School-of-Life Degree

School-of-Life Degree

Reflections by a former alumni magazine editor on academia and beyond

I've graduated a second time, this time from the school of life. My first degree, a bachelor's in English, was from <b>Franklin & Marshall College</b> in Lancaster, Pa. Back then, deciding to live more than an hour away from home was a gigantic step.

My father, a street-smart tire man who survived by common sense, resisted the value of an academic education for his four children-particularly his youngest, and only girl. But my mom won that battle, personally shouldering hefty loans to send us to college.

On holiday breaks, fellow train riders would be stupefied by the impracticality of my major, asking bluntly how I planned to pay the rent. My stubborn response: "I will find a way." That mantra has become a refrain throughout my life.


I worked with some folks whose combined efforts often made the whole better than the parts.

Even though I was one of the lucky few to find a job in publishing, I've also had moments of questioning the value of my education-or at least my major.

Beloved college professors, believing in my "potential," nurtured my love of words and writing. I learned that "many words could serve the same purpose well" and gradually released myself from searching for the elusive needle (or words) in the haystack. This lesson helped me set my work free, and I got published in newspapers and magazines.

Having always dreamed of working for myself, back in 1985 I jumped, releasing the security of a regular full-time check and benefits. For more than 10 years I pieced together rent and health insurance page by page. I loved my independence and freedom.

In 1997, after scanning ads for prospective clients, I spotted one for a part-time alumni magazine editor-landing on a campus at the foot of a majestic hill, in a small town just outside of Philadelphia. The course of my life changed again.

After about a year, I was promoted to managing editor. I approached my work as quietly as possible-still thinking of this now full-time job as one of my stopgaps. But against my will, I became attached.

Writing about people's significant contributions to the world, I worked with some folks whose combined efforts often made the whole better than the parts. After seeing in the corporate world that management often didn't want anyone's opinion, I was astounded that everyone's thoughts were valued. Based on the Quaker philosophy of consensus, each team member's input was welcome.

For a city-beat gal, the slow decisionmaking process forced me to slow my pace and try to fall in step-which was against my nature. Gradually learning the way of the academic world, I watched the same movement in our professional organization. At an annual conference, writers and editors at similar institutions across the country discussed the challenge of working as a one- or two-person publications shop.

After "graduating" from my job to relaunch my business, here are 10 lessons learned:

1. Colleagues are allies, not adversaries, with a shared goal-the betterment of institutions and the future of students.

2. Think about the other person's viewpoint and pressures. Remain committed to telling one's personal "truth," but be aware of the concerns that plague others.

3. Learn how to fight fairly and to find a bridge. Focus on issues rather than differences in style, communication, or opinion.

4. Study conflict resolution. Practice its principles without sweeping disagreements under the rug and letting them fester.

5. Pick the most important battles, and conserve critical energy for vital issues.

6. Acknowledge colleagues' good work and help them grow-even when it requires getting out of the way yourself.

7. Strive for originality, and give credit where due.

8. Do your best work, and give with an open hand-without any expectation of reciprocity.

9. Color actions and decisions with integrity, so you know that you tried your best.

10. Stand up for your beliefs, and then gracefully accept the final decision.

I wasn't a formal student this time, but I was trying to pay attention. Now, with my School of Life diploma, I'm grateful for all of these lessons-and the support of those who continue to believe in my dreams.

<em>Andrea K. Hammer is the founder and editor of Artsphoria: Celebrating Arts Euphoria ( www.artsphoria.com ).</em>


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