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A Matter of Context

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Not My First Rodeo

I recently used the expression ‘not my first rodeo’ when talking to someone, and they looked at me like I’d grown a second head (or more accurately, like they thought I was talking about an actual rodeo.)  Weird.  Anyway…

Several weeks ago, I did something that I hadn’t done in nearly 7 years: I enrolled in college classes.

The specifics of why I did that are really cool and exciting, and they are also not the subject of this blog entry.  No, this entry is about something that’s very cool and exciting in its own right: minutiae!

As is often the case when registering for college, I had a number of details that had to be worked out by taking in-person trips to a physical office or offices at an actual building (like some kind of…animal). For me, those details included an ID card, paperwork, and confusion surrounding my financial aid. And straightening them out included a bit of bouncing-around between offices, repeat trips to the building, watching tedious instructional videos, and submitting both digital and paper forms.

I’ve done all this before. Many of you have, as well. Actually, I’ve done it at this very school before–this was where I began my college education, nearly half my life ago, way back in 2002. Oh man. I’m old.

The process of getting all these minor administrative tasks taken care of that week was excellent. There is absolutely no sarcasm in that sentence–every step of the process was easy, and there were helpful people who knew what they were doing all along the way. A far cry from how I felt about it when I did all these things the first time around.

The financial aid stuff has involved a multi-step appeals process (it’s a long story…) requiring a couple of trips to campus to get everything squared away. I think back to how my 18 year old self may have navigated these issues.

Less calmly, to say the least.

It helps that this time around I have an incredibly supportive wife. I’ve also got an enjoyable, well-paying job. Right now, school isn’t my entire world–it’s a great opportunity and something I’m extremely excited about–but it’s just a slice of the pie. And then there’s 16 additional years of life experience, of learning to navigate administrative minutiae calmly and gracefully.

All this culminates in my being able to respond with a smile and a shrug when the woman at the ID office apologizes because I have to go to a different office to pay for the ID before coming back so she can take my picture and issue me a card.

My 18 year old self would have been polite but irritated, and more than a little flustered.

“It’s really no problem at all,” I told her the other day. The look of relief on her face when I said it told me that 1) most of the people to whom she had to say that were less kind to her about it, and 2) that I must really have learned some stuff in the past 16 years after all.

As an administrator myself, I pride myself on treating administrative professionals with kindness and understanding, even when I don’t understand the details of their processes. But part of the reason I’m able to be calm about this is because my context now is so different than it was the last time I was a student here.

It got me thinking about how locked in to our own contexts we all are. It’s understandable–we really don’t have a choice–but I think we would all be better if we kept in mind the different contexts of others, and the fact that our own will change, too. (I know I would be!)

So when the guy in front of me seems to be taking a nap instead of responding to the light that just turned green, I’m going to try to remember to ask myself what I might think about that irritation when I’m 50.

On another note, it really is exciting to be back in school, and I’m planning to write a bit more about that in an upcoming entry.

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One response to “A Matter of Context

  1. I’d like to hear more about what you are up to!

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