Working through Ambiguous Loss

Loss. Loss has hit my family in a way we didn’t expect. We knew it was coming, even knew earlier this year, but we couldn’t begin to understand the grief and loss we would experience over the past few weeks and months.

Earlier this month we lost one of our pets, Bella, our 11-year old Boxer mix. In April she was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, a tumor surrounding her heart that’s fairly common in boxer breeds. We helped her fight for nearly 4 months with chemotherapy treatments, herbal supplements, and even acupuncture towards the end. But we made the impossible decision on August 5th to let her go.

Our lives will never be the same. She was a part of our family, cared for us, protected us, and fought for us in the end. We are forever thankful to have had nearly 10 years with her in our lives and will miss her everyday, every walk, and every trip we take.

Bella and Me, Summer 2020.

While we knew we would experience grief and loss eventually, it has been indescribably hard since April living with the unknown. When would she pass? When would she begin to suffer? When would we loose her?

While I had heard of ambiguous loss before, I had never experienced it myself. Each day since her diagnosis we’ve lived with the uncertainty, the trauma of not knowing, the in between life and death.

Ambiguous loss has two types: physical absence with psychological presence, and psychological absence with physical presence (Boss, 2007). In other words, leaving without saying good bye, or saying good bye without leaving. She was with us each and everyday, but we new she was leaving, that she would go one day. The harm of ambiguous loss is that it stops the grief process. Not being able to grieve properly is traumatic – it causes psychological and physiological harm.

So how can someone work through ambiguous loss?

Well there’s no simple solution. We can’t simply turn it off, or take a pill, or ignore the problem. Our bodies and minds know we should be grieving, but we can’t. We’re constantly reminded of their presence, and their absence, at the same time.

A key factor to working through ambiguous loss is a person’s individual resiliency. Take a moment and read my previous post on Working Towards Resiliency. We experience disruptions in our life, and how we react to those disruptions speaks towards our level of resiliency. We can either grow from the disruption, return to our previous level (our homeostasis), return but with loss, or return with some level of dysfunction.

Resiliency is built on innate qualities, but also how we choose to react to life events. So when we’re experiencing ambiguous loss, we must first recognize it for what it is. It’s the big rainy cloud hanging over us. Then, once we recognize it, decide how we want to react to it. While it may not feel like it, the ambiguity will end or lessen one day. In the meantime we do have the power to begin the grieving process, to recognize the ambiguity for what it is, and begin to let ourselves heal.

While these tips may not help everyone, here’s what has helped me and possibly what might help you or someone you know who’s experiencing ambiguous loss:

  1. Take time each day to experience your loved one, whether they’re there or not still. This will help you intentionally make memories and begin to recognize the loss you’re already feeling.
  2. Recognize that it’s okay for you to take time for yourself, even 15 minutes each day. You can’t not take care of yourself. Taking a walk outside, reading a chapter in a book, listening to your favorite music – these are all things that will help your body and mind continue to function and work through the ambiguity.
  3. Talk with others who may be experiencing the same feelings. If you’re feeling this way, there are probably others in your life who are feeling the same way, or have in the past.
  4. Speak with a professional if you feel frozen, stuck, or inherently negative all the time. These can be signs that you need more support – a mental health professional can help you with the grief and loss you’re experiencing.

Boss, P. (2007). Ambiguous loss theory: challenges for scholars and practitioners. Family Relations, 56(2), 105-110.

Update on 2020 Goals

Well this year has not gone how I envisioned it would when I posted my 2020 Goals post.

Who knew when I set out those goals that we’d experience a global pandemic, economic craziness, and start recognizing the systematic inequalities in our society concerning race.

Seek Healthy Lifestyle. Anyone else wait until about a week before the dentist and then start flossing in order to avoid the critical stares of the dental hygienist? No, me either. This one has been tough with working from home more. You would think that without a long commute that I’d have the extra time to walk, to row, to hit the half-finished home gym in the garage. I think Spring classes got the best of me and I was pushing working out to the back burner. Since then it’s been tough to get back into a routine of working out or even walking on a regular basis. Now that it’s full blown summer time with 95+ degrees most days, work outs are being restricted to what we can do around the house or just walking the dogs. I’d definitely give myself a C- in this category if I had to grade myself. Plans for improving here are to use the home gym 2-3 times a week, and try to walk 3-4 times a week as well.

Seek Knowledge. For the first time in many years, since taking an intro to sociology course or an intermediate classical Greek language course (yeah, that was a conscious choice), I was rocked by having a tough semester in school. I think it was as a combination of being spread too thin, not prioritizing my coursework, and the specific pedagogical approach (or lack thereof) of the professor. While I don’t want to shift blame at all, because it was definitely on me to learn the material, challenge myself, and hold myself accountable, it was made particularly hard by some non-orthodox teaching methods (or, again, lack thereof). Moving on…. I’m continuing to read for pleasure and for school. I’m trying to balance not only reading for pleasure and for school, but gaining some new coding knowledge prior to this upcoming school year. This is definitely spreading me thin, but I know that I can do it if I take small bites each day and each week.

