I wrote the better part of this not really knowing where I was going with the post. I only know that, when I jumped into a Twitter conversation the other day about balance, how we present ourselves to others, and being liked by our students and colleagues, I felt the need for our student affairs community to talk about the genuine struggle that is the human condition. Then, I wrote something in my very last paragraph which has made me completely re-work this post. Please continue to read, I promise it will only get a little geeky around here.
A Quick Synopsis
For those not familiar with The Lord of the Rings, here’s a brief synopsis. Frodo Baggins has to bring an evil, soul-sucking ring to the place of its forging and destroy it before it destroys him. He has 8 companions to help in this task, all of whom, for various reasons, he is separated from (except his gardener Samwise Gamgee. The other members of the Fellowship help the peoples of Middle Earth and work to stave off the ultimate evil to give Frodo a chance of success.
Frodo is essentially the only person who can carry the ring. Just like – when you get right down to it – we are the only ones who can carry our burdens. So we hesitate to talk about our challenges. It’s not that we’re not being genuine when only talking openly about our professional accomplishments, publications, marathons, children, etc. It’s that we’re presenting our best face to the world and that’s the nature of humanity. Unfortunately, this has led to a culture within the profession where everyone is trying to break into consulting, or starting a Ph.D. program immediately past their Master’s, or any number of things we should be doing.
Making it Real
That’s where things stop being real. We’re no longer being genuine to ourselves. Rather, we’re trying to keep up with more Joneses than humanly possible. I joke that I’m not ambitious. That’s not entirely true though. I have a career goal of middle management (cue the gasps). I will never earn a PhD. I will never take a job where I feel compelled to check my email after 5pm or on weekends. When Frodo strikes off on his own and 2 members of the Fellowship are kidnapped, the remaining members decide to rescue the kidnapped hobbits. This is the rational choice based on their abilities and the change to the initial plan.
Let’s get even more real. I am incredibly frustrated when I review a student for graduation and see that basic requirements such as writing proficiency haven’t been completed. Seriously, how do you get away with that? I have woken up in the morning wondering if I can call out sick. I’ve cried to my wife about this supervisor or that administrator, or my crappy salary, or my 2-hours-each-way commute. It’s funny. I sit here, writing a post about being real and I have trouble typing the words “I have social anxiety and imposter syndrome.” Those feelings aren’t just relegated to my professional life. We all wear multiple One Rings that are trying to drain us of everything we are, turning us into wraiths beholden to our masters. Frodo actually gives up just before the end; it’s just too hard. Samwise steps in, but he can’t carry the ring. He can, however, carry Mr. Frodo up the mountain. Hopefully, we have friends, partners, mentors, & colleagues who can carry us as Samwise did.
What We All Want
Even though Frodo and Sam were separated from the Fellowship for the majority of the book, everyone was working toward a common goal. I like to think that all Student Services Professionals are in a similar situation. We all want our students to succeed. Sometimes that requires the sacrifice of working nights and weekends for months at a time during Orientation or Gandalf and Boromir laying down their lives protecting the others. Sometimes it means resting even though the mission is looming and actually using that vacation time you earn or the Fellowship’s stay in Lothlorien.
No matter what, it will always mean maintaining your identity and being true to yourself.