College Student Personnel program

Meagan's Emerging SA Pro Journey: 10 SA Lessons I Learned From 

The Lego Movie

Connections are absolutely everywhere. And I mean everywhere. And there are few things I love more than finding them. It’s like a joyous Easter egg hunt, only instead of finding plastic eggs full of jelly beans (mmm – jelly beans), I’m finding new thoughts and ideas and concepts that expand my mind. And that’s a lot cooler than sugary treats that rot my teeth—though, admittedly, all of that isn’t quite as fun to eat. But it’s candy for the brain, and that pretty great.

I think one of the most impressive elements of connection is that it shows up in really unexpected places. Several months ago I was in Des Moines, taking a much-needed mental time-out from the demands of graduate school, and I saw The Lego Movie. There’s really no emotional link between me and Legos; the trailer simply looked funny and I had heard pretty positive things about it.

My mind was blown the entire time. Is it a fun-filled adventure with quick wit and impossibly creative and imaginative animation? Totally. But if I wanted a mental time-out from SA-type thoughts and information, this was not the movie to see—and I was not at all disappointed by that. I have since watched the movie at least a dozen times and each time there are more connections to draw from it about what it is I like to think I do as a SAPro. In the passing months I’ve seen countless other movies, but I keep coming back to The Lego Movie as being one of the most connection-laden. Because of that, I hopped on the Internet bandwagon and put together this listicle of 10 SA lessons I learned from (and were reinforced by) The Lego Movie—these apply to me, my practice, and the students I have and am currently working with. And you can bet they apply a lot of other places, too, because life is funny that way. If you haven’t seen it, this might not make sense, and there are some spoilers, so be warned. If you want to see it, it’s currently available in RedBox.

1. Hegemony is a threat because it’s unseen, and therefore unchallenged. During his interrogation, our hero Emmett explains to Bad Cop how much he loves his city. “But President Business is such a good guy. And Octan makes good stuff! Music, dairy products, coffee, TV shows, surveillance systems, all history books, voting machines—wait a minute.”

Like generic Lego people in generic Lego City living under the rule of President Business, we can’t see the systems we’re a part of, living in, and contributing to, without some serious work toward self-awareness. Part of the challenge is continuing to gain this awareness for myself, to push against the systems I see to disrupt them, and the other part is helping guide students to a similar state of awareness so they can push back, too.

2. The best way to help others, to contribute, or to influence change is to be yourself. Morgan Freeman summed it up best when his character, Vetruvius, tells our hero Emmett, “Don’t worry about what the others are doing. You must embrace what is special about you.”

Morgan Freeman said it, so it has to be true. Also, I think about this a lot in terms of the students I’ve seen lately who are very concerned and interested in what classes “most” people are taking. “What do most people take for this requirement?” “Does everybody else take this class in their 3rd semester?” so on and so forth. Why does it matter? Wouldn’t you be much happier and much more fulfilled and motivated to learn by pursuing a topic of interest to you? It’s not anybody’s job to be anybody else. And this collective “most” or “everybody” isn’t some single-minded Borg-like being. It’s made up of individuals who are all very unique and full of particular strengths and interests. But I think this is a real challenge for many of us to consider who we are as individuals—what does make us special? How do we figure that out? And then what do we do with that information?

3. The best we can do is to work with what we have. Master Builder Wyld Style, eager to prove Emmett’s lack of ability says, “Emmett, using the pieces around you, create something simple. Like an awesome racecar.”http://studentaffairscollective.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/11177655_800.jpg

When challenged to use the pieces around him to create a racecar, Emmett first asks for the instructions, because that’s all he knows, and that’s how he puts his world together—literally (get it? It’s a Lego joke about meaning-making!). But he’s not at a place yet where he’s able to develop his own plans. It makes me wonder how often I have expectations of students that go unfulfilled, simply because they’re not at a place yet where they can meet those expectations. Often times I become frustrated because I feel plans, programs, and interventions are built around and for the students with interests and talents I wish they had, as opposed to those they actually have. I need to focus on who students are, and not who I want them to be.

4. We all have the ability to make an impact. Lucy, one of the leaders of the revolution, broadcasts a message to the entire Lego universe and all of its citizens and says, “This is Emmett and he was just like all of you—a face in the crowd, following the same instructions as you. He was so good at fitting in, no one ever saw him. And I owe you an apology, because I used to look down on people like that. I used to think they were followers with no ideas or vision. Because it turns out, Emmett had great ideas, and even though they seemed weird and kind of pointless, they actually came closer than anybody else to saving the universe.”

It’s a nice reminder that there’s no magic recipe, no set of qualities, no particular history, that produces change agents. In fact, it’s because of the diversity of those things that people are able to change the world. I’ve worked with a lot of students that feel like they can’t do things because of a wide variety of personal circumstances, or that they somehow don’t belong in college. I think it’s because they’ve been told that, and often, both directly and indirectly, and probably without always realizing it. I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I can challenge that way of thinking, and that’s one of the greatest things about what SA is and why it’s so important.

5. Someone is always learning from us, and we are always learning from others. Ok, I don’t have a cool quote for this one, but consider the relationship between Finn and his father. What are they learning from one another? The father seeks order and control and is territorial about his Legos, and Finn is free-thinking and creative and deviates from the instructions, which clearly upsets his father. His father is inadvertently teaching Finn that original thoughts and creativity aren’t valuable, and Finn’s creative persistence is teaching his father that those are things to be embraced.

The idea of constantly learning is something that’s frequently on my mind, especially as a new professional. Yes, there are obvious moments of learning when it comes to actual training sessions and wrapping my head around policies and procedures here at my new institution, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s far more covert that I’ve been learning from the people around me–how to support each other, how to engage with other professionals on campus, general opinions of the culture here. I’m absorbing it all. And then what am I putting out to be absorbed? There’s only so much of that I can control. I have no real ability to influence someone’s interpretation of me, but I do have control over the messages I intend to send. Every moment is a learning moment.

6. Everything is awesome when you’re part of a team. When rallying the Master Builders, Emmett says, “You’re all so talented and imaginative, but you can’t work together as a team. I’m just a construction worker, but when I had a plan and we were all working together, we could build a skyscraper. Now, you’re master builders, just imagine what could happen if you did that. You could save the universe.”

Ok, maybe academic advisers aren’t in the universe-saving business, but I must say this concept is particularly appealing as a new professional. SA is not an individual sport, and I’ve seen some things in my experience that treat it like it is. But then everybody is at a disservice—SAPros, students, and the overall institution. Yes, being a new professional is frustrating at times, and I long for the day I feel competent navigating the day-to-day of my job without asking 15,673 questions every hour. But that’s on me, and it’s all an exercise in self-patience, because I recognize that there is zero pressure from fellow staff members to “hurry up and learn your job already.” I am surrounded by a staff that’s constantly supportive, and committed to helping me learn. They reassure me, they show me, they learn with me, and are genuinely excited to have me (and everything that comes with me) on the staff. That’s how I know I’m exactly where I need to be.

 

To read more of Meagan's blog, visit Student Affairs Collective.

 

 

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