Two quick stories:
1. When Steve Jobs lured John Sculley away from an executive position at Pepsi to work at Apple, allegedly the pitch that made the difference happened over dinner, when Jobs asked Sculley pointedly, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water, or do you want to help me change the world?” The prospect of meaningful work, much more so than compensation or other enticements, was what made Sculley jump. And although it’s certainly possible for one to find plenty of meaning outside of the workplace, those of us fortunate enough to have jobs that can have powerful impacts on the lives of others should be grateful for them.
2. Inevitably, one of the biggest challenges that new assistant deans in our office face is learning how to meet our rigorous expectation for how many files per week they must review (150 during peak season). Far from reflecting any lack of work ethic, the problem is that they spend too much time on each application. In a recent conversation with one of our new Assistant Deans, she explained her tendency to write too much, to complete those time-consuming, overly lengthy write-ups on even the cases that have become recognizably less competitive, in the following way: “I just feel like I owe it to the student to make sure I’m not overlooking any possible factor that might influence our thinking.” That I hear this consistently from first-time readers confirms we’re hiring the right people.
This November I’m most thankful to William & Mary for two things: meaningful work and people who care about that work. These may seem like they’d have a chicken-and-egg relationship. Shouldn’t people’s investment in their efforts, after all, vary according to how much they understand the the consequences of those efforts to be? It doesn’t work that way. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with or observed too many people who obsess about matters unworthy of their obsession or distance themselves intentionally as a means of self-protection. I expect you’ve seen the same thing, whether in your high school, your family or your workplace.
In case you haven’t, and in an effort to create a common reference, I plotted the table below using as data points the staff of the William & Mary admission office and some of the denizens in my TiVo queue.
You may find fault with my take on the television characters, but you’d be hard pressed to disprove my placement of the admission staff. From those in the lobby to those in the operations area to those on the dean staff, we have a team that cares about the work it does and recognizes that work as meaningful. Although we’re not the gatekeepers of opportunity people often mistake us to be (because as good as William & Mary is, there’s still ample opportunity elsewhere, and what you do in college still matters far more than where you enroll), sometimes our outreach and our advocacy make powerful differences in the lives of particular students.
That’s an enormous privilege. I’m grateful for it, and I’m grateful for the committed colleagues with whom I share it.
– Henry Broaddus