Sunday, November 4, 2007

Why Do We Do This to Ourselves?

I sit here writing this blog as I finish off the remainder of my newly discovered treat--Sharon's Fat Free Sorbet. Just when I thought I couldn't write anymore (I've been working on a literature review for most of the day), I got the sudden urge to start typing away again on a blog that I've been meaning to finish for quite some time now.

I received the invitation (I'm making this sound much more formal than it really was) several weeks ago to be a guest blogger for The Real World of Maslow. When I got the invite, I thought "What on earth do I have to say relating to student affairs that other people might want to read?" During a routine Yahoo! Messenger chat with my friend Dennis (the blog owner), it hit me!

I've been working in student affairs for roughly five years now. In this profession, we are often outwardly focused and will go extremely far out of our way to meet the needs of our students. But when do we stop to meet the needs of ourselves? I must say that student affairs is probably one of the most unhealthy professions I've ever known. It can be unhealthy mentally, financially, emotionally, spiritually and most of all PHYSICALLY!

Have you ever been at a student affairs conference and noticed the number of overweight, thick, plus-sized, juicy, obese, portly, pleasantly plump...call it what you want...fat people you see? And yes, I can drop the f-bomb because I'm one of those people. Yes, I know that the average woman these days is a size 14, which conventially has been deemed a "plus size." I've also been aware of the disprorportionate amount of overweight people in the field, but it truly hit me in the spring of 2006 when I attended a professional conference. There was a session on whether or not size matters and incorporated a discussion on how size is a new -ism. This session got me thinking about how I was a fat statistic in the field. More importantly, this new revelation made me question the impact our profession has on a healthy lifestyle.

One thing that I wholeheartedly love about student affairs is that it is a profession that espouses acceptance for individual identities. What happens though when your size has become central to who you are? I grapple with this. As someone who has been overweight her entire life, it's hard for me to imagine any other identity. This complication can make moving toward a healthier lifestyle even more difficult when you're striving for something you know nothing about. Nonetheless, I told myself that I was going to make a change. I was going to take the necessary steps to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle. So, I joined Weight Watchers in March 2006.

I was so gung ho about Weight Watchers! I knew I was on a roll after my first three weeks, after dropping roughly 17lbs. I was in the ZONE! But all of a sudden I had all of those road blocks come my way--student receptions, late nights, starbucks coffees to stay energized, lunch dates I couldn't get out of, pizza parties, etc. All of these obstacles were occurring because of work...student affairs work. I became more of aware of my environment at work. Stop and think for a second...
  • How many late nights have you worked that resulted in not getting a decent amount of sleep to function properly?

  • How many pizzas have you ordered for work related purposes? Now how much of that pizza have you consumed?

  • How often do you take time during the work day to meet your needs and your needs only?

  • How many times have you run to the local grease pit on your campus or visited a fast food place in your student union?

  • How many times have you thought... "When on earth am I going to have time for a vacation?"

  • How many times have you said "Well the students need (fill in the blank)..." and not stopped to think about your needs?

  • How many times have you said, "Well when the students go on break (summer, fall, a long weekend, etc.), I'll get it (whatever it represents for you) together"?

...and my final question is Why do we do this to ourselves? A willingness to help others is an essential characteristic for someone in student affairs. But it's time that we stop and take care of ourselves first. I return to my original statement of student affairs contributing to an unhealthy lifestyle.

For me, the most unhealthy part of my lifestyle revolved around diet and exercise. For others, the unhealthy part(s) of their lives may revolve around something else. In the past I had used my students as an excuse for not moving toward a healthier lifestyle. I was one of those people who said that they were going to get it together when the students were gone. This is student affairs folks! Students are never really gone per se.

In good old Schlossberg fashion, I made a major transition...This summer, I quit my full-time job to return to graduate school to obtain a PhD. I decided that, yes, while I work with students in my graduate assistantship, I wouldn't let them consume me. The next four years will be about me and my academic, spiritual, professional and physical pursuits. I didn't just try to adopt a healthier lifestyle this summer, I committed to it. Yes, student affairs may not create the healthiest of environments, but I came to the realization that I was blaming my profession for my physical state. I needed to shift my perspective.

What will it take for you, I ask. For me, it took embracing the I in priority. Becoming a student again has lended itself to a much more flexible schedule where I am in more control of calling the shots as to how I spend my time. Even though that is the case now, I probably have even less "free time" than I did as a full-time professional. In no way has this commencement of a overall healthier lifestyle been dependent upon students being on a break or anyone else for that matter. It's truly about me and my commitment, and not about being "selfish" with my time as we often say in student affairs. How can I be selfish with something that's already mine to begin with?

I'll close this reflection with a question that I was introduced to four years ago while listening to a homily at mass. I ended up at this church in Cincinnati in a spontaneous way, but now that I look back on the situation, I realize that I was meant to be there in that specific church for a reason. The topic of the homily was "Are You the Person You Want to Be?" My initial thought was no. I thought about this question on my drive back to school after that weekend. I knew I wasn't the person I wanted to be, even though I couldn't exactly put my finger on who my ideal me was.

I revisited this question this summer during my transition. This time, however, I feel confident in knowing who I want to be. I won't digress and go into a discussion of who I want to be, since it could be an entire blog on its own. However, I will say that there is comfort in knowing who it is you want to be. More importantly, realizing that I have ultimate control over being who it is I strive to be is immensely empowering.

Four months and 40lbs. later, I think that I'm well on my way to becoming the new me. I thank my friend Dennis for inviting me to share some words on his professional blog. Taking time to share these thoughts is quite motivating and is rejuvinating for me along this journey toward a new me. Whether or not you can directly relate to my story is not of the greatest importance. I just hope that you too will be inspired to reflect upon and write about life's moments and their relevance to who you are personally and professionally. Reflection is kind of like milk...it does a body (and a mind) good!

Peace & Blessings

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