Experience more happiness


It’s tempting to feel disappointment when things don’t go our way. It could be work, a relationship, or financial, but when we experience bad luck or unfair treatment it can feel debilitating. However, our perception of these situations is largely shaped by our circumstances and expectations.

There are two great stories that demonstrate how a situation can be perceived as both good or bad.

This is a Jewish folktale.

A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other’s way and there was so little space they could hardly breathe!

Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. “Go see the rabbi,” she told him, and after arguing a while, he went. 

The rabbi greeted him and said, “I see something is troubling you. Whatever it is, you can tell me.” 

And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home with him, his wife, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, “We’re even starting to yell and fight with each other. Life couldn’t be worse.” 

The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man’s problem. Then he said, “Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?” 

“I promise,” the poor man said. 

The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. “Do you own any animals?” 

“Yes,” he said. “I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens.” 

“Good,” the rabbi said. “When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you.” 

The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house. 

The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. “What have you done to me, Rabbi?” he cried. “It’s awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!” 

The rabbi listened and said calmly, “Now go home and take the chickens back outside.” 

The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. “The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!” he moaned. “The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!”

Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame.  Now your only horse is gone.  How unfortunate you are!. You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see”.

Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainsides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger and healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral. 

Word got out in the village of the old farmer’s good fortune and it wasn’t long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck.  “How fortunate you are!” they exclaimed. You must be very happy!”  Again, the farmer softly said, “Who knows? We shall see.”

At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer’s only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg.  One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer’s latest misfortune.  “Oh, what a tragedy!  Your son won’t be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You’ll have to do all the work yourself, How will you survive? You must be very sad”.  they said.  Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, “Who knows? We shall see”

Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army.  As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg.  “What very good fortune you have!!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You must be very happy.” “Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”!  But the old farmer simply replied; “Who knows? We shall see.”

As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!”

Last night, I read the story of The Farmer’s Luck with my daughter. I asked her to think of bad things that have happened which turned out to be good. It took her a while to think of something, but after a few minutes she was able to quickly think of several examples. When she split her chin open and got stitches, she learned how to stay calm and that stitches weren’t so scary. When she was stung by wasps, she felt she secured her status as a real cowgirl (don’t ask me what that means). When a boy at school made fun of her and her girlfriends, they stuck together and formed a cheerleading club. Often our bad luck can lead us to something better.

I can think of my own examples as well. When I was scheduled to return from my maternity leave and broke my foot, I suddenly had six more months to spend at home with my daughter. When I was furloughed due to state budget cuts, I was able to use the much needed time to work on my dissertation. When I was overwhelmed with a sexual assault investigation and then fell sick with pneumonia, I returned to work feeling grateful to have my health and be able to finish the investigation.

Growing up, my mom used to tell me, “Que sera, sera.” It was a way of saying “accept it.” There are things beyond our control (other people’s actions, budget cuts, the weather, the shape of our bodies), which can cause us frustration and anger. But, refusing to accept what is keeps us stuck in the past and prevents us from experiencing happiness in the present.

Often our interpretation of the situation is the cause of our pain and suffering. The problem we assign to the situation is the story we create – “I have lost all my independence because I’m injured,” “I will not be able to pay my bills,” “I can’t get all my work done.” These were the worries and fears which caused me disappointment, frustration, and anger. One way to eliminate suffering is to reframe the problem by asking if the story could possibly be the opposite. Is it possible that I could remain independent even though I’m injured? Is it possible that I could pay all my bills? Is it possible that I could get it all done? Often, the answer is yes!

Therefore, we can reduce our pain and experience more happiness by:

  • Acknowledging that our circumstances and expectations shape our interpretation of situations
  • Adapting our interpretation to recognize that bad and good are relative
  • Practicing acceptance of what is
  • Reframing our interpretation of the problem

Being API and an Activist


Yesterday I presented with my colleagues from the API Faculty & Staff Association on the topic “Why #BLM Matters to APIs.” The presentation was part of an annual conference called Change the Status Quo. The audience was predominantly API, and we shared the messages we heard growing up about activism. Common themes were, “Don’t get involved,” “Mind your own business,” “Stay safe,” “Don’t cause conflict,” “Do not argue with authorities,” “Do not embarrass or shame the family.”

