The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Marci Walton.
My grandmother was a child of the Depression and saved everything. It was a running joke that no matter what you needed, Grandma had it somewhere. Since she grew up saving everything, buttons were no exception. For some inexplicable reason, she kept all of her spare buttons in a round, blue, metal cookie tin. The “Royal Dansk” Danish cookie tin originally held buttery shortbread cookies, separated by tiny paper doilies and sprinkled with coarse sugar. The shallow blue tin was reincarnated as the perfect vessel for Grandma’s button collection.
I remember being so puzzled by this tin. Why were there so many? Did they all have a match? How old were they? Did they all come from clothing, or was my Grandma a secret button dealer? Why did they smell faintly of butter and sugar? And most importantly, why did my Grandma insist on keeping them? I asked her one day, with bright-eyed, five-year-old wonder, “Grandma, you have all of these buttons you never use! Why keep them?” With a wink and a healthy dose of wisdom she said, “I might need them someday, Marci. How sad would it be if I needed this exact button (a bright pink oval button with gold trim) in three years, but I didn’t value it and threw it away? I’m not keeping buttons for today, I’m keeping them for someday.” I nodded, pretended I understood, but it wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate my Grandmother’s button tin.
I’ve started to think about collecting experiences like buttons and my career as the blue cookie tin. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to say yes to experiences, even if they don’t fit perfectly into your day job and to especially when they scare you. The first of these experiences came my third year as a Resident Director. The University was inaugurating its first non-Catholic President and was organizing a President’s Day of Service. The plan was to engage students, faculty, staff, and alumni in a massive day of service at multiple community agencies throughout Los Angeles. I was asked to partner with Josie Ahlquist (yes, that Josie Ahlquist! I knew her when she was a regular SA pro!) to implement the largest of the projects, a BBQ and outdoor concert for clients of Skid Row’s Midnight Mission with 1,500+ clients and 200 volunteers. And it was going to be on the news. And the President of the University would be there. And I was only three years out of grad school. And I said yes. It had little to do with my day-to-day life as an RD, but it was a highlight of my time. I gained skills in volunteer management, public relations, media management, vendors contracts, supervision of professionals, large-scale budgets, partnering with non-University entities, and many others. All of these non-housing skills were very specific buttons I got to place in my blue tin and wait for the day when I needed them.
The second time I said yes and then figured it out was during my first year as an RD at Santa Clara University when our VPSA asked me to co-advise the committee for hosting a national student leadership conference. This 350+ person conference called for a year-and-a-half of planning, $150,000 budget (including $50,000 in fundraising), securing service placements for all 350 attendees, educational sessions, late-night programming, keynote speakers, city excursions, opening and closing banquets, and all of the details which come along with hosting hundreds of student leaders for five days. None of this had anything to do with my day-to-day work of Residence Life. I didn’t get any kind of additional compensation. My day job didn’t slow down. I had one co-advisor and 10 students who were freshmen and sophomores when planning began and I learned so much from this experience. Patience, resilience, confidence, large-scale budget management, social media management, creating meaningful service experiences, and how to thrive on no caffeine and very little sleep (15 hours over five days!). Each of these skills became another unique button in my cookie tin. None of them had a “Res Life” stamp on them, but I said yes anyway.
I have accessed my proverbial cookie tin of buttons more times than I can remember. I crack open the tin when I have a bad day with students, when I am spinning my wheels, frustrated by campus politics, and when I have really great days. I’ve accessed them countless time during interviews and job searches and have never regretted what it took to get the button. So, what are your non-housing buttons? How often do you reflect on them, add to your tin, and pull off the lid to remember how awesome you are? Show off those buttons, maybe today or maybe someday soon.
Marci Walton is proud to serve as the Associate Director for Residence Life at Xavier University where she gets to grow her button tin of experiences every day and become closer to being like her grandmother who, frankly, was a badass. Marci is interested in residence life, social justice, the intersections of identity and is passionately curious about social media, women’s leadership, and becoming friends with Adele. Marci can be found on Twitter @MarciKWalton and blogs regularly at www.marcikwalton.com.