Beyond Room 119


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It’s been almost a semester. Now what?

What?

In my career counseling course, I have learned a number of different theories regarding how career and life decisions are made. Though this course is intended to give us the tools to counsel others during their career journey, I often feel that I am using my newfound knowledge from this course explore my own career path, both past and future. I find it fitting that just as I have developed a strong understanding of the career theories that resonate most with me, we started discussing different functional areas and specialties within higher education. Though I am only in my first semester of grad school, I want to have a better understanding of and more direct experience in more functional areas, so as to make a more informed decision about my career both and to be a competitive applicant for positions in my desired area once I graduate. To this end, I have been thinking about the different areas and populations served within higher education. I was initially attracted towards student affairs because of work that I have done with the freshman population, and since then, I have always been drawn to this area. However, the more we have discussed different social justice issues and the more I continue to work with Student Support Services, I have begun to wonder, is this truly the population that I want to work with, and is it the population that I am best suited to serve?

So what?

Hansen’s Integrative Life Planning theory focuses on “career professionals as change agents…becoming advocates and agents for positive societal change through the choices they have and the decisions they make” (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013, p. 109). This theory has resonated with me because I have always wanted a career that felt meaningful and was connected to the greater world around me. Part of this comes from the idea of “paying it forward”: I have been privileged to have so many opportunities open to me, and I want to use those experiences to help others. My thoughts lately have shifted towards the question, how can I best do this? There are 44 different functional areas within higher education, and each one serves students in a different way. One is not inherently better than another, because taken together, they develop a holistic student. However, knowing that there are that many different areas and ways to serve students from all backgrounds only increases my desire to find my niche that much more. One of my mentors once told me, “Your calling is where your greatest strengths meet the world’s greatest needs.” There’s no doubt that there are a number of different needs within the student populations we seek to serve and likewise, there are a number of different types of student populations. Though I recognize that my calling may change over time, I want to figure out what I would like the stretch of road beyond graduate school to look like for me.

Now what?

Breaking down something as broad as figuring out my desired career trajectory into action steps takes more thought and is a bit harder. Since I do not have an assistantship and I do not work in a student affairs related functional area on a daily basis, I think it is especially important for me to explore the different areas and types of populations as much as possible and develop a working knowledge of specific ones that interest me, such as the community college system. I will be visiting Wake Tech next week and meeting with one of the chief student affairs officers there, as well as individuals in other functional areas. As my team and I developed questions for these meetings, I was intentional to include questions that both enhance the goal of the project and also address questions that I have personally wondered, such as the students served, issues unique to community colleges, and more. I recently learned that one of my classmates in my career counseling course is current a transfer advisor at a community college, and I plan to ask her if we can have a conversation about her work and her position. I will reflect on these data that I gather to determine if this is indeed an area in which I would like to get direct experience.

I am fortunate to have connections with two institutions that have a number of functional areas in which I am interested. I have already identified two populations that interest me, first year students and students at the community college, but I also plan to expand on this. One of my goals for this semester is to research the different departments and programs at both State and UNC and find a few that intrigue me most. I am aware of the formal internship experience in this program, but I would like to supplement this through other informal internships, experiences, and interviews. By doing so, I can have a better foundation when I choose what type of internship I would like to do next fall and thus continue to grow in areas that most align with my passions.

Niles, S. G. & Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2013). Career development interventions in the 21st century. (4th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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The real reason I love affirmations

I’ve never been one to need external affirmation for internal validation. While I appreciate it, it’s never been necessary for my sense of self. In the last 24 hours, though, I’ve had three separate experiences of very pointed, deliberate affirmations. None of them came from someone that I knew particularly well, but each one was shared with intention and “made my heart happy,” to borrow a phrase from my old choir director.

As I run through those interactions in my head, I can’t help but smile. Of course it feels good to know when someone thinks positively of us. Moreover, that external voice can play a valuable role in helping us realize if we’re on the path that we actually want (or hope) to be on. There’s nothing wrong with valuing the thoughts and input of others, assuming, of course, that we don’t take this to an extreme.

But as I think about the last day, I realize that I value these affirmations for a different reason, and it’s a reason that’s much more important to my identity: connections.

Connections with others are one of the most important pieces of my life. I value relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, but I also care about connections with those in the greater world around me – the IT guy in my department that I rarely see, the gardener I walk by on the way to work, my neighbor (and let’s be honest, her adorable dog). Isolation can only take us so far, as humans were created to be in relationship with others. Indeed, it’s through the way we engage in these relationships that we grow into the best versions of ourselves.

