To consider how to positively impact student success, one might begin with a self-examination: What did I need when I was starting college? If I was a first generation college student, what was missing? In what ways could my time have been better spent? How could I have maximized my potential and lived through some of the challenges that presented themselves?
Self-examination is underrated. Or perhaps, over-discussed. As a mental health counselor, faculty member, and higher education administrator, I constantly hear these 2 things: “Make sure you are practicing self care!” and “Have you reflected on how your attitudes, awarenesses, and actions impacted what is happening in your life?” Both of these suggestions are worthy of further analysis, as they feed into each other and certainly provide ample fodder for discourse. To begin, let’s dissect self-care:
Often, I am told to meditate, work out, or otherwise spend time focusing on just me. I often challenge my students to define a time when they actually take the time to breathe deeply. Certainly, meditating and mindfulness are beautiful sets of practices that can enrich the soul. But what about breathing? How often do any of us spend time focused on breath? There are places that dedicate their entire service to “breath work.” I value that practice, however, as my mother used to say, “todo en el extremo es malo” or “everything in the extreme can be bad.” I say this because how many of us can engage in a total focus on just breath? What I ask my colleagues and students is whether in the last day or week or month, they spent a moment in breath. In contemplation about breath–just for 20 seconds…even that may seem like alot. Count 20 seconds. Then count 20 seconds while having your eyes closed. Then count 20 seconds working to blank your mind. Then count 20 seconds…I am sure by now you see that 20 seconds is a really long time. So when we are asking ourselves (or others) to practice self care, and then struggle to focus for 20 seconds on nothingness, it can feel virtually impossible.
Don’t touch your phone. What? That’s no problem. Try it. Try focusing on something other than technology and what we now call communication for 5 minutes. How long did you last before you thought about your phone? About anything other than yourself? It doesn’t take long to sway focus away from self to something other than self. Persons with children might immediately think about their children. Or, persons with other significances might go to those thoughts. I challenge each of us to give this a try…and to be honest about documenting the truth about the inability to stay focused on self.
The title of this blog is “living our mission” As I wrote, I wondered why that was the title I selected. And now, as I reach the end of this free write, I know why. If my mission is to serve students in the context of providing a framework for student success, would it be fruitful to ask that self-focus be a part of the path to success? Is it a requirement to challenge students to turn inward and attempt the briefest of self-examinations–a focus on breath? A negation of technology for moments? This blog is not about taking a look at a fast-paced world or a rejection of the sound bite phenomenon that permeates our intake of information. It is about reclaiming the one thing that each of us can cherish on the way towards not just self-discovery, but personal success: non-narcissistic love of self. For me to live my mission, I don’t have to look deeply inside. I have to stop the messages I hear 24-7 about who I am supposed to be and instead just be. What if we asked our students to be? Perhaps then they would believe, and then they could become–anyone they have dreamed of becoming.