I had one of my first ‘though provoking encounters’ with students yesterday – one of my favourite types of moments that make a career in student affairs worthwhile. I had walked over to one of our campus buildings to deliver some posters (read: to get away from the computer) and got into the elevator with a group of students. I recognized these students as part of a small group that often clearly look like they’d rather be anywhere else than in a resume workshop (the vast majority of the students are nice enough to not make those feelings as obvious). 🙂
I should have realized something was up when, after getting into the elevator, I see that one of the students has that ‘I know you from somewhere but I’m not sure where so I’m going to look at you awkwardly while I figure it out’ expressions. After a few awkward seconds, he suddenly points and exclaims ‘Hey! Resume lady!’ Attempting to be witty, I answer ‘Yup! That’s me!’.
It’s always exciting, and a little bit terrifying, when I get recognized by students. At other institutions where I’ve spent years as a student and professional, getting recognized was one of the more tangible ways I could see that I was making some sort of difference with the students. While I may not be able to see the tangible change in their behaviour, I know that these students at least recognize me and see me as approachable (since they stop to say hello), thereby setting the stage for (hopefully) future positive interactions. In this case, being recognized as ‘the resume lady’ also lead to an impromptu career advising session in the elevator. We can’t get to all students using the same methods, so if I can impart some of the pearls of wisdom usually handed out in a 30 minute advising session in a 5 second elevator ride, I’m happy to do it.
Outside of ideas for a new business venture (Elevator Advising Inc. – patent pending), this encounter got me thinking about being famous, or most likely, infamous on campus. Being a student affairs professional often transforms seemingly mild mannered staff into pseudo-celebrities. Many students know us even if we don’t know them and our reputation precedes us. For many new professionals, this is a particularly terrifying notion as it seems to mean we must be ‘always on’ – constantly and continually aware of every word and action in case they are misinterpreted or misconstrued. Such a negative view is stressful to hold and even more stressful to base one’s actions on – walking on eggshells doesn’t allow for much creativity or spontaneity, two important tenants of a thriving student affairs practice.
Instead of worrying about ‘always being watched’ (sounds a little bit like being stalked doesn’t it?) I prefer to use moments like this as a reminder to be more mindful of, and in, my words and actions. As James Baraz says:
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
Being aware that others know who you are and what you do, and see things that you do even when they are only fleeting passes in your consciousness, allows for an examination of behaviors, beliefs and attitudes to the point that it’s no longer about you – it’s about the students and how what you do impacts them. Being mindful takes the emphasis off how something ‘looks’ and puts the focus on what is. We are compelled to learn to focus on the here and now, to enjoy the moment and, in doing so, learn how these actions impact others while embracing rather than avoiding change. In being mindful, infamy becomes opportunity.