Personal and Ethical Foundations
My time as a graduate student and assistant at Florida State University has been very transformative for my personal and ethical foundations. Entering this new period of personal and professional growth, I was grounded like many undergraduate student leaders are grounded: passionate for leading a group of individuals in an endeavor and intrinsically-motivated. It wasn't until I began studying at FSU and practicing as a graduate assistant at the Student Disability Resource Center that I realized how much I relied on external success and ignored the importance of my own internal happiness. Two years later, I can confirm that I have gained many lessons in personal and ethical foundations, largely due to the following experiences:
Two months into my assistantship, our newly minted Dean of Students and seasoned Director of the Student Disability Resource Center were no longer employed at Florida State University. As a graduate student looking to leadership for direction and mentoring, professional growth and development went to the back-burner in the leadership vacuum my office and department were experiencing. At least I thought so. I was asked to step up to the plate and contribute more to keep the efforts of the office and department to serve student stable and running. Navigating the politics of figuring out what to say and do, learning appropriate times to voice concerns, and taking responsibility for my own professional development in advocating for myself were crucial lessons I learned through this ordeal. Despite stepping up to the plate, many times I felt as if I wasn't being listened to or being respected as a valuable member of the Dean of Students team. My direct supervisor could not commit to introducing me to the professional opportunities I wanted to take. The interim director of the office had his own challenges and responsibilities to step up to.
I describe all of this to not induce a pity party for myself but to introduce one of the most important learning moments of my professional career so far: self-advocacy. I was accustomed to rolling with the punches that I neglected not only my professional growth but my personal wellbeing. I quit the plan I had made to commit to better and healthier eating and exercise habits and ceased pursuing activities that fulfilled me, such as musical theatre and singing. I was so focused on doing what I could do to help keep the office functioning and being a team player that I neglected personal hygiene and my own mental health. I eventually convinced myself that maybe Student Affairs was not for me because I couldn't trust people and it was a waste of energy and effort. Thankfully, I had two mentors step-in and help me make sense of the transition I had gone through over my first year in graduate school. They helped me reaffirm my professional philosophy and understand the importance of taking care of myself, particularly grounding myself in my core values and beliefs. I learned the value of perspective-taking and professional forgiveness, allowing myself to not be angry at others for a path I have agency in choosing.
A New Direction
Since addressing lessons learned from my first year as a graduate student, I have been able to clarify even more the ethics and values I hold myself to personally and professionally:
Transitioning to a Full-Time Role
In the fall of 2015, a vacancy in the Disability Specialist position at the Student Disability Resource Center at FSU opened up. With my experience, I thought I would apply and interview, knowing that I enjoy the work I do with students with disabilities and could see myself in the office professionally. As the Disability Specialist, I worked with students with disabilities to provide them academic accommodations. An imperative part of that role and the role I currently sit in is valuing and practicing confidentiality and a belief in the student's right to confidentiality. As I progress in the role, confidentiality as a fundamental right and respect due to individuals becomes a core value of mine. Additionally, a reality of providing academic accommodations is having to deny services to students that do not qualify. At times, it has been difficult to not provide accommodations for students, knowing I had the ability to help them in their academic careers. In thinking about the ethical dilemma or whether to provide a student academic accommodations that they do not necessary qualify for because of various reasons, I remind myself of the standard that many disability-services professionals hold themselves to: guidelines for accommodations exist to protect those that truly need them.
Health & Wellness
Additionally, I have made time for wellness efforts that truly matter to me. I have recommitted to and practice a physical and nutritional wellness routine that includes eating natural foods, cooking more often and eating out less, and getting at least 30 minutes of activity that elevates my heart rate. More importantly, I have stopped denying myself the pleasure and happiness that comes from pursuing my most enjoyed hobby: musical theatre. Musical theatre is an activity that supports not only my mental health, but also helps me build a community of individuals around myself that support that same wellness. I have committed to clarifying and articulating to others my identities and perspectives, sharing with family members how my beliefs have changed since my initials socialization. Particularly, I have had the courage to own these changes in face of criticism from people I care about. Finally, I encourage myself every day to be my authentic self, flaws and all, instead of comparing myself to a standard that is not right for me but is for others.
Weight Loss with WW
Since January of 2017, I have participated in Weight Watchers. In college, I had made some bad decisions that significantly affected my health and caused me to gain significant weight. After transitioning to full-time work and finishing graduate school, I decided that I needed to commit to my health and consequently losing some weight. I decided on Weight Watchers because it has been proven to work and help people make healthier decisions. Since starting, I’ve lost a total of 75 pounds and feel significantly better.
Finding Identity and Reaffirming Who I Am
In the process of losing weight and finding strength and love for my body the way it is, I released myself from the restraints I put on myself regarding my sexuality. In May of 2016, I was able to to finally publicly come out as a gay man. Lifting such a weight off of my shoulders has only helped me explore who I am personally and professionally. It has helped me open up to students and care for students’ needs in a more authentic and accessible way. Living my true self has only given me the courage and motivation to live out my professional philosophy.
Continue pursuing opportunities outside of work that provide work-life balance, such as musical theatre
Practice meaning-making of my experiences through weekly reflection
Integrate more rigorous exercise and healthier eating habits into my physical and nutritional wellness plans
Commit to seeking professional help on wellness matters, such as a nutritionist or a counselor for an Employee Assistance Program or equivalent confidential employee assistance service