Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Can Some Passions Just Stay Passions?

I know it's at times blasphemous to say this in the world of student affairs, but I don't care for the "p" word. It lingers in my ear in an unpleasant way, and I've been known to cringe when people use it in interviews or speeches. 

That's right folks, I'm talking about passion. ::shudder::

Let me preface this by saying that I have no problem with professionals who are passionate about their work. None whatsoever. I think that it's a beautiful thing to be passionate about the work that you do, and it makes it so much easier to be great at it when you are. I just also think that some passions can stay passions, but don't have to be your job. And just so we're clear- I love my work. LOVE it. But I've realized over the past few years that I do better when my passions and my work are separate. And I don't think I'm alone in that.

Let me give an example. I've seen a lot of commercials for institutions like Le Cordon Bleu and Keiser University, urging those who like to cook to shell out thousands of dollars for culinary degrees. The assumption is, if you like something enough, doing it everyday for a career makes sense. 

But what if that's not true?

I love cooking, baking, and decorating cakes. It fills me with joy to take fresh ingredients and turn them into an edible masterpiece. But I have a feeling that doing it for 12 hours a day (or longer!) would suck the joy right out of it. And while we can advise students toward following the thing they love more than anything in the world, I'd rather advise them toward something they are good at, and enjoy enough, to allow them to pursue their loves as they'd like. 

I'll give another personal example, this one more recent. I love live music, and have worked with it in some capacity at work or in my free time since I was 17 years old. And I loved every minute of it. That said, I find that I've enjoyed it more since it wasn't a part of my job. Did working in it for almost nine years (WHOA) turn me off of it? No, but do I enjoy it more now that it's not my job? Sure do!

Think of the things you love to do, things that give you joy in your free time. If your livelihood depended on those same things, if you had to do them without the freedom to decide when and how they would get done, would you love them as much? If so, then by all means pursue them as a career. But if they're your passions because you can do them at your leisure? That's okay, too. Find a job that you like enough, and that allows you to pursue those passions, and you'll be okay.

A Tale of Two Cities

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

Well, not exactly my accurate thoughts on the matter, but it does set a great stage for juxtaposition.

Bros on the corner, Brighton, MA
As most of you know, I've been living in Boston for about a month now and absolutely love it. I'd been here several times before moving, and knew I would like it, but had no idea how much I would enjoy having it as my home. My commute is relaxing, my neighborhood is small but has everything I need, I'm surrounded by my friends, and it just fits my overall constitution: fun loving and smart, but not ridiculous.

In contrast, I'm sad to report, is the Big Apple. Let me preface this by saying that there are many people who I care very much about that live there, and I appreciate that. However...that city is just very not me. It's bustling, loud, crowded, the public transportation situation causes me endless anxiety, it's difficult. 

As a point of contrast, let me share this anecdote: when I came to Boston for my interview at Emmanuel, despite having endured a ridiculous travel day and getting in at 1am, my blood pressure settled. It settled to a point where it hadn't in a while in Tallahassee, actually. Comparatively, getting off the bus to New York this past weekend, my blood pressure skyrocketed. Not sure why, I just find that city stressful!

All that said, I had a wonderful time this past weekend visiting friends. I got to see some old friends from high school and college, visited Coney Island with them, go to Bon Iver at Radio City Music Hall with one of my oldest friends (since third grade!), and even meet new friends I previously only knew through the window that is my computer. So while I will not be taking up residence in New York anytime soon, I do return time and again for the people.

What towns do you love? What towns just don't do it for you?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Are You A Leader? Well, Are You?

Well, I'm excited to report that I'm starting to feel useful at work! After a few weeks of easing into the culture, which is always a challenge, I'm meeting with students and, as I said to one friend, "saying 'I don't know' less than they are"! I'm starting a pretty big new project that I'm excited about, but it stirred up some interesting thoughts, as did a few other comments over the course of the day.

As the assessment pro in the office, I'm working with our other assistant director to assess one of our leadership programs. It has fallen dormant in recent years, as students start it but aren't following the procedure to complete it. Our goal? To determine why it's not working, and see if an alternate version of this program would catch on with younger students who have not been exposed to either version. However, in looking over the former version of the program, I realized something: this isn't a leadership program. To verify my suspicions, I started hunting around for definitions of student leadership (I know, a dangerous proposition!). Here are two I found that fit the argument I'm trying to make:

from Portland State's Leadership Development Program:
"A student leader, whether in a formal position or not, nurtures abilities in themselves and others in order to make an ethical and socially just impact on campus or in the larger community."

from the George Washington University Center for Student Engagement:
"Leadership is a developmental process which empowers students to engage others in a movement towards positive change."

Now, without detailing the full design of this program, I will say that it is a means by which to collect points for certain opportunities on and off campus. To me, that is less a leadership program, and more of an involvement initiative. The individuality of it, and lack of a reflection piece, are the parts that seem to be missing. Both leadership education and involvement initiatives are worthwhile pursuits, but different to be sure! The students in this program are leading...the rest of their students in points value of activities they choose to record, but are they leading? Maybe, maybe not.

