Amidst the ebbs and flows of life, one can lose sight of what gives meaning to our work. Deadlines, updates, initiatives, meetings, spreadsheets, documentation and demands of leading anything effectively can easily cloud the meaning behind why we do what we do. However, gentle reminders serve to bring us back to that defining element, which in turn serves to makes us more effective and efficient.
One of these gentle reminders happened when I met with a first-time-in-college veteran who has a passionate desire to reach out to others and assist them in their walk back to civilian life. His story is painful, yet beautiful, and his willingness to overcome barriers and become a success drives him. As I sat listening to him pour out his desire to serve society and his determination to follow the path to success, I received a gentle reminder of what gives meaning to the work I do.
With that initial reminder came a flood of images over the next few weeks that served the same purpose. Some were small and some were extraordinarily powerful, such as encounters with low-vision students with service animals who have sat in our courses day after day to reach the seemingly monumental goals they set. These students tell me when they are on campus their service dog leads them to my office. These are reminders.
Watching a physically challenged and mobility impaired student come to class in the pouring rain to make sure papers were turned in, despite having a broken wheelchair, served as a reminder. Watching a student who has endured his own set of hardships, find a socket wrench, get on the floor, fix the broken wheel chair and help the physically challenged student put her shoes back on (that had fallen off during the rain) served as a reminder.
Seeing the 50-year-old student come to college for the first time, nervous of what is to come, unaware of how best to succeed, yet still determined, was a reminder. Later, recognizing that the same student has successfully completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree and is now a successful individual and an effective and passionate instructor serves as a reminder.
Gentle reminders of what brings meaning and purpose to our work are everywhere. Sometimes we must simply take a step back from the dunes of responsibility and pay attention. The documentation, initiatives and administrative minutia will always be a part of our work and are necessary components of effective leadership. However, if we forget what gives meaning to our work, we can become “determinedly ineffective.” Viktor Frankl said it perfectly: “Being human, always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter.” True human encounters serve as gentle reminders, giving meaning to the work we do.