Seek Scholarship. I’ve been able to submit a book chapter for publication, a journal article after revising it (and being moved up to 1st author after being 4th), and have several other scholarly projects in the works. So I’m well on the way (fingers crossed) to having four publications submitted (and hopefully accepted) by the end of the year. A huge thing I’ve done to stay on track is set up a Trello account where I can monitor all of the research projects and the various stages they’re in. (Check out Trello.com)

Screenshot of my Trello Research Board

Before doing this it was a huge waste of my mental space and energy to think about where everything was. Now I’m able to track the various projects, make notes, and keep some consistency in my research and writing.

Seek Service. This is an easy one for me. I naturally find myself giving of my time and energy to worthy organizations, such as the Financial Therapy Association, or the South Carolina chapter of the Financial Planning Association. Sometimes I’m too giving though, sacrificing other goals. This hit me big time in my schoolwork earlier this year. I’ve struggled with this – do I scale back, do I quit some service all together, or what? I’ve spent several hours reflecting on this.

Ultimately I’m going to incorporate some more time management and strategic planning to be more efficient with my service. This includes ramping up my use of my bullet journal (check out how I originally intended to use bullet journaling here). Now I’ll be talking more about this in a later post. But it’s already helping me track what I’m working on and be more deliberate with my time and energy, which I love. So hopefully I’ll be better able to balance service with my other goals throughout the rest of this year.

Seek Fellowship. Wow, this one took a hit, kind of. While my ability to casually drop in and chat with my colleagues vanished a few weeks after the original post (my 2020 Goals post), I’ve still been able to connect with my doctoral cohort and others who are involved in some of the same organizations. I made a shift though a few months ago – to try to be more focused on giving and receiving of the gifts of others. In the past I’ve focused a lot on giving to others. But this spring and early summer I definitely needed help from others, especially in my doctoral studies. I allowed myself to be vulnerable for a moment, and in that I received so much grace and support that I was amazed. I was really grateful for the support of some of my peers and friends that it reminded me what fellowship is about. The goal is to give and to receive, to be in close community with people you cherish and that cherish you. While it may not be needed at all times, they’re definitely there for you when you need it. And you should let them help and support you when you need it.

2020 is done, not by a long shot. There’s a lot of time left in the year to make mistakes, course correct, reflect on achievements, and to set new goals. Hopefully you’ll be there with me as I seek a deliberate life.


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Working Towards Resiliency

Unprecedented times…we’ve heard this so many times from the news updates that it’s become a common phrase in day-to-day conversations. This is not a post about the global pandemic, economic situation, the current rioting, or my personal thoughts on how to fill your time when staying home. Instead I want to talk about resiliency and what I’m doing to work towards it in multiple areas of my life. Hopefully some of these thoughts and steps resonate with you.

Defining Resiliency

Merriam-Webster defines resiliency as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.

In other words, resiliency is the capability of a person to deal with change, to deal with adversity, or to deal with challenging situations. But we’re not just dealing with all of these things, we’re recovering from them. We recover in that we either return to our earlier status, or we adapt and change because of our experience.

Resiliency: ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.

Merriam-Webster

Do we let the rivers of life run us down, change us into something we don’t want to be? Or, like the grand canyon, do we let the rivers of life create us into the awesome thing we’re meant to be?

We do have an academic theory of resiliency that tells us that it “is a means whereby people, through planned disruptions or reacting to life events, have the opportunity to choose consciously or unconsciously the outcomes of disruptions” (Richardson, 2002, p.310). The theory states that we’re at a point of homeostasis prior to any disruption. This homeostasis is where we’re at now, where we feel comfortable, where we live most of the time. Then stressors, adversity, and life events challenge this homeostasis to a point where we experience disruption. From this disruption we move into reintegration – where we experience one of four outcomes: resilient reintegration, reintegration back to homeostasis, reintegration with loss, or dysfunction reintegration. From disruption we can either become dysfunctional, return to some lesser level of where we were before, return back to that original state, or grow from it.

Adapted from Richardson, G.E. (2002). The Metatheory of Resilience and Resiliency. The Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(3), 307-321.

What makes us resilient?

But what makes us resilient? What allows us to act in a way to life’s disruptions that we grow instead of becoming dysfunctional or just returning back to our earlier lives?

There has and continues to be quite a deal of research about this. The first wave of research concluded that there are innate qualities, that we’re either born with it or not. The second wave of research focused on the decision process – we can and do choose actively how to reach to life’s events. The third says that we do have a decision to make, but recognizes that past events and other qualities help us to make this decision more easily than others.

So how can we become resilient?

Each person has in them the ability to be resilient in the face of adversity. We may not know it, or we may doubt it when we are in the midst of facing life’s disruptions, but we do. Each person has in them the force and drive to seek harmony and wisdom (Richardson, 2002). To paraphrase one of my favorite movies [Harry Potter], you must merely turn on the light when times are dark. Each time that we do choose to grow from adversity, we then have an increased level of resiliency. We grow through challenges. When we choose to return our earlier homeostasis we know we can get through it again, but don’t have an increase sense of ability or self. When we choose, or perhaps fail to choose to grow from our experiences, loss or dysfunction, our ability to face future challenges becomes reduced.

We have to choose each and everyday to grow, to continue on, to take as much as life can give us and use to be become a better version of our self, to become the most deliberate version of our self possible.

We have to choose each and everyday to become the most deliberate version of our self possible.

JW Harris

Resiliency might look different in different areas of our lives. Relational resiliency looks different from mental and from financial resiliency. Let’s dive into each of these for just a moment.

Relational Resiliency

Many of us have faced tough relationships, whether souring friendships or even abusive families. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to describe what these disruptions may look like from a relationship perspective. So how do we adapt and grow from these trying relationships?

When you experience tough relationship it’s often our tendency to fight or flight. But we have other choices. We can choose to practice empathy for tough friends, and be an active listener during tough conversations. We can choose to re-frame our own thinking during tough times with our friends and family members. Choosing to do so is how we grow, how we know that in the future we can come out of the dark and into the light. Starting small will build momentum that can help us see just how resilient we are in the future.

Mental Resiliency

We don’t like to talk about mental disruptions, about times when we struggle with our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. But it happens, to more of us then we know. I know I’ve personally felt this and still struggle with my own inner dilemmas. So how have I tried to grow from these experiences?

Remember that we are not alone, no one is. We may feel that way at time, and especially when we’re struggling internally. But whether it be friends, family members, peers, neighbors, mentors, or trained professionals, we have someone that we can talk with. I’m not a trained mental health professional, so I don’t want to shortchange you here if you’re looking for true guidance in this area. I just know that from my own struggles that it’s important to seek help, to be open with friends and family members, and to know that you do have the power to grow from these disruptions.

Financial Resiliency

Many people are experiencing financial disruptions right now. Whether they’ve lost their job completely, have had their hours reduced significantly, or just unsure what the future will do to their financial security, many people are feeling financial disruptions. Even if you aren’t one of these people, there’s a good chance that you’ll experience financial loss or uncertainty in your life in the future, at some point. So how can you grow from financial disruptions?

You might be thinking that an emergency fund is the best and possibly only way to be financially resilient. I’d partially agree with you; an emergency fund is a great way to work through financial disruptions. But many people don’t have them, or it’s not just an unexpected bill or change in income that we see as disruptions in our financial lives. Sometimes it’s being left out of a will, seeing another family member being favored financially, loosing an irreplaceable item (a favorite car), or some other life chancing situation. Sometimes we experience financial trauma, financial enabling, or financial loss.

Yes, we can minimize the severity of financial disruptions through prior planning, through building that emergency fund, and having insurance. The power of an emergency fund or insurance to help us through tough times can’t be understated. But for the disruptions that aren’t just purely financial, we have to rely on our internal desire to succeed financially. If your goal is to be wealthy, then you’ll keep on working on building your wealth. If your goal is to be independent, then keep working on independence. If your goal is to just live paycheck-to-paycheck, then wake up! You have to want more than this!

Read more about goal setting here.

Whichever financial goal you have, disruptions challenge us. Disruptions challenge us to either experience loss, return to our lives before, or grow with an increased ability to experience resiliency. In my own life I’m seeking to live a deliberate life, not just financially, but in all facets of my life. As I experience disruptions I’m seeking to grow and continue to learn more about my own ability to be resilient and to seek a deliberate life. I don’t ever want to return to the same status as before – I want to continually grow and be more deliberate in how I live.

Richardson, G.E. (2002). Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(1), 307-321.

Staying Organized – What I’m Implementing

I’m trying to be more organized this year. I missed several assignments, fell short of commitments, and honestly felt 10 steps behind in the second half of 2019. Even at one point I stopped using to-do lists because I couldn’t get anything done on them and somehow thought this would solve the issue.

Completely by accident I saw an article by Tim Mauer that was shared on social media about analog productivity system. Check out that article here.

I went down that rabbit hole, as many of us are known to do. After reading a few lines, I was intrigued and began wondering if this would work for me. I struggle with a running to-do list on a legal pad, a digital calendar, a reminder list on my phone, and sticky notes that loose their stick before they get done. So I figured if I could combine all of these things and make it fit my own needs, it’d be worth a shot. ]

About the bullet journal

Tim Mauer uses the bullet journal system ( give this a read to learn more about the bullet journal system ). This system is analog and focuses on breaking our hectic lives into three groups: tasks, notes, and events. Each of these has a specific mark to set them out since they’ll be on the same page, intermingled. Additionally, if something is extra important, or has some other significance, it can be marked with a star, or an exclamation point to call attention to it.

So far you’re probably thinking that this isn’t too special. Well the part I like most, at least while I’m getting going with this habit, is the process of marking the items and connecting them to the next day, week, or month. The bullet journal system calls this “migrating,” where you examine any “open” tasks to see if they’re still important, need to be delegated, or migrated to the next month for you to work on.

It’s definitely going to take a few weeks to get into the habit of keeping a journal like this, but I’m eager to get started.

Here’s how I’m going to customize my journal

I like the journal because you can customize the date range to be whatever you want or need. Since I’ve already got a journal that runs through June, I’m going to adapt the bullet journal system for my current journal and the rest of the spring semester. Then, I’ll reflect on what works, what doesn’t, and plan for the rest of the year at that point.

I’m going to expand on the three categories for my journal: tasks, appointments/meetings, notes/ideas, and assignments (well I am a doctoral student, right?). I’ll have modifiers for assignments and tasks to denote if they’re complete, in-progress, migrated, or delegated. I’m also going to keep identifiers to mark important items, notes that need exploration, or notes that are inspirational. Check out the legend for my journal system.

I’m not going to keep a future log, or any other collections for now. My goal is initially just to be in the habit of keeping everything in one place, and organized. Then, hopefully, by mid-year I’ll be in such a habit that I can start to implement these other bullet journal steps.

My hope is that this modification will not only help me keep to more deadlines and commitments, but to be the best version of myself by taking control of my calendar, my time, and my energy as I’m seeking the best version of myself.

to be the best version of myself by taking control of my calendar…

JW Harris

Setting Goals – 2020

So by now you’ve probably seen dozens of posts, images, and videos about 2020 goals (insert joke about having a clear vision). This is not one of those…

I want to talk a little about how to set goals, or at least how I want to set them this year.

Goals should not be something set without a purpose, just set because it’s something we’re told to do or expected to do. Goals have the power to transform our lives, to give it direction, to help us seek out the future in an intentional way. Goals allow us to seek the vision we have for ourselves.

Goals allow us to seek the vision we have for ourselves.

JW Harris

Why do we set goals?

The short answer is that without goals we aren’t going to know where we’re heading – goals are targets. Without goals we have no framework for how we make decisions and judgments – goals are guides for achieving our destination.

Photo by Daniel Cartin on Unsplash

Imagine for a moment you started a journey, by car, bike or even just walking. Now when you imagined yourself getting into the car, onto the bike or taking that first step, you were probably already thinking of where you were going to end up, or at least a general direction you wanted to head, right? Imagine, now, what if you began your journey without knowing your destination or the direction you wanted to head. Maybe you’d be riding around in circles, or you might even be frozen in your tracks with indecision about which way you needed to go.

Goal setting is how we build a vision for our life – for our own version of our best self. Without setting goals we won’t know which way we need to head or even how to start.

What’s the difference between Vision, Goals and Objectives

Understanding the importance of goals, let’s talk about the difference between goals, objectives and vision. Going back to our journey, by car, bike or walking, think of objectives as the directions we have to get us to our destination. When you’ve taken a trip, you had specific points you needed to pass and turns you needed to take in order to get to your destination – those were objectives. Imagine for a moment if you knew where you needed to go, but your only direction was to take an initial path and nothing else. Our journey to our goals is made up of several objectives, all achievable and intended to help us get there.

The vision for our journey is a harder concept to understand. If objectives are the directions we need to reach our destination, our goals, then vision is ultimately where we see ourselves heading. In our lives, we have multiple journeys as part of our life-long journey. One journey might be your professional experience. Another journey might be when you’re starting a family. The life-long journey is determined ultimately by our vision for our life. The mini-journeys are the goals we need to reach, guided by the objectives, in order to live out our vision. The vision for our own personal journey is a deeply personal matter that can only be determined by each of us individually. Sometimes we share and develop our vision with others, those closest to us – friends, family and partners. But it is up to each of us to seek out to define our vision for ourselves, and the goals and objectives needed to reach it. We must define the vision for our own lives first. Then, establish goals with measurable objectives to ensure we reach that vision.