We are very quick to take leadership positions and label them "leadership opportunities". However, in the absence of the direction required to make these students good leaders, does that count? Think of the student who went to a few meetings, and then counts his involvement on a resume (enough of that, and we get the cartoon we've seen above). Or a student leader who doesn't pull his or her weight on an executive board. Is that leadership?
I was affirmed in my confusion about the topic when I saw this message from a friend later that afternoon:

Spencer, you nailed it. Hope you're okay with being on my blog.

This post is not designed to demean leadership education- I love the idea of that, and think it is extraordinarily valuable. That being said, the education piece of that is essential. Don't allow students to think that getting the position is the leadership part. Encourage them, challenge them, demand of them that they actually lead in those roles- and show them what that looks like. 

What are you doing to make leadership roles "leadership opportunities"?

Monday, September 17, 2012

What's Your Age Gauge?

One of the really cool parts about yesterday's race was the chance to meet new people. Yes, I followed the lead of my gregarious fellow runner Jeff Parker and met new people at a race! This woman's name was Becky, and she started running shortly after her 50th birthday in July. She talked about how she had talked herself out of it for so many years, with fears of getting hurt or not being good at it, and finally decided to just go for it. 

She referred to it as something pretty cool- running, for her, is an "age gauge". That is to say, it's something she'll do for as long as the joy of it outweighs the fear. Think about young kids. They do things without fear, and you can tell they've matured when they think to not do these things. To me, an age gauge is the point at which thought overpowers action, and you back away from something you'd want to do based on overthinking it. 

Another "age gauge" for Becky is rollercoasters. She, her kids and I are all Disney enthusiasts, and we talked a lot about how she keeps riding rollercoasters, despite the fact that she might be seen as too old for that (Author Note: at fifty? Not even close!). But she will deem herself old when she thinks about riding rollercoasters, and the idea of what could happen (falling, sickness, etc.) stops her from getting on and strapping in.

But then the interesting part came: she asked me what my age gauges are.

I had to think pretty hard about it. I talk myself out of things all the time; as an anxious person, we just do! But what, of those things, is done because of age? For me, it tied back into my work in some way. One of the things that I found myself excited about in this new position was the comparatively earlier hours. I asked during my interview about the length of events. When I was told most of them ended at 10pm, I found myself...oddly delighted. I loved my work with late night events for so many years, and my reaction to the possibility of being in bed by 10:30 surprised even me! So I suppose my gauge is being able to work late, but not too late. 

Another one is, of course, Disney movies. The morning before, after oversleeping volunteer work, my instinct was to sit on the couch and do my monthly viewing (no joke) of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. And I don't think anything of that, of the fact that my go-to movies are designed for 8 year olds. I suppose that when that becomes weird, I'll be old. Translation: I'll never get old :)

I had a great time talking with Becky, and she let me know about several other races in the area, so I hope that I'll get to see her again! But in the meantime, think about it: what are your age gauges?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Recap: Orchard House 10k

Our starting line!
Two major passions of mine are running (which many of you know about), and nerditude (less explicitly mentioned, but I'm sure detectable!). So when I saw the opportunity to run a race at Orchard House, the storied locale of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women...there was NO way it wasn't happening. Much like with any piece of clothing I try on that fits, I was committed from the moment I realized it worked. 

Check out those starting guns!
This morning, I got to the site early and watched as the race staff set up the course and registration table. As someone who's had the opportunity to be a part of race administration, I have an odd attraction to this part. This group did a great job, and I was so happy to take part in the race because of them and all of their hard work.

There it is...Alcott's Orchard House.
Once the race started, it was the scenery that kept my head in the game as my body fought what I was doing. Between moving and starting a new job, my running routine has been slow in coming together. I felt this 6.2 FAR more than I normally do, and my performance suffered from it at times. What brought me back? The sights and sounds of Concord, MA. In true nerd form, I ran this race to Thomas Newman's score to the 1994 Little Women, starring Winona Ryder and a young (far better) Kirsten Dunst. It was the perfect soundtrack for this run- winding in and out of town squares and past historical sites, it was an amazing way to bring the movie to life. As I passed a pond, I wondered if that was where Amy fell through the ice while skating with Laurie and Jo. Seeing neighboring older houses, I wondered which one belonged to the sometimes illusive Mr. Laurence. And I couldn't help but imagine what the town looks like at Christmastime, as so many scenes in the book described.

My soundtrack for the day (natch)
It was a shock to the system to run so much further than any of my runs in MA to date, but it was a shock in the best possible way. As I rounded the last corner, awesomely enough at Thoreau and Walden Streets, I felt renewed to keep making running a part of my life, and to pick races that are really meaningful to me like this one was. 

And speaking of meaningful, there are a LOT of thank your owed for this race! As many of you know, I've been raising money this summer for Women's Health's Run 10 Feed 10 initiative, and this was the race I selected to run for that. To all who gave money, spread the word, and generally supported those efforts- thank you. To those who endured my endless calls for money but did not give...thank you too, for I got no complaints :) To Allison, who lent me her car for the trip to Concord- THANK YOU! I literally could not have done it without you, and your iced coffee is on its way :)

This race made a difference in a great many ways, and I'm excited to see what comes next as a result of it!

