Network

Truth - Connections are what make us human. We have this innate longing to be with, to know, and to be around other people. We are not meant to be alone. It could be argued that our modern day communities, neighborhoods, and social structures are nothing more than dressed up tribes. It's what we do. We group together, gather,  and commune. We strive to find others like us or at least find some commonality amongst strangers. Fear of difference has powerful ramifications (no need to outline the cycle of oppression here, I'll save it for another post) but what is even more monumental is when we are able to overcome that fear and unite. Who could ever take down the network?

"We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”   William James
The normalized American life cycle really is rather peculiar. Think about it. As an infant and as a childhood you spend as much time with your family, particularly your parents, as possible. You are literally insparable for such a long time. There comes a day where you parents put you down and never physically pick you back up ever again. That's both a profound and a deeply saddening thing. We show children so much affection and promote physical contact. The older you get though the less that happens until at some point, it becomes the exact opposite. You're supposed to distance yourself from others. Touching is only reserved for those you are related to, are romantically engaged with, and sometimes friends. Sleepovers, hugs, and hand holding give way to handshakes, half-assed smiles, and awkward quasi-hugs. Our young adult years have us going in circles and crossing trajectories with so many people. We leave the comfort of our homes and the safety of our families to find our purposes (or at least some sort of worldly knowledge, and work) only to reunite with them sporadically. Eventually we find another and link up with them to start our own families traditional and nonconventional alike. And so the cycle begins again. Why do we spend so much time in your adult years being disconnected if all we long for is meaningful connection?

It's a question that I have been contemplating for a while now. There is rarely a day where I don't miss my sister, brothers, parents, and other family. They are constantly on my mind. I find myself being wary of venturing out and connecting with others. I'll give the caveat that I more often than not enjoy meeting new people and forming those bonds. My apprehension still remains and even when those connections seem like they are the beginnings for a sustainable relationship I yearn to fast forward and get to the deepest parts. I want to skip through the pleasantries, figuring one another out, and superficiality. If only you could be comfortable enough to be vulnerable with others constantly. I find instances from time to time but usually when I am around other people, I like most people, am presenting the most relatable version of myself possible. It's the closest thing I have to perfection and yet the farthest thing from it. It's me sterilized, watered down, and smiley without a care in the world. It's me without context, background, or history. It's me disconnected from the actuality of who I am, all while to trying make a connection with another person. Faster than you expect, my real personality breaks through. That's when I'm at my best. That's when I network.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a conference for higher education professionals. OCPA (Ohio College Personnel Association) was a few days conference that was all about networking and making connections. I drove down to Columbus by myself in the wee early hours of the morning. I arrived at the hotel/conference center and was excited but more so scared. I had no idea who would be there nor what to expect. The conference kicked off and soon it was off to sessions facilitated by various professionals and aspiring practitioners. From microaggressions to improv comedy, busy bias language, and inclusivity, I went from session to session gathering new information, hearing different perspectives, and most importantly making connections with others with similar interests. For me, I think just being in such a space where my thoughts, experiences, and opinions were validated was empowering. A senior administrator gave a keynote at lunch that served to reinforce that I was in this career field with a purpose. Hearing her passion for students but even more so people was nothing short of inspiring and  reassuring. From then on I made sure to push myself and branch out with my time left there. 

Spending time with people in casual settings can be oh so very telling. It was refreshing to get a glimpse of everyone at dinner and the subsequent social where more candid conversations occurred. The next day was more of the same and I was noticeably more outgoing and vigilant with talking to new people. It strikes me at how different people are. The range of philosophies, approaches to their work with students, and reasons for being there were all over the spectrum. I left beaming and reinvigorated with a strength I hope to carry through my work this semester and beyond. One thing that stood out to me was the absolute importance of representation and connection. People need to see themselves in a position oftentimes before they can see it as attainable. That sentiment goes for any level of student engagement and doesn't necessarily have to be physical but efforts to bring students in with inclusive language, diverse topics, and creating space for them to connect wholeheartedly achieves the same goal. Connecting with other people on a personal level is imperative. Soul to soul, heart to heart, human to human - make time; be present; care about others around you. Network - it's what we do. 
It seems the question that every young professional (that phrase is woefully overused) asks themselves is am I doing the work I need to be doing? My generation of millennials wants to change the world and to know that we're doing it. We want to use technology to reach more people than ever before and revolutionize our old conceptualizations of limited community to a truly global successor. Our work and our network can and will be worldwide. Our touches going to be felt for a lifetime. X

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