KC Wednesday: Why Spirituality Is Important Or What You Learn When You Are a Director of Career Services Helping a Student Trying to Figure Out What to Do After Graduation
Today’s KC Wednesday post comes to us from the Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education Knowledge Community, and is written by David Norenberg, Director of Career Services at SUNY Canton and Region II’s representative to the SRHE KC.
It was an interesting day today: a roller coaster of emotions not unfamiliar to student affairs practitioners. The day started with eager anticipation, opening email brought on the feelings of despair and of being deeply overwhelmed with work, the two students that failed to keep their appointments brought on anger, frustration followed with the never-ending bureaucracies, and, just when the voices encouraging me to seek another profession were getting their motors running, there was my last student of the day.
The student is graduating this May and is currently in an internship placement. The internship did its work: he no longer wanted to do what his technical degree had prepared him to do. With only 12 weeks to go from completing a baccalaureate degree, he was ready to transfer and start over but had no idea what kind of career to work towards.
You may think such a story is startling, but ask anyone in career services and they will tell you we see these kinds of students all the time. This is when we roll up our sleeves and help take the student back to the beginning. We ask questions about identity and interest, skills and hobbies, values and talents that may help identify ‘roads not taken’ or hidden opportunities. However, the risk in asking such questions is that you may find…nothing. Such was the case with my student.
My favorite first question to a student seeking direction is a light-hearted, “So, tell me about yourself; who are you?” What I got from this student was “I don’t know,” “I have been what people have wanted me to be” and “I don’t like who I am.” It got worse as we began to explore his answers together. Our conversation ranged from the importance of loving yourself to finding community and places we ‘fit’ to the gifts and challenges of family and even the meaning of life and the presence of a divine power. All of that from a question on career direction? Yes, all of that.
We have made spirituality such a loaded (and anathema) topic by tying it to religion. Religion and politics, we are told, are the two topics you never discuss. Yet, if you look at the word origins there should be more separation. Spirituality comes from the Latin spiritualis, which itself comes from spiritus meaning “of breathing, of the spirit.”1 Religion, among other contested origins, first comes into our language around 1200 CE meaning “state of life bound by monastic vows,” also “conduct indicating a belief in a divine power.”2
Spirituality is about what gives us life and sustains us; what makes us whole. So many of the questions we ask of students go back to this root whether we know it (and are ready for it) or not. Whether we are asking students about what motivates their behavior in a discipline setting, what they believe about the nature of leadership, what communities are and how can they help build them, or simply what do you want to be when you grow up all of their answers are built upon a spiritual foundation:
Who are you?
What do you believe?…AND why?
What makes you unique?
What do you love about yourself?
What do you value?…AND why?
How do you want to be perceived by others?
How would you like to be remembered?
For more examples of such fundamental questions read Sharon Daloz-Parks book “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams.”
This is why spirituality is important. EVERYTHING we do in higher education, all that we aspire to affect in the lives of students through our efforts in student life, all that we hope and dream for and along with our students has at its base in spiritual questions.
RAs often ask me for help coming up with programs to fit the ‘spirituality’ dimension of their programming wellness wheel…chart…diagram…theory…model. We always end up having a great conversation when I tell them that ALL their programs are spirituality programs. In the same way, everything that we do in Student Affairs is spiritual work. Be ready. Ask the questions you always ask but look for the root at the base of their answer, see what’s there and be ready to ask them ‘why’. You might both find something…spiritual.