The Transformative Nature of Education!

There is so much controversy over education right now.  Prices of a degree can be difficult for many people and the job market makes many question the value of a degree.  There are many articles out there with statistics telling people whether a college degree is worth it.  For the most part, everything I have read seems to show a higher level of income for degree earners in many fields, but this post is going to explore something else.  Education is not just about the income that will be earned later.  Education holds a treasure that goes beyond the paycheck, it is transformative for the learner.

As a college student who has spent six years juggling full-time education and a family to earn two degrees, I can say I have gained much more than I anticipated from my years in college.  Perhaps it is the fact that I am at an all women’s day college right now, but I have become truly empowered.  I have found the professors at Cedar Crest College to be inspiring, always challenging me to become stronger and better.  The small class sizes instill an environment of collaboration, and I have gained much from this.  I have learned to speak about my beliefs and ideas with conviction, and I have grown as a public speaker.  I have gained confidence and determination.  I am an active leader who takes charge and builds professional relationships with people based on trust.  I can collaborate, network, negotiate, and accomplish more that I though possible.  I have changed drastically.

Beyond the skills I have attained and the confidence I have built, I have also learned a great deal about myself.  I have found that I am passionate about more than writing.  I now know that I love leadership roles and teamwork.  I enjoy being challenged, and I have a passion for advocacy roles in various areas.  I have learned that my career goals can be expanded and I can aim for more than I intended.  My education has given me the gift of knowledge about the business world, and the analytical thinking skills needed to solve and analyze problems.  It has also helped to uncover the potential I had hidden deep inside myself.  While there are debates about the value of education all over the web, I find the lessons I have learned to be invaluable.

I will carry my education with me as I move forward into a rewarding life because I am now much richer than when I began college.  Richer, in the sense that the treasure I have is a better understanding of myself and a realization that the possibilities for my future are limitless.  In fact, I now know that the only thing that ever truly limited me from reaching for my dreams before was myself.  I could never put a price tag on the education I have received because its value cannot be measured.  Confidence, empowerment, skills, friendships, connections, and personal growth are worth the student loans I will owe and so much more.  I know not every student will have the same experience, but that is because they choose not to.  We can make our education great by tapping into each resource offered, and becoming involved.  This is how I made the most of my education, and it has truly transformed me.  I hope more young men and women choose to do the same because it can make the difference between a career at the end, or a struggle.

Leadership Series: Having a Vision

One of the first things a good leader should do is know their vision.  Part of this requires a strong personal mission statement.  Before you can lead others, you have to know what you expect from yourself and how you plan to bring this about in a way that will influence your life and/or others.  This is what will get you more acquainted with yourself and what direction you plan to move in to achieve your mission.  This is just one step of creating your vision.

Every leadership role I have held has required me to create a vision that is unique to that particular role.  To successfully lead and engage others, you must be clear on what the main objective is and how each person involved will take part in your plans.  It is like an engine with many parts that all have to work for the car to start.  You cannot find success in any project if any of the parts or people who play a role in your plans are not doing their job.  Everything needs to work, and as a leader, you are responsible for this.  You have to have an extremely strong plan that will help you meet the end goal, or vision of the project.

So, while it seems like having a goal or vision can be quite easy, once you realize the amount of work that goes in to designing a plan that can be well utilized and executed with strategy and efficiency to make your plan the best plan, you may find yourself overwhelmed.  This is why having a plan is so important.  Your vision is merely the fuel to keep the engine running.  Everyone want to reach this goal because you make them believe in it.  However, this means you have to have workers who care, and you have to champion them when things get difficult.  You are the inspiration, and the guide.  You are the one that will be there when someone isn’t doing their job to make the tough decisions, even if it means replacing this person.  You are the one that is responsible if the goal is not reached.

Being a leader is tough, and people can provide you with inspiring quotes all day, but if you are not prepared to work hard, you will not make it.  You have to have the strength to carry a team, and the nerve to challenge them.  You have to be resilient, and flexible.  Sometimes, mistakes happen, and you have to find a creative way to fix the problem. You have to take risks, take criticism, cheer, support, and be ready to celebrate when hard work pays off.  Yes, vision is important, but the realization of everything that leads to obtaining that vision is even more important.  Everyone can have a dream, but success will come only to those who are willing to invest themselves completely into manifesting them.

The Power of Determination

It seems only fitting that I blog about this truly important word.  Determination.  I am at the end of the fall semester, and I have papers, projects, tests, and plenty of other assignments to complete.  Like all college students, I am having to pull from the massive force of determination I have to complete my assignments, and to do them well.  I have the added work load of having my wonderful family to care for, and my job as well.  In fact, as the holidays approach, my home has erupted into mayhem and my son has become quite a handful as he has decided to give up on his grades in high school.  Yes, this means I am faced with many challenges, all at the same time.  This is when determination becomes central to my ability to overcome.

