Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously

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You can be successful, serious about your career, and widely respected...but still not take yourself too seriously. Just ask Tina and Amy.

We are confronted with serious issues in international education. Too many of us have had to deal with student deaths abroad, trying immigration regulations and roadblocks, ethical issues related to host-community impact, equal access and opportunity to international experiences, the definition of experiential learning and academic integrity, etc. That's all serious stuff and those topics (and more) deserve smart, educated, and serious professionals to take them on, grapple with them, and make the study abroad experience, body of work, and profession that much better.

We have enough hard data in our field now to know that education abroad is positively correlated with most learning objectives we hope the experience achieves. It's good and serious work. And those of us who've found ourselves working in study abroad because of our own rewarding experiences, we can't imagine giving our heart and soul every single day to any other career.

We GET TO sell study abroad! How amazing is that!? We don't have to sell mattresses or cars or mutual funds. We get to support and promote an experience that is likely going to be one of the most defining experiences of any young person's life. And that's pretty amazing. Note: I say "sell" in this instance to emphasize the other "things" that we could be promoting, creating, studying in other industries. I don't use it to demean or belittle what we do in education abroad.

However, what I've observed in the most successful and sought-after people in our field is that even the rock stars know that they are mere mortals. They laugh at themselves and some of the silliness of our field. They tend to poke fun at the "politics" of it all, while still understanding that quality control and proper management are crucial to the advancement of theirs and any organization.

Rock stars know when to laugh. And they laugh a lot. They have a sense of humor about our work and what we do. They recognize that we don't all have nuclear launch codes and it's okay to have fun with our work and our colleagues. They make trusted friends and those friends trust them to design and deliver great programs. And we all trust that we're bringing on students with potential and curiosity as well.

An ability to laugh at yourself and acknowledge your own deficits (i.e. laugh at yourself) is crucial to building trust. And in what we do and the serious issues and questions we face, we need all the trust we can manage.

But don't be fooled. Rock stars aren't class clowns. What separates rock stars from the rest of us is that they can get down to business, down to the brass tax better than most. They know their stuff, they bring thoughtful and challenging ideas to the table, and they blow us all away with their ability to dive deep into an issue from many angles and perspectives. They make magic happen.

But they don't take themselves so seriously that they are unapproachable or stoic figures that the rest of us can't touch. They are friendly and welcoming…and most importantly, they are respected. If you don't believe me, consider how the masses tend to hate Anne Hathaway, but love Jennifer Lawrence. Jennifer is real and laughs at herself, while Anne comes across as pompous and too big for her britches. But they are both Oscar winners. Proof that you can get ahead even with a little humor. 

Keep your eye on the prize, but remember to smile and enjoy the ride as well. Do you know someone who exudes this quality? Tell us about them in the comments! I'll start. Mike Woolf (CAPA) is one of the most hilarious people in our field. He says some outrageous things and can always be relied upon for some good laughs. But he's also a serious professional who grapples with serious issues. You've got to have both - serious and silly. Perfect combo.

Psst…Hope to see a lot of you next week at NAFSA! If you see me around, please stop me and say hi. Blogging is a very solitary experience and I'm all about meeting the people who stumble upon my little slice of the internet. And be sure to come to my "How to be a Rock Star" session on Thursday, May 30th, at 8am Room 123!

I'll be loitering around the GoAbroad.com booth (#1729). Be sure to show my former employer and wonderful NAFSA sponsor some love and stop by for a laugh. I know I will! 

Photos found here (but with my edits) and here.