Pearls, and Possibilities

This is before September 11th; before insecurity, both national and financial was an issue. I am somewhere between the ages of nine and ten, ready to start the fifth grade at Captain Samuel Douglas Academy in the fall. The summer stretches before me, packed with family vacations and long, lazy New England days. I am as shiny as a pearl, eccentric, naïve, and carefree.
I break away from my mothers grasp, eager to feel the warm sand in between my toes. My hands are sticky from salt-water taffy, having been melted in my tightly clenched fist by the hot sun. I use this as an excuse to take a quick dip into the waves, only to be shouted back up the bank by my mother. At the beach, my mother becomes a sunscreen maniac, interrupting all beach activities to lather us up. This day is no exception, and I quickly retreat back to our supplies.
After our sunblock rations, my siblings and I take off in different directions. Ian, being the youngest at the time, remains in the sand. He begins to build a sand castle with his Blues Clues themed pail and shovel. Paul stands at the foot of the beach, letting the tides gently lap his feet. My parents are shamelessly flirting on a beach towel, smiling up into the warm Maine sun.
I scan the beach for my sister; at this age I am afraid to be without her, afraid of being incomplete. I see her standing a few feet away, at the mouth of a tide pool. Today we have a mission: to capture a lobster and smuggle it back to our New Hampshire home. As children, our biggest heartbreak was being pet deprived. Without a little creature to nurture, we felt useless. This is the beginning of one of our countless sagas to achieve a pet.
We walk on tiptoes through the tide pool, careful not to step on a frustrated crab. From our previous adventures, we have already ruled them out as possible pets. I venture towards a bank of muscle shells. Earlier that summer, Jillian and I had searched these shells for pearls; at the time nothing seeming impossible. This is my favorite spot; I can look back and watch my entire family, as they play, learn, and grow- but I can not be touched. Back then anything was possible for us- even finding a pearl in a muscle shell.

Dreams

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

George Eliot

This quote has been sitting in my quote book for awhile. In its eleven short words, it speaks to me louder than my downstairs neighbors inconsiderate music volume. My thoughts are sometimes plagued by the paths I never chose; the chances I never took; the opportunities I passed up.

Growing up, I always wanted to be one thing. There was no doubt about it; it had been something I had been so sure of—an unquestionable destiny. That’s the thing about dreams when you are little…every single one seems possible, probable, and true.

You grow up, and you learn about logic; you study probability in school, learn how to be disciplined and practical. You let go of some of those dreams you once had, abandoning things that seem out of reach. Although we are taught that we can be anything we want to be, we look at the world around us as evidence that we can’t. We learn that dreams are for dreaming.

Today, I’ve decided to reclaim my dreams. Life is too short to let go.

Presentations, Group Facilitation, and a not so Dead Week.

I’ve stared at this page for quite a few minutes, trying to think of how to approach this blog entry. It’s the first time in some time I have been at a standstill. Usually I have thoughts spilling out, and my fingers can’t type fast enough to capture them. Please bear with me, I may approach this blog differently–

The Day Mr. Shank Went Crazy

When I was in 7th grade, I had an art teacher named Mr. Shank. Like some people in life, for example Charlie Sheen, I didn’t particularly like Mr. Shank until the day when everyone started hating him. This day was known throughout the 7th grade, as the day Mr. Shank went crazy.

It was a seemingly ordinary day–November 1st, 2003. After recess, my 7th grade class filed into the art room, chattering about Halloween festivities. Mr. Shank usually didn’t allow this kind of distraction from art, but for some reason he tolerated it today. We got our art supplies (we were painting that day), and began working on our pictures. Our tables were positioned in a circle, with Mr. Shank seated at the front of the room. Mr. Shank seemed to be in a good mood, and he began to join in our conversation. He asked one girl, let’s call her Kathy, what she had dressed up as for Halloween. [Let me give you some background information about Kathy. In middle school, especially in 7th grade, there are the popular kids. Kathy fancied herself popular. Despite her horrible personality, everyone liked Kathy. Teachers liked Kathy, students liked Kathy, pretty much everyone liked Kathy. I did not particularly care for Kathy, actually.] Kathy shrugged, and remarked casually “I dressed up as a fag.”

Silence.

