I was taking a break in between projects a few days ago (a mix of recruitment and assessment – oy!) and fell down a nostalgic rabbit hole – reading quotes by Mister Rogers. I grew up watching old episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and I remember the joy that his show brought to my life; revisiting it as an adult reminded me of the wonderful messages that he had to offer in each episode.
I started thinking about Leadership Fridays and how Mister Rogers might approach some of the different theories and approaches to leadership, and how his philosophy on life coincides beautifully with ideas such as positive and authentic leadership. Mister Rogers encouraged his viewers to be themselves, to focus on what makes each one of us shine, and always find ways to be kind and serve others. My favorite quote from Mister Rogers deals with kindness directly; it’s a quote that I enjoy so much, it’s printed and hung up in my office.
I make an effort to reflect on this quote each day. As student affairs professionals, we all have bad days. We all work with students who can give us a hard time, situations that are less than ideal, and student groups that lack a clear vision or set of goals. I’ve experienced working with students under each of these conditions, but by taking a step back and reminding myself to tackle the issue from a place of kindness and service truly does affect the way that I work with students and student groups, as well as situations that are constantly in flux or two days that are never the same. I remind myself that each of these students has something wonderful to offer to the group, to the classroom, and to our campus community. I remind myself that when I’m severely craving structure and predictable days, that I seem to thrive best when I’m leading on my feet. And yes, there have been days where I’m repeating this quote verbatim over the course of the day, in “serenity now!” fashion. But it’s a beautiful reminder of how a little bit of kindness can go a long way, especially for leaders.
Mister Rogers had me thinking not only about leadership, but the importance of balance and play – especially as I started reflecting on kindness. Balance is key in leadership. It’s critical that we take some time to play to refresh and recharge, or we will burn ourselves out. (Please, trust me on this one.) At any rate, Mister Rogers challenged us to continue to live our lives with a sense of childlike wonder and play. He would point out that for children, playing is learning, and that doesn’t simply end when we become adults. Reading for pleasure, playing with pets, and finding new ways to learn and connect with others can all be considered play if we are truly enjoying it. I’ve been reflecting on the idea of play and self-care quite a bit since falling down the Mister Rogers rabbit hole, and I think it’s incredibly important to take time to focus on other projects. It seems almost silly to make such an obvious statement, but it’s so easy for us to become laser-focused on our students and their needs that we devote nearly all of our waking hours to it. It’s something I’m guilty of, so taking that time to disengage and focus my energy on creative pursuits helps me to unwind. And sometimes, I come back with new ideas or ways to tackle a problem.
Mister Rogers had a lot to teach us about positivity and about balance – arguably two of the most important aspects to leadership in student affairs. His view on authenticity and the fact that every child has something unique and wonderful about them translates beautifully to student affairs. I believe that every one of our students has something fantastic to offer to the campus community, whether it’s inside the classroom or out, within a student organization or beyond. One facet of our job as student affairs professionals is to find ways to encourage and challenge our students while helping them to figure out what it is that makes them special – and one of the best ways to do this, in my mind, is to approach working with students from a lens of positivity, kindness, and authenticity. To do this in the most effective and impactful way possible, we need to ensure that we are taking the time for play and self-care, too.
Students, #SApros, colleagues, readers…please, remember this.
What are your thoughts Mister Rogers’ lessons? How have you applied them to your leadership approach?
Want more Mister Rogers quotes? Check out this Buzzfeed article! It’s got some of my absolute favorites.
Originally posted on Life in the Yellowhammer State.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Conor McLaughlin on SA Work-Life Balance