I ran a half-marathon recently and (as most things in my life) I found a way to relate it to my higher education career. Alison Black, Assistant Dean of Student Life at Olin College, is a marathon runner with the goal to run a marathon in every state. According to friends, she is currently at 13 states checked off the list. (Do they even run marathons in Alaska??) In any case, it was Alison’s advice that stuck with me post-race, “Run your own race at your own pace.” It’s Orientation season so let’s take it there.
During my graduate assistantship and first professional position, I was able to transform an orientation program with a very large budget and an amazing talent pool of legacy orientation leaders. I say “legacy” orientation leaders because this particular pool had four very strong candidates that all had something in common. They all referred to their orientation leader, who happened to be the same student for all four. I’ve never heard of such a thing. One, here or there, sure, but four students with the same orientation leader?! It was incredible.
During this time I was able to reallocate monies to new initiatives, cancel speakers whom have been attending the orientation for years, and also add new positions (logistics chair, parent orientation leader chair, parent orientation leaders). It was an incredible transition that was successful beyond my wildest expectations. It led to presenting at NASPA 2009 in Seattle and NODAC 2008 in Boston about how to take an orientation/first-year program to the next level.
Now as I dig into the orientation program at my current institution, I have another group of very talented, aspiring, and established student leaders but I do not have a very large budget. In fact, as a matter of comparison, the budget for student give-a-ways at my former institution is the same size as my entire training, program supplies, and miscellaneous-last-minute needs. Smaller school, different location, different philosophy. Now enter that quote I mentioned before, “Run your own race at your own pace.”
If I tried to run the half-marathon like those around me (some finishing in around 90 minutes) I would have passed out by 7-mile mark. Instead I ran “my race” at “my pace” and, in my assessment, my goals were met with great satisfaction. If I try to program and plan my current institution’s orientation like I did the orientation I planned in my first professional position, we wouldn’t have had a budget by the end of April.
My point is this, as professionals we work all over the country for all sorts of institutions and go to conferences attending sessions where institutions show off their proudest programs and best practices. They are running their race at their pace. Whether that race is orientation, RA training, campus programming, community service programs, or whatever your area responsibility is. You need to remember one thing, “Run your own race at your own pace.”