Hi, hello, and happy Wednesday! Today in the Celebration Series we're talking with my sweet friend, Stephanie Keller! Steph and I met through mutual friends back in Charlottesville, Virginia and I'm so thankful that our paths crossed. This girl has got to be one of the most joyful and fun-to-be-around people that I know. From the moment I met Steph, I was captivated by her vibrant personality and impressed by her ability to so easily make friends after her recent move. She's hilarious, confident, driven, humble, honest, and never too afraid to keep it real with an embarrassing story or self-deprecating joke. It really is no wonder that everyone she meets immediately becomes her friend. :)
Steph works in higher education for the Robertson Scholars program at Duke and UNC and I have no doubt that she's having a huge impact on the students that she works with as both a friend and a mentor. Read on for some of Steph's wisdom and an introduction to the "Steph Face". You'll see what I mean...
Give us a quick background on who you are and what you do for work.
Howdy! I’m Stephanie Keller (but was Stephanie Glover for my first 30 years of life and until this past March when I married Mr. Thomas Keller). Tom and I live in Durham, NC and have the cutest, most adorable goldendoodle pup named Gus. I am 110% a crazy dog mom and I am not afraid to admit it. I was born and raised in little ol’ NC, I had a real thick southern accent until I was about 10, I spent lots of my childhood swimming and ended up continuing that in college at UVA, and would give pretty much anything to live on a farm outside of Charlottesville and eat at Bodos, Bellaire Market, and Mas for every meal.
Ok, so my job is pretty much impossible to succinctly describe. However, since I need to answer this question, I will try! I work for the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program at Duke University and UNC Chapel-Hill. The Robertson Program is a merit scholarship that brings students in from all over the world to Durham and Chapel Hill, NC where they have access to BOTH Universities for their four years at college. Students have a “home base” school but at various times will live at both universities, take classes at both, and travel the world with friends and classmates from both. During this journey, Robertson Scholars learn to create change, foster collaboration, turn their passions into action, with a goal of having a palpable impact in their communities. My role with the Robertson Program is two fold: I work with students during the academic year and I am also the liaison to our alumni community.
This job has seriously been such a blessing to me. For the first three years out of college I worked for a boutique consulting firm - it taught me a lot about being a “real adult” in the “real world” but ultimately was not the right fit for me and my outgoing, people-loving, personality. Side note: financial consulting is pretty boring. Second side note: if you travel a lot for your job it is pretty close to impossible to settle down or make roots in the place that you live. So after realizing I was not in a job that I loved, I figured out what I wanted to do: work in higher education. So I went back to graduate school (recent UVA grads, be careful or you’ll blink and have three degrees from that place… it just pulls you in) and ultimately landed here at the Robertson Program. Definitely a roller coaster but such a good one!
What about your work brings you the most joy and fulfillment?
The people. Hands down. This includes both my co-workers and the students I get to work with on a daily basis. Days that are full of interaction and minimal time in front of the computer tend to be the best days. Realizing that productivity looks different when you are investing in people has been a hard thing to get used to at times. It’s a shift in perspective. Part of my type-A personality longs to make a list and cross of the to-do’s as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, my job is partly about relationships. Sharing a conversation or a meal with a student is not time wasted. In fact, it is time well spent. One of the main reasons in entered into higher education is because I had some amazing people around me when I was in college – coaches, deans, administrators – all looking out for me. And now ten years later, I want to be that helper/advisor/friend to the students I work with. So, on days when things are busy and I do, literally, have a to-do list a mile long, I have to remind myself that a conversation, a helpful email reply, or small gesture of kindness can really make a huge difference.
Who or what is inspiring you right now?
As my loving husband so tenderly and articulately puts it, “word things.” I crave creativity and almost always have some sort of creative outlet going on in my own life. However, my most favorite forms of artistic expression always include words: typography, calligraphy, hand lettering. And as luck would have it, I have so many friends who are extremely talented in these things! Sometimes I think to myself, “gosh Steph, how did you luck out to be friends with theeeeesse people? They are so much cooler than you!” People like Jodi Macfarlan, or Ashley Walton, or Amber Porter, or Lolly Smith (the list could go on)- they inspire me because they create beautiful things out of words. When Jodi posts beautiful calligraphy, or Ashley a lettering masterpiece, or Lolly a lovely piece of jewelry with a single word or phrase, my heart skips a beat. Words carry so much weight. They can bring us up or pull us down. I am so thankful and inspired by the people around me using words to brighten up the world.