When someone tells me they value what I said on a more contentious topic and would want to engage in a conversation about that with me or when someone I didn’t know existed three months ago says they were thinking of the “wonderful people in their life, and that includes you,” I don’t think that inherently says much about me. Instead, I think it says a great deal about us. It speaks to the way that we connect. Two people, two different life experiences, two walks of life, coming together to share parts of our framework and forge a common experience. Meeting each other wherever we are, even if it’s just for a moment.

That’s where authenticity lies. That’s when the boundaries come down. That, more than anything else, is what I love, and it’s what pushes me to keep going on this wonderful journey that we call life.


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When issues collide

Sometimes it seems that there are simply too many different social justice issues in the world today. How can so many different inequalities exist? We discriminate based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, career choice, and more. What’s more, we seem to continue to find more and more creative ways to draw lines between ourselves and those who surround us. The more we read, learn, and think, the more we become aware of these distinctions.

In the world today, it’s fairly easy to make a statement such as, “People of all races should be treated equally,” and recognize that the majority of people in our culture today will agree. While nuances and differences of opinion will always exist, the idea of racial equality has been developing for decades and has achieved widespread acceptance, even if perfect execution of this has yet to follow.

But what about an issue that hasn’t been in the spotlight for quite as long? I turn my thoughts now to rights for same-sex couples and the controversy surrounding gay marriage. This idea is one that I’ve turned around in my mind for quite some time. For a long time, I found it difficult to reconcile two sets of beliefs that I hold: the inherent dignity and value of every person, and my understanding of the tenets of my Catholic faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an authoritative summary of Catholic beliefs. Through it, the Catholic Church is quite clear about its teaching regarding homosexuality:

Tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2357)

Now compare this with the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

On one side, we’ve got the Church firmly set against homosexual behavior. On the other, we see the law of our land stating that all citizens have the right to life and liberty. As an individual, and particularly as someone who is seeking to enter into student affairs and engage with students who may be asking some of these same questions, how do I reconcile these two sets of beliefs?

The answer isn’t easy, but I think it’s simple: intention. What is the intent behind both the teachings of the Church and the Constitution?

The dignity of the human person.

Christians believe that man is made in the image and likeness of God, and because of this, every individual has inherent worth and dignity. The Constitution mirrors this belief through its adherence that every citizen deserves equitable access to life and liberty. When we frame social justice issues within this context, it’s remarkable how much clearer the picture becomes.

As a professional, as a friend, as a sibling, as a Catholic, as an American, or in any of the other aspects of my identity, I have no desire to play the judge. That’s not my role, nor will it ever be. When Pope Francis was asked about homosexuality a few years ago, he said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Likewise, I see my role not to pass judgment, but to instead provide presence. By being present with each individual who crosses my path and helping them to grow as they traverse their own road, I show them the love, care, and compassion that they deserve – not because of their race, sexual orientation, or religion – but that they deserve simply by virtue of walking on this planet.

This isn’t a way for me to avoid the issue, but this is instead how I choose to interact with it. Does it respect the dignity of someone else if I holler at them regarding the “rightness” of their actions? No. What about if I treat them with love and care? That, I think, is the better response, and indeed, the Catechism agrees with me on this point:

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible…They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. (2358)

To me, recognizing the dignity of all individuals means advocating for the right for all to live a life free from hatred and discrimination and instead, one full of love and opportunity. The Supreme Court wrote in Obergefell v. Hodges that “the marriage laws at issue are in essence unequal: Same-sex couples are denied benefits afforded opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right. Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial works a grave and continuing harm, serving to disrespect and subordinate gays and lesbians” (pp. 4). I don’t have all the answers – and in fact, I’m quite certain that I never will – but I believe that as long as I work to operate from a framework based on equality and dignity for all, I can honor both God and country.

Catholic Church. (1997). Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in accordance with the official Latin text promulgated by Pope John Paul II (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference.


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What is love?

That’s one of those big questions. The one that poets, philosophers, and rappers alike have tried to answer. The one that causes people to change their actions, expectations, and even their entire lives. It’s impossible to quantify and its very existence is improbable.

And yet, none of that stops us from trying to explain it.

Love is patient, love is kind.

It’ll come and make you whole again / It always will, it always does / Love is unstoppable

Searching our hearts for so long / Both of us knowing / Love is a battlefield

L is for the way you look at me…

It goes on and on. Our culture talks about love through books, songs, commercials, Lifetime movies, and more. We experience it through our family, friends, and other loved ones. In one way or another, we’ve been exposed to the idea of love since the day we entered this world. Because of this, I’m not going to explore what love is here. Instead, the inquisitive part of me has a different question – perhaps a more important question.

Why?

Why do we love? By its very existence, love is messy. It is inconvenient. It takes time and effort. It asks us to sacrifice for the sake of another.

