The past couple of summers I have played on a Ladies Golf League. Now this is by no means a serious league and I am by no means a great golfer. Really I joined to have some fun. I am actually quite horrendous, for those of you who know golf, I have an 18 handicap (highest allowed) on a par 29. For those not in the golf know that’s BAD (capital letters required bad). As part of the league I have the chance to golf with people I may not know, which is always a fun time. However as part of almost all adult getting-to-know-each-other conversations comes the inevitable question. Over the course of my career I have come to anticipate, fear, loathe, detest and eventually embrace this questions. By now you may be wondering what type of people I hang out with to evoke such a response to a question. Rest assured these are wonderful ladies. The question by itself is an innocent question as is the answer. However it is the reaction to the answer that can poison a conversation.
The question I most dread answering is….
What do you do for a living? Or some variation of that.
Innocent, right? Great way to start of conversation, right? But boy o’ boy could that question be any more explosive.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not embarrassed by my job. I love what I do. Financial Aid is the career for me. My co-workers and institution are just fabulous. I will stop with the clichés now.
But I get it, I get people’s reactions and their random questions. Here I am someone who works in a field that baffles, bewilders, frustrates, and angers that masses. In our field we work with two things no one ever wants to mess with. Someone’s money and someone’s kid. Throw a few adult beverages in there and were sitting on a potential powder keg of explosion.
Don’t get me wrong, not everyone’s reaction to my career choice is anger. There are plenty of people who will now view me as their own personal fountain of knowledge to be beckoned at their whims. And there are still others who take note and move on with the conversation.
By now you may be wondering, where is she going with this? Well, this is not just a phenomenon related to golf. This happens in all aspects. For example I just received a Facebook message from my brother’s good friend’s wife (whom I have never met) asking what they should do for their son attending a school in Iowa. I know I can’t be the only one who gets these types of reactions and random questions. There has to be others that dread the career question as much as me.
Over the years I have tried various different approaches to people’s reactions.
I have tried the fake smile. You know the one I mean, the I am going to keep smiling and nodding my head like I care while I am actually thinking about what I am going to cook that night.
Or the deadpan look. The one where your eyes slowly glaze over until there is no trace of emotion left on your face, hoping that the person can pick up on it.
Now don’t get me wrong I give the sincere and correct answer when I can. But having these types of reactions can really bring down a golf game. And mine doesn’t need any more help being “brought down.”
Now if you have a magic wand or have found a way to stem the barrage of volatile reactions LET ME KNOW. