn't guarantee making more money. 

But I want you to know that if you want to go to grad school, or if it's a little dream in the back of your head that seems impossible or unaffordable, it's not. 

Below are seven ways you can go to graduate school for incredible cheap or even free!

1. Fellowships/Teaching Assistantships: Search the graduate section of the college website and click on any information they provide about fellowships or teaching assistantships and the application process (it is usually a separate process from your admissions application). If you can't find the information online, contact a graduate admissions counselor. These programs allow you to work for the college in the classroom (or doing research) and have it cover most or all of your tuition (similar to work-study, but more focused on your subject area). 

2. Programs where acceptance covers tuition: Some graduate programs allow you to attend for free if you get accepted, such as Harvard's E.D.L.D.

3. AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps is a volunteer program that provides a financial education award, as well as living expenses and a stipend during service. They place you with non-profits across the country. I'm not an expert on this but the people I've met who've done it are incredible! Check out to learn more. 

4. Teach for America: Teach for America is a program that pays new teachers to serve in low-income areas. You will get a salary while teaching and an educational award

5. McNair: The McNair Scholars Program is a branch of the TRiO program, which serves first generation students. Check this list to see if your undergraduate institution has a McNair Scholars Program. McNair prepares undergraduates to gain acceptance to graduate school. The McNair website also has a great comprehensive list of graduate funding opportunities at institutions across the country, categorized by discipline. 

6. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation: The Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship currently allows for scholars to "reapply" after they receive their undergraduate degree to win a $50,000 graduate award. You do not compete against others, but only your previous record. JKC also awards $50,000/year graduate scholarships in the arts, as well as a dissertation fellowship

7. Work for a college or company that covers tuition: Once you've received your Bachelor's degree, you can consider working full-time at a college or company that covers college tuition. Many companies will do this if you are pursuing a degree in their industry. You can also check out job openings at the college's where you'd like to attend graduate school, as most colleges and universities allow their employees to take classes tuition-free. 

There are endless options. If you decide it's something you want, then let nothing stop you, especially money. You can do it!

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Five reasons community college is more than a "back up plan"

Community colleges have a bad rep as a "back up plan", the place you go when you can’t get into college anywhere else.

While many community college students will admit it wasn’t their first choice (even I “ended up” in community college after I realized I couldn’t put my debt-ridden lower-middle-class family in a hundred thousand dollars of more debt for my education), it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good choice.

For me, it was a choice that changed my life and made it possible for me to go all the way to graduate school, debt free. It was a choice that opened my eyes to the socio-economic disparities in our country; and it was a choice that allowed me to thrive in a way I could have never imagined, a way that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t attended community college.

Some people think community colleges are somehow "less-than" academically because "anyone" can get in. But community colleges don’t just let “anyone” in – they let everyone in. And that is what makes them such an important part of the American Dream.

While there is still much to be done to improve community college graduation rates, community colleges are still helping an important group of students graduate each semester, many of whom would never have had a chance at an education otherwise. 

And those students who are graduating are doing so with more advantages than some may realize.

Below are five reasons students who choose (or even “end up”) in community college can rest assured that they have made a great choice.

1. Reduced or no debt: College is becoming incredibly expensive, but community college prices remain incredibly reasonable. That might mean they don't have a state-of-the-art gym or cafeteria, but in the end, do you really need that to learn?

2. Transfer scholarships: There are incredible full-tuition scholarships out there that are only for community college students, such as the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship and many others offered by Phi Theta Kappa. These kinds of scholarships cover tuition at many top universities when students transfer with an A.A. degree. Many community college transfer scholars have gone on to Ivy Leagues with these scholarships.

3. Small classes: Most community colleges have small classes; I've never been in a classroom with more than 30 students in my life. While I don't have experience with the 200+ classroom auditoriums, I have heard it is easy to feel invisible. Small classes allow you to better connect with your classmates and professor.

