June 19, 2017
The second act of Hamilton has many emotional moments. One of the most deeply affecting for me comes during Alexander Hamilton’s solo ballad “Hurricane.” While the instrumentation mimics an earlier moment of triumph for him (“Yorktown”- if you hadn’t already noticed the parallel, give it another listen. It blew me away!), this time the Founding Father finds himself at a crossroads. His solution, as with so many other key points in his life, is to “write his way out.” As he has with so many other major accomplishments in his life- leaving the West Indies for the Colonies, making the case for an independent nation, drafting the American financial system- he found his way there through writing.
Throughout my career, I’m finding that I approach it in much the same way. I’ve always found that the best path to a clear head runs through a notepad or blank Word document; and whether you’re already a regular writer, or are considering taking up the hobby, there’s a strong case to be made for such a practice. Take it from a critical statesman...and me!
Write to Shape Your Perspective
I started blogging after graduate school, documenting my “firsts” in a new career path. The first few entries weren’t very good, I’ll admit. In fact, I can tell from my current site analytics that someone is reading my posts back to front...and God love them for it! But I needed to go through those first shaky months, perhaps a year, to figure out my perspective. As I periodically looked back at what I chose to write about, and how the events I documented connected, I learned what was most interesting to me.
As it turned out, some of those earliest posts echo my focus areas now. I talked about finding my place in the world independent of my work, I connected seemingly disparate ideas to my work, and I tried to find laughs and share humor through it all. Years later, those are the positions that I bring to my speaking and consulting. For you, it could help guide your choice of functional area or even dissertation topic. If I hadn’t had a place to document these thoughts as they arose, they could have been lost forever.
Write to Find New Friends
I said it after I left my graduate program, and I say it all the time now: it can be hard to meet new people when you’re a “grownup.” One way I’ve been able to do it is through a community of writers and bloggers, informing and sharing one another’s work. Far beyond the superficial and occasionally icky networking we all dread, this way of meeting people helped me navigate the sometimes bumpy first steps of face-to-face interactions. Having read about their interests, challenges, and adventures beforehand, we could skip the initial awkwardness and dig into what really matters.
Some of the first people I connected with through blog posts and comments sections, Facebook messages and Twitter direct messages are folx who I count among my best friends. We’ve traveled together. We’ve presented at conferences together. I’ve been to (and in) their weddings. And as you continue to seek out new relationships, both in the field and outside, don’t underestimate writing as a way to do that!
Write to Tell Our Story
Elsewhere in Hamilton, there’s a lot of discussion about legacy and storytelling. We know as much as we do about Alexander Hamilton today because of his many, many, many writings. History has learned from all that he committed to paper. And the same can be true of what you choose to commit to paper (or bandwith, as the case may be). This doesn’t just have to be in the form of a dissertation, by the way! There are options to blog long-term, self-publish, or even freelance write for sites that are seeking folx in education. For that matter, it doesn’t even just have to be writing! Want to try out podcasting? Vlogging? Comics about the work? The medium or platform is secondary to the knowledge and perspective being shared.
There is undoubtedly a huge spotlight on higher education right now, and the only way to ensure its pointed in the right direction is to tell our story. Writing our way through is one way of controlling and guiding that narrative. As a grad student or new professional, you’re far from “running out of time.” So take Hamilton’s lead- “pick up a pen, start writing.”
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Amma Marfo is a thoughtful yet incurably silly independent higher education professional, writer, and editor based in Boston, MA. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Rhode Island, and a Master of Education from the University of South Florida.
Amma is an avid and prolific writer; she writes often for her own blog (“The Dedicated Amateur”), is a contributing editor to the Niche Movement Blog, and guest blogs in a variety of other places (IdeaBlend EDU, NASPA SLP-KC and TKC blogs, The Good Project). Her first book, THE I’S HAVE IT: Reflections on Introversion in Student Affairs, was released in January 2014; her second, LIGHT IT UP, was released in October 2015.
Amma is a dynamic and sought-after speaker on topics such as leadership, group dynamics, learning and optimizing the temperament of your organization, cultivating environments that encourage creativity, and incorporating your values into your work and larger goals. She speaks on college and university campuses across the country, at regional and national conferences, and has partnered with organizations like HubSpot, Wayfair, Startup Institute Boston, and General Assembly.
She is an outspoken advocate for creativity, believes strongly in the power of humor, and looks forward to helping you find the way you live and work best. Her other interests include live comedy, surfing, trivia, and gluten-free cooking/baking. You can follow her on Twitter @ammamarfo.
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