I can still remember the perfect arc Mr. Shank’s paintbrush made as it flew across the room, splattering paint on students, art projects, and everything in between. Mr. Shank’s face was as red as the paint he had expelled everywhere. For a split second everything and everyone was quiet—- and then Mr. Shank erupted. “YOU CAN’T SAY THINGS LIKE THAT! YOU THINK THAT IS FUNNY? MAKING FUN OF SOMETHING JUST BECAUSE IT’S DIFFERENT THAN YOU? THAT IS NOT OKAY. YOU CAN NOT USE THAT LANGUAGE HERE.” Everyone was still; shocked completely. No one said a word for the rest of art class…when we finally left, the halls were a buzz with the chatter of “Mr. Shank freaking out.”

Mr. Shank’s outburst really resonated with me. It was the first time in my life an adult addressed sexual identity. In middle school, an ignorant remark was often made and over heard by teachers. Teachers always hushed it up, telling students to watch their language, but never addressed the real issue. Mr. Shank wasn’t willing to sweep the issue under the rug— and that is why I started to like him. He let us know not only was there nothing wrong with different sexual identities, but also that ignorant attitudes towards those different identities were not acceptable.

When I read the blog prompt, I immediately thought of Mr. Shank. This situation taught me two things  about presentations:

                          1.) Don’t be afraid to challenge others perceptions or thoughts

                          2.) BUT– be careful how you send your message

Throwing paint at students and yelling probably was not the best way to challenge our 7th grade class. Every message you present, you have to be conscious of how it is being interpreted (part of inclusive language). If you present a challenge in a certain way, sometimes your message is completely lost by your method.


My Approach to Group Facilitation

I’m a big fan of circles, I always have been. I love polka dots, protractors, full moons, pita pizzas, and pressing the button first on the elevator. (Disclaimer: I do not like donuts, coffee mug stains, or that terrible moment when you realize you have been driving for the last ten minutes in a giant circle.) So, it makes sense that I approach group facilitation by encouraging circles. I feel like it’s more personal, and encourages discussion more.

About half way through last summer, I started using the “Think, Pair, and Share” technique. I used this when discussing the freshman reading, or before an ice breaker. This was really effective in improving discussion about the freshman reading. Not all students had read the article, so pairing sometimes served as a peer education technique. It also got new students interacting and talking.

Roll with the Punches;
But don’t get Crazy.

One day, I had a very anxious student to student group. They had heard a lot of myths about IU, dorms, University, professors, etc. I decided to try something new– I asked them to call out rumors they had heard about IU, and I wrote them on the board. We discussed each one, dissecting the origins of the rumor, and debunking stereotypes. It was one of the more interactive groups I had, and at the end of the session, I really felt I had eased many of the worries those students had.

“Rolling with the punches” allows you to accommodate the group. Student groups are really like snow flakes; no two are alike. Sometimes switching up your presentation style or group facilitation method is really beneficial. But, don’t get too crazy. Remember that every student should be given the same great experience. Also, there are messages that need to be given to every student group, always, regardless, forever.

On a Personal Note

I’m very frustrated with this week being called “Dead Week”. It really gives students false hopes. As I’m sure many will agree, this week is anything but dead! I have a lot going on….but as always, I’ll get through it quicker than I think. I’m looking forward to summer days, and closing my books for the semester.

 

Diversity, Secrets, and Journeys

Diversity.

In my “Paris and Berlin in the 1920s” class, we are currently learning about the alienation some American soldiers felt after returning home from WWI. As my professor pointed out, these soldiers had seen Europe– the excitement and progressiveness of the cities, countries, etc. Returning to small towns in America, these soldiers felt disconnected from their past home. Their new experiences had shaped them, changed them, and had caused them to grow in new directions. They no longer felt a sense of inclusion and community in their past loved towns.

Despite the obvious fact that I wasn’t a soldier during WWI, and I don’t live in the 1920s, I really identified with these soldiers. My freshman year of college really changed me. I dreaded returning back to my hometown for breaks and visits. I felt disconnected, estranged, and alienated in the streets I once ran havoc upon. My hometown was not diverse; furthermore, it did not encourage, or accept diversity in any sense. Bloomington had cultured me; I had glowed in the diversity campus held. Not only was I surrounded by different cultures and ethnicities, I was also exposed to different political and religious ideas, different styles, and different expressions of gender and sexuality. In Bloomington, I felt free. I felt that I could finally be myself, embrace the counter culture inside of me, and be happy.

