Can’t, Won’t, Shouldn’t

Like my friend Mallory Bower shared this week, when I was asked to give an Ignite-style talk at the NASPA Region II Confrence, I was not ready. Like many professionals, I’ve had plenty of experiences speaking publicly, but this was by far the most nervewracking.  I realized it wasn’t the format, the venue, or the presentation itself that scared me.  It was the mere fact that had been chosen for this opportunity, and I couldn’t possibly be worthy of this selection.  I feared the reactions from the audience, colleagues, and strangers alike.

What makes her an expert?

Why was she asked instead of me?

What makes her topic so important?

It made me think of all of those times that I was told I couldn’t do something.  “You’re too clumsy, you shouldn’t be using power tools” or “You won’t ever follow through on becoming a Jazzercise fitness instructor, it’s too hard”.  Too often we are told: “you can’t, won’t, shouldn’t do something” by authority figures and even friends in our lives.  This negativity coursing through my veins reminded me of this quote from Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In:

“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”

Think about all the times that fear of others holds you back.  Then stop thinking about them.  Think about all the times that the support of others empowers you.  So many positive examples have come up for me in the past few months, it’s hard to narrow them down.

-Meeting my fellow Instigate and Ruminate Speakers: I’m shouting them out again, but working with four amazing people (three of them women) including Mallory, Sue Caulfield, Suzanne Sullivan McGillicuddy, and Joe Ginese really taught me the support that can come from bonding over something incredibly stressful.  This support system has now developed into friendships.

The Summer 2014 Virtual Reciprocity Ring: Started by Amma Marfo, the SVRR brings together women from all over the country in multiple fields.  Each week, one woman pitches her idea or asks for support, and the rest of us provide that outlet.  Regardless of whether or not you post, the support coming from every woman is enough to lift you out of fear. Thanks, Amma.

-Long distance connections: Whether through phone, e-mail, or Google hangout, I have had some fantastic conversations with supportive ladies from all over the country about doctoral programs, the job search, what motivates us, and even just talking about refinishing furniture. Most of this is thanks to my taking the Twitter leap earlier this year and connecting through #sachat.

“Without fear, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfillment – and freely choose one, or the other, or both.”

It’s time to stop looking at what holds us back and start looking at what moves us forward.  What would you do if you weren’t afraid?


Breathing Fire, A Revolution, & Other Stories from a Changemaker


My mind is still reeling from spending the day with changemaker Adam Braun, the founder and CEO of the for-purpose organization Pencils of Promise (I’m going to use the term for-purpose, as it is a better indication of the organization than the term non-profit).  Between engaging in a professional development workshop with student affairs colleagues, enjoying a small dinner outing, and attending his talk with students, I was immersed in a day full of inspiration that will change and inform my decisions and behavior for the rest of my life.  Adam founded his for-purpose organization less than five years ago with a $25 deposit.  Now they’ve built 100 schools in the developing world, seen actual improvements in learning outcomes of students, and gained half a million followers across social media.  I used to consider myself an entry-level student affairs professional, but thanks to Adam, I recognize what I am now: a Changemaker.  Inspiring college students to make change in their lives, careers, and their communities is what I am meant to do right now.  With his words, “find your revolution”, I am starting to find mine.

I spent some time over the past 24 hours really synthesizing his message and making it relevant to my life and experiences.  Here are three of my major takeaways to help “breathe your fire”.

Find your story.

I truly believe that storytelling is the most important skill you can develop to connect, share, and educate others about your cause. Maybe you’ve been inspired by someone, like Adam, whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor forced to leave her education at age 14.  He dedicated the first Pencils of Promise school in her name.  Maybe you were a huge nerd in high school and wrote and self-published a young adult novel (me).  Saying, “I work with college students… er… but I’m not a professor…” is not going to inspire anyone.  Adam explained that he would go out of his way to “spill his soul”, even for just a single person, because of the potential impact it could have.  Develop your story – it will be worth it.


Write, write write.

If you read any of my blog posts, you know I’m a broken record on the topic of reflection.  However, writing is cathartic.  Take time to reflect on the day-to-day challenges that bog you down.  Even better, jot down the little things that inspire and excite you.  Reading a marble composition book from my teenage years today brings back memories that I would normally never remember, and it helps inform my work with students today.  Adam recommended using a journal that you really love, so you want to go back to writing in it every day.  I am making a commitment to myself to really write – it’s a passion of mine – and hopefully it will inspire others to write as well.