I know everyone has their own unique roadblocks that seem to erupt at once, so this is a topic that can apply to everyone.  I have found the more I am weighed down by these obstacles, the harder I push back.  It is because my desire to achieve great things and to help others is stronger than the weight of chaos.  Unfortunately, this is not necessarily going to inspire the same initiative in everyone.  I have tried to inspire my son to push back as well, but his mind works differently, and the more I try to control him or even help him, the more he pulls away.  I have backed off to see if this makes a difference.  For those with a mentally ill child, you know the difficulties that can arise, and that they do not always respond how you may expect them to.  So how can we help them to become determined?  The honest answer is that I do not know.  This is something I am still working on.  In the meantime, I can control myself, and I will carry as much as I can, and I will succeed because I will not accept less from myself.

Determination is not only useful in education, it is needed when adopting a healthy lifestyle, it is used in your career, when budgeting and saving money, and in so many other ways.  People who excel in sports must have this trait.  Those who become leaders, politicians, authors, and so many other fields need to be determined.  So how can you find this within yourself when you are overwhelmed?  You have to have a reason to work for the ultimate goal.  What is it you hope to achieve and why is it worth it?  If it is important to you, you will find the determination you need to succeed.  The semester is almost over for me, and I know only one more semester is between me and my graduation.  This is what pushes me to excel.  Think about the goals in your life and if you are working as hard as you can to reach your goal, if not, you may not be as passionate about it as you thought.  Perhaps it is time to reevaluate your goals and plans because you should be passionate about what you are working towards.  You should be working towards fulfillment and happiness.

Advocacy Blog Series: Advocacy Defined and Explored in Health Care

We hear about advocacy often, but how can we define it?  Advocacy is a part of various careers, and can become a massive part of one’s personal life.  The simple definition is the way in which a person influences others to take up a cause, support a policy, or help with decision making.  Advocates work in social work, politics, law, public relations, policy making, education, medical fields, and many other fields.  Advocates can be the ones standing by children who have been abused as they walk into a courtroom, they may help special needs children get the educational help they need.  Mentally ill individuals rely on advocates as they face treatment, juvenile offenders need advocates as they face the criminal justice system.  The fact is, advocacy is everywhere.  It is a part of society as we seek to help those who need help.  Some advocates are removed from the situation, but help to write the laws that will ultimately protect individuals.  Some are inspired by an experience in their lives that helped them to see what changes were needed.

Why is advocacy so important?  It is important because many systems are broken.  As the world continues to grow, technology advances, and societal expectations change, more individuals begin to see the need for change.  Because everyone is different, one person may prefer the hands on work with individuals who need their help, and others may prefer to lobby and become an activist.

I have seen many systems that need change, and I plan to work in advocacy.  However, I am still trying to determine how I can best make a difference.  I love to write and plan to write a book to help parents with sick children to become advocates for their children, but as I have moved along in life, I have found even more battles that need to be fought.  I have found the medical system to be broken for both physical and mental health.  I have seen my parents as caregivers struggle to get the correct care for our loved ones.  I, as a mother to two special needs children, had to fight the system.  This should not be the case.  Parents and caregivers have enough stress, and the healthcare system  is supposed to make people better, not worse.  The bigger the divide becomes between caregivers, patients, and professionals, the more the care is affected.  Humanity seems to be a thing of the past, and I am finding that I wish to fight for better communication between these two sides.  How can a bridge be built when the funding is supporting a bigger gulf.

This is a topic which is finding its way into more places from blogs, to news, to a whole field at Columbia University called Narrative Medicine.  People do not want healthcare to continue on this path, they want to connect to professionals.  Many professionals find that they do not have the time to care for patients like they thought they would.  If both sides are unhappy, the system is not working, and people need to rise up to initiate change.  Like any great battle, it does not happen quickly, it must be fought from various angles, and this is why more people need to become advocates.  More people need to be strong, and stand up for their beliefs, their loved ones, and themselves.  I would love to hear others comments about this issue.

Empowering Women Series: Gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving, and it carries with it the traditional aspect of giving thanks, or showing gratitude for what we have and for the people in our lives.  This is an important tool when it comes to empowering women.  It may seem like common sense that we should be thankful, but sometimes, we do not see the various ways to express gratitude or realize who we should thank.  When women become empowered, it is because they have accepted support when it was available, reached for opportunities when they were in grasp, and they developed the skills necessary to become strong, determined, knowledgeable, and confident.  As women flourish, they should express gratitude for the opportunities and support they have had because it helps them to remember where they began, and to realize there are other women that need the same support.  The expression of gratitude can lead to the act of giving.

I am a woman who was blessed with a group of family and friends who supported me.  They encouraged me, stood beside me when I made difficult decisions, and listened to me.  Without these people, I may not be where I am now.  It takes a lot of strength to rise from abuse to become confident and accomplished.  I worked hard, but it is important for me to recognize the people who guided me along the way.  I have had professors and people in my network who validated me, and pushed me harder.  These people deserve my thanks.  I have been presented with opportunities that have made a huge difference in the direction of my life.  I had to grab the opportunities, apply for them, or work for them, but the fact remains that without them being available, I would not be where I am.  Part of being empowered is the realization that success, accomplishment, etc… is a group effort.  We all gain when we give.

