Shadia A. Sachedina, Ed.D., Assistant Vice President for Student Success & Dean of Students
February 25, 2019
In my very dog-eared copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s No Mud No Lotus, I read “everyone knows we need to have mud for Lotuses to grow. The mud doesn’t smell so good, but the Lotus flower smells very good. If you don’t have mud, the Lotus won’t manifest...Without mud, there can be no Lotus.” Mud is something I think about often. Bruises received with the inevitable stumbles and falls through the muddiness of life are all integral for gaining wisdom and compassion toward becoming a better person. And, yet, when I am neck deep in mud and trying desperately to get to that state of blossom, it is difficult to remember that these moments are essential for my growth.
The work we do as AVP’s in Student Affairs could be considered a slog through thick mud. In it we maintain a juggling act, a balancing of competing and complicated demands. In a forthcoming Stylus publication edited by Munin and White, Keep Calm and Call the Dean of Students, I am reminded that our work involves answering to many “masters”, which could come in the form of senior members of the President’s Cabinet, students, staff, faculty, alumni and external constituents, parents who expect my attention, and the list goes on (and on). So how does one get to be that Lotus blossom in this thick mud of competing demands? Here are some key ways that have kept me grounded as I work my way toward “Lotushood”.
Know the Environment and the Players- Understanding the context within which I operate is critical in my strive toward Lotus status. This means that I must have a clear understanding of my institution’s mission and strategic plan. Additionally, I need to be familiar with the institution’s organizational structure and the politics that govern it. And finally, I must remember to stay in congruence with my Vice President’s goals by keeping her informed and supported.
Recognize when something is a Crisis- Handling crises is part and parcel of the job. Learning to recognize when something is in fact a crisis is almost as important as being able to quickly discern when what appears to be a crisis, is simply just a highly dramatized situation that can be contained by giving the persons’ involved an opportunity to be heard. In almost every situation de-escalation skills are necessary. Learning to de-escalate is a skill that can only be learned by rolling up your sleeves and getting muddied up to your elbows. Sometimes that also means that getting some mud on your face or your new suit is necessary to de-escalation (and Lotus) success.
Develop a Super (Lotus) Team- Investing time into getting to know my team is crucial to AVP success. I consider my team, myself included, to be “Lotuses in Training”. Their willingness to get into the mud with me and work toward creating a supportive and engaged student experience is essential. I utilize a Strengths based approach to deepen my understanding of their many talents, and this has greatly helped my ability to leverage their skills in a way that not only engages them but also helps meet objectives.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly,
Know that none of this about YOU- It is easy to get caught up in the everyday intensity of the job. Things come at full tilt and I have to catch myself from taking things personally. Ultimately I have to realize that this AVP position is one of many roles that I play in life. It does not define who I am and while I take the responsibilities that come with it seriously I cannot take myself so seriously. The work I do is part of something bigger and my job is to ensure that I do it with compassion, integrity and with intention.
I realize now that I need to love this mud in which I am growing. It is only in this mud that I can learn to blossom. In every way, I am grateful to this mud that is life. It is sticky and messy and can sometimes, if you allow it, swallow you whole. But ah! If the outcome is to be that beautifully formed sweet smelling Lotus-well then-that’s okay with me.
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