Public Service Announcement: You can never have too many “word things” in your home. Tom believes otherwise, but I will not go down without a fight, babe.
What has been difficult lately?
Since I’m a newlywed, a typical answer might be "realizing how much dirtier a bathroom gets with a man in the house" or “how much more our groceries cost.” However, the honest answer is contentment. People who know me may think, “well geez, she has a house, a dog, a husband, how much more in life does she want?” And those people would be well founded in thinking this. However, we all know that Facebook and Instagram aren’t showing what’s harboring deep down in all of our hearts. And in reality, I bet a lot of women (and men!) struggle with this little contentment doohickey. The thoughts that you could be better, faster, prettier, richer, more put-together. If I don’t catch myself, that little list in my head can grow pretty quickly.
And y’all – let me tell you. That is NOT A GOOD WAY TO BE! Don’t do it! Fight it! I’m constantly praying for contentment. That I would be at peace in the place and stage of life that God has me. Whether that was a season of singleness (praise hands for Thomas Hopkin Keller), a time of unrest professionally, a period of financial instability, it’s where God has us and we are meant to do our best in that time/situation/circumstance. So yeah, I’ve been praying this to myself “lately”, aka my whole life.
What makes you different from everyone else in the world and how does that uniqueness manifest itself in your work and life?
Ok, well I make this face when I’m really excited. I think everyone has their go-to smile, or posture, or pose for a photo – but mine happens to be a bit ridiculous. In fact, my friends have coined it the ‘Steph Face” and although it’s not awful, it’s also not super flattering at all times either. This made itself really apparent when we received our wedding photos back from William Walker Photography. I counted. Close to 200 photos with me making this “Steph Face.” It’s neither a blessing or a curse, and at this point I think I’m too old to change it, so I think I’ll just keep making it. The later part of this question… “how does this uniqueness manifest itself in my work and life?”… I have no real answer to that. I’ve had several people tell me it just shows pure joy – so I’d hope, as silly as it may be, that this little quirk about myself can spread some genuine joy to those around me!
Also, I love Chick-Fil-A a lot. Since I was about 15 I said I was going to have Chick-Fil-A at my wedding. And it happened!
What's your Meyers-Briggs personality type?
I love this question because it allows me to talk about two things I am very passionate about: Friday Night Lights and feelings. One of the greatest tragedies in my marriage of three months is knowing that my husband has not seen Friday Night Lights. Instead we’re watching Vikings and Deadwood… not exactly the lovely story line of FNL. Anyways, I am pretty much in love with Tami Taylor. MAJOR girl crush. In graduate school we were taking the Meyers-Briggs and someone found a site about fictional characters and what their Meyers Briggs would be. See, I am an ESFJ. And you will never guess who else is an ESFJ… TAMI! Life. Made.
We do the Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator testing with our students in the Robertson Program and then we have some guided conversation around the differences between and I vs. E, or an S vs. N. But my favorite conversations are about the F vs. T… feeler versus thinker. Oh my word, y’all. I have never in my life. The differences in the way people are wired are incredible, and I think it is most perfectly encapsulated in the F vs. T in the Meyers Briggs.
Another fun fact: Tom is an ESTJ. Note our only difference is the F and the T. I’d pretty much say that this difference is apparent every minute of every day in our house. Don’t get me wrong, Tom has lot of feelings, and I do lots of thinking, but MAN, the way we deal with conflict, problems, or just day-to-day living is so much different because of that little F/T difference.
And I’ll end with this… feelings are THE BEST! They make you an authentic person. People tend to know what you’re thinking because you’re honest with your feelings. Feelings may cause me to cry more than some would like (cough cough, my husband), but feelings also let you laugh a little harder and care a little deeper. Anyways, I love feelings. I think feelings are good, they are healthy, and they help us know each other. And at the end of the day, I think that should be our goal: to be known, to know others, to serve well, and spread joy!