It Can't Be Business As Usual...

We just got back from attending the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) conference, along with 42 other colleagues across Ryerson, and it was an absolute privilege to spend that time with the Ramily, our Creative family, not to mention like-minded colleagues from across the country (and world). We went to the conference to learn new things, to share our work, and to have discussions about topics that matter to Student Affairs professionals. We attend conferences to encourage ourselves into stirring up new ideas that we can bring back to Ryerson, to Toronto, to shape student—and human—development.

CACUSS did not disappoint us, and here we stand today on the precipice of new visions, new direction, and, as hoped, a host of new ideas.

The danger—our worry—is: what comes next?

We believe in these new ideas, we are excited by them; we see the value they can offer to ourselves, our colleagues, our students. No one is going to question the importance of acting upon them. What we worry is that the grind—that ever-present rote of day-to-day tasks that must be completed because it’s our job—is unapologetic to our new ideas, that it doesn’t care about the time, work, and energy that needs to be committed to make them a reality. The grind says there is work that must be done now, which of course, there is; but that can sometimes translate into pushing those great new ideas to the end of the queue, with everything else.

Except the end of the queue is an abstract idea and, unfortunately (especially at our fast-paced, downtown campus), a moving target that slips farther and farther from today as more “important” and “urgent” grind-tasks are slotted in ahead. It’s easy to get excited at a conference. It’s exciting to write notes during sessions and keep a list of inspiring ideas. It’s easy to pack that excitement into your luggage and carry it home. Your first day back, it’s an easy priority to type up all your conference notes, breaking them down into tasks to—but wait, there’s a phone call. Thirty emails, a group Slack message, not to mention everything that piled up while you were away. But that’s okay, I can power through this today which leaves tomorrow for—well, that big team meeting. And Wednesday the budget is due, but Thursday, yes, Thursday is a great day for being excited…

Before you know it, two weeks have gone by and that stellar excitement that was going to launch your work into the stars has transformed from a barely controlled vertical thrust into a single glowing ember, its light slowly fading as the dark of the grind closes in around it.

We are creatures of habit; we fall back into routine quickly and easily. Yet, if we want to invigorate our work and make new things happen, it can’t be business as usual.

We can’t just go back to our day-to-day and expect these new ideas to happen. Our ideas are good—but they’re only seeds. They still need to be planted, fertilized. They need water, sun, and time to sprout, to grow, all the while being protected from the ravages of predators and the elements. In short, they need our attention—and they need it now.

It doesn’t matter whether your idea is simple, and easily implemented in a couple weeks; or complex, including a change in culture, minds, or process. The size, the scope—that doesn’t matter. How much time it’s going to take is a trivial variable that merely defines how many tasks need be set, how long you’ll be working at this idea to make it bloom into a beautiful flower.

All that matters is that you start, right now.

While your excitement is high, while your passion is driving the bus, start working on your idea and making it a reality. Tell your partner about it, tell your friends. Tell your colleagues; let us tend the garden together!

The hardest part about bringing a new idea back to campus after a conference is keeping your excitement for it high, especially as the grind creeps up on you from the dark corners, licking its lips as it prepares to pounce.

We need to keep one another excited. That’s not the same as keeping each other accountable: this isn’t about responsibility that can’t waiver. These are new ideas that, let’s face it, no one is going to lose their job over if they’re not completed. But if they are completed—we can make change, make growth. We can make a real difference in the lives of people—and, in Student Affairs, isn’t that the point?

It can’t be business as usual.  We need to commit to more. We need to share our ideas with one another, to stand together to give them the space and time and attention, right now, to grow.

So, what’s your idea?

You had lots, and yet what might be holding you back is fear of setting yourself up for failure, combined with your time and attention competing with the current projects we’re all juggling. We know, because we feel that, too. So, pick one idea, the one that most excites you, the one you feel passion for, and…

Start. Doing. It.

This is your opportunity to ride the pacific coast wave that began at CACUSS and to tread even the murkiest waters to make your idea happen. Even if you didn’t have the chance to attend CACUSS, that’s just one space that bred creativity; there are plenty more around us, every day. You have an idea, right now, and it’s probably been lazing away on a yellow Post-It Note, floating around your desk for weeks. This is your moment now, too.

Tell us, in the comments, about your idea. You don’t need it all fleshed out yet, the best ones probably aren’t more than notes in the corners of your notebook. But tell us what you do know. Get us excited, too! Tell us how we can help you keep your idea on track. Let us help encourage one another, and when we feel the crush of the grind, we can remind each other of that vision we saw and we can continue to build towards it. We don’t care how small your steps are; we just care that you keep on walking.

It won’t be easy.  It won’t be painless.
But it will be good.

And when the grind sticks its ugly head out of the weeds and demands the time you’ve committed to your idea, stare back at it, right in the eyes, and ask yourself:

“What will I present at CACUSS next year?”

This article/series was co-authored with Tesni Ellis.


June 01: It Can’t Be Business As Usual article.
June 23: Walk the Talk event.
June 30: Plot Your Garden article.
July 09: Plot Your Garden event.
July 20: Tending Your Garden article.
August 03: “RyersonSA, how does your garden grow?”
August 05: Let It Grow article.