Adam sought out his personal struggle by traveling alone throughout the world, immersing himself in different cultures and learning languages just to interact with people.  But you don’t need to drop everything in your life and travel the world with a backpack and motorbike.  To be a changemaker, you do need to find things that make you uncomfortable and do them.  Throw your ideas on the table at a meeting full of innovators (maybe one of them will get picked up!).  Eat that weird looking vegetable (maybe you’ll end up cooking an award-winning dish with it!).  Struggle once in a while, and the next time it will get easier.

I know because I felt that struggle.  I pushed for the opportunity to bring Rutgers Changemakers Week to this campus.  I have been lucky enough to meet and learn from Adam and the purposeful promise that he made with his organization. I am in awe of my amazing students and Student Life colleagues who have inspired me in so many ways to take this on and push me toward this reality.  For more information about the initiative or to just share your thoughts, post here or reach out to me on Twitter @kristaknj.

All Good Things

So far in 2013, I have been lucky enough to do good across the country.  As a student affairs professional immersed in service learning, I embarked on a trip with 11 college students last week to volunteer with urban youth in the Los Angeles area.  The trip was part of our Alternative Breaks program at Rutgers.


I had countless opportunities to do good: not only did I spend my afternoons with children in after-school programs, at-risk and abused young women in a residential facility, and families at the Ronald McDonald House, but I helped to facilitate students’ understanding of urban issues.  Beyond just the act of doing good on the trip, I found the process of reflecting on doing good to be even more rewarding.  For example, during reflection, one student recognized the fact that homeless people on the street are not “crazy” or “scary”, rather just individuals who have fallen into unfortunate circumstances.  She began the trip by running away from people on the street, and ended the trip by giving a homeless man her peanut butter and jelly sandwich on our last night in Los Angeles.  Not only that, but we had lengthy discussions about social issues ranging from sex trafficking to the education gap to bullying.  I learned more from my students and the community members on this trip than I’ve learned from reading professional development books.


I think the best takeaway from my #oneword2013 so far has been that doing good is not necessarily good on its own.  It’s about the conversation, the processing, and the reflection that really makes the act of doing good even better.  From palm trees to street performers, Los Angeles was the perfect place for me to take my one word to the next level.

Good: My 2013 One Word Resolution

Thanks to student affairs colleagues and the #sachat community, I’ve discovered the one word resolution movement.  While I will always have smaller goals for myself each year, I really like the idea of settling on just one word to help define my year and what I’d like to accomplish.

As a perfectionist, I’ve frequently fallen into the trap of feeling immense pressure and guilt about the way I spend my time.  I think that someone could be out there is doing the “new hire hustle” better than I am, someone is working harder than me in my fitness classes, I’m spending too much time in front of the TV.  So my first thought for a one word resolution was about enjoying life more: enjoy, engage, presence, celebrate.

After contemplating several great words out there, I’ve settled on the one word that was there all along.  Something completely different.  Good.

One of my favorite quotes about being good!

I’ve been told that good is one of the least descriptive words in the dictionary and  one of the worst responses to the question, “how are you?”.  I am here to advocate for being good and doing good.  To me, good doesn’t mean that I want to “do a good job at work” or “eat food that is good for me”.  Thankfully, my job provides me with the opportunity to take being good to a higher level.  I help students find volunteer opportunities in their communities.  I find speakers, local businesses, and activities that inspire students to become changemakers on both small and large scales.  I provide students with opportunities to reflect and engage with each other around the topic of service learning.  While espousing the importance of doing good, I thought it would be important to really take on the cause for myself as well.

Aside from doing good in my work, I am taking on the personal challenge of incorporating it into all aspects of my life.  Whether that means volunteering at a soup kitchen on my own time, writing more blogs like this about social causes or inspirational leaders, or performing random acts of kindness for my friends and family members – it can be anything.  My hypothesis for this challenge is that going the extra mile to do good will actually improve other areas of my life as well.  2013 will really be my year if doing so much good actually dissipates the guilt and pressure that I place on my own shoulders.

So there it is: good.  Let’s do good together.