You've made me a very happy girl! :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Common Words in an Unlikely Place

Ah, the bus. It's an interesting mode of transportation. Sometimes uneventful, sometimes out of control, but always entertaining. Even with a car, I've been a frequent bus rider over the past several years- first, in grad school, when I refused to pay hundreds of dollars to park across the street from my apartment, and then in Tallahassee over the summer when the promise of regular work days made the bus a dependable way to get home. And now, in Boston with no car, it has become my lifeblood. With all of these years riding the bus, I was surprised to see something extremely unique on my ride to work this morning.

When I got on the bus this morning, I had a driver I've never met before- easy, considering I've been doing this for a week. She was pleasant as I boarded, and seemed to be in a great mood. But as the first stop was requested, she pulled over, opened the door, and shouted "Thank you!"

She continued to do this over the course of my roughly twenty minute ride. Each time she stopped, she would say "Thank you!" to whoever got off the bus, making sure they heard her. I was astonished. It's so simple, and yet it was completely new to me. 

I made sure to immortalize the moment as it happened.
Other passengers noticed, and one approached her, saying "You are the first bus driver I've ever seen do that, it's very nice!" Her matter of fact response: "I've been saying that since I start it, and I'll continue to say it until I end." It's a part of who she is, and how she works. Moreover, I'm willing to bet, based on my short time with her, that she does it even on the days that it's hard to or she doesn't exactly feel like it.

I share this story because it uplifted me on a Monday. I hope it makes you smile too, and that you use it as inspiration to do something small but impactful for someone today :)

Friday, September 7, 2012

This Week on SA First Years: The First Week at Work

This week over at SA First Years, I talk about what you can do at the office when you can't do anything yet...ah, the first untrained weeks on the job. Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

#1yrdown: The Long Awaited Conclusion

The result of this project has been a long-awaited one, and I apologize for those who expected it sooner!

In truth, expectations play a big role in the results of the project. In talking to more than 20 professionals, I realized that one of the biggest factors leading to success in a new role is the level of comfort one feels going into a job, comfort with one's new lifestyle and the expectations from those around him or her.

To start, I'll include a few statements that were given as responses to questions I posed.

What did your graduate program do to prepare you for your step into graduate life?

Interview preparation, higher ed law, meeting and event planning, group dynamics (important for working with others)

We had internships, assistantships, and great advisors/mentors in the field that were the biggest help in preparing me for professional life. 

Not much.  While I had one professor who helped immensely with advice whenever needed, our program left it up to our Graduate Student Association to educate soon to be professionals on the dos and don't s of post-masters work. (I know of several programs that use this approach- has it been effective? Would it be more responsible for faculty and professional mentors to take on this particular responsibility? Why or why not?)

What is the biggest lesson you've learned from your first year on the job?

I've learned that no one will truly know what you think or feel unless you speak up.

I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that it takes time to affect change, and sometimes you have to be patient. 

Being "perfect" in grad school does NOT mean you will be perfect on the job. There are real life politics one will encounter and will have to learn to navigate. 

To find a community outside of work to connect with. While I enjoy the people that I work with, I need to find an outlet outside of work.

What do you wish you had learned before leaving graduate school?

Not so much. I think someone I've seen other new professionals struggle with is the idea that when you move to a new institution/department/position, the first item on your to-do list can't be "change everything about this job" 

Life as a new pro is a tough balancing act sometimes.
I wish I had done a bit more research on the city I was moving to, and on the staff I was becoming a part of. If I had had a bit more time, I think I would have been able to create a more accurate picture of what I was becoming a part of.  

I wish additional faculty members discussed the concept of ambiguity.  One faculty member discussed it constantly...

As I went through these responses, and reflected on my own pair of first year experiences (my first prior to grad school, and my first after), I realized that these responses, and ones like them, are rooted in expectation. When we go to graduate school, we expect a lot when we leave. We expect to love our first position. We expect to be heard and to be able to effect change right away. We expect the opportunity to have fulfilling personal and professional lives right off the bat. But when these expectations are met differently from how we originally imagined, there can be frustration and discord.

I did a presentation with Kelley McCarthy at the NASPA-FL drive in about advice from new professionals and mid-level managers to graduating master's students. The main takeaway from that presentation was management of expectations. Like one respondent said earlier, speak up! If you expect something, or something is different from how you thought it would be, say something. You might not be able to change anything, but at least the expectation is addressed. Similarly, be thoughtful as you interview at an institution. You may not (and likely will not) get a fully accurate picture of your office, department, or division of student affairs during your time on the phone or on campus. But if you have non-negotiable expectations (e.g. a personal life outside of work, a environment amenable to change), you have to let them know what you need. Otherwise, neither side will get what they want from the relationship.

And if you're already in a position, heading into your second year (or third, or any other year!), use the beginning of the year as a natural opportunity to reassess and voice your expectations. With a supervisor, coworker, partner, whoever needs to know! Maybe it won't serve as a solution for any angst that may have built up during year one, but it has the potential to be a start. Sometimes that's all you need!