4. Professors have more time to teach: While I am so thankful for the incredible research university professors are doing around the country, what I loved most about community college professors is that, since research is not a priority at most two-year schools, they had a lot of extra time to help me individually. The one-on-one attention I received at my community college made me a better writer, a better thinker, and the kind of student who could win the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. I couldn’t have done it alone.

5. Leadership opportunities: At many universities it can be difficult to become a president of a club your freshman year, because you are competing with students who are older. But at community college, you can easily become president of a club your freshman or sophomore year. You also have the opportunity to get involved in the stellar honor society only for two-year college students - Phi Theta Kappa.

So whether you're enjoying your community college experience now, unsure of how to make the most of it, or feeling unsure about whether community college is right for you, rest assured that community college is a wonderful option, rich with benefits.

Community college is more than a back up plan. Thinking of it in that way can only harm the students who are attending, by making them feel like they are "less-than." In the end, where you go to college matters very little when compared with how much effort you put into it.

As I say on the headline of my blog: Community College Success: Because going to community college doesn't mean you couldn't get in anywhere else.

Join me in sharing what community college means to you on Twitter using the hash tag #CCPride. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Four things you can do right now to help you choose your major

The most popular question I get in my inbox is: 

I don't know what I want to do with my life. How do I choose a major? 

There is a lot you can do, but today I wanted to share the top four things I tell students who e-mail me to do right away. I hope they help you too!

1. Visit Your Career Center: Drop everything right now, go on your college's website, and search for the career center. Find out what they offer, if you need to make an appointment with a career counselor or can just walk in, and then take advantage of every single resource they offer. At my career center, I took multiple assessments and read books that helped me understand what I was good at and what kinds of careers aligned with my values and passions. I then was able to talk to a career counselor to help me figure out how all of that fit into a major. 

2. Take the Free Major Assessment: These assessments are not prescriptive, but when you're feeling lost, they are a great way to get you started in any direction.

3. Take the Free Myers-Briggs Assessment: This is my favorite personality test. At my community college we learned about this in a leadership retreat and in College Success class, and the things I learned about myself still help me to this day, including guiding my work. Once you get the four-letter-code that best matches you, just Google it with words like "career" or "majors" and see what happens. You can also Google it with "celebrities" which can be kind of fun. 

4. Check Out InsideJobs is my favorite interface for learning more about current careers (you can se the interview I did with one of their employees, Annie, here!) My favorite thing they do is organize jobs into categories like exploring jobs for "Creative Types," "Social Media Ninjas," and "Law and Order Fans." Check it out to find your favorite and explore jobs you might like!

The most important thing to consider about your major is if you love the core classes (which you take in the last two years, and can be found in the college catalog of the 4-year university where you want to attend). If you love the core classes, then you are in a good place. Keep searching until you find something you really love to learn. The rest will fall into place as you continue to work hard every day and grow your skills. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Remembering a great CC staff member

Last month I had the privilege to give a speech at Finger Lakes Community College as part of a huge statewide completion day event led by FLCC. In being part of that event, I got another grand privilege - I got to meet Bob Matson

I just got an e-mail informing me that Bob passed away from a sudden heart attack yesterday. And my heart is breaking right now. 

I worked with Bob closely the weeks leading up to the event via phone, and then spent the day of the event with him at FLCC. And while I only spent one day in person with Bob, it was a day I'll truly never forget. 

I had a lot of time in between my early afternoon speech and end-of-the-day meeting with the Board of Trustees, and Bob asked me if I wanted to do my own thing or have a tour of the college with him.

Usually I'm pretty exhausted after a speech, but Bob was so dynamic, that I knew I couldn't miss the opportunity. 

On our walk we watched the lumberjack team do some impressive chops, toured the beautiful new cafeteria area where he spoke highly of his colleagues, and we toured the CMAC Performing Arts Center, a beautiful outdoor arena he absolutely loved. 
View from the CMAC stage with Bob
We stood on the stage and looked out at the breathtaking scene beyond the bleachers, as he talked about having me back to speak at graduation, dreaming out loud of what it would be like when FLCC students graduated that Spring, excited about the results of completion day. 