We must define the vision for our own lives first. Then, establish goals with measurable objectives to ensure we reach that vision.

JW Harris

Defining Your Vision

Sometimes defining this vision for our own lives is a lifelong process. Sometimes it takes years to fully and honestly understand what the vision for our life is. Once we reach the peace knowing that we have defined or even narrowed down our own vision for our life, that’s when we can begin the journey in earnest to living out our vision. It’s important while you’re developing your healthy money management habits to begin formulating this vision for your life – to begin thinking about and designing the vision for your life.

What actually determines our vision for ourselves? Asked another way, how do we define our vision for ourselves? The process of defining a vision involves a great deal of thought, introspection and reflection. Sometimes this comes naturally to people. Sometimes, it’s a process that takes a great deal of painful honesty. I’m personally a fan of the George Kinder questions used in his Financial Life Planning process. They’re a great way to begin the process of forming a vision for your life, identifying what’s most important to you in living your best life. To get started, ask yourself some guiding questions – and be honest with yourself, your answers are going to help you refine and define your vision for your life.

  1. I want you to imagine that you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. The question is, how would you live your life? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back your dreams. Describe a life that is complete, that is richly yours.
  2. This time, you visit your doctor who tells you that you have five to ten years left to live. The good part is that you won’t ever feel sick. The bad news is that you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining to live? How would you live your life differently than answered in the first question?
  3. This time, your doctor shocks you with the news that you have only one day left to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What dreams will be left unfulfilled? What do I wish I had finished or had been? What do I wish I had done? What did I miss?

Reflecting on the answers the above questions allow you to see clearly the vision for your life. If that picture isn’t clear yet, take more time to reflect. In reflecting on what our vision is for our life, we are clarifying what our own version of our best self looks like.

(Above questions taken from George Kinder, Money Maturity)

Building Goals that Match Your Vision

With an understanding of the vision we see for ourselves, we can begin to build goals and objectives. Remember that goals are the destinations we want to reach in our journey along the way to living out our vision. Objectives are the milestones and directions we plan to take.

When setting goals, we should always ask ourselves the question, “Is this goal going to help me live my vision?” If the answer is no, we’re wasting our time. If the answer is yes, we’re on the right path. Sometimes this reflection is painful and causes us to have feelings of regret or disappointment. If we establish our vision, the goals to live that vision and the objectives to reach those goals early in our lives, we’ll live with more intention in our actions and avoid much of the feelings of regret and disappointment.

Setting goals should be a cyclical process – completed on a regular process. Evaluating goals should be a continuous process – completed each day as you reach towards those goals and your vision.

My Goals for 2020

Well, if you’ve read this far, hang in a little bit longer because here are my goals for 2020:

Seek Healthy Lifestyle I’d like to be more active, more aware of my choices, and reflect on the choices I do make. Some active things I’m doing are eating less fast food, getting the garage set up as a home gym and use it 2-3 times a week (nothing crazy, but 40-60 minutes of cardio and light weights, or time on the rowing machine), and getting out to golf a little bit more this year.
Seek Knowledge I’m in a doctoral program, so reading a lot is par for the course. I’d still like to read 10+ books (not journal articles!) this year. I have a shelf full of books on subjects ranging from qualitative research methods, teaching pedagogy, deaf mental health, child development theories, organizational leadership, and even my own mental health. I’ll do my best to update here what I’m reading and my reflections.
Seek Scholarship This is a lofty goal – I’d like to submit at least 4 academic projects for publication consideration this year, complete the first complete draft of my Personal Finance textbook, and draft the outline of a new book that’s been kicking around in my head for a while. This is definitely going to stretch me, but I’m working on a new organization and time management system that I think will really help me stay focused.
Seek Service I’ve been a board member with the Financial Therapy Association since 2018. Last year (2019) we accomplished so much, including launching a new certification in Financial Therapy, growing our membership, and becoming a little more focused on long-term growth. I’m excited for 2020 with the continued development of advanced certification in Financial Therapy and to continue my role as Treasurer in helping the organization grow into the new decade.
Seek Fellowship This is a big one for me. I struggled with this in 2019, mainly from over committing myself to projects that didn’t align with my goals and vision. I really want to be more present with my friends and family, spend more time with my spouse, and ultimately be more conscious about where/how my time is spent and with who. This could range from my professional relationships, mentoring students, engaging with my doctoral cohort, and those who I just like to kick back with and watch a good movie or game.

Hopefully this helps you in your own journey to seek the best version of yourself through setting goals this new year (and decade!).

