The Fred Factor

Recently, a friend and mentor recommended that I read the book “The Fred Factor” by Mark Sanborn. The author talks about Fred, his mailman. Who writes about their mailman? I’d write about my mailman if he was as awesome as Fred. Basically, Fred goes above and beyond in his job. Mark Sanborn then tells us about how everybody can go above and beyond in their jobs. It’s a nice, short read.

Think about all the jobs you’ve had in life. I’m sure there are some you’ve hated. I was the cashier at a snack bar when I was a teenager. It wasn’t pleasant, particularly when all my male friends would come by with the sole intention of overwhelming me. What’s that, you want three peach shakes, chili cheese fries, a chili dog, a regular dog, oh and he has a nut allergy? Anyway. Everybody in their life has had a job that they did not like. AND. Even if you say you’re working your dream job, there is still some aspect of it you do not like. Now think about the job of a mailman. That sounds almost as terrible as my job at the Snack Shack. What Fred teaches us is that even if your job is the most mundane, repetitive, boring job in the world, you should still take it upon yourself to be AWESOME at it because it will make those around you happier and it will make you happier.

The four sections on “Becoming a Fred” are very easy to relate to student affairs. I love my job, but there are aspects of it that I’d be happy to eliminate. Those middle of the night fire alarms? The way my students throw the h word (hazing) around so easily? The way my students apparently don’t know how to read an email? Yeah. My job is amazing, but some days are more tedious than others. I’m sure all you other student affairs professionals know the feeling. I know the creator of “What Should We Call Student Affairs?” does.

Everybody Makes a Difference

There was this commercial awhile back that started with one person doing something nice for somebody who in turn did something nice for somebody else and so on. While you might not be able to change the whole world, you can change somebody’s world. The way you interact with a student can impact their whole day which could in turn affect their whole college career. I know it sounds crazy, but I know I’ve had bad days where I just didn’t want to do any of the things I was supposed to do. What if that day I was supposed to take a major exam? On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had some days where I am so motivated that I get everything done and want to do more! I know so many people graduate with the idea that they will change the world and that’s great, you dreamers keep on dreaming, but at some point you might need to refocus that dream. You will get depressed if you don’t solve world hunger or the oppression of women in certain nations if you go into the world wanting to change it. The world’s a big place. Try focusing on somewhere or something or someone closer to home. You can make a difference.

Success is Built on Relationships

Like many entry level student affairs professionals, I work in residence life. I supervise a staff of RAs. One of the first things we tell the RAs is that it is incredibly important to build a relationship with their residents early in the year. As professionals, our relationship with students is still important. There are times when I have meetings back to back and I just want to get them over. There are other days where I ask what major a student is in and what they plan on doing after graduation and I see a whole different side of students. Even if those conversations start off as something not-so-pleasant, at the end we both leave feeling like it was a positive meeting.

Continually Create Value for Others

Creating value doesn’t have to cost money which is good since I’m pretty sure all of our offices are low on funds. Sanborn talks about looking at the processes that already exist in your job and “adding good stuff” and “subtracting bad stuff” from them. Is there a way you can make something easier or quicker? Do it! Something we can do as the bridge between the “higher ups” and the students is to simplify things for our students. College applications, financial aid, housing applications, and the student conduct system can seem daunting to the unknowing. Walk students through the process. Tell them straight up – don’t use words specific to your school or acronyms.

Reinvent Yourself Regularly

One of my favorite classes during grad school was a small discussion-style class in which we traded stories about our experiences in our internships. I liked it because while I wasn’t getting these experiences, I was still  hearing about them. We frequently talked about news articles that were related to higher ed. I learned how these studies and laws impacted departments on campus other than my own. I really don’t get to do that as a professional but I have to find a way to because I need to constantly grow in my position. If I go looking for a new job three years from now with the same skill set I had last year when I graduated, nobody is going to want to hire me. Just like I said you should see how you can change processes in your office, see if you can change things about yourself.

If it’s ever your turn to pick a professional development book for your department or division, I recommend this one! It’s a quick read and it’s applicable to many jobs, meaning if you invite the support staff or even the custodial staff for your building, they will still get something out of it. I know I have taken a few steps to be viewed as a “Fred” here at PDFM U, what are some steps you will take?

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