We talk a lot about finding your “fit” in student affairs. Over the years, I’ve heard the term used in a variety of ways. Usually, it’s phrased in a positive light, providing empowerment for some introspection, reflection, and significant decisions. However, I’ve also heard it abused. I’d like to shed some light on the dangers of leaning too heavily into finding our fit and assuming others’ fit.
I first recognized this when I was in a student leader hiring meeting years ago. I was sitting in a big room with many colleagues, sorting through hundreds of interview guides. As we were discussing each candidate and where to place them, I heard the word “fit” used often.
“I think she would be a great fit for an upper-division hall.”
“Do you think he’d be a good fit, considering the rest of your team?”
These statements were said with good intentions and were understood without question; however, the following statements became unclear and difficult to interpret.
“He just doesn’t fit anywhere we have an opening.”
“I’m just not sure they fit the mold.”
What mold? If there is a mold, should there be a mold? When some of my colleagues’ statements about fit became questionable, I retreated. I needed to reflect. Why did these statements disturb me, but the others didn’t?
I worry that we can use the word “fit” to make things happen to our advantage without having to say what we’re really thinking. When we use the word “fit” to make hiring decisions, we often have the opportunity to discriminate without repercussion. It’s a dangerous word.
When I was job searching a few years ago, I had an on-campus interview at a small, faith-based university. It felt a little rocky, and I ultimately didn’t think it would be the best place for me to work. They called me the next day and explained that they’re moving forward with the process; they would not be considering me. I asked if they could elaborate on their decision. They simply said, “We just don’t think we’re the right fit for each other.” I didn’t push back because, frankly, I agreed.
A couple months later, a colleague of mine had a friend who worked at that university, and he shared that I wasn’t hired because they thought I was too liberal—they noticed I had a nose piercing. I knew I couldn’t support the spiritual mission of that university, and I wouldn’t be a good fit in that way. But their reason was because I have a tiny hole in my nostril? That’s what they meant by “fit.”
The word “fit” can also be used to build walls so we never have to leave our comfort zones.
I’ve worked at a variety of universities over the years, and when I took my current job, I quickly thought, “I have found my fit.” It felt relieving! I thought I had finally arrived. However, two years later, I realize the things I was looking for in a university aren’t what make it my fit. For me, it’s the people I work with. I’ve worked in public, private, non-profit, for-profit, small, large–none of that has mattered.
The people surrounding me are what matters most. I have the world’s best supervisor, and I am excited to come to work every day to see my colleagues. That’s what makes this a good fit for me. I am so thankful I have discovered this because I would have continued to box myself into the university types I identify with most. However, setting myself up for authentic connection with a variety of people is far more rewarding than setting myself up for comfort and security.
So, friends, I acknowledge and celebrate that we are all unique with our own strengths, skills, flaws, and quirks. We will undoubtedly fit better in one position, office, or university than someone else. However, I urge you to check your motivation when using the word “fit.” Be kind to yourself and one another.