Originally written by Jen Gonzales on www.RoadtoCACUSS.ca as part of #RoadtoCACUSS, a journey from Toronto to Vancouver.
I was supposed to be a reverend. On the eve of graduation, I approached the career centre at the University of Guelph, took a suite of personality assessments and met with a career consultant to find out what career path I should take. The top job that matched my strengths was a reverend.
I remember laughing out loud. First, my religious background of Catholicism did not allow for this to be a career possibility. Secondly, I had spent the last four years being a less-than-practicing Catholic on campus.
When we were thinking of aspects of transition to write about from the #RoadtoCACUSS, spirituality was the first thing that popped into my head. I wanted to explore how we as student affairs professionals support our students in their development of a spiritual identity and whether it is important for us to explore our own spirituality.
This is a taboo topic in many circles. We’re told in conversation to stay away from the topics of politics and religion. Yet I knew in spending six days of non-interrupted time with my five travel mates that this would not be an option. Eventually my own daily spiritual practice would be exposed, and I would have to have vulnerable conversations about this aspect of my life as we planned our trip.
With the health of our students and professionals in my mind and heart, I took action to bring spirituality to our road. I proposed the following tenets:
Commit to Your Team
Working on a project this extensive required commitment. Proactively, I led a conversation about what was a “must-have” for each person on this journey. This included places to see, institutions to visit, and how we wanted to feel as a team during and after our trip. We worked backwards to generate a dream trip for each member of this group, and committed to it. We worked through cold feet (we all had them), excitement, countless hours of individual work, and early morning/after work meetings. Like a championship team, we brought our best selves to the planning/execution of this project and have offered forgiveness when we haven’t been at our best. This commitment has proven that our collective journey is more fulfilling than any one of our own individual journeys could ever be. This applies not only on this road but also to the other journeys we are on with the various teams and communities we are a part of at home.
Amplify Your Abundant Gifts
Troy drives like an expert, and opens his heart to connect with others effortlessly. Brandon can plan to the last detail, and brings quotable humour to any situation. Hamza’s strategy maximizes the sharing of our story, and his ability to summarize day long conversations into tweetable wisdoms is admirable. Nick challenges his comfort zone with grace and introspection, creating consistent “a-ha” moments for us all. And Kait, our team spark plug, infuses energy when we need it most. She leads us to execute with quality, consistency, and excellence. Each of us has innate strengths that we bring to the world. Knowing our superpowers individually, and arranging our tasks in ways that amplify them has been key in the success of this project. I encouraged us to approach this journey from a space of abundance. We wanted to overflow in opportunity, connection, joy, possibilities. As we continue experiencing our dream becoming a reality, it is easier to believe that any other dreams we have for ourselves and each other is possible.
“Altar” Build with Open Hearts
Before we left for the road, I asked each person to bring an artifact for our RV altar. A thing that is quite normal for those practicing Catholicism, and many other religions around the world, this request was initially received by some team members as weird, and overly-religious. When I explained that our altar would be a space to remind us of home—and where our collective experience would be captured and celebrated—the skepticism decreased. The team kept an open mind & heart, and participated fully in the exercise. Functionally, it looks like a bulletin board of memories. Energetically, it unifies our separate experience into one.
Yesterday at Northwestern University in Chicago, I took a walk with a leader in Student Affairs I admire deeply, my friend Deb Schmidt-Rogers. We talked about how many schools in the US are religiously affiliated, and how “mission” critical it is to consider spirituality as key in a student’s learning experience. Deb, an openly Lutheran leader, defines spirituality as making meaning of our experiences. If student affairs functions as a key in helping students make meaning of their learning, how could we not consider spirituality in our conversations?
As an undergrad I lost my religion to a spiritual practice on my campus. In spending significant time exploring ways of making meaning of my life, I learned that walking in nature, going to a yoga class, writing in my journal, or having a conversation about life’s biggest questions was as soul-filling as heading to mass. As an adult, I’ve found ways to integrate rituals from my Catholic faith with a more expansive definition of what spirituality means to me. It means connecting to myself, and others, to spread light to anything I come across.
Whether my team knows it or not, I have spent many moments praying on this trip. When left with some free time I went to a gorgeous Chicago cathedral to thank the universe for this opportunity, and to ask for continued blessings, safety, and joy on our journey. In that holy space I also gave thanks for the grace of our generous hosts, and coincidences that have reaffirmed that we are on the right track.
Everything has energy, including you. Whether you are a student, or a student affairs professional, knowing where you gain energy, and give energy, will help you know how you best make meaning of your experiences. It is this knowledge that will lead you to a healthy, overflowing, and fulfilled life.