on passion and squirrels and shiny things…

I missed #sachat yesterday, one in which I intended to participate after our staff Halloween Party, simply because of the headline: “Is Passion a dirty word in Student Affairs?” How could I resist participating in a #sachat that snarks itself with buzzwords?  

I got into the buzzword snark a bit earlier this week in the #satech chat about disruption, which is a current buzzword in the student affairs world (disrupt the ivory tower with world-saving moocs, disrupt the residential campus because MOOCzilla is gonna change everything, disrupt your normal office routine by getting a stand up desk, disrupt innovation by disrupting disruption while doing a hack to achieve work/life balance because passion).

Just like Reddit kills memes, I feel like Student Affairs loves to obsess over and kill words that have value but become surface level buzzwords.  A prime example is work/life balance, which I think got touched on yesterday during the chat, where we spend so much time debating what work/life balance is and how we should make it happen.  We don’t talk about often enough that work is part of life, that there is no / there, its more like LI (work, family, friends, video games, Red Sox, etc) FE.  There isn’t a balance, there is just figuring out how to make your life as awesome as possible, and each of those little factors contributes to that, but work is not separate from your personal life, because there isn’t a Work Joel and a Personal Joel, I’m one and the same, and I would hope that everyone else tries to do the same.

This is not how work/life balance works. It’s life. Do. Life.

Passion is another one of those situations where we get distracted by the surface level ideas and details rather than getting deep down into the actual meaning, because it is a buzzword for our (every?) field.

The thing about passion that I’ve never gotten though is I don’t have a passion for student affairs.  Yup, I’ll say it, I don’t have a passion for student affairs.  When people ask me about what I’m passionate about, in whatever context, my answer may contain: collecting soccer scarves, Guinness, strategizing the politics and intricacies of making large, complex events occur, food, among others.  I was also passionate about The Matrix for a week my first summer in Japan, when I watched it twice a day.

I just got a question in an interview: “What are you passionate about?”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like my job, I like the college union idea, I love ACUI, and I love event planning.  I also really like my students that I work with, because I get to develop close bonds with them over the semesters.  But, honestly, I could do event planning for the city, for a museum, by myself, with other adulty people, with high schoolers, with 60yr old Irish immigrants, with green eggs and ham.  But, I can’t say I’m passionate about student affairs and be totally honest with you.  I like it, because I wouldn’t stick with it and try to figure out ways to do it better if I didn’t enjoy myself.

But, when I see this picture on TexAgs for this week’s end zone designs:

Soooo coooool

and then I spend the next hour researching what the heck field I need to get a degree in so that at the end of my career, I’m the Fenway Park Field Operations Director, I cannot honestly say that I am passionate about student affairs.  I like students affairs and it’s my job. And because it’s my job and I like it, I am going to give as much as I can to my students and my colleagues, because they deserve that and that’s my responsibility.  But, I would be lying if I said my passion was to transform lives, transform higher education, etc.  I just want to make it to that next event, and hope that all my work pans out into that high that I get when an event goes off without a hitch.  Event Planning is my drug (that was a weird thought).

Getting back to my opening, but all too often it seems like being passionate about student affairs is a prerequisite for our institutions and our positions, which may or may not create a false notion of what we are really all about.  Passion for me though is not going to determine my career, nor will it make me super extra better at my job.  Passion gets too definitive sometimes, and other times it gets used the wrong way.  All I want is for you to enjoy aspects of your job, and the things that suck and you don’t enjoy, express those feelings appropriately and get support and allies.  That stuff, to me, doesn’t require a directly correlated passion.  And, if someone were to say that they disliked student affairs but liked event planning/counseling/accounting/maintenance scheduling, I would believe them much more than a person who says they are passionate about student affairs.

Until then, I’m Dug from Up, and I don’t know you Assistant Director of Campus Activities position but I love you and…




I haven’t blogged in over two months because I’ve been in a very bad headspace about student affairs, higher education, and other things and I fear that if I blog, all that comes out way too much and I just start whining.  I am whining.  But that’s ok.  I fear that my reputation will be just whining, and that the fun I’ve had in doing good things and planning neat events will be consumed by the whining, and I’ll never get a job again because my middle name will be Whiner (it’s Bryan btdubs).  But that’s ok. I only snark tweeted student affairs hashtags three times this week.  It’s a banner week in the Joel Whiner Pettigrew household.



8 thoughts on “on passion and squirrels and shiny things…

  1. Joel, when I was in the chat yesterday I did make a point to ask if it matters if someone is passionate about the work, if they can do it and do it well. I had a few people in mind when I asked that, you being one of them. I worry that when we talk about passion in the field, we’re actually talking about singular passion. That is to say, I’m into my work in such a way that I’ll sacrifice other interests, loves, and hobbies for it. You’re not, and I’m not either. And you know what? That’s okay. Moreover, to be in a negative headspace because that is how you’re made to feel you should be about your work? Understandable. There’s more to life. Let’s talk about THAT.

    I miss you. Can we chat/play/drink/rant/read/AOTA soon?

  2. Amma, you hit the nail on the head with “singular passion.” Some folks seem to look down on those for whom their work is not their prime mover in the world.
    I love my work, and the way I do it, but it’s one of a few loves in my life, and probably not the one I’d list first if I needed to rank them.

    • Hi ya’ll, thanks for the comments.
      Absolutely on the points you made above, and absolutely do we need folks whose passion truly is their job/student affairs/whatever their particular position is. And I guess, I feel like the narrative that we in student affairs often put out is the narrative of the fully passionate folks, whether they have written it or not, and if not, its an expectation that the remainder of the field/institution mirror that narrative.

      Again, thanks for the comments, and I hope this is something we can continue to delve deeper on beyond the buzzwords we like to rely on.

  3. SO timely, as I’ve been trying to make a point for myself to use more appropriate words for ideas/feelings, etc; and using words in their proper context (like, when something is outlandish or weird, saying so rather than “crazy” or “insane” which have their own meaning and shouldn’t be watered down). All these buzzwords have been watered down from their original meaning/intention.

    For what it’s worth, if I had the proper money/time/drive, I’d own a small coffee shop that turns 21+ in the evenings which hosts open mic/local entertainers/game nights. I love Student Affairs, but I can’t say it’s a passion.

    Thank you for your frankness and honesty–you didn’t seem whiney at all!!

    • Definitely hear you on the words aspect of how we use language in the most appropriate way possible. It’s tough but is one of those necessary practices we should expect of ourselves at this stage. We won’t always get things right, but we should at least be thinking about it.

      I would also open up a coffee shop in a big college town, 2 floors, almost 24 hours a day. Comfy furniture, locally sourced ingredients, meaningful and valuable tie-ins with service and student organizations.

      Or, a gay Irish pub. That too.

      • The importance of language has been the boon and bane of listening to a podcast about Tolkein (a linguist) by an English professor…

        I wonder how many SA pros have a similar interest in coffee houses?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s