The Irreverent Professor

Unvarnished realities about life, teaching, learning, and change in this wild, wild world

Archive for the category “Presentation”

Finding Meaningful Work…or Finding Meaning in Your Work?

I had an “aha” moment recently.  I was pondering why I get “itchy” every three years or so and change jobs (and usually, cities).  (To see some of the jobs I’ve held, see the post “A Bibliography for Job Hoppers Like Me.”)  It could certainly be that I am a Scanner, as Barbara Sher describes.  I have a lot of interests and the thoughts that constantly run through my head go something like this:

Oh! I want to be a caterer!

Now I want to be a lawyer!

Ooooh, let’s move to Las Vegas!

Let’s live at the beach!

Etc. Etc.

But my “aha” moment was this: I tend to lose interest in a job when it no longer feels meaningful.  I don’t mean (necessarily) like a ministry or saving the planet (I guess I don’t aspire that high).  Just feeling like my day is spent on worthwhile things.  Not TPS reports. (Office Space?  If you haven’t seen the movie, do.  Then you’ll get this reference.  More importantly, you’ll laugh.  A lot.  Hopefully.)

By Hugh MacLeod (genius, artist, and King of Irreverence)

By Hugh MacLeod (genius, artist, and King of Irreverence)

One of the things I love about being a college professor is the opportunity to help young adults (or not-so-young-adults) figure out professional and personal things that will help them live a meaningful and fulfilling lives.  I’ve taught at several different universities in my life.  The experience has been pretty much the same – I start off excited about the students, the opportunities to help them learn about what I think is a fun and exciting career area, and teach them information and skills they need to know to succeed.  The first year is fabulous.  I’m in hog heaven.  The second year is good, but I feel a little frustrated that I’m not “getting through to them.”

By the end of third year, I am downright depressed and worn down because SO many students don’t seem to be interested in learning.  Some don’t bother to show up in class at all.  Some show up, but sneer at me all through class [I’ve actually kept two students after class to ask them if they know what their facial expressions look like (both said they didn’t)…and explain that this may be a detriment in an interview or work environment.  Then again, they may just really not like me.]

In other words, I can’t find the meaning in the work any more.  I’m not blaming the students.  They are who they are and they do what they do.  And it could certainly be that I’m a lousy professor, although I have some kind former students who are nice enough to say otherwise (thanks, y’all!).  Plenty of professors stay in the job for years and years.  Clearly, they find something I can’t.  Maybe they find meaning in research (I don’t – not the academic kind, anyway) or administration (I’m a worse bureaucrat than sales person…and I’m a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sales person).  I don’t know.

The first time in my working life that I realized the importance of having meaning in my work was when I worked as a front desk clerk at a hotel during college.  It was a revelation to realize the effect I could have on someone else’s mood, just by being friendly.  After a long day of work, a flight, and a life-threatening taxi ride from one of the D.C. area airports, they would arrive at the hotel, bedraggled and tired.  And find me, a 20 year old college student, at the front desk.  If I gave them the key to their room, fine.  They went up and their day was no different.  But if I smiled and joked with them or found something in their profile to start a conversation with (e.g., “You’re from Dallas? My brother lives in Dallas!”), it sometimes seemed to make their mood better.  And I helped!

That’s how public speaking is for me.  When I do a good job boiling what I think is important information into understandable chunks and use those to ignite a conversation with and between the participants, it feels meaningful.  It’s information that will help them in some way.  And I was able to help give it to them.  Meaning.

Still I wonder sometimes…is there really no meaning?  Or can I just not find it?  Or do I stop looking for it?

How about you?

Carpe meaning!


What Your Professors Haven’t Told You (But Should)

Part of the joy of irreverence–and being a professor–is being able to tell college students what they need to know.  And part of what they need to know is that professors don’t know it all. (collective gasp!)  In some case, what was true when they were the age of a college student is totally out date and no longer true.  For example, I was told as a college graduate (many moons ago) that I had to buy a navy blue or black suit with a white blouse or (if I wanted to be edgy) a gray striped suit…just like the IBM folks wore.  I bought pink corduroy (hey, it was fashionable in the 80’s…ok, probably not, but this isn’t a fashion blog).

Next week, I’m doing a presentation for college students at the Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress (MPI-WEC) called “What Your Professors Haven’t Told You, but Should.”  I’ve done a similar presentation for a couple of other student groups–IMEX America in Fall 2012 and most recently, at the Korea MICE Expo IMEX-MPI-MCI Future Leaders Forum in Seoul in June 2013.  Interestingly, there seemed to be absolutely no cultural barrier to the message in Korea and the students and recent college graduates in Seoul “got it” just as the (mostly) American students in Las Vegas did.  Interesting.

Some recent college graduates in Seoul who attended my presentation at the IMEX-MCI-MPI Future Leaders Forum

Some recent college graduates in Seoul who attended my presentation at the IMEX-MCI-MPI Future Leaders Forum

I love-love-love speaking to students–college students, high school students, recent college grads, graduate students.  Anyone open to a message about transition and change.  Part of the challenge with students is that (believe it or not), they are accustomed to pretty much believing what they hear.  Professor = authority figure.  Ergo, what the professor says must be true.  Not.  It’s not that I believe professors set out to tell students untruths.  I think professors really believe what they say.  I, on the other, think most of it is hooey.

Some of the bits of wisdom (read: opinion) I am going to share at this upcoming presentation include gems such as:

  • Grades don’t matter
  • You can’t learn it in a classroom
  • You already have a brand
  • Tattoos, nose rings, and pink hair are ok–even in an interview
  • Ban the black suit

There’s a lot more to each of these.  Hope you’ll be at MPI-WEC to hear about it.  And as a bonus, my buddy Professor Carol Krugman will be joining me to give her opinions (some of which differ from mine–shock).  If not, I’ll post the slides on SlideShare later.

Carpe irreverence.

P.S. You may be one of the lucky students who has an awesome professor who really does tell it like it is.  Or you may be the professor who does.  If so, kudos to you!  I know some of you are out there and I’m proud to call some of you “friends.”  🙂

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