My Biggest Regret – Not Realizing What I Didn’t Know

My good friend Laura Pasquini shared this link on twitter a while back, a youtube video with people sharing their biggest regret (ok, it wasn’t this video, but I couldn’t find the original.  this will do).

My initial response was that I try to not live with regrets, I just have things that I do using the information I have at the time.  It’s foolish, I think, to look back and think about regrets because you’re viewing it through a lens that was different than the one you had that you used to decide to do whatever you did that you regret.  It’s unfair.

So on the surface, I hate this question because it’s unfair and it’s filled with people being unfair to themselves.  I’ve seen too many people in my life get so burdened down with regrets of things they did, things that they wish they did and things they shouldn’t have done.  They stop functioning and stop living forward.  To quote Don Draper, do what you have to do in life, move forward and you’ll be surprised by how much these things didn’t matter.

However, I was surprised to find myself at the orientation presentation I give for students, starting to realize something I regret.  I was giving three presentations, off and on, during orientation sessions, one which focused on parents and rallied them to get their students involved with campus, one on campus events and our campus activities board, and one on the offices in student affairs and how we provide life-changing experiences and resources for students.  Two of these sessions, the ones that weren’t about campus events, were presented with other offices, including the career center.  The funny thing is that I found myself mentioning, quite specifically, the career center in the other session.  But why?  I wonder if I didn’t see myself quite a bit in their 18 year old faces, making me feel that I needed to tell 18 year old me a story.

Let’s backtrack.

I started off college as a business major.  During the first week of school, I changed to pre-pharmacy, presumably because I wanted to make that bread (academic advisors will find that familiar).  I did well in pre-pharm, and was admitted to pharmacy school after my sophomore year.  While working in the pharmacy, I realized that I hated it, so I drove back down to my college the summer before pharmacy school, dropped out and re-enrolled in undergrad as a chemistry/biology major.  After one semester, I dropped the bio major to a minor and would eventually graduate as a chemistry major.  Somewhere in there I got wrapped up in student activities and we know how that ended (if you don’t, check my about page).

So, not knowing what to do with myself at this point, I left to live in California for the summer, while I waited to hear back from the bizarre collection of graduate school applications I’d submitted (phd in chemistry, mba, divinity school (yes, i said that)).  I was admitted to all and decided that the phd in chem was the best financial path since I’d be making a whopping $24k per year and have my tuition covered.  I would end up leaving the program after a semester with terrible grades, complete disinterest in my classes and the stink of failure.  I would have left in September, truth be told, because I hated it, but I couldn’t give up on my teaching obligations.

Fueled by that experience, I somehow acquired a teaching position teaching 7th grade science that I would leave at the end of the school year.  After that, I got a CNA certification and got a job at a small surgery center.  During the course of that year, I decided I wanted to do student affairs, but couldn’t apply.  So I left this job when my lease ran out and was able to acquire a job working in the mortgage industry with Wells Fargo.  During my time there, I’d be admitted to grad school and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, why did I tell you all this?  Other than self-mutilation?

The truth is, I was a complete idiot.  I hope that the seasoned career folks and student affairs pros can see the foolishness in my path there.  I entered college with no direction, left college with no direction and spent the next four years doing the career exploration that should have been done as a college student, if not as a high school student.  In truth, I didn’t realize how lost I was.  My parents weren’t able to help, even though I know they really wanted to, and I wasn’t wise enough to seek professional help at that age.

My biggest regret is that I didn’t know how lost I was.  I wish that I’d had the intelligence and foresight to go ask a seasoned career pro to help me through how lost I was, maybe to give me a career inventory or something (oddly enough, one of these landed me in student affairs).  I wish that I hadn’t spent three years wandering around lost.  It cost me a relationship, friendships, three years of earning potential, a lot of emotional distress, and a lot of time doing something I love.

