I wrote previously that there were certain things that drove me -- confidence, challenge, and connection -- but I realized that these are my motivators, but not my goal.
What is my goal? What is the one thing I've worked for in the vast majority of work that I've done?
I'm still pinning down the exact wording, but it's something like this: Creating space for the voices of those who need to be heard in order for their reality to improve.
Here are some past examples of when I've done this:
- Those who knew me in college can attest that I was extremely vocal about needing to give non-drinkers on campus a voice. Because our school was often written off as a "party school," even by those who worked there, the reality that there were non-drinkers on campus was largely ignored. An issue I brought up repeatedly in my work in the alcohol abuse prevention office was the problem of instructors making jokes that implied that every student was a heavy drinker. I helped found a student organization for substance-free parties, an organization that, for better or worse, ended up making the non-drinking student population un-ignorable.
- Even though I never wanted to work at a newspaper after college, what I loved about journalism and working on the school paper was bringing people's stories to the light when I felt like sharing someone's story was going to make things measurably better for that person and others. As a student who also worked in a Student Development office, bridging the gap between students and administrators was hugely important to me, and by bringing those voices into the paper I was able to create a space for them to both understand each other better.
- Now that I'm firmly entrenched in college administration but in a position to collect and read feedback from students, I feel that I'm able to continue to do this, this time by bringing the student voice to the staff who need to hear them in order to make their experience better. And this is why the student course evaluation process is so important to me -- it is possibly the only college-wide space in which we give students a microphone to weigh in on the quality of their education.
- Even beyond that, I've started pushing for a policy and a process by which students would get to regularly weigh in on the quality of the customer service they receive from staff throughout the college, similar to a hotel "comment card." Right now this never happens unless a particular office puts a survey out to students. This would create a permanent space for any student to have their voice be heard, and have it have an actual effect on the college experience for that students and others.
- And of course, here on this blog, this is a large part of what I've tried to do. Readers have told me what a difference it has made for them to come here and see that there are others who see the world the way they do, to engage in meaningful, respectful discussion in comments, and to be challenged for the better. I know that I've gotten all of this out of blogging, and more! Having a space for my own voice and engaging others on the issues most important to me has had hugely positive benefits for my own life.
Articulating my driving goal has started transforming how I see my life and conceptualize my future. I don't think that every single thing I do has to be related to this goal, but it gives me a clearer picture of what kind of work I should focus on if I want to keep my passion and drive alive.
I recently watched a webinar by Pamela Slim, who introduced me to a great idea. She talked about thinking toward a future time when you will look back over your life, and measuring your success by what your whole "body of work" looks like, not whether you became "a successful [profession]." Rather than focusing on how high you can climb the hierarchy in a particular field, this perspective instead asks what you want to have created or achieved, in total, at the end of your life, regardless of how many different fields those achievements were in.
The articulation of this underlying goal of my life is, in a way, how I would want other people to describe me. It is not important to me that when I die, people say, "She was a great data analyst" or "She was a great copyeditor." But I would hope people would say, "She was always striving to create space for people's voices to be heard."
What are you working for? What do you want people to say about you?