Ask an Alumni Anything: Jackie de Montarnal ('11 BA)

Augustana alumna Jackie de Montarnal gives advice on how we can be decisive and improve ourselves, even when it’s hard to commit to a path.

26 June 2020

It’s easy to be indecisive when we’re unsure of what tomorrow will bring. How do we make decisions about our future when our lives change day by day? In what ways can we still control our plans when so much is out of our control? Is it a mistake to make commitments right now?

As a Certified Coach Practitioner currently working in post-secondary education, alumna Jackie de Montarnal ('11 BA) joined us for an Ask an Alumni Anything! With a background in physical education and sport studies, coaching off the playing field has become a natural extension of Jackie's desire to help people with improving themselves in every aspect of their lives. She strives to help others with discovering what they want out of their lives and to assist them with decision making on the path towards their goals. Jackie knows what it feels like to look at her own life and say, “everything looks fine, but I am not happy at all”.

Jackie answered questions from the Augustana community to showcase how we can be decisive and improve ourselves, even when it’s hard to commit to a path.

Q: Over the past few months I’ve been anxious over committing to anything. How can I alleviate this stress? I WANT to do things, but more and more I worry that I’ll regret it or that it will be a mistake (personally or financially).

A: What an entirely understandable concern. It seems like stress is contagious with all that is happening in the world around us. Stress is a biological response—it can be a great asset in some circumstances and, sometimes as uncomfortable as it is, stress is unavoidable. Additionally, if you are hungry to do things, which it sounds like you are, it might be a plus to have some stress on your side, spurring you to action. Sometimes even a slight shift in perspective can make stress a little easier to tolerate and live with. That shift can start with a change in language—instead of thinking “I feel stressed about X”, try reframing to “I feel driven or passionate about helping to improve X”.

What I think you might be alluding to with your fear of regret is a kind of decision paralysis. With all that is happening, and all that is uncertain, how can you be certain about your choices? I wish I had a crystal ball to help with that. The good news is that your education has prepared you (or is preparing you) to think through complex problems from multiple angles. How would you think through a life decision if it looked more like a research question?

Talk to people who have different perspectives or backgrounds from you, gain insight from experts in that particular area, read about the topic with a critical eye.
But what if you still make a “mistake?” Well those are part of life, and again are a matter of perspective. Some folks, myself included, prefer to call life experiences “lessons” instead of mistakes. Like a bad grade on an exam or assignment, you may not be able to erase a choice entirely. The repercussions of a choice (one you might call a mistake) might ripple through your life. But if you look at it, analyze it and learn something, then it has been a teachable moment, a lesson to carry with you, rather than a complete loss. It will spur growth and new knowledge, and you will be better equipped to make future choices. The path ahead will have twists and turns; mis-steps or lessons will be part of the journey. If you can use the skills you possess to make thoughtful decisions, then you will be able to look back on your life without regret—instead you will say “I did the best I could with what I had at the time”.

You certainly have another option: I used to use an “Elmo in Grouchland” reference, but unless you are about 25 years old, that reference has limited value. You can choose, like Elmo, to allow fear to paralyze your decision making. Spoiler alert: he ends up hanging out in an actual dump for a while when he decides that this might be the best call. You can, in essence, sit down and stop playing the game of life. You will not make any major “mistakes”, but you will have to live with that choice, and if you want to do things, then allowing stress and fear to stop you may just lead to the regret that you are trying to avoid.

The U of A alumni motto is “Do Great Things”. I’ve allowed that to get into my head a bit at times too, with questions like, “but how”, “where do I start” etc. There will be pain and fear, and perceived failure (or lessons) on your way to greatness. A first step might be “do something” or “do good things”, learn, adapt and grow into the greatness.

I will leave you with this, as it eases my decision paralysis frequently. “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Apparently Voltaire said something to that effect, so I won’t take credit. A “perfect” decision may take a really long time, even a lifetime, to come up with—waiting for perfect to make a step or a choice will cause you to miss out on so many fantastic opportunities and life experiences. A good decision will take much less time and risk, and may lead to personal growth a whole lot faster than seeking something that probably doesn’t even exist (perfect).