Our last U495 class made me think a great deal about diversity, and the elements that make an individual unique. Diversity is not a two dimensional world– rather, it takes on many forms, shapes, etc. Diversity is not just the color of your skin, or the religion you identify with– diversity is fluid.

This got me thinking back to over a year ago, during my own Orientation Leader interview. I remember being asked the question “What makes you diverse?” and totally spacing. I don’t remember the answer I gave, but I do remember thinking about that question as I walked home afterwards. I thought, and thought about this. Was I unique? My biggest fear in life is being a generic person. (I try to compensate for this by having a big personality. For example, in high school I died my hair blue because being blonde started feeling too normal.) The thought of being regular seemed horrible.

A year later, I now feel a lot more confident in myself, and my unique identity. Part of it I attribute to working with Orientation, and part of it I attribute to college in general. I believe that  self-esteem is manipulated by your environment. When you are in a positive environment, where you are encouraged to be yourself, your identity can finally blossom, and thrive. I think the IU Bloomington community helped me blossom, and realize that I could be my true, diverse self. I also think the positive environment created for the Orientation Team last summer helped me grow as well. I really felt I could be myself, and still represent the University and the FYE office. (I really hope I can create a similar environment this summer, one that will benefit our current Orientation Team.)

Secrets

I like the idea of secrets. I like the idea of being mysterious, quite a bit actually. After all, I did read all the Nancy Drew books. I went through a extensive Law and Order phase too. And, I am, a Criminal Justice major. I think I like secrets so much, because I enjoy uncovering hidden aspects of people. So, I was extremely excited for the post-secret activity. I couldn’t wait to learn more about my co-workers, and anonymously gain access to these hidden aspects.

As I expected, I really loved the video. It really touched me; I feel a lot closer to our team now, and I value each secret that was shared. I felt connected to the team for multiple reasons. Some of the secrets shared, I can deeply identify with. I found myself tearing up at times even (to be fair, I #MoodAlert-ed everyone on Twitter that i was feeling emotional).

Journeys

I really like both literal and metaphorical journeys. Coincidentally, I experienced both last week. Last Thursday, I made a literal journey to Louisville, Kentucky. I had a noon appointment to get my fingerprints taken for my American citizenship (I was born in Canada, and am a Canadian citizenship). My literal journey only took about 45 minutes; however, it was pretty crazy, involving bad punk rock music and almost dying by turning the wrong way down a one way street. But anyway, I finally made it to downtown Louisville,  and found a parking spot I didn’t have to parallel park for (let’s be honest; can you parallel park?? I can’t).

As I walked up the stairs to the giant courthouse, I was surprised at how emotionally overwhelmed I felt. When did I become an adult? Here I was, in a strange city, by myself– at a courthouse for that matter, about to be fingerprinted…one step closer to being an American citizen, who can vote. When did I become this independent? My parents weren’t there to represent me, to answer the questions, to get my life in order. It was just me, representing myself.


Although I don’t know exactly when this metaphorical journey to adulthood started, I do know that last week was a milestone.

The Puzzle Theory, and further thoughts about Stengths

The Puzzle Theory

When I was a sophomore in high school, I developed this theory about life. It came to me in a moment of clarity; I was journaling about some of the biggest lessons I had learned in life– and it just hit me. Life is a puzzle. A big, intricate, puzzle. And as you grow older, and go through life, you gain pieces to the puzzle; little bits of knowledge about life. You realize things, you learn from your mistakes. You level up! Puzzle pieces build on each other; just like lessons. Puzzle pieces connect to one another; just like life lessons.The thing about this puzzle is you don’t know what the puzzle is making, or how many pieces will be in it. Just like life, the puzzle is a big, scary question mark.

It probably sounds crazy;

It’s very Humanistic psychology; life as a process to “self-actualization”. Whether or not you agree with my puzzle theory, humor me a bit and keep reading— I promise I will get to my point—

Developing the Puzzle Theory was a puzzle piece in itself– in fact, it was a corner piece. To me, corner pieces in puzzles are the best. I always find the corner pieces first, because they literally frame the rest of the picture. Just like a corner piece, my puzzle theory allowed me to see life differently. In bad situations, I try to look for the lesson I learned, and build on that. Lord knows I have a lot more pieces to my puzzle– so many at times I can’t make out the big picture. I find consolation knowing that with each piece I will grow– grow into something, or someone, that is bigger than I am now.#NewDirections

Welcome to my brain.

