There I stood: staring at my shoes dripping in wet mud. I rapidly realized that my pants had also become a victim of the huge mud pile I had stepped in on the sidewalk rushing to a meeting off campus that I was already 10 minutes late too. I had no one to blame for my current set of circumstances but myself. We all have our fatal flaws, and one of my biggest ones is running late. I run late, A LOT. I’m not exactly sure where this destructive behavior actually began. Both my mother and father are diligent people in all aspects of their life; in other words, I don’t think this behavior was inherited.
This is not the first time my actions have plagued me in the professional world. I’m embarrassed to admit that during my first professional search out of grad school I ended up at some interviews a few minutes late, which I now know being on the other side of the table can reflect extremely poorly on the candidate. I can still vividly remember one interview where I was practically jogging into the building on campus where I was to interview. I ended up sweating in a suit as I frantically searched for the office on the 2nd floor of the building. You can imagine the level of embarrassment I experienced when during the opening conversation for the day the Vice President of Student Affairs offered me a paper towel to wipe the sweat from my face. I’m not sure running late has ever denied my opportunity of obtaining a position; on the other hand, I don’t think its ever helped me in obtaining one either.
So as you read this, you probably find yourself asking the question “So, if this is such an issue, just fix it. Show up earlier, plan more, etc.” Oh, if it were only that easy. Dissecting this undesirable characteristic has caused personal reflection on this question. The answer: I simply just don’t know. Observing how this trait has played out in my life has allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation of the various struggles that the students I work with go through. Earlier in my career, I, at times, found myself asking the question “Why is this such an issue for this student, they just need to work harder to get over it”. I now have a much more authentic realization of how much easier it is to verbalize this as opposed to doing it. If I could just flip a switch and stop it tomorrow, believe me, I would. I’ve come to accept that this is an addiction that I constantly struggle with; like any addiction, admitting I have a problem is the first step. I think i’m finally ready to tackle that first step.
What is your muddy shoe narrative? This is a question I now keep in mind as I work with both students and staff. Beyond bringing on a few laughs during a one on one meeting or student interaction, it also reinforces a vital part of cognitive development: reflection. I have spent too many one on ones and meetings with students engaging in discussion that was purely surface level; absent from dialogue that even resembled an opportunity to learn from an experience(s). While some interactions do not dictate this action a primary focus, many do not even make an attempt to engage with it.
Too often we take the time to provide a directive or direction without taking the time to provide the opportunity for reflection. A primary reason for this action is the vulnerability that we as practitioners may need to embrace in order to make this moment worthwhile. How willing are we to demonstrate the comfort with vulnerability by being vulnerable ourselves in demonstrating to the staff member or student the importance of learning from missteps or faulty thinking? While this process may not be easy or desirable it is extremely important toward building the types of leaders we want to represent and progress the field forward. One of the key lessons I learned from my graduate program faculty was this: students aren’t dumb; in fact, a lot of the time, they know more than we do. It is our job as educators to identify this knowledge and utilize it as a key tool toward student development. Authentic reflection ultimately leads to lasting accountability no matter what the context or circumstances as we impact growth and development.
I was faced with two choices as I sat starting at mud encompassed shoes, and partly encompassed pants. (1) Turn around and walk out of the building before anyone saw me or (2) take off my shoes and have a meeting with three people whom I had not met before wearing only socks. Well, I chose the latter option. The Director of the office I met with laughed it off, and even found a bag that I could put my shoes in as to not get dirt all over my car. The meeting went fine and has led to a successful partnership with an organization moving forward. This experience, however, serves as a yet another reminder of this obstacle that I must find a way to tackle in a more effective manner. Showing up late in a pile of mud is no way to start off a relationship that could benefit students and their experience at the institution where I work. I have to be willing to hold myself accountable to the same measures that I hold the students I serve accountable through authentic reflection. This story could act as an effective example in this regard!