Q: What is the best way to stay financially responsible in uni?

A: Straight up, I am not a financial planner and I have no formal education in this area. That being said, I will share what I can!

First off—assess what your goals are. Are you hoping to be debt free, or limit debt? Be specific—what exactly does the goal look like? Is it realistic? How does it fit in with other areas of your well being? You may want to be debt free, but it might not be worth sacrificing your nutrition or other areas of your well being (note: if I were going to do it all over again, I would take on a little bit of debt and spend a little more money on meaningful self care. I would probably work a little less, too). Strive for some balance there. When you are thinking of your goal, try to ensure that it will align well with the other areas of your life.

Now it gets down to the work of making the goal a reality: part-time work, awards and scholarships, learning how to use a list and shop for deals (there is an app for that—Flipp) etc. The most useful piece of advice I have is to distinguish between wants and needs. Sometimes you need the coffee date with a friend and other times, the Starbucks is a want that can derail you from your goal. If your goal is to get out of school close to debt free, you are probably going to need to look at several different tactics.

It may help to talk to an expert in the area, sometimes it is financially responsible to get a student loan so that you can access specific grants—even if you don’t need the loan to pay for school. Other times students will spend a student loan (that they didn’t really need) on having fun and then have to pay for it after graduation.


Q: What could a first year student do for possible leadership opportunities?

A: Explore! Find clubs that peak your interest, or start a club for a great leadership experience. Look for opportunities where first year students are eligible. Look beyond campus for volunteer opportunities in the community as well!

One of the most valuable leadership lessons that I learned at Augustana was the power of being an energetic “first follower”. So many great ideas never get off the ground because they lack “early adopters” to get folks interested and engaged.

If you are having trouble finding a leadership group that allows first year students, try thinking about the ones you want to take part in as a returning student. Look for their events and initiatives and be an enthusiastic supporter. This can allow you to learn more about different groups and truly find one that is a great fit. It will also allow the groups to see what great enthusiasm and leadership potential you have!


Q: How do I recruit new members to a new club? Especially when the classes have now moved online.

A: I think you have tapped into a question that so many people at colleges and universities are wrestling with right now: how to encourage engagement in a different way. First off—consider reaching out to the Augustana Students’ Association (ASA) early on to find out how they are going to communicate with students about club info. If there is already a platform available, use it! But don’t stop there.

Think of ways that your club can make activities visible to new and returning students in unique ways. One of the best promotional strategies I have seen was a student wearing a tie dyed shirt with a sign strapped to their body to promote a tie dye event that was happening that day. Decals on the floor work better than posters on walls. Think outside the box of traditional marketing. The coming year will be an amazing opportunity to try totally new ideas rather than relying on social media groups or posters to get the word out.

You may also want to seek out a few instructors who would be willing to mention your club to their classes. Or you can ask your instructors if you can mention your new club at the start or end of a class. Get creative, and ask for suggestions from others.

Try making a list of the online spaces and physical spaces that your current and future club members occupy, and promote your club there. I encourage you to see the challenge as an opportunity for creativity!


Q: I’m enrolled in classes and ready to start an education, but I applied for a degree on a whim. I don’t know what I want to do, or how to figure it out and I’m worried I’m wasting money and time because I can’t figure it out. Do you have any advice?

A: I actually run into this question a lot, especially with young people who aren’t certain of a career path. So, I started asking their parents when they knew what career they wanted… and most of them say the same thing! They are just figuring it out as they go along. Assessments like the Strong Interest Inventory can be helpful in providing career ideas based on your interests and personality. That being said, there is no replacement for experience—work, volunteer and collect as many experiences in your area of interest as early as you can. Finding out what you don’t like is one step closer to finding something you love.