Bob's vigor for his work poured out of him, and as we walked, we brainstormed. He was so intelligent and positive, and we came up with so many ideas for how we could raise more money for community college students and rally community members to make a difference in the lives of students who struggle.* 

We spent hours and hours talking about our ideas and passion for community colleges, and making plans for future projects. I knew I had met someone very special. 

Bob was 53, but he talked with the energy of a 23-year-old, excited to move and shake things, to try something new, to innovate, to change lives. But unlike a 23-year-old, he had wisdom beyond his years and knew how to execute his ideas in a way that created real change.

I am so thankful I got to play a small part in one of Bob's many contributions to the community college world and the Canandaigua community. I feel devastated that I won't get to talk with him again, that I won't get to hear more of his ideas or experience again his pure energy for life, change, growth, and helping other people. 

I came home from that day at FLCC and told my husband all about Bob, how I had never met anyone who was so full of life and so dedicated to innovating in his community college work. In that short time Bob inspired me so much, so I cannot even begin to imagine how much he inspired those who knew him well, and how much they are hurting right now. My heart goes out to all of you, especially his family. 

When I left Bob at the end of the day, he told me that before I leave I should check out the grocery store Wegmans. One of his colleagues laughed and rolled her eyes endearingly, as I soon learned Wegman's was Bob's "thing." 

I was exhausted, but I knew that if Bob had told me it was great, then I should go. I drove up to this wonderfully fun store, and I could see why Bob liked it. I got a delicious vanilla cupcake, and ate it in the cozy dining area, thinking about how much I felt a part of the community in that moment. That is what Bob did, I think. He made people feel like they were a part of something special. And it turns out, the something special, was him. 

*Bob was very passionate about mobilizing the community to donate more to community colleges as their budgets dwindle. So in honor of Bob, I encourage you to donate something to your local community college. Any student will tell you, every little bit helps. I also encourage you to take a quick second to send a note to a community college staff member who has made a difference in your life. 

How do you know if you're overloaded in student life?

I am a huge believer in getting involved in college; it helped me win hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships, and I've seen it do that and much more for so many students.

However, can you be too involved? Should you ever quit your leadership position in a club? How do you know the difference between quitting and prioritizing? 

A student recently asked me a similar question at, and I hope my answer can help you too if you're ever feeling overloaded, or if you want to double-check your involvement strategy to ensure you're on track.

And If you have advice for this student, please share in the comments section below, and I'll make sure he sees it! :)

Student email

How do know when you've overextended yourself in community college?  I began this year with high hopes and high expectations for myself, only to just now feel the fatigue from my double secretary role. Both of my clubs demand lots, and I usually shoot to exceed expectations, but I am beginning to feel mentally and physically drained. 

My grades are beginning to slip; my goal was to make nothing lower than a B while I'm in a club as an officer. I spoke with my professors last week, and everyone of them said that I had the same grade, a solid C....

Both of my presidents have said to me at one point or another that they'd like me to take over for them next year once they graduate. I have not accepted either offer, but I feel as if I did it in a sort of nonchalant or sarcastic fashion, so I'm unsure if they got the message.

I guess I am coming to you for our advice before I make any rash decisions. I have attempted to step down from one of my clubs, but due to the completely new officers not willing to take over, I was unwillingly given another year on top of my position with SGA.

What should I do?
My response

Hi ----,

This is a great question! 

If your grades are suffering it is definitely time to re-adjust. Your instincts are right on here. I'm a huge believer in getting involved in college because it develops your leadership skills, professional skills, social life, and qualifies you for scholarships. However, getting involved should always be second to your academic success.

You are capable of straight A's, so if you're not getting that and you feel like it's because you aren't spending enough time preparing for your classes and exams, then it is indeed time to downsize.

When I was in community college I was the President of our Phi Theta Kappa chapter - and that's it! I poured my heart into growing the club, developing a great team, and putting on new events for our chapter. But I said no to everything else. That way, I was able to maintain a 4.0 and still gain great leadership experience. When it comes to getting involved, if you have to choose, I think its better to go deeper than wider (i.e. invest in one club versus many).