Mentoring in Higher Education

I get a lot of questions and comments from friends and family that I travel a lot, and I mean a lot. I think they expect a college professor to be hanging out in an office with scattered papers and dog-eared books strewn about. That definitely can be true, except for when I’m traveling to industry conferences. I typically will travel overnight five to eight times a year, often with students from my department. While I do enjoy traveling to new destinations (Denver & San Diego this year), I am also the kind of person that would be happy to relax at home with a good book or new show. So what keeps me on the road? What keeps me traveling to so many conferences, often with students? Mentoring.

When I started my undergraduate degree many years ago I had the goal of working with students in some capacity. This calling evolved into becoming a college professor and mentoring students in and out of the classroom. Specifically, I’ve been charged with helping to build the next generation of financial planners at my university. So at my core is the goal of mentoring, of developing and growing the next generation. Now to the travel piece, this does mean taking students with me to industry conferences, and giving them the opportunity to network with professionals. Each time I step on a plane with a student, I’m hoping they’ll grow to love this profession of financial planning as much as I do.

But all this travel got me to thinking, what really is mentoring? What is mentoring in higher education? We all have that favorite professor from college, or favorite teacher from high school. But is that mentoring (being the favorite teacher)? Or is it something more?

What is Mentoring?

In my pursuit to discover the core of mentoring, the how to essentially, I read The Heart of Mentoring by David Stoddard. Much of what I’ve learned is from that book, and from my time over the last few years in close relationships to several students.

When I first started working at my university, I participated in a mentoring program for new faculty. We met for a few weeks as a large group, then broke into smaller groups based on positions at the university. While the intent was great, and the facilitators amazing, it lacked what I was looking for. I think for a lot of us, mentoring too often is a rigid program that checks a box or group of boxes for an organization. Instead, mentoring should be about helping someone be all that they can be, about developing people to their highest potential. It should be about meeting each other where they’re at, and focusing on how to become the best version of ourselves.

Now you might be thinking, that’s coaching, right? A coach seeks to improve behaviors, skills, outcomes. Mentoring, instead is “relationship oriented, has a long-term scope, and is holistic, meaning it is broad enough to address facets of the whole person, not just a narrow slice of the individual’s life” (11). Coaching seeks to improve a student’s performance in one aspect of their development (grades, attendance, networking, etc.). While these are important aspects, there’s so much more to the whole person.

(C) 2019, JW Financial Guidance

So when I think of the mentoring and coaching dynamic, I think of coaching and the skills and outcomes involved as the smaller circle in the middle of a larger circle. The larger circle is mentoring. Mentoring requires some coaching, some behavior change, some short-term focus. But as a whole, mentoring seeks to develop the whole person, not just a set of behaviors, over the long-term. Mentoring, for me, is about seeing the whole individual and helping them become entirely the best version of themselves.

How to mentor?

So how do we mentor in higher education? Is it taking students to conferences? Is it staying late after class to answer questions? Is it sending an interesting article, or promising job posting to a student? Yes, all of that.

(C) JW Financial Guidance

Too often in our lives we don’t find passion in our jobs, in our vocation. We might start out passionate about or work, but end up frustrated and tired (83). My goal in mentoring students is to avoid this. I want to ensure that for my students, they find this intersection of passion and vocation. I want to ensure that they see the power their chosen profession has in changing lives. I want them to live at the intersection of a chosen profession of financial planning and a passion to help change lives. I want to see the whole individual and see how I can discover, nurture, and facilitate the intersection of passion and vocation.

But here’s the thing, there’s no secret sauce or magic formula for mentoring. “No matter how uncomfortable you feel about getting started, it will never feel right until you go for it” (192). For me, I’m focusing on giving my time and energy to my students in the form of student groups, innovative classes, experiential learning, and industry exposure. I’m focusing on letting them into my world, being a genuine friend to them. I’m focusing on being steward of their passion, their calling, their desire to change lives through financial planning. I’m focusing on how can I clarify their vocational calling, and align it with their passion to help.

I’m fortunate enough to have found my passion and vocation, and to be in a position to give of myself in this manner.

“The greatest wealth is the ability to give.”

David Stoddard, The Heart of Mentoring, pg 34.

I wanted to share the ten principles from The Heart of Mentoring as a takeaway for this blog. Hopefully you find these as impactful in your work/life as I have.

Ten Powerful Principles For Effective Mentoring
1) Effective mentors understand that living is about giving.
2) Effective mentors see mentoring as a process that requires perseverance.
3) Effective mentors open their world to their mentoring partners.
4) Effective mentors help mentoring partners find their passion.
5) Effective mentors are comforters who share the load.
6) Effective mentors help turn personal values into practice.
7) Effective mentors model character.
8) Effective mentors affirm the value of spirituality.
9) Effective mentors recognize that Mentoring + Reproduction = Legacy.
10) Effective mentors go for it!

