Meaningful Experiences

When I dwell in possibility my thoughts are usually shaped by, and continuously informing, my guiding philosophy. Posted on the wall in my office, just above my computer screen within easy view, is my guiding philosophy:

Students are developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences.

I attribute the phrase to one of my conversations with Greg Blimling, the former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at Appalachian State University, where I completed my graduate program.

Regardless of our current engagement with formal education I believe that we are all students, and thus, we are all being developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences. My student affairs colleagues would identify the guiding philosophy above as a broad synopsis of  developmental theory - the theory through which we frame our work with students.  While perhaps a simplification of years of research by scholars, I find it to be a rich and easy reminder about my work with students (and my own personal development) that both challenges me to think big but also keep things in perspective: possibilities are endless but they do take time.

Telling Your Story

Ultimately, meaningful experiences lead to the stories you and others tell about your brand.

Here is an example of my own personal story:

  My earliest memory of a meaningful experience was my first soccer practice at the age of five.  I vividly recall standing next to my parents’ car near tears telling them I wanted to quit right then and there because we had to run a whole mile!  Their patient response was to tell me that I had to play at least one game and then if I still wanted to quit, I could. I didn’t quit- and since that day, soccer has been a common thread throughout my entire life.  It has afforded me opportunities to travel, explore, compete and learn.  I’ve played, officiated and coached, with each experience teaching me something new along the way.

sb214This fall I’ve come full circle and am now coaching my five-year-old daughter’s soccer team.  I see my friends and myself in many of the players on the team and have shared my story with them and the parents.  My story- my brand- on the soccer field has established me as authentic in the eyes of my players and their parents as I encourage them to let soccer become the meaningful experience it could be.

The second most vivid early meaningful experience for me was in my high school physics class.  I was stuck at a crossroads with a physics problem and did not know which way to proceed.  I went to ask Mr. Servis my question and walked him through my process, fully expecting him to tell me to take path A or path B so that I could go back to my desk and move on.  When I was done, he asked me: ‘What do you think?’  Indignant at the time, I didn’t care what I thought; he was the teacher, and he was supposed to tell me the answer.

Now as I look back, I am thankful to Mr. Servis for asking me to tell him what I thought rather than just giving me the answer. I have now adopted that method with students and colleagues to help them on their developmental journey.  I’ll support, encourage, challenge and guide them, but rarely will I give them the answer.  Most of the time, there is more than one viable and acceptable approach, anyway.

What’s Your Story?

What are the meaningful experiences that have shaped your story up until this point?  Can you tell the story and explain the lessons in a manner that points to how they inform you and others about your personal brand?

Here are some other questions to ask yourself right now:

What are the meaningful experiences in which you are currently engaged?

How can you influence their progress to be as meaningful as possible for you? 

What meaningful experiences do you need to create in the future (both short term and long term)? 

What steps do you need to take now to ensure those doors open for you when the time is right to help you develop as richly as possible from the experience?

What do you think? Make it a good day.



Mike Severy is the Director of Student Life at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He views his work through the lens of student leadership development believing that students are developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences and that his role is to help students create and find the meaningful experiences in their lives.  You can connect with Mike on Twitter (@mikesevery).

Related posts:

  1. College Graduation: A Credential or a Meaningful Experience?
  2. Meaningful Interactions
  3. Choices

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