So think about the club from which you think you are gaining the most professional and leadership experience and in which you feel you can do the most (e.g. grow it, start events, make an impact on campus, etc.). And then just let that be your involvement. Commit to making a real impact on your campus, but don't feel guilty about saying no to everything else.

Remember that your grades must be #1. If you still feel like your grades are suffering, don't be afraid to step down from all leadership positions in order to re-focus on your academics. There is nothing wrong with that. Remember that your priority is your academic success and degree completion. Academic success without involvement can still take you far, but the opposite can be crippling. 

The ideal is to get fantastic grades and develop your skills through club leadership. But things aren't always perfect, and you are right on with your instincts to know something needs to change, and  I'm so impressed with your thoughtfulness. The biggest mistake students make is not thinking about things like this.

My final advice is that you ask this same question to any professors or advisors you can on your campus, in person. Rally some mentors around you and constantly ask them for help and guidance on what you should do, and for continued help as you continue on your journey.

I hope that helps. You are a great student! 



Feel free to send your question to You will always be asked if your question can be shared on the blog, and anonymity is always a priority unless you specify that you'd like to share your name :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A great networking event idea for your club

I love weddings. Any chance to dress up, see people in love, eat free food, and dance? Yes please! 

And lately I've been noticing something at weddings that reminds me a lot of college. 

When people first arrive, they look slightly uncomfortable, and generally sit with the group of family members they know best. With rare exception, no one goes up to a stranger on the other side of the family and introduces themselves. People stay where they're comfortable, even if they're with their own large extended family. We gravitate towards the people we know.

The same is true in college, and any stage of life. We stay with our 'group.' Why? It's awkward to talk to new people, and we hate awkward. But awkward is the door to opportunity and life-changing relationships. 

And while some of the best relationships just happen naturally, some relationships will never happen if they aren't purposefully encouraged.

Weddings have round tables, food, dancing, and sometimes other fun activities to encourage people to interact.

So if icebreaker activities can help bring families together, then they can also definitely help build a strong campus community. Some of my most treasured relationships in college and as a college staff member came from icebreaker activities and programs, because they force you to talk to people you might not otherwise. Those people will often become some of the most important people in your life. Trust me. 

Below is a great networking event idea I got from speaking for a TRiO program at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.  

I hope it inspires you as it inspired me to think of creative ways you can help people connect on your campus. 
The steps to create the event are below, and they can be customized for your organization or campus:

1. Reserve a large room at a time when most students and staff might be free

2. Invite students

3. Invite faculty and staff (try to get an advisor or VP involved who can encourage as many faculty/staff as possible to come)

4. Get food. Free lunch (pizza!) or dinner works great

5. Get 2 sets of different colored name-tags. Have faculty/staff wear one color and students wear the other

6. Put students in an inside circle, facing outwards, with faculty/staff on the outer circle, facing them. 

7. Introduce the activity by explaining how their positions are symbolic of your campus community. Students are in a circle to help each other, but they are surrounded my faculty/staff who are there to help too and have a lot of advice to share. 

8. Have a list of questions that students must go around and ask faculty/staff. Choose someone to read each question into a microphone, and then students will walk around and talk to faculty/staff until it's time to move on to another question. I highly recommend some of the questions OLLU had students ask faculty/staff:
a)Why do you believe in me? 
b) What was college like for you and how did it lead to where you are today? 
c) What advice do you have for me? 

I talked to some of the students after the event and they said the event really helped them. A lot of students told me they felt less intimated to talk to faculty/staff in the future. They realized that their professors were just people,  that they too had been through college, and that they were there to help. Many students also walked away with incredible new advice for their lives that they would never have received otherwise. 

Even though campus communities are meant to be close, sometimes people can feel pretty isolated. I hope you'll take a stand to connect your campus, because both faculty/staff and students have so much to gain from really knowing each other. 

If you have ever done an event like this or take this idea and implement it, please let me know. I'd also love to feature any other ideas you have or events you've done to connect your campus. E-mail the exciting things you're doing on your campus to me at!