Stoddard, David A. (2003). The Heart of Mentoring: Ten Proven Principles for Developing People to their Fullest Potential. NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO.

Paradigms: Examining Your Lens

One of the courses I’m taking is Research Methods I for my doctoral program. Beyond introducing research methods used on social science studies, the concept of philosophy of science is being introduced. As part of this, I’ve been learning more about Paradigms. Babbie defined paradigms as “the fundamental models or frames of references we use to organize our observations and reasoning” (2016, pg. 32). This struck a cord in my as I read it, I began to really think about my own paradigms, my own models of observation and reasoning.

Paradigms – fundamental models we use to organize our observations and reasoning.

I’ve heard before the concept of a paradigm compared to a camera lens. Each person has their own lens they view the world through. We can change our lens, our way of viewing the world, and we can also understand other’s people’s reactions and thoughts by realizing they’re viewing the world through a different lens – a different paradigm. I understood this metaphor, and have even used it in my own teaching in an attempt to have my undergrads take a broader view of he problem.

What I’ve really not understood, or fully realized until now, is how difficulty paradigms are to recognize, and how we can change them. Babbie writes that paradigms are “difficult to recognize as such, because they are so implicit, assumed, taken for granted” (2016, pg. 33). Why are paradigms so implicit? Why is it that we take paradigms for granted?

When I step back and think about why we take paradigms for granted, only one answer comes to light. We take paradigms for granted because we’re not taught or encouraged to be self-reflective in our lives. We’re not often encouraged to take a step back and examine the lens we view the world through. Even when I teach this concept in class, trying to get my students to understand that other people view the world differently from them, I don’t encourage them or give them space to examine their own paradigms.

But what are the benefits of recognizing our own paradigms? Here’s what Babbie has to say on the matter:

We can better understand the views and actions of others, especially when they’re different from our own. By examining our own viewpoints, we gain the ability to better understand those of others. This is the cornerstone of being a productive citizen, in my own opinion. The ability to understand, emphasize, and communicate about our viewpoints and those of those around is a crucial skill. This can become the bridge for so many conversations and collaborations.

We can gain because we’re able to see the same problem or situation from a different viewpoint. We’re able to step outside the box and take a different angle. Who hasn’t been up against a road block and not able to see around it, over it, or through it. With understanding our own paradigm, and those of others, we gain the ability to step back and see different angles of “attack” for any problem we’re faced with. Self-reflection of our own paradigm gives us a greater problem solving ability.

Here’s the thing though, we can’t begin to examine our own paradigm until we accept this one fact – our own paradigm isn’t reality.

Our paradigm is just our way of viewing the world, processing information, and forming reasoning and reactions. We have to realize that “paradigms are neither true nor false; as ways of looking, they are only more or less useful” (Babbie, 2016, pg. 34). While we have our own paradigm, it’s not the only lens to view the world through. We can easily take our lens off, and put on the lens of another, or even our own new lens.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My own reflections on this as it relates to my doctoral program and research – the role of research is to test, challenge, explore, and reinforce these paradigms. Doing so gives society the ability to examine their lens to a great ability, to understand the paradigms of others, and to be more productive in life.

Have you thought about your own paradigm, your own lens for viewing the world?

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Babbie, E. R. (2016). The practice of social research. Cengage.

Reflections on Summer 2019 Residency

I’ve been back a week now from Manhattan, Kansas for my first summer residency, an integral part of the doctoral program at Kansas State University. It’s been hard to take time to reflect on my time there, for a few reasons. Primarily, I was so focused on preparing for the start of the fall term at Clemson that I didn’t give myself the time and space to reflect. Now that I’m back, the fall semester underway and courses off to a great start, I’ve had more time to really reflect on my first summer.

I didn’t know how much could be packed into two weeks – the amount of reading, thought-provoking conversations, new relationships, and fellowship with colleagues. I’m exhausted still, but thankful for the great first year experience I’ve had so far.

Meeting the members of my cohort, 6 other eager minds, has reaffirmed my decision to purse my doctorate. The vast differences in experience, research interest, and motivation for post-degree careers surprised me. Yet, we were able to come together within a matter of hours together and support each other in our own journeys of seeking knowledge, in seeking the answer to our various research questions. We’re already planning on weekly chats to continue supporting each other through our various journeys.

The summer residency really showed me that I don’t know what I don’t know. The amount of reading that’s required to produce a quality research paper is almost overwhelming. The amount of time a researcher will spend on a single topic, sometimes years, was something I really never considered. The feeling of excitement and enjoyment in pursuing a research topic was something I never thought about.

When I picked up a research article in the past, I enjoyed reading reading a diversity of topics. But I never really experienced the feeling of being pulled in, of being so consumed with the theories, constructs, and possible implications. I experienced this over my first summer residency while exploring the topic of language and its role in the development of financial skills. Learning more about social learning theory, how we’re essentially students of those around us and the impact family has on development of socialization (especially financial) skills.