So, I think that’s why I felt compelled to reach out to these freshman.  I don’t want them to end up like me, someone who just blindly stumbled into his vocation.  All of the resources I used to get here are available to anyone on the internet or in a career services office.  Don’t be a moron like me and not take advantage of it if you find yourself lost.

Truth be told, I’ve seen a career professional 4 times since I started my masters degree in 2007, and I plan on going back the next time I feel a little bit lost.  They’re good at it, and I trust that they have my best interest at heart.

That’s the thing about regrets.  As long as they inform your future, and move you on towards something positive, they’re worth your time.  Just remember, as the avetts say, when you run make sure you run to something not away from.  I think I’m running the right way….for now.

Do the Right Thing – Social Justice Sometimes Hurts

I watched the movie “Do the Right Thing”, A Spike Lee joint (his words, not mine) on my Netflix Instant last night; it had been sitting there on the queue for several weeks and possibly months, partly because I knew it was going to be challenging (it’s Spike Lee) and party because I was tearing through several TV shows and rather than investing in a 2 hour movie that might be challenging, I often opt for the thing that I can knock out in 30 minutes or so and keep it moving.

But anyway, “Do the Right Thing” featured a star studded cast, including the dude that I would later grow to be disgusted by as Burrell on the Wire, Danny Aiello who I only knew from Peter mentioning him on Family Guy, Spike himself, Bill Dunn, who I mostly knew as the guy who looked out for Whoopie Goldberg in Sister Act, and John Turturro.  Ok, maybe not star studded, but more studded with a bunch of “hey, it’s that guy!” actors.  The basic gist is that it’s really hot in Brooklyn and when it’s really hot, the racial tensions also rise, resulting in a catastrophic fire, all with the encouragement to do the right thing.

The idea to “do the right thing” is an interplay between the philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, MLK, of course, standing for non-violence and Malcolm X believing that violence was the right means by which to achieve racial justice and societal equity and fairness.  While counterphilosophies in some obvious ways, a photo is shown of the two hugging, dapping it up and laughing, the message being that both of these men were fighting for the same goal, racial equality, and that the listener should take both of their philosophies in, ponder the situation and then do the right thing.  To go all biblical with it, there’s a season for war and a season for peace, and everything has it’s season.

The movie is quite jarring, both for Spike’s style of filmmaking and for the subject matter.  No one is completely in the right and no one completely in the wrong, much like real life, it’s more complex than that in the film.  Movies and books, at least the weaker ones, have a tendency to tie things up in neat bows so that the consumer of the media can leave the media feeling a little better.  “Do the Right Thing” doesn’t give you that option.   The ending scene left my stomach stirred up in knots.  The actions of the young African American men, fighting to have a black person up on the “Wall of Fame” and blasting Public Enemy on a stereo in Sal’s pizza parlour feel more than a tad silly; they seem to want to fight for justice and “fight the power” (not too subtle chuck d inclusion) but don’t know how to do it for something consequential.  Sal, in a fit of rage, smashes the stereo and uses the n-word; this man, up until this point doesn’t seem to have a racist bone in his body and talks with great pride about feeding the African American neighborhood and even seems to be in love with Spike’s sister in the film.  No one feels right, but no one feels wrong.  In fact, everyone feels right and justified but everyone feels wrong.  It’s just complex.  I’m still wrestling with what happened after that tipping point moment, and may have to watch the film again to continue processing.

Also, the film confronted me with an awkward realization.   I really don’t think about how to “do the right thing” ever at all.  I know that 100%, this is my privilege talking, but I can honestly say I’ve never had to think about how to fight for justice and equity.  As a white/straight/protestant male, I am the power that is being fought.  We still hold all the keys to the doors, even though, it does seem that slowly others are getting in and I think that’s great.  But from my upbringing until now, I’ve lived a mostly homogenized life, definitely never living in a situation like Sal, where he was literally the only white guy serving an entirely black populace.  Nor can I identify with the experience of the African American folks in the film, where one step outside of the lines of the law can place you in a situation where a cop will far overstep his bounds, mostly just because he can.