A huge thank you to everyone I met at OLLU who shared this incredible idea with me. You guys are amazing!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Three steps to get out of a slump

I have been working from home since May and while I travel a lot, I've been getting cabin fever. 

I love making my own schedule, traveling to community colleges, and working from my very own home office with my husband. But for the past month or so, I've felt like my apartment walls were closing in on me, and I could tell I was being less productive.

First, I blamed it on this large dark green wall in our place. I had it painted a lighter beige. Ahh.

Then I blamed messiness. Need to clean. Better. But I was still not feeling super energized in my space.

Then I blamed my husband. Because that's what you get to do when you're married ;) But then I realized working with him was awesome. That wasn't the problem. 

I was still feeling oddly sluggish. Why? 

I journaled about it last night and I realized something - I had blamed everything and everyone around me but me. I hadn't been taking responsibility for my own energy and productivity. I realized I needed to stop blaming everything else around me and take action. 

Below are the three steps I took to get me out of my space slump, and more importantly, three steps you can replicate to get out of any kind of slump you may find yourself in. 

Note: my definition of a slump = when you don't feel like you're living up to your full potential and realize there is more you could be doing to get where you want to go in your life. 

1. Reflect on the problem: I got out my journal and started thinking about why I was feeling this way - what was wrong with me? I didn't know at first but I just kept writing. Then, I had a flashback to my college days. In college, I always did my homework and wrote essays in the library. Home was for fun, relaxing, TV, reading, etc - essentially anything but work. I thrived when I did my work outside of where I had my fun. I had never made the connection before.

Journal about the problem you are having and think about who you are. Keep writing until you come up with the real cause of why you are in a slump. Don't let anyone else factor into your cause - think about you. It's vital that you take  responsibility for the cause so that you can find the solution. 

2. Brainstorm solutions: Once I realized what the problem really was, I knew I had to take responsibility. I couldn't just blame my apartment or my wonderful husband. I had been trying quick-fixes and hadn't really tackled the root of the problem. So I started listing any idea I could to think about how I could do more work outside of the apartment when I wasn't traveling.

Brainstorm a list of every possible solution to your slump. Don't judge your answers. When brainstorming, nothing is too outlandish. Just write. The only criteria is that every idea be something within your control, something you can act on. 

3. Take one small step: Next, I took a look at all of my ideas and picked the one I liked best. In my brainstorming, I remembered that when I purchased a business travel app a few months ago I had received a free year-long subscription to business lounges across the country. I decided to take one step right away to look into what this entailed. It turned out there was a business lounge in my area, and I scheduled a tour immediately. 

When you find the solution that seems like the best one, take one small step towards action - right away. Tell someone about your solution to keep you accountable. If the solution turns out not to be the best one, keep your brainstorming list and try another idea. 

Me @ work in my new space
I'm writing to you right now from a business lounge with a beautiful view. I got all dressed up to go to "work" today and it felt great. There are ladies in the reception area who are super sweet and made me feel energized. And I've already been more productive in the first few hours here than I would have been with my laptop on my couch. Slump = vanquished.

I hope this formula will help you crush your slump and continue to move towards your full potential.
P.S. Bonus tip for getting out of a slump? Dressing up for the day always feels good :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How to overcome setbacks in college

In high school I was on the dance team for two years. Confession: I’m not a great dancer.

A few months before my ninth grade year, I walked into the gym to try out for the dance team. My parents couldn’t afford dance lessons, but I had gotten a taste of dance as part of a Junior Beta talent show in seventh grade, and I loved it.

So with a boldness I can only attribute to middle school, I decided to try out for the freshman dance team.

By a miracle, I made the freshman team. That year, I took every dance elective that was offered at my high school, and my parents and late grandpa will tell you that I didn’t walk around our tile floors – I danced.
One day towards the middle of my freshman year, my dance coach called me out and wanted me to try a split jump (something we were learning about in Dance II class, but not actually doing). A split jump is where you leap into a split and then land flat, in a split. Whaat?! I said to her. I can’t do that.