I’m excited for the next few years – for the topics and methods I’ll learn, for the relationships I’ll continue, and for the questions I’ll attempt to answer in my own life as well as those around me. Like all journeys, I’m not quite certain where this one will take me, but I’m excited to have begun it and looking forward to finding out.

Self Care – Why it’s Important

So let’s talk Self Care. I’m at the front end of at least a 4 year journey of long nights, quick project turnarounds, and balancing multiple demands. If you’re me at this point, you already want to take a break.

This is the point of Self Care – as a student and as a professional. Let’s face it, we’re all human, and it’s okay to take a break every now and then. We can’t go nonstop, 24/7 and expect the results to great, either for our work, our family, or our own mental and physical health.

It’s so easy, if you’re like me, to go nonstop until you can’t go anymore. I’ve literally experienced the thrill of waking up at 7am, working nonstop through the morning, afternoon, and evening to complete a project or series of project. And guess what, I paid for it the next day.

I’ve come to the realization that hard work is good, but so is taking care of yourself. Yes, sometimes you just need to power through to reach a deadline. But, all the time you need to take care of yourself. Self care is an ongoing objective in a healthy lifestyle.

Self care is an ongoing objective in a healthy lifestyle.

As I’m preparing down this journey, I have to remind myself that Self Care will be an essential part of staying productive, happy, and supportive of those around me.

Here are some of my ideas for how I’ll achieve Self Care:

Be Outside – take frequent breaks, walk around the house, take a walk with one of my dogs, take a walk with my wife, or even just sit outside and enjoy what I can see and hear in nature.

Read for Fun – it can’t be overstated, reading the same thing all the time can be an emotionally and mentally draining task. I plan to keep a “fun” book and read a little each night to reward myself for a productive day.

Exercise – let’s be honest, I’m not the most in-shape person right now. I want to, no, I will do better for myself and those around me. I plan on starting slowly, like a walk-jog, or a bike ride each week. Then, hopefully, increasing the frequency until I’m spending 3-4 times a week exercising.

Unplug – yes, I said it. It’s so important to unplug and be present in your relationships, whether friends, family, or significant others. My wife and I love to go camping. It’ll be tough, but so worth it to commit to unplugging from day-to-day responsibilities and just be present.

Self care looks different for each person. Some people have different thresholds, different emotional, and different physical requirements.

Exercise

Cook

Read

Travel

Meditate

Create

Journal

Spend time with loved ones

Why I started this blog

The inevitable question…Why would I start a blog?

This blog is going to be my outlet for casual writing, my way of processing and reflecting, and perhaps even a way to share my own path to seeking financial guidance.

I’m launching this blog with no goal in mind other than that – to share, process, and reflect on my own journey. The journey I’m beginning on started a few years ago when I joined the “ivory towers” of academia as a lecturer at Clemson University. This year I’ve begun a new chapter in my personal and professional life, beginning a doctoral program in Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University.

I remember when I applied to program, stating that tenure and prestige wasn’t my goal of pursuing a doctorate degree. This is still true today. My own goal is to increase my knowledge, to increase my ability to do more, and to be able to add to the body of knowledge in a field I’ve found myself graciously immersed in – Personal Financial Planning.

“A doctorate student is supposed to add knowledge…”

Dr. Charles Chaffin, 2019 Summer Residence, Kansas State University

The journey ahead of me is going to be a long one, filled with challenging assignments, difficult tasks, and boundary-pushing moments – and I can’t wait. I don’t know how many times I’ll post (weekly, monthly, etc.), or what topics I’ll talk about. With the start of this endeavor I like the goal of posting 1-2 times a month, on what I’m learning, what I’m reading, and what I’m experiencing in my teaching, research, reading, and general life experiences. I do know that I want the posts to be centered around my own journey to seek guidance.

What do I mean by seeking guidance?

I see the doctoral program as a journey of seeking knowledge – the ultimate journey of finding the answer to a question. But what does the answer matter if you’re not about to share, disseminate, or transfer to others?

Guidance – “the direction provided by a guide.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Guidance is the direction provided by a guide, or by a trusted person. A guide is someone who possesses the knowledge, and a willingness and desire to share. The acquisition of knowledge alone isn’t sufficient. My journey is to seek guidance, to seek out the knowledge that others are willing to share, and in turn to share it with others on their own journey. This blog, along with my teaching and research, are going to be where this occurs.

So, whether you’re reading this at the start, in the middle, or at the end of your own journey (or mine), my hope is that we’re able to share, and that you find meaning in my journey to seek financial guidance.