Students shared the challenges they experience when talking to their families about social justice issues. Challenges include generational differences, language barriers, the model minority myth, and the messages mentioned above. The model minority myth has a significant impact because some APIs who have immigrated and successfully overcome barriers may feel that other immigrants should be able to do the same. This myth is largely based on the success of a small group of APIs and does not represent the diversity of the API population. The model minority myth also does not account for the different types of discrimination faced by various immigrant or underrepresented groups. There are historical factors that have impacted how various racial groups are perceived and the unique barriers faced by different groups.

Among my colleagues, there were differences in our own comfort levels and experiences with activism. Some of us hold leadership positions in highly visible organizations while others feel more comfortable supporting a cause from behind the scenes. Activism can take many forms. Whether we protest, share our views on lawn signs and bumper stickers,  post on social media, boycott businesses that go against causes we believe in, or create foundations to benefit causes we support, we can all be involved in social change.

For me, activism is private and personal. While I have engaged in more visible forms of activism, including protests, I prefer to enact social change in other ways. Three forms of activism that I frequently engage in are donating, calling or writing, and volunteering.

Donating. In the past three months, I have increased my donations to local, national, and international causes, including my church, service organizations, and other causes I feel strongly about supporting. These are organizations that are doing work in the trenches and at the policy level. Money is not the answer to every problem. But without money, these organizations cannot secure resources, hire staff, offer services, and create the change we need locally and around the world.

Calling or Writing. Social media and technology make communication through writing easier than ever. Through social media we can blog, tweet, share or comment.  I recently called my senator, and you can too. Find your senator’s contact information here: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/. Find your representative’s contact information here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/.

Volunteering. Whether it’s serving food or serving on a board of directors, there is a role for everyone who has a desire to serve. I have done both, and both are important. The key is to find a cause you feel passionate about supporting, and to identify a volunteer role that utilizes your strengths and matches your ability to commit.

For APIs who are looking for ways to talk to friends and family about activism, and specifically Black Lives Matter, here is a great video: Dear Mom, Dad, Uncle, Auntie: Black Lives Matter to Us, Too


Building confidence through competence


In my last post, I wrote about building confidence through big challenges. But we don’t always have big challenges in our lives, nor would we want to. Another way to build confidence is by creating smaller challenges that increase our competence – skills and knowledge.

Competence is one of five leadership qualities identified by Kouzes and Posner in the book The Leadership Challenge. In order to be viewed as credible, a leader must demonstrate they have the knowledge of what needs to be done and the ability to get the job done successfully.

Our confidence can sometimes be undermined by fear, uncertainty, and lack of familiarity. The first time I served as a hearing officer, I was nervous. I was afraid of losing control of the hearing. I didn’t know what to expect from either party. Even though I had been trained, I didn’t feel confident. Now that I have served as a hearing officer several times, I no longer feel anxious or nervous. I am familiar with the process and have confidence that I can execute my role without difficulty.

What area of your life do you feel least competent? public speaking? writing? time management? Research shows that if you successfully complete small challenges in these areas, you will build your confidence. Other ways to create small challenges include taking on new projects, building partnerships, and even finding a new hobby. Anything you practice, you will improve. And improving means you’re on your way to being more confident.




Big challenges build confidence


Acting, speaking, and behaving confidently is a goal I have set for myself over the years. In many ways, I have moved the needle forward on this goal. I have learned to take risks, speak up, make eye contact, and sit at the table. Mostly, I have given up old habits of overly apologizing and constantly seeking approval.

These behavioral changes helped improve my outward appearance of confidence, but the greatest change came from overcoming some really big challenges. Confidence came when I had to take care of a six-month old baby without being able to walk or drive. Confidence came when I stepped out of my house and accepted that I may never return to it. And confidence came when I worked every night and weekend for three years to earn my Ph.D.

These were three of the most challenging times of my life, but I was also completely in the zone. When I broke my foot and had to take care of my infant for months while on crutches, I was completely focused on my family. I was in survival mode. I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone. When I left my unhealthy marriage and gave up most of my possessions, I was raw. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I only knew that I was moving forward and never back. When I completed my Ph.D. while working full time, I didn’t have time to worry or be self-conscious. I was too absorbed to listen to naysayers.

It was in these times that my confidence grew. It was like ivy. It creeped and climbed until it was so prolific that I could not contain it. It was so beautiful and full that people noticed it. All I was doing was living and breathing, but I was also thriving. I was alive and in the moment. I wasn’t overthinking or analyzing. I was acting and responding.

We are most confident when we lose our egos and show up as our authentic selves; when we have a goal or purpose that comes from our core values; and when we are completely present and focused.

I am thankful those times have passed, but I’m even more thankful that I had them. My ivy plant is still alive and well.