She told me I could. I hesitated at first, but then, I could tell she really believed I could do it. She wouldn’t tell me I could if I was going to break my legs, right? So I timidly leaped. And I landed. In a split. I did it.

That dance coach continued to push me in a way I had never been pushed in my life, and that next year, I tried out for the Varsity dance team.

I’ll never forget those tryouts. I have a really horrible “movement memory” (that’s the name I made up for not being able to remember dances when I first learn them). For the tryouts, we were quickly shown a routine and expected to perform it. They turned on the music, and I saw the other girls around me effortlessly repeating the moves.

I got maybe the first and the last move right.

The next day the results of who made the team were posted in the locker room. My number was not on that list.

It was posted in a little side category that essentially said, “see me.”

I was crushed with the kind of devastation that you can only feel in high school. I walked out of the locker room and circled around the secluded areas of the school, ugly-crying until the bell rang. I wasn’t good enough. The work I did hadn’t paid off.

I went to see the dance coach during lunch, and she told me that while my tryouts weren’t great because I messed up the routines, she still believed I could do it and wanted me on the team. I made it, just barely.

I was overjoyed. But of course, the work had only just begun. Being on that dance team was the hardest thing I had ever done. I twisted my ankle at the first practice, worked for hours to memorize a dance that others would get in a matter of minutes, and would often feel humiliated being corrected in front of everyone.

But I made the team. I got the backpack with the pink letters. I got to dance next to the girls who had danced their whole lives. I had to work harder, but I did it.

I know many of you are in that same circumstance when it comes to college. I am constantly astounded at the students I meet across the country who are going to college despite incredible obstacles that would threaten to (unfairly) put them behind everyone else: physical disabilities, learning disabilities, financial setbacks, deaths in the family, etc.

So if that describes you, I hope you are incredibly proud of what you have accomplished so far, and that you are willing to continue to put in the hard work to make it in college and make it towards the future you dream of. You have it in you. It is possible.

So below are three tips from my dancing days to help you overcome obstacles when you feel like you’re just barely making it:

1. Figure out what you want: When I danced for the first time I fell in love with it. I still get that feeling when I walk into the locker room of my gym and do my old dancer stretches. It’s hard to even explain why or how much I love dance. 

That’s how you should feel about the major and career you are pursuing (or at the very least, how you should feel about learning in college). The only way to overcome obstacles is to have something you really want, really connect with, and would do almost anything to get. Explore, experiment, and decide on what you truly want.

2. Find your coach: I could never have made the dance without my coach. I still think about her all the time, and realize no one had ever pushed me in my life the way she did. She challenged me to do things I didn’t want to do, things that scared me to death. She saw things in me I couldn’t see in myself. Think about it, all professional athletes have coaches. We can’t always see our own potential. Find mentors and tell them what you want and ask for their advice on how to get there.

3. Practice more than anyone else: When I was on the dance team I danced constantly. I took every dance elective possible (there were four) and I even became an office aide to my dance coach so that I could take an additional two classes. I practiced at home. I asked the better dancers for help and coaching. I bought the songs we were dancing to for football games and did the routines hundreds of times in my room. Are you really dedicating yourself to college? 

Are you studying more than anyone else? Are you getting ahead? Are you going above and beyond? That is what it takes. And while it’s hard work, walking out of exam day knowing you aced them all brings the same exhilaration that comes from nailing a new dance move. 

It’s the feeling that your hard work has paid off, and you’ve grown. Or rather, leaped. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dream of pursuing a career in the arts or entertainment? Successful Disney host and voiceover actress Stacey J. Aswad shares her advice

I love the arts. In my book I even mention that if I had unlimited talent and could do anything in the world I would be Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Alas, even my car seems to politely tell me that I don’t have career-worthy singing talent (which is why I write instead ;)).

However, some people think working in the entertainment business, or in any creative field, requires talent alone. You either have it or you don’t, right? Well, not quite.

Working in the arts or entertainment is much more competitive than the typical business world, and you must have a certain level of talent to even begin to compete. However – talent alone is not enough. In short, you have to have grit.

