Despite the tropical storm that made its way up the east coast on Friday, my plane arrived safely back in Philadelphia that afternoon. What came with me on the flight from Orlando: luggage, knowledge, and appreciation – and I only had to check one of them at the gate, even though I’m sure the knowledge and appreciation weighed more.
In my previous two blog posts, I did my best to offer up what was learned in some of the sessions I attended at the NACE conference this year. My goal was to bring you there, to save you a seat next to me and the power outlets. For this last post, I wanted to step back from the sessions and talk a little bit “bigger picture” about the conference itself. So, pull up a seat one more time and let’s talk. (As I write this, I am picturing Linda Richman from “Coffee Talk” on Saturday Night Live. ”Placement Surveys are not ‘placement’ and not always ‘surveys’… Discuss.”)
For me, the NACE conference this year was about three things: bravery in uncertainty, solidifying relationships, and planning for randomness.
Bravery in Uncertainty
In my other two posts, covering the future of career services and first destination surveys, I tried to capture not only the content but the essence of those sessions: higher education & career services are changing. That change of pace is rapid and is continuing to grow due to pressures from many of our constituents. There are still unanswered questions and uncertain times ahead. That is, admittedly, nerve-wracking and exciting all at once.
I am choosing to acknowledge both sides of that coin, and in the category of “practicing what I preach,” I am reminded of counseling students who are about to graduate and are not sure what lies ahead for them. They know they are about to leave a whole world they created for themselves, and they’re not sure how much of it they can take with them. They know change is coming swiftly, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. They take it head on. And so must we. At the NACE conference this year, it was clear to see the profession taking this change head on, and I look forward to seeing more of it in the months and years ahead.
It took place on plane rides, in hotel restaurants, on ottomans in the lobby, at coffee shops – everywhere there were conversations with great people. If we’re talking MBTI types, I am almost completely an “E” for extravert (pause for stunned response), and so a conference center full of people is energizing for me. Besides the opportunity to learn in the sessions, the greatest benefit of attending the NACE conference is the opportunity to build relationships with people. I enjoyed the chance to connect with both career services and recruiting colleagues, new and old. I remember at last year’s conference, a veteran in the field told me that she’s met not only great colleagues but great friends in this field. I see why.
For me, the connections weren’t always made in the most “buttoned up” situations. Some of the most memorable connections I made were over the following: a somewhat problematic yet hilarious story about leaky hotel rooms, the best mobile apps to help you stay in shape, whether you’d consider yourself an appetizer or dessert person (dessert all the way), and more. By allowing ourselves to get a little more personal, we deepened the relationship. Building trust and bonding over even silly things can translate to better business and working together. While of course it’s important to keep things appropriate, I try to keep the personal side in mind throughout the year. We’re professionals, yes. We have a job to do, absolutely. But, we’re people, too.
Planning for Randomness
Back to the MBTI talk for a second, I am also quite strongly a “J” for judging. Not to be mistaken for judgmental, the “J” translates to someone who likes structure and to make decisions. In fact, my first guest post for the NACE blog was on how I was preparing for the conference. So, planning ahead is a part of me, and I say this with admiration and respect for all of my “P” for perceiving friends (those who are often described as spontaneous or more flexible).
One thing I should have mentioned in that post is to make plans, but also to allow for something in the moment to change your course. You just never know whom you’ll bump into at the conference or when a lunch conversation turns into a best practice discussion session. I’ve heard it said and said it myself: some of the best moments of a conference are those that occur between sessions. Perhaps there’s a professional lesson nestled in there, too. Some days, plan for randomness. Have lunch with someone and don’t fill the agenda. Have a meeting with yourself and let it be your creative time. Take a different turn or two in a walk around your building or campus. That’s at least some of how I’m interpreting it. Making room for chance.
And so, with empty bags, a retired out of office email auto response, and much gratitude, I say thank you to everyone who organized the NACE conference this year and everyone who was a part of it. This includes you, blog readers. Here’s to San Antonio in 2014!