Another way to get a better idea of your path is to take different courses in your first year to learn more about what you like and don’t like. Work with an admissions advisor or academic advisor to see if you can fit in some classes that will let you try different areas out (there is still time to make a change for September). A change of program after 1-2 years is actually pretty common if you find something that is a better fit. School is a wonderful opportunity to talk to others with similar and different interests and to learn more about the world of work. If the first year or two helps you to find a career path that you love, I would consider that money and time well spent!

Whatever you decide to do, remember that it is likely that you are like so many of us who don’t have a super specific career “calling”. That is okay! Take little steps and course correct as you go to create your path forward. When something stops working for you, go ahead and change it—you get to make decisions about your life.

I hope that helps! Good luck next year!


Q: What steps can I take to ensure I’m making the right decision for me? What questions should I be asking myself? 

A: These questions are amazing! I think a great first step is to walk through some visioning and goal setting. One of my favourite questions to ask is, "imagine you are on your deathbed at 98 years old, what do you want to be able to say about your life? Who do you want around you? What matters most to you at that point in time?"

Once you have answered those questions you are going to have a better idea of what a "good life" will look like for you. You will probably need to drill down into a few more specific questions as a result, and that is a process that a coach can help with if you start having trouble with getting into what exactly you want each area of your life to look like. Usually as a result, you will get a better idea of your ideal lifestyle, where you want to live, how you want to spend your time, what you want your legacy to be and what your values are as a person, etc.

From that point you have a really great road map! When you have a choice to make, the answers are a little easier to see because you can ask, "does this help me to get to where I want to be?"

If a decision helps you get to where you want to be and aligns with your values, then you can be more confident in it! If a decision helps you to get to where you want to be, but doesn't align with your values, you can clearly see where you will need to compromise, change course, or try to find a different way to the goal. The great part about this process is that it can help with the smallest decisions, like should you go out with friends or study? Should you eat the extra bag of chips or go for a run? The right choice is going to be different for each person based on where they are trying to get to and what is important to them.

Feel free to go through a process like this frequently—it is never too late to reevaluate and to change your mind about what you want from life. 


Q: How do I decide whose advice it's important to listen to when whatever I do impacts someone else (those who depend on me financially, and the health of those around me)?

A: Ultimately, I think the answer comes down to trust. We are all responsible for the decisions that we make and how they impact other people who are in our lives. So if you are going to listen to someone's advice, it should be because you trust them to a certain degree and you believe they are qualified to assist you.

There are a few different ways someone might be able to show you that they are trustworthy when providing advice. They might have a professional qualification that shows they have training in a specific area, they may have a good reputation and be recommended by someone else who you trust.

At the end of the day, you can ask yourself some of the following questions to better assess the advice that you receive:

  • Does the person have some (or significant) education, experience or a qualification that points to a degree of expertise in the area that they are advising you about?
  • Does the person truly have your best interest in mind?
  • Does the person have a good understanding of your individual situation or circumstances?
  • Are there any red flags or reasons that you might not be able to trust their advice?

Further to that, I have been giving "blind" advice this week, so I really don't get the chance to know more about each person's individual circumstances. Please take that into account when reading each answer! Typically, as a coach, I would spend a significant amount of time asking questions to get to know each person a little better, but our platform doesn't necessarily allow for that!


Q: There's an important decision I've been putting off because I feel like my unrelated anxiety and uncertainty is affecting my decision making skills. Is now the time to be making long-lasting choices?

A: I really wish we could have a longer conversation so that I could hear more about this one before answering! If you feel like anxiety (or any other mental health concern) might be affecting your ability to make decisions, then I highly recommend that you connect with a mental health professional or your doctor to talk about your concerns. It is probably a really good idea to do that before making a major decision. That being said, we do have to make decisions every day, regardless of our state of mind. A short term solution (while working on connecting with a professional) might involve asking someone who you know and trust for some help. Folks around you, who care about you and understand where you are at might be able to help in the short term by providing feedback and talking through some of the decisions to be made. It definitely isn't a sustainable, long term solution, though.

You can learn more about Jackie and her work at Jackie D Leadership & Life Coaching.