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Casual Friday is a blessed day. Unless you show up for work one day and realize that you’re the only one wearing jeans because you forgot it was the college Christmas party. The very nice party.
So I did what any normal person would do and ran to the campus bookstore and tried on 20 skirts/dresses to find something that didn’t make me feel like a totally out-of-place loser. God bless the students who work in women’s clothing and ran around finding me outfits to try on while I explained that I don’t even know what size I am right now because I have 25 pounds of baby weight on me still. They were champs. And I’m pretty sure I scared them off from having children in the near future. (You’re welcome, mom and dad)
The program was about to start when I got there, so I didn’t get a chance to meet the other people at our table. After everything was over, one of the women at the table got up and said something that indicated she worked in the Public Administration department, and I mentioned that I am considering it for graduate school plans. She smiled and said she’s the career advisor, then pointed to an older woman across the table and said she was the former director, that the woman on the other side of me was the current director, and another woman who had just stepped away to say hi to someone was the program recruiter.
Can you guess how glad I was that I had changed my clothes?
I had previously met the director in a line somewhere and found out she had been friends with my in-laws many years prior, but we hadn’t discussed our jobs on campus. She looked at me and said, “Tell me your story.” So for 40 minutes we talked about my previous career and educational experience, some of my plans and hopes for the future, things I’m nervous about, my kids, and what I currently do at the university.
She told me that the letters after our name are important and if I want to do great things in the world, then I’d likely need some of them.
She pulled over an adjunct professor to talk to me about what he does that I’d be interested in.
She told me who to talk to specifically about my financial concerns.
She told me that if I want to do this and it’s the right thing to do, then I can do it.
She told me that if I want to pursue a doctorate after I get the MPA, that one of the female professors in the department did it with 8 (yes, eight) kids and to go talk to her because it’s much more family friendly than people realize.
She told me that based on my work experience, who I have worked with, and what I want to do, that I was made for the MPA.
She told me to come talk to the department more and get ready to apply.
I believe Jim Carrey expressed it best:
So what was it that made that such a great conversation for me? I think it was 4 things:
- She listened
- She validated my concerns
- She introduced me
- She motivated me
Small talk is really easy, but to actually listen and respond accordingly is a completely different thing. I knew she was listening by the questions she asked (her invitation to tell her my life story being the first) and the helpful ways she responded. For 40 minutes.
She didn’t just say, “Oh, kids–don’t do it yet, it’ll be too hard” or “Oh, don’t worry about a thing, you can totally do it with kids.” She validated that it would be hard with kids, but that it is possible, if we decided as a family that this was the right thing for me to do right now. That’s such a breath of fresh air. As much as I believe in a woman’s ability to do anything, that doesn’t mean that any time is the right time or won’t be too much to handle depending on the circumstances.
The women at that table immediately started introducing me to other people who would be helpful for me to know and speak to. We made connections with former employers and people we had volunteered with. I mentioned that one of my jobs made me want to be a professional schmoozer and she said, “Oh, you’ll definitely want to talk to him then” and grabbed the adjunct professor who was also a big name in the local United Way. It reminded me how important relationship building is and I made a mental note to do better with names. Then I did a little more research in how to better build relationships and am reading Give and Take next. It’s right up my organizational behavior alley. So not only did they introduce me to influential people, but the very act of doing that is promoting my own self-improvement.
As I mentioned before, it was the kind of conversation that left me feeling hopeful and empowered. It went from her saying, “you could do this,” and giving me examples of how, to me thinking and believing, “Holy cow, I really can do this!” Then I researched the program again. And then I texted a bunch of people and told them what happened and how cool it was. Actually, my text to my husband afterwards said, “I just had the coolest effing experience at lunch.”
Honestly, I’ve never had quite that kind of conversation with a man. I have had many encouraging conversations with men, but it is such a different experience to have those conversations with someone who is like you. Your vision of what the future could be is much easier to imagine.
From program directors to the students working in the clothing section of the campus store who helped the crazy lady find a last-minute outfit for a work party so she didn’t feel stupid, the power women have to support each other is incredible.