If you’ve ever been through the demoralizing process of trying to find a job, you know exactly what I mean. Most people have to go through that self-esteem-crushing job-hunting experience every few years at the most. People in the entertainment business have to go through it daily. It’s called auditioning.

This is why I’ve always been in awe of people who work in entertainment, not only because I love watching movies, listening to music, going to the theater, etc., but because I’m also amazed at what these people endure to make it. The celebrities we know by name get plenty of credit for their work, but for every one of them there are thousands of other people making our world a more beautiful, fun, and interesting place with their artistic talent.

I recently got to interview one of those amazing people, a dynamic actress whom I admire greatly – Stacey J. Aswad.

Before I met her face-to-face, Stacey was a core part of my yearly Disney vacation. She hosts the ‘Must Do Disney’ show on her own channel that plays 24/7 in the Walt Disney World Resort. It’s playing practically 24/7 in my hotel room when I’m there on vacation because I love it so much.

Stacey’s career spans far beyond her role with Disney, though. You’ve probably even seen one of her commercials or heard her voice without even knowing it. You can listen to her reel of voice over acting to see if you recognize her (you’ll also be amazed at her incredible versatility as a voiceover actress).

I recently got to talk with Stacey and asked her to share her advice for students who are thinking about pursuing a career in the entertainment business. Her advice is incredible, and applies to anyone pursuing any kind of creative, artistic, entrepreneurial, or non-traditional career.

Stacey grew up in upstate New York and danced most of her high school life: “I didn’t do a lot of parties and I wasn’t in a clique. I was pretty much dancing 6 days a week.”

Her dedication led to her acceptance to Juilliard. “I was able to do what I loved and be creative, but it also gave me an education,” Stacey said of her choice to go to college for dance.

That education helped Stacey develop the grit and dedication that has led to her success in the entertainment business: “When I was at Juilliard it wasn’t like I walked around saying ‘I’m great I’m at Juilliard.’ You didn’t have that kind of inflation because you had to keep working to stay in. My Freshman class at Juilliard started with I think 28 people. By the end of four years, I think there were only 16 who graduated.” Stacey was one of them.

Going to college for the arts taught Stacey how to manage her time, motivate herself, discipline herself, and collaborate with others effectively. But more than anything else, Stacey says the experience helped her handle rejection: “Juilliard taught me how to handle all kinds of criticism, both the constructive and the not so constructive.”

The petite Stacey spread her arms out as wide as they could go and laughed as she told me if her skin were actually as thick as it has had to be her body would take up the whole screen on my Skype.

So how do you develop that thick skin? When you talk to Stacey, she is about the nicest person you’ll ever meet. She doesn’t appear to be hardened or to have the kind of outward “toughness” or coldness you might think you’d have to develop to withstand such daily blows. However, Stacey has developed something crucial – mental toughness.

“I tell myself that at the end of the day, someone can choose to give you a job or not, but they cannot take away anything from you that truly matters. They can’t take away my self-esteem, my talent, my hope, my faith, my family.”

Stacey is the perfect mix of optimism and reality, a crucial recipe for success. She believes anything is possible, but she is also intelligently aware of the industry around her. When she graduated from Juilliard she became a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor: “I knew I wanted to dance but I knew I wouldn’t just come right out and get into a company.

“Having creative ability is important, but it won’t always lead to a job. You are the CEO of your own company, and you have to decide if you’re approaching your talent as a hobby or career. If you approach it like a business, there are infinite possibilities.”

From developing a fitness and nutrition program for the Youth Performing Arts school in Kentucky to producing a global web show for the voiceover industry, Stacey is constantly working on the possibilities.

Stacey’s realistic-optimism also helped her succeed as an actress. She knew she wouldn’t just move to LA and “make it,” so before she moved to LA she got her real estate license and built up enough income to last her two years: “When I moved to LA I was able to become completely focused and take classes, go to workshops, network, and audition without having to worry about getting a job right away.