We can’t love for the purpose of being loved back. That turns love from a free gift of self into a business transaction. “I’ll love you if….” When I was little and I wanted my dad to do something or get something for me, I used to preface my request by asking, “Daaa-aaad….do you love me?” Well, good old Dad is a pretty smart guy and caught on to my manipulation immediately. Every time I asked this, his quick response was, “Nope.” A few minutes later, he would ask what I wanted, and he would usually do or get it for me without any hesitation and with minimal teasing. At one point, he finally explained to me why he acted in this way. “Of course I love you,” he told me. “That doesn’t change and it’s not connected to anything you could or couldn’t do. Because of that, I don’t want you pairing love with someone doing something for you.”

To this day, that remains one of the most important life lessons I’ve learned, and I’m blessed to have discovered it at a young age. While it’s true that the degree to which that love is indeed reciprocated will determine the strength and type of relationship, that reciprocity can never be the reason for love.

If it’s not self-serving, what, then is the purpose of this thing we all long for?

It’s simple, as the most important things usually tend to be. The purpose of love is to share the love that God has for each of us with those around us. When we love, we express that love of God in perhaps a more tangible, and perhaps more accessible way, than the figure of a man on a cross. When we love, we show others that they are worthy of true love by virtue of who they are at that moment, not who we want them to be. Through love, we show those around us that they matter, that they have worth, and that their presence adds something uniquely beautiful to the world.

Love is difficult. It asks humans to participate in a divine act. It’s messy. Frustrating. Exhausting, even.

But when we get it right?

It’s incredible.


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Not just another post about running

In case it’s ever been in doubt over the last quarter of my life or so, it’s true: I’m a runner. I realized this once again yesterday, as I was looking at what my training plan had in store for me this week. My long run this past weekend had been one of the best of my life, not only because a) I conquered the farthest distance I had ever done, b) despite the fact (and very possibly, because of) the fact that it nearly monsooned for a good twelve or fifteen of the miles, but mostly due to the fact that c) the entire run was just complete, unrestrained joy and reminded me once again why I love running for the pure sake of it.

Which is a very long, run-on sentence to say that I loved my run last weekend. And as I excitedly walked over to my training calendar, I wondered what distance awaited me this coming Saturday. How many wonderful times would I get to put my feet to the pavement? How long would I have to chat with my running team? Each soft step of the foot brought me closer and closer to the truth…and a disappointment.

When I looked at the calendar, I realized that it’s a cutback week, meant to give the body a chance to rest and the energy to push harder the next week. Because of this, my run this Saturday will only be 12 miles.

My initial thought was just that – disappointment and a bit of, “Oh, that’s it?” And then, in the middle of my closet (isn’t that where you keep your training calendar too?), I stopped and laughed out loud.

For many people, running this distance is unthinkable. Heck, for me three months ago, twelve miles was definitely on the longer side of the long run spectrum. And no matter one’s stage in life, running twelve miles takes a good deal of fitness, mental determination, and energy. Regardless of who you are, it’s an accomplishment that doesn’t require any asterisks or explanations.

And yet, for me at this point in my life, while it’s still an accomplishment, it’s not a challenge. Which only served to confirm two important truths that I’ve known for years:

  1. I’m a runner. (We’ve already been over this. See above if you need clarification.)
  2. Life is all about perception.

It’s this second point that I’ve been thinking about since that moment in my closet.

Reality: Twelve miles is 63,360 feet.

Perception: What will I do with all my extra energy Saturday afternoon?

Our lives are rooted in reality, but it’s perception that drives us. It’s what pushes us to be better, to try something new, to act a different way. Our perceptions will take a neutral event and color it with emotion. Perception, not reality, causes love, fear, trust, and uncertainty.

The empowering piece about the importance that perception plays in our lives is that while we can’t always control reality, we do have the power to affect our perception of reality. We choose how we want to let something affect us, how we respond, and the importance we place on something. And because of this, we have an increased sense of agency in our own lives. Our life isn’t happening to us; it’s happening because of us.

Yes, things happen that shatter both reality and accordingly, our perception. Life isn’t all rose colored glasses and beautiful sunsets. Sometimes, we fall, and getting back up again seems impossible. Those perceptions that once lifted us may seem to turn against us in the darkness. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s what it means to be human. We’re meant to experience both the highs and the lows, and one can’t exist without the other. When we’ve recovered our strength, after we’ve taken that cutback week to recover, we push forward. We challenge perceptions that try to prevent us from letting our light shine.

We push towards the light and in doing so, we may inspire others to do the same. Vivian Green said, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Take a leap. See the good. Challenge your perceptions. And in doing so, make each day one big dance party.