I don’t think this is something that you can just remedy.  I know that people who work in my line of work like to do programs that try to help stupid white people like myself understand the experiences of minorities.  But these programs remind me of my friends in college that told me they were “going to be homeless for a summer” and my response was “no, you’re not”.  The truth is that you can’t be homeless for a summer, because if you’re like these gentlemen and come from good loving families then you can’t appreciate the experience of being homeless.  If they got tired of being homeless, they could just turn around and go home.  So, for me to try to understand the experience of a minority by trying to be like a minority for a day is completely insulting to the minority experience.  When I leave the Tunnel of Oppression, I go back to being white/male/straight/protestant.  And here’s the kicker, as long as I’m in that tunnel, I know in my head that it’s just a game, like going to a movie or something and even if it sucks, it will all be over soon.

Here’s the thought I was left with after the movie…I think we can all encourage each other to not be dummies about things.  Try to see the darkness and the weakness, and dare I say, the racism and hatred within ourselves.  So, you know, that sounds like enough.  But here was my other thought that tied along with that.  I think that when it comes to my minority brothers and sisters, I understand that sometimes you’re gonna have to do what you have to do.  Sometimes that might involve burning a place down and sometimes it might involve just being really pissed off about things that I have a hard time understanding.  But I want you to know that I’ll do my best to support you, even if I don’t understand, because I think that’s the best way that I can do my right thing.  Do yours, my friends.

What I Think #studentaffairs Assessment Should Look Like

  1. We need to track individual student’s attendance at events over the course of their time at the school.  I’m not particularly interested in doing this for any purpose other than to see that student affairs programming is actually reaching all of the students.  I suspect we’ll find that we’re hitting a small portion of the population.  To my knowledge, the infrastructure does not exist to do this, but what I’m seeing in my head is an enormous spreadsheet with individual student ID #s and tracking of what events they attended.  Frankly, this could be an entire student affairs (as well as athletics) effort to figure out what experiences our students are actually attending.
  2. Learning outcomes listed and justified for EVERY event.  I posted about the CAS standards here previously, and i’m thinking that you could list out individual learning outcomes for each event and then track these over the course of the year.  In theory, each office (even better if this was a collaborative SA effort) should be hitting all of the learning outcomes repeatedly.  Being able to cross reference these to determine what portion of our students are getting hit (not just shots in the dark, but actual individual students) by each learning outcome will give you some idea of what’s actually happening.
  3. Cost per student for each event.  If you’re tracking who attends, you should be able to get actual attendance numbers instead of estimates as well.  Calculating cost per student will help to determine whether students are actually getting the value that they should be getting out of their student fees.  A healthy look is to determine how much a similar experience might cost elsewhere; if cost per student is lower, you’ve done your job.

A few thoughts:

  • This plan places the responsibility on staff for accountability instead of surveying students to determine whether they’re engaged.  We’re responsible for creating an environment for student learning and this plan tracks whether we’re actually creating that environment.
  • For the most part, student affairs learning/community building is tracked over a longer time frame than classroom learning.  You can definitely learn chemical structures (okay…maybe you can’t…but i did) over the course of a day of studying.  You can’t learn how to have meaningful relationships over the course of a day.  Short time frame assessment, in light of this thought, is rather pointless and this system would provide the infrastructure to do a more meaningful long term study.
  • Self reported assessments of students are of marginal value anyway.  Incentive exists for students to either not take these seriously, say what they think the surveyor wants them to say, or outright lie.  In light of the incentives, the data received from these assessments (unless you’ve managed to limit these incentives somehow) is questionable.
  • Tracking financial expenditures with more accountability for said expenditures is imperative.  I’ve heard SA folks refer to activities fees as “play money”.  Please.
  • Tremendous research opportunities would be made available by tracking all of this data.  I think we all know that’s needed.

I’m genuinely looking forward to reading the comments.