It had been a long day at work. I had multiple student meetings, uploaded data to our database, reviewed leadership applications, and had to sit through StrenghsFinder training. As I looked at my strengths (Restorative, Achiever, Analytical, Responsibility, Deliberative), I noticed that there weren’t many similarities to other professionals in the room. Sigh, not again…this song resonated with my feelings.
Ever since I made that fateful decision to pursue a career in student affairs, I knew I would stand out in the crowd, as my undergraduate degree was in science and mathematics. My mentor (still a dear friend to this day) told me that educational professionals think differently than chemists and physicists. Once I started my graduate classes, I noted a stark difference in learning styles. While I preferred to listen intently to the professor and take multitude of notes, others wanted to express thoughts and feelings in discussion. I was told I was the most intense learner in class; I was always on time, I listened to every word the professor said, and my notes were neatly written. I had a hard time engaging in discussion in class; the first time someone cried in a graduate class telling a story, I had no idea how to respond. (People really didn’t cry in Physics…unless the test was hella difficult.) Besides, as a scientific person, development theories were just…theories. I was more interested in how the theories worked and how they didn’t. What’s the point spending three hours speaking about our thoughts on Kohlberg? Who cares…does it work or not?
Over time, I learned that I could use my strengths to my professional advantage. I tend to think more analytically in foreseeing possible obstacles. I would look at the “whys” and “hows” to ensure we were reaching out to all students. How are we inviting students? E-mail? Twitter? What do students use to communicate? Is the timing conducive for students who want to attend but work at night? What about our students who have families? Have we identified emerging leaders to take this task on, rather than relying on the same batch of students we always look to? I wanted to make sure that we were being intentional and inclusive. I wasn’t the best at planning events or looking at theory; my strength was taking all that information and making a situation work for everyone (hence the analytical showing up in my top 5). Other times I didn’t say much in a meeting; I was processing information, and I didn’t have immediate feelings. I needed time to think a situation through and think through obstacles (part of the deliberative strength).
Now, this has caused some unintended consequences. People ask why I question how things are going to work, or wonder if I’m being hyper critical. I’ve been told that I “over-analyze” everything, that it’s hard to work with someone who is critical and doesn’t share how they “truly” feel. I’ve also been told my questions sometimes make me look like I’m smarter than anyone and I have all the answers. If I had all the answers, I’d be making serious cash and be speaking at every conference imaginable. It’s hard to quell my rapid-fire processing, and this is a task I’ve tried to take on. It has been a good thing to tell new colleagues how my mind works, and if I’m asking a lot of questions, it’s a way for me to think a situation through. I’m a problem solver and tend to imagine the event happening in my head, thinking of how it will operate and anticipating challenges.
Honestly, I’m used to being the one who thinks differently. But I’ve had to adjust to the higher ed environment. Not every problem has a solution, and not every situation needs to be fixed. There are times where I wished I was more emotional, more relative, more “Woo”. I really didn’t have a say in how my mind works, but if it helps my work then I won’t mind it too much if I’m a little different.