Three types of gratitude can help you to bolster empowerment:

1.  A simple thank you to mentors, teachers, advisors, employers, family, or friends who have helped you become strong can not only strengthen your relationship, and it can inspire them to continue helping others.

2.  When you are grateful you may be more willing to give back and help another woman rise from abuse, lack of self-esteem, or any other situation that limits her.

3.  Any connection made when networking should be recognized, and if it was from a speech, or someone who offered stimulating conversation, a thank you email can encourage a stronger connection and make them more willing to associate with more rising women.

This is only a small list, and there are so many ways to express gratitude and various reasons to do so.  The important thing is to realize we are not born skilled and ready to take on the world.  We all take various paths, but there are people and experiences that help to make us stronger.  Without recognizing this, we miss an opportunity to forge stronger relationships and to give back.

Empowering Women Series: Confidence and Assertiveness

Women have spent years being pushed down when they try to rise up.  Being assertive as a women leads to people calling you “bossy” or saying you “nag”.  These terms do more harm to the movement of empowering women, yet they continue to thrive.  If a man is assertive, he is strong and confident.  There is never any question when a man challenges a poor job offer with a negotiation.  In fact, it is expected.  Women will typically shy away from negotiating.

Whatever terms are used, the problem begins early and needs to be addressed early.  Young girls and teenagers need to know that they can do amazing things if they believe in themselves and are willing to take chances.  These girls are impressionable and with the proper influences, they can flourish.  Schools are strapped as the economy is still trying to bounce back, and this can lead to fewer resources in the schools to help push young women to succeed.  While a small percentage may have the guidance to do well and apply for college, others fall through the cracks.

At what point do we as a society say enough is enough?  When do we finally work as communities in bolstering the young populations to become leaders.  If we can reach these girls early on and provide them with opportunities in business, leadership, science, math, and medicine, we may see more young women, with a voice, ready to make a difference in the world around them, and beyond.  It takes confidence to put yourself in front of someone and to say “I have what it takes to be successful.”  I know because I struggled with this for many years.  I did not believe in myself until I was guided by the wonderful people in my family and at Cedar Crest College.  It took me longer to get to this path in my life, but once I found my inner strength, I was not letting go.  This is what we need to do, help young women find their inner strength.

We can make a difference now.  Many of you have children, are educators, or work in community outreach.  Use your influence to help the children you are connected to to find what they are passionate about.  Help them to realize their potential, and push them to excel.  You may not change the world, but you may change a life, and that person may change many lives, and the ripple effect can continue. This first step can make all the difference.

Empowering Women Series: Empowering Women Through Education

This blog post continues the Empowering Women Series by exploring the influence of education and how it can empower women.  As a woman, I have been pushed down many times in my life.  I did not fit into the mold popular girls fill in high school.  I spent most of my pre-teen and teen years trying to understand and help my mentally ill mom, and dealing with my own emotional breakdowns.  I did not value education as much as survival because I was not ready.

After high school, I realized there was a whole world out there.  I had spent so many years in my own narrow perspective and I was not as prepared to deal with life.  I made poor decisions because I had low self-esteem.  I craved love and attention, and I found it with an older man.  I married him at 18 years old.  He turned out to be abusive.  My life was contained within the tiny expanse of our apartment because he controlled me.  I will share more of this element of my life in my post on abuse this Wednesday.  I was defeated, and the only reason I left was because I valued my son’s life, not my own.

It is easy for girls to fall into the stereotypical worlds presented to them with marketing, toys, and television.  The media children are exposed to is exponentially high due to technological advancements.  While there are some improvements, and colleges tend to have more female students, there is still a lack of confidence that pervades women.  Men are more likely to be assertive and to negotiate when it comes to salary and other job perks.  Men are more likely to have mentors to teach and guide them into executive positions.  Women are more likely to be looked over for a job because they are of child-bearing age, or to be discriminated against if they are an expectant parent.  There are laws to protect women, but there are still many cases being brought forth because the playing field has not been leveled.

Education is becoming more and more critical for financial success and personal growth.  It is important for women to recognize that classes and homework are only one aspect of this education.  Achievement requires determination, and women willing to go the extra mile.  The classroom provides the knowledge, but a truly valuable education requires immersion in leadership opportunities, and networking.  I am currently attending Cedar Crest College, an all-women day college, and I have found the potential for growth is immeasurable.  This college, http://www.cedarcrest.edu/ca/index.shtm, is one that is valued for its relationship in the community, the support of donors, the recognition as a best value regional college in the north by US News & World Report, and because it empowers women.  In fact, the Women’s College Coalition website, http://womenscolleges.org/, produces encouraging statistics about the benefit women have when attending a women’s college.  I can say from my experience, Cedar Crest College has proven these statistics to me.  I am more confident, I feel ready to engage others in a career, I feel like I can lead, speak, and perform well.

Whether women choose an all-women college, or co-ed, they need to be ready to become assertive and to work hard.  Networking is crucial.  The career world still has a glass ceiling in some fields, and a gap in pay.  It is time for more women to gain the educational background, leadership experience, and drive to initiate change in the world.  From the cities and towns they live in, to the state, and federal level, women can make change.  Raise your voice, and join the cause for empowering women through education and more!