7 Steps for Achieving a Super Simple Life

As I embark on a new year, I am reflecting on what it means to live a simple life.

I recently removed the television from my living room. Everyone in the family has a device (or two), and removing the television helped transform our living space into a more open and welcoming area to hang out. However, I still sometimes fantasize about replacing the small, simple television with a big screen. This internal struggle led me to revisit my early commitments to simple living.

I wrote the following post several years ago on my blog Just Plain Joy, but many of the principles still hold true.

When I started my blog, I wanted to create an outlet for exploring and defining a simple life. I decided I wanted to pursue a simpler life for several reasons – I wanted to save more money to invest in my child’s future, I wanted more time to spend on the things that matter most to me, and I wanted to reduce my impact on the environment.

The benefits of simpler living have been overwhelming – I worry less about finances, I spend less energy keeping track of my possessions, I have a greater appreciation for natural beauty, I am less concerned about status, and I’m enjoying life!

Simple has many interpretations. After careful consideration, I chose four concepts to define my interpretation of simple living:

* clutter-free
* debt-free
* organized
* green

Here are seven steps for achieving a super simple life based on these four concepts.

1. Simplify your home. The first step to physically simplifying your life is to get rid of the clutter. Start with the room where you spend most of your time (or the one that is most manageable).

Then, move methodically through every drawer, desktop, shelf, and countertop and sort items into three categories – keep, toss, and recycle (these are items that will be given away, donated, or sold). If you are undecided about an item, ask yourself, “Do I love it? Is it useful?” If the answer to both questions is “no,” then don’t keep it.

The second step to physically simplifying is to get organized. Ask yourself, “Where is this item’s permanent home?” Everything you own should have a physical place.

2. Simplify your finances. As a rule, we tend to spend as much as we earn (or more). To simplify your finances, spend less than you make. This is a basic debt-reduction strategy, but it also allows you to work less and spend more time doing the things that really matter to you.

There are simple strategies for staying out of debt – write down every single thing you spend money on, evaluate your spending habits, create a budget, identify a money management system that works for you, pay down your highest interest debts, create an emergency fund, and pay your bills in full and on time.

3. Simplify your virtual world. It is easy to be sucked in by email, instant messaging, social networking sites, and online media. Technology can assist you in delegating everyday tasks, but it should not be allowed to overrule the more important things.

Clean out your inbox, choose one social networking site, and minimize your time online. Mastering technology will simplify your life.

4. Simplify your work. First, stop trying to do it all. You may think you can respond to an email while you are on hold and in the middle of drafting a document, but when you multi-task you are not giving any activity your full attention.

To simplify your work, clean up your physical work space, limit your commitments, find an organizational system that works for you, and learn to delegate.

5. Simplify your day. Managing ourselves from day to day is about prioritizing our values and goals. Before you decide how to manage your time, you have to identify what is truly important to you in your life. Then, using simple time management tools can help you control how you choose to spend your time.

Create a list of goals, establish a morning and evening routine, schedule time to relax, and leave your weekends unscheduled.

6. Simplify your health. It is much simpler to stay healthy than to deal with illness. To simplify your health, avoid drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, fill your frig with fruits and vegetables, stock your medicine cabinet with basic remedies and supplies, exercise regularly, and identify a doctor you can trust.

7. Simplify your philosophy. Adopting a simple lifestyle can require a shift in thinking. It requires you to accept that what you have is “enough,” learn to let go of the need to be a superachiever, live in the moment, find simple pleasures, and define your identity by reflection rather than by consumerism.

Simple living is not difficult!

It is not necessary to tackle every area of your life at once. If you feel you could benefit from simplifying any of these areas, then I hope this article was helpful.


Keep it simple!

Lessons learned at #ACPAASSAO 2015

Am I aspiring to be a Vice-President for Student Affairs? Maybe. Will I ever be a senior student affairs officer? Who knows. Am I aspiring to make a difference in the lives of students, to help student affairs get the resources needed to make the greatest impact on a student’s university experience, and to increase retention and employment readiness? Absolutely.

I recently returned from the ACPA Aspiring Senior Student Affairs Officers Institute in beautiful Nashville, TN. My head has been spinning since the institute. I’m excited to share a brief snapshot of lessons learned from the Vice-Presidents who served as the institute’s faculty -Royster Harper, Vice President for Student Affairs, University of Michigan; Dwayne Todd, Vice President for Student Affairs, Columbus College of Art and Design; Zebulun Davenport, Vice Chancellor for Student Life, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis; John Hernandez, Vice President for Student Services, Santiago Canyon College; Luoluo “Lo-Lo” Hong, Vice President for Student Affairs, San Francisco State; and Cissy Petty, Vice President for Student Affairs and Associate Provost of Academic Affairs, Loyola University New Orleans.