One of my strengths on strengths quest was Connectedness. This strength talked about believing that all things connect; everything happens for a reason, all that kind of stuff. At first, I was skeptical about whether or not this really applied to me. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how ingrained “connectedness” is with my life. I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far without that piece of the puzzle! For me, connectedness manifests itself mostly in relationships, and people. People fascinate me– I love learning about individuals, and how they connect with each other, society etc.

After all, I am a Sociology major.

Lately I have been questioning my major, Sociology. After taking S371, Research Methods, I fell into a major #SophomoreSlump. I wasn’t sure if Sociology even made sense to study– I wasn’t sure if it was something that I could ever be good at. Strengths Quest, and my “Connectedness” strength changed that (it was indeed, an important puzzle piece I had been waiting for). It was the clarity I needed to be confident in my major, and understand more about my fascination with the subject material.

I hope that others found strengths as refreshing as  I did; I would love to talk about it sometime, and learn more about how each person experiences their strengths. I hope strengths continues to be a discussion, and we carry it into the summer with us (in a positive way, not like “Campus Legends Tour was not on my strengths quest”).

If you don’t like cheesy stuff, don’t read the following–

I have to give a shout out to my boyfriend, Wes, the most mysterious guy I’ve ever met. In the (almost) three years we’ve been dating, I’ve cherished each piece of his puzzle he has shared with me. I feel lucky each time I gain his trust.

 

Annie


Positive Psychology, Strengths, and One Lucky Birthday Girl

“Individuals gain more when they build on their talents than when they make comparable efforts to improve their areas of weakness.”

In life, sadly, there are a great many things I will never be good at. Let’s be honest; I’m never going to be good at walking in heels, playing the piano, or dancing ballet. All these things I always wanted to be good at; some of these, like heels, I tried very hard to be good at. But alas, they will never be one of my top five strength themes. So why should I bother? I could walk for hours in heels, and all I would probably get is a bunch of blisters.

This past summer, I visited Toronto, Canada. While I was there, I went on a tour of a beverage company (it was free, and I got a free t-shirt for going….and yes, I will almost do anything for a free t-shirt). It was a small, local company that only had one flavor of drink. Their motto was: “Do one thing, really really well”. The company has only been around for a few years, and its founders decided to focus all energy into making one simple, perfect  product. I really admire this company; instead of discovering potential weaknesses of theirs (clear Pepsi?), they built on their small success.

Individual Strengths

I LOVE Strengths. True story. I think it is wonderful, and gets me completely. I definitely think all five of my strengths describe my personality, and talents. My strengths are: Input, Positivity, Includer, Belief, and Connectedness. Three of these are categorized under  “relationship building”.

As always, this made me think– this time, back to highschool. As a senior in my highschool, EVERYBODY suddenly wanted to know EVERYONE else’s business about majors, Universities, and the dreaded “rest of your life” question. People who never talked to me before were suddenly so interested in  my next four years. (I think this is because they want to make fun of you at your highschool reunion, when you end up being less successful than you originally had planned.) So, when people asked me what I was doing I would say “I’m not sure; I just know I want to work with people.” And that was the solid truth….I had no idea exactly what I wanted to do, I just knew I didn’t want to be alone doing it. To me, people and relationships matter. It’s literally what I live for; therefore, I wear my relationship building strengths proudly, and identify most with them.

Isn’t it ironic, how I’ve been talking about trying not to talk so much, and my top strengths is Input? Makes me think about–

Positive Psychology: Different ≠Difficult

I won’t claim to know a lot about positive psychology, despite the fact that it was on my last P102 exam. More or less, positive psychology looks at the world of psychology as a glass half full. Instead of theorizing about what causes/contributes to mental illness, positive psychology focuses around what causes/contributes to mental health and stability. Instead of focusing on the weaknesses of mental health, it focuses on strengths of mental health, etc.

Our brief talk about positive psychology made me think back to about a month ago, when the Leadership Team and myself went to the National Orientation Director Association(NODA) conference in Dearborn, Michigan. This conference allowed us to network with student leaders from all different Orientation programs in our region. We really got some great ideas– like post secret! (Also, we developed a friendship with Purdue.) Anyway, one girl we met there shared with us a team activity called “Different or Difficult?” In this activity, someone says a personality trait, and then the group has to decide if it is “different” or “difficult”. The underlying message is to find the importance in every personality;; even ones you originally may have thought were “difficult”.