“I saw friends who were so exhausted from waitressing and didn’t have time to take classes, network, or audition.” Stacey’s strategy paid off, and within seven months she had booked two national commercials for Time Warner Cable.

Some people think all you need is a pretty face, supernatural talent, or a “lucky break” to make it in the entertainment business. But Stacey proves that hard work and constant learning are just as necessary to succeed in the entertainment industry, if not more so.

And education, she says, is a great place to start: “I’m a huge fan of education, in traditional forms and just knowledge in general. It gives you the freedom to make choices.

“There’s something to be said for the space between high school and the real world, that space in the middle where you can explore, dream, learn, and focus on becoming brilliant at what you do.”

Stacey also credits college for helping her make it in her career: “At Juilliard I worked with people I never would have met just walking into auditions with a number pinned to me.” Those networking relationships are invaluable, and college is a great place to start building those relationships, as many colleges with creative programs hire people with real-world experience and connections.

So whether you dream of pursuing a career in the entertainment business, the arts, entrepreneurship, or any kind of non-traditional path, Stacey had some great advice to share:
  • You need to know yourself. Are you someone who sees the abundance of a situation or the lack of a situation? The way you frame things will determine how you’re wired and how you’ll handle the inevitable rejection.
  • Let go of the expectations of what you think you should do or what you think should happen. Just be present to what is happening, and be absolutely determined to bring very best to your situation.
  • Journal. I’ve been a big journaler my whole life. When I moved to LA I’d write about who I met and what I booked so I could look every single day at what I did. It’s a great way to keep perspective when you feel like there’s nothing happening. It’s also a great place to vent, consider where you want to go, and keep yourself accountable. When you write stuff on paper it spurs you into action.
  • Channel your excuses into something positive. We can make excuses for our whole life, ‘I don’t have a supportive family, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the right this or that….’ But at some point you need to decide what you want, and take all that energy you’re putting into why this ‘can’t work,’ and channel it into all the reasons why it could work. Then you can say ‘let me at least see if this is possible.’ I think you could be really surprised by what happens. There isn’t a dream that is too big. Just go for it.”
You can subscribe to Stacey’s free web show on the VO Buzz Weekly show website, see her incredible reel on her website, or enjoy her hosting of ‘Must Do Disney’ at any Walt Disney World Resort hotel. You can also keep up with Stacey on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube! Thanks Stacey!! :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

What do you stand for?

Tomorrow will be the first time I'll ever vote. 

Four years ago was the first election in which I was old enough to vote. I registered at a little table outside my college cafeteria, but something went wrong and I never received my voting card and missed my opportunity to vote.

I could have probably done more to figure out what went wrong and voted. I wished I had. 

My family never talked about politics as I grew up. They were more concerned with the debt they were in, my brothers' medical issues, and the other daily struggles of the working and lower-middle classes. 

So when I was younger, it just didn't seem like a big part of my life. Life went on relatively normally no matter who was in office. 

However, as I've grown up, I've become so thankful to live in this country and have the opportunity to vote. When I meet people who would give anything for citizenship to this country, I count myself lucky. 

But it's easy to lose that enthusiasm amidst the negativity. It seems much of the rhetoric is "against". I was listening to my iPod yesterday, and when "Some Nights" by Fun came on, for the first time I noticed this desperate line where he cries: "What do I stand for? What do I stand for? What do I stand for? Most nights, I don't know." 

It got me thinking about how easy it is to get bogged down in being against something, or feeling so disconnected from the world and its happenings that we forget to think about what we really do stand for, and, most importantly, what we can do as individuals, each day, to bring about positive change. 

To me, the best part about living in America is the ability to change our lives, to move up, to bring power to the powerless, to give hope to the hopeless, to make things better, to be creative, and to make change. Voting is a great privilege, and I hope that you take advantage of it tomorrow.

But even more importantly, I hope that you take some time tomorrow to think about what you stand for, and how you can use your education and your talent to do something about it. You are more equipped than you realize to create change in your community and make an impact on the world. 

I'm excited to vote tomorrow and I hope you are too!