For three days, the well-versed faculty of the ACPA ASSAO Institute spoke truth to power. They shared the personal and professional experiences that took them to the executive cabinet and kept them there. They were humble, transparent, and genuine. They told us with empathy that we needed to get over our own brokenness and heal our own wounds before going into battle for our students.

We talked about successful traits of today’s leaders, change management, and technical vs. adaptive challenges. They asked us hard questions and forced us to take a long look into our underlying motivations and values. They held up the mirror. And they reminded us, this is work.

Here are 5 lessons I came away with from the ASSAO Institute:

1.  Find sponsors, mentors, and champions. Career progression requires having people who will advise you and will use their influence to advocate for you.

2.  You need gravitas. Gravitas is confidence, reputation, credibility, and the voice of authority. An effective leader is both confident and competent. It’s not enough to have only one of the two.

3. Align the external with the internal. When considering where you might serve as a senior student affairs officer, fit is essential to success and satisfaction. External factors include university size and location, scope of responsibilities, spoken and unspoken expectations, strategic initiatives, leadership, and campus climate. Internal factors include your values, personal obligations, readiness, and career goals.

4. Maintain integrity and prepare for a rainy day. You will have to make tough decisions. Know that if you are let go, you will land on your feet. You can’t do the job of a Vice-President with integrity if you need it or can’t live without it. Do not connect your livelihood to other people.

5. You will make mistakes. And not only will you make mistakes, but you will be judged on how you recover from your mistakes. You hope your mistakes will be small and inconsequential, but if they aren’t be sure to remain authentic and humble.

If you are interested in attending the ASSAO Institute visit the ACPA website!

Managing Your Boss Saves You Time


Today Paul Gordon Brown published a great post on What They Didn’t Teach You in Grad School: Managing Up. He is right on when he said, “learning to manage up entails a critical set of skills necessary to advance and be successful in your career.” I share the following tips on how to successfully manage your boss in my Time Management workshop. I have been presenting this information to groups of students and young professionals for years, long before I started working for my current boss. Regardless of your age or professional level, I think these tips are still helpful.

Why is it important to manage your boss?

•  An adversarial relationship with your boss can cause stress (which equals wasted time)

•  When your boss trusts you, you will be given more freedom to work independently (big time saver)

•  A positive relationship with your boss may result in additional resources or support (that may save you time)

9 Steps for Managing Your Boss

1. Bring solutions not excuses

Believe it or not, your boss doesn’t have all the answers. And if he/she does, it may not be the answer you want to hear. It is better to bring the solution you would like to see than to take a chance on the solution your boss may suggest.

2. Exude confidence

When your boss sees that you are confident, you are more likely to be trusted and given more autonomy. This creates more flexibility for you to do your work independently as well.

3. Prepare your “done” list

Be prepared to share your accomplishments with your boss. When you are asked “what have you been up to?” or “how’s it going?” you should have a positive response that demonstrates your contributions and productivity.

4. Clarify

Clear communication and expectations are paramount to your success. Be sure you understand what is being asked of you, who you can turn to for help, and how your success is being measured. If necessary, take notes in your meetings so you can refer back to conversations about these key expectations.

5. Approach your boss with honesty, respect, and empathy

Support your boss’s decisions. Do not bad-mouth your boss. Approach your boss in private if you disagree or have a concern.

6. Manage your meetings

Be sure you know when your next meeting is with your boss and what you need to have done by then. Be prepared with appropriate questions.

7. Avoid Interrupting

Your boss is a busy person. Do your best to find answers and resources independently before interrupting your boss.

8. Don’t draw attention to your mistakes

Avoid turning a mole hill into a mountain. Overall, your boss wants to hear your good news and positive stories. For every problem you bring to your boss, be sure you have shared 2-3 solutions or positive outcomes.

9. Learn to read social cues

Timing is crucial. Understanding how your boss behaves when he/she is working on a deadline vs. feeling sociable can increase your chances of gaining positive or negative attention. Do not attempt small talk if your boss appears stressed. On the other hand, if he/she is feeling sociable take the opportunity to share a few success stories.

Check out another great article on What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up at Harvard Business Review.