I think “different” or “difficult” is a good mindset to have during Orientation. There are some days when parents, or students may be down right “difficult”. For example, if a parent really really wants to go into an advising appointment. Instead of categorizing them immediately as “difficult” think of them as different. Maybe this is there first child to college, and they are worried advising won’t work out. Their perspective coming to IU may be completely “different” than what you had experienced. I think it is helpful to keep that in mind, especially during the very stressful days. Like positive psych, it can help you focus on the glass half full.

On a Personal Note–

My Birthday is this upcoming Saturday. Birthdays are bittersweet for me; I always feel sad about growing up. Not this Birthday though– I will be 20. Finally out of my horrible teens! I’ve always thought being in your twenties sounded so sophisticated and glamourous. You’re young enough that you can act like a kid, but people still have to treat you like an adult. Can’t wait!

Customer Service, Starbucks, and NSO

“A mission is something you strive to accomplish– a promise is something you are compelled to keep.”

Missions are finite. They have a beginning, and an end. A mission is kind of like a computer game. When I was little my family and I played this computer game called Centipede. I can remember our whole family crowding around the computer screen, yelling commands at the person playing the game. Our only motivation for playing the game was to complete the level; and once we completed that level, we closed that chapter– we had just one goal. Promises on the other hand, are continuous. They may have a beginning, but unlike a mission, you must constantly work on maintaining it. There is no definite goal, or finish line. Each moment you honor your promise, in a way you accomplish something.

The above quote gave me a lot to think about. How many times in my life am I motivated solely by an outcome, a product, or a finish line? How many times do I fail to appreciate the process of a situation? In fifty years from now, will I remember the grades I got, or the awards I achieved? Or will my fondest memories be of the classes I took, the projects I was interested in, and the friends I made in the process? I’m going to try my best to set more promises, and less goals. It can be easy to be motivated by the end of a work day, or a paycheck. However, I think having that mind set will challenge how much you really get out of this experience.

Anyway, to things more directly related to class this past Tuesday–

 

For Orientation, customer service and communication are essential–

I know its one of those over used points, but isn’t it funny how when we experience bad customer service, we tell just about everyone we know? I’m super guilty about this. When I experience bad customer service, I immediately whip my phone out, send a mass text to my usuals, and typically post it on twitter…. all within seconds of the interaction. As I have previously mentioned, I LOVE TO TALK– So, for me, the complaints don’t even end there. You better believe my roommates will here about it when I get home, my mother will here about it next time I talk to her, and I’ll re-hash the story to my father (even though I texted him about it already). Sometimes the story is re-incarnated months later, when I am visiting my grandparents, etc. The point is, negative impressions stay with people– but so can good experiences.

We want our guests to have the best experience possible. Luckily, our Oteam is more than well equipped to make this happen :)! The families and students who come through Orientation want to be treated special. Its our jobs to incorporate the FISH philosophy (Make their day, Choose your attitude, Be there, and Play) into their experience. For students, this isn’t just an Orientation into University…. its an Orientation into the campus community, and college life. Bloomington is going to be their home for the next four (or more) years, and its necessary for them to feel welcomed. One of the things I love so much about Orientation, is the impact it can make on students. When I returned to campus in the fall, I would often run into freshmen from my student groups. It was awesome to talk with them, and find out what clubs they had gotten involved in, or how they were liking their classes. I love knowing I helped them find their place in the community 🙂

Personal moment of the week–  I was IU

On a personal note, I would like to share my “moment of the week”. I volunteer at the IU Admissions office as a IU Chat team member. Basically, I call up highschool seniors who have been admitted to IU but have not yet committed to attending in the fall. I congradulate them on their acceptance to Indiana, and then casually ask them a few questions and remind them to send in their enrollment deposits. Anyhow, I was making a call to a girl, lets call her Kathy. So, when I phone Kathy, her mother answers. I recite “Hi, my name is Annie and I am a student ambassador for Indiana University. I was calling to congradulate Kathy on her admission to IU. May I please speak with her?” Kathy’s mother says to me “Yes, hold on please” (muffles receiver) “HEY KATHY, INDIANA UNIVERSITY IS ON THE PHONE FOR YOU”. Living example, of Melanie Payne’s “I am IU”! Made my whole week.

 

Annie