Reclaiming and Retaining Joy

Woman holding a microphone while speaking.
Counselor Education Associate Professor Addy Wissel has found more joy by simplifying her life.

November 01, 2023
Spirit Magazine

Addy Wissel grew up 40 miles east of Mountain Home, Idaho, “in the middle of nowhere,” she told a gathering of colleagues at her Oct. 18 Provost Lecture on campus.

She recalled at age 8, “with all the experience that kindergarten, first and second grade could provide,” she figured she had three career choices. A farmer was far more physical work than she could imagine. She looked around her school and saw older women with grey hair and thought teaching was not her calling. But she grew up watching Matlock on TV and could see herself being a lawyer.

She worked for the Idaho governor’s office for four years following college, but soon realized that was not for her. Then she discovered her passion for counseling.

She was hired by Gonzaga in 2013 following her extensive education. It was her first job in higher education. She was the first in her family to get a college degree. When she told her parents Gonzaga had hired her, though supportive, they were unable to offer much insight about the experience. “I think Gonzaga just needed a warm body,” she shared with her GU colleagues at her recent talk, “Reclaiming and Retaining Joy.” A comment she received on a student evaluation, ‘I love when you wear that green dress’ seemed to affirm that in Wissel’s mind.

“Our context, in part, shapes and informs the way in which we see the world and show up in spaces. My narrative and context (that I brought with me to GU) contributed to my own burnout. I had to get clarity and own what was mine and begin to really evaluate the narrative.”

Nevertheless, she was determined to make her stake in higher ed.

She did all the things she needed to do to gain promotion and attain tenure; “the hustle to move up.”

It included research and service projects, serving on committees, being a good educator and all the things you need to do to advance.

Wissel received promotion and tenure in 2019. The associate professor attended an event to celebrate those who had been promoted and a colleague said to her, “Congratulations, now the real work begins.”

She had just gone through six years of trials and toil to earn this promotion, and “now the work is just starting?” she asked herself.

She was burned out and exhausted.

She was finding herself emotionally and mentally distancing herself from others. Her husband and kids took a backseat, her health was suffering, she felt reduced capacity for personal relationships and she described herself as less kind, less patient and less creative.

“I could not identify things that gave me joy anymore,” she said.

Then her sabbatical saved her.

“I knew if I stayed in Spokane while my students returned to the classroom, I’d have a hard time not checking in on them and my colleagues. I think we feel an incredible sense of responsibility to and for each other,” she said.

So, she traveled alone to Arizona on her first solo trip not work related, and after a day trying to be productive because that’s who she was, she took in the view of her surroundings; a cactus, rock structures, the beautiful blue sky. “I was in awe of how beautiful the scenery was. It was the first time I could remember looking up in a long time,” she said.

What she discovered that day is profound, she said. Now she is reminded to look up and take in the beauty found on our campus, and to find quiet time for herself.

She creates quiet time driving from her South Hill home to the northside Target in silence.

“It allows me to get quiet, go within and reflect on how I am contributing to or depleting my own joy. When we carve out time for quiet, the ideas and feelings are able to come and go. We consider new ways and evaluate how our current behaviors and habits aren’t serving us. This is one way I make time for quiet because it isn’t always possible to take a week away.” 

Wissel Shares Insights on Joy from Personal Experience

She shared a list of strategies to protect and retain one’s joy:

  • Mind your language. Certain words don’t serve her well, like busy, as in “I’m too busy to get that done,” and disaster, as in something that is absolutely insurmountable. “Most things are figureoutable,” she said, coining a new word.
  • Choose your free-time activity wisely. Spend time with people who give you joy and reduce contact with those who do not add to, or deplete, your joy.
  • Thin out your social media and other unnecessary distractions in your life. “Those accounts and ‘friends’ we follow can actually take from our joy. I had to remove accounts of people in profession that I admire because I found myself comparing to what they were doing and achieving,” she said.
  • Make your workspace a place you want to be. Wissel hung a picture of a leopard in red high heels in her office. It makes her laugh and reminds her to be bold.
  • Decrease the number of decisions you make in a day. “Sometimes, by the time I’ve arrived at work I’ve made 462 decisions, and I’m tired starting my day,” Wissel said.
  • She suggests making your lunch, laying out your next day’s wardrobe and workout gear the night before, as one example.
  • Avoid creating or joining tornados in the office. Ask yourself, “Am I contributing to the problem or to the solution?”
Three women posing for a photo, facing the camera.
Wissel was greeted by colleagues Cari Johnson and Emily Rogers following her Provost Lecture on reclaiming joy.

“We have the ability to set the thermostat,” she said. “How are we influencing our space to create an environment that promotes joy, flourishing and the like.”

You can learn more about reclaiming your joy on Wissel's podcast, "That Green Dress," wherever you find your podcasts.

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