Robots, Creativity, & Confidence

“I’m not very creative.”  I cannot possibly count the number of times I have said or thought this statement in my lifetime. When asked on the spot for ideas, I often feel as though I don’t have anything unique enough to bring to the table and thus neglect to share.  I’ve been reflecting on the recent article about the confidence gap between men and women, and how this lack of confidence is detrimental to women’s success.  This particular quote stood out to me:

“Perfectionism is another confidence killer. Study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required.”

I have experienced these perfectionist feelings constantly not only in my career, but my personal life as well, going through countless hobbies, DIY projects, even sports – just because I felt like I wasn’t good enough at them to be successful.  I held back on experiences because I wasn’t confident enough in my own abilities.

I’m here to challenge that today.  Since embarking on my DIY journey, I’ve used power tools, learned painting techniques, installed door hardware, hung frames, and more.  Starting a major creative project at home that doesn’t involve student development, service learning, or anything work-related, has made an incredible impact on my confidence in my work, at home or in the office.  As I was contemplating a blog post about this (and an awesome robot puzzle project, which I’ll get to in a second), I stumbled across this article about how being creative outside of work actually makes workers more productive, as well as provides them opportunities to restore and fulfill themselves. Researchers said this, which spoke to me:

“A lot of organizations carve time out where they talk about physical heath and exercise and eating habits, but they can also include in that a discussion of mental health and the importance of recovery and creative activity,” he said.

Physical health and exercise are both important.  However, I feel the need to ask: when do we make time to pursue our hobbies outside of fitness, especially if we spend all our spare time working?  How does this lack of creative work affect us, if these projects are making us more productive and more relaxed?  Shoutout to those writing books or creating art; it’s harder than it looks.  It has taken a lot of time and practice (about six months now) for me to develop confidence in my creative abilities, and this blog has been one of the best places for me to share my love for DIY, as well as express my professional opinions.  I can have a life outside of work, and it’s making me a better professional, a happier person, and an even better gift-giver. Let’s time travel to the moment I realized how important my creative outlet is to me.

About a week ago, I was shopping for a birthday present for a colleague of mine at Michaels.  I recognize that when shopping for a 26-year-old’s birthday gift, a craft store is not normally the first choice, but it’s my go-to for awesome finds.  I stumbled across this beauty for $1.20: a robot, alien, and superhero puzzle.


While I picked it up, I thought, “this is awesome – and cheap”, but I put it back on the shelf.  After a few minutes of perusing, a creative lightbulb turned on, and I thought about how great this would look in a frame mounted on my friend’s wall.  He has a love for superheroes and comics, and I have a love for personalized DIY projects, so this was a win-win.  A brief conversation with the custom framing staff taught me that it would be way too expensive and time consuming to wait for the perfect frame.  So, I scooped up a shadowbox, some Elmer’s glue, and went home to finish the job.


I was so proud to frame this puzzle and give it as a gift to someone who truly deserved to be the beneficiary of my creative process.  The next time I think to myself, “I’m not that creative”, I’m going to think of this puzzle and how robots gave me confidence (aww, I’m such a cheesy nerd).


What are your creative activities outside of work? I’d love to hear about them and how they’ve impacted you as a person or as a professional.





Progress Report: Peace, “Do”, and Happiness

It’s been 100 days since 2014 kicked off, so I thought it was time to dust off the old #oneword2014 resolution and check in on my own progress on the word “do”.  To be honest, I didn’t handle the resolution process with much precision.  I totally forgot to use my SMART goals acronym, not to mention that  I have a habit of making great sweeping statements and not following through on them.  Self-deprecating aside, I’m trying my best to break that habit, and succeeding pretty well with my resolution (unlike my addiction to diet soda).

Progress Report #1:  I know that it’s been 100 days of this year because I am currently almost finished with the #100happydays photo project on Instagram.  Not only that, but I blogged about it on, wrote an article for The Jersey Alliance, and presented it to my students as a personal challenge for them to attempt.  I missed just two days, only to immediately post two photos the following day.  #100happydays has actually given me something to be proud of, and it’s helped to put my name out there as a blogger and overall advocate for something positive.  It hasn’t been easy, and one day was particularly painful, but it was all made better with a Brene Brown quote and some self-reflection.  The photo challenge has probably been the most telling action of my entire “do” resolution.  In fact, I’m not stopping. I’m going for a full 365 days of happiness photos.

Progress Report #2: For other measurements related to “do”, I created this website and have written 13 blog posts this year (woot!).  While the blogging has been fulfilling for me personally, I have been struggling with it professionally and debating its future direction.  When I post about professional development, I find myself stretching to make a connection or feel strangely disingenuous. Honestly, I’m just not sure if it’s truly me.  I can’t say if this blog will really move in the direction of student affairs, or move somewhere else – towards DIY, personal development, or more reflections on happiness.  I’ve found that I cannot continue to compare this blog to others.  I should be celebrating other bloggers’ success, all while realizing that I am not the same as them.  I have my own voice, and maybe that voice wants to talk a LOT about The Goonies and cats.  That’s just the way it is.


Progress Report #3: Lastly, in the spirit of “do” something completely outside my comfort zone, I found peace through service in Biloxi, Mississippi.  I have participated in five Alternative Breaks trips all over the United States, but I have never traveled somewhere completely unfamiliar without a student or fellow staff member that I knew well.  It was terrifying. I tossed and turned on our first night, struggling to find the calm to allow me to sleep.  On our first night of reflection, I cried.  Yes, me, the staff partner – I cried.  I decided to admit my anxiety about traveling alone, eating camp food dinners, and sharing a cabin with strangers. I shared with my students that I, too, am uncomfortable and suffer from self-doubt that nags me, especially when I’m alone.  The results of opening up to my students extended beyond my wildest expectations: I found a group of the 12 most open, engaged, and accepting students that I have ever worked with (we call this trip “magical”) and felt real, true peace through community service efforts.  Not just comfort, but peace, feeling a sense of community that I had not felt in so long.

Laying that all out on the table, I’d say it’s been a pretty good 2014 so far.  I’m excited to see where the next few months take me (Norway! California! Age 28!).  Have you made any progress on resolutions, or had the time to pause to reflect on your progress?  I’d love to hear about it.

Finding Your Breakfast Club

Yesterday’s blog post by Joe Ginese inspired me to think critically about my conference experience. You mean I can’t change all of my bad habits and take hundreds of risks in one day? I definitely have the conference hangover, with my head bursting at the seams fr0m excitement, but it’s not necessarily because of all the great sessions I attended. It’s because of the people I met.

That got me thinking: ACPA was my Breakfast Club this year. Sure, I love comparing my life to 80’s teen movies more than the average student affairs blogger, but hear me out. I was able to meet four amazing student affairs professionals from Twitter who I had never previously met, and they all had a huge impact on me. Just as the burnout, princess, jock, nerd, and basket case from Shermer High School built their connections during detention, I befriended a unique group of student affairs professionals in a short amount of time.  Relationships at a conference are created in an intense environment with few distractions; it’s up to you to maintain them (and not ignore them next year when you’re walking down the hall). Here are my shoutouts, and plans for reconnecting.

The Supporter: Chris Conzen has provided me with encouragement, asked me questions, and gone above and beyond to connect with me.  If I’m ever questioning my job trajectory or looking for advice about moving around in the field, Chris will be my go-to person.

The Jersey Girl: Valerie Heruska and I connected over completely random things like diners, Jimmy Eat World, and New Jersey pop culture. After dinner together, I know I can talk to her about anything and I’ll be cracking up in the process.

The Newbie: Francesca Catalano and I went into our ACPA adventures together as relatively new to the Twitter world, but we took risks together and bonded over that experience.  If I’m ever feeling unsure or anxious about a blog post (or anything really), I know Francesca will be there for me, judgment-free and understanding.

The Role Model: Josie Ahlquist showed me that I can do something different with my student affairs career, and I shouldn’t be afraid to take something and make it my own.  Her openness to sharing her experience while pursuing a doctorate put me completely at ease about taking that step in my career.

It can be beneficial to engage a variety of strategies to stay connected with my new Breakfast Club. It’s important for you to understand the best way to communicate with your new connections, so ask first. Here are some general tips to get you started:

Social media: Is Twitter their jam? Publicly tweeting back can help keep up the relationship, but it doesn’t get you quite as far as a direct message. I’ve found that Facebook friending takes you further as well, especially with the more personal details being shared beyond 140 characters.  If digging deeper personally isn’t the right move, then LinkedIn can be a great way to learn more about them professionally.

E-Mail: Did you meet your new contact at a session and exchange business cards? Don’t let them sit unused in your nametag pouch or at the bottom of your bag. E-mail them now! Reach out with a specific question or connection to keep the conversation going.

Google Hangout: I love Tim St. John’s idea to road trip via Google Hangout. It’s free and gets you face-to-face time with your new connections. Schedule a lunchtime chat or maybe set aside an evening to delve deeper. If face-to-face isn’t your thing, a phone call can do the trick as well.

In response to Simple Minds’ question, “As I walk on by, will you call my name?” I can safely say the answer is yes. It just takes some long term effort that follows the conference afterglow.  Now that you’ve learned about my connections at ACPA, I’d like to know: who have you met and connected with in your recent conference travels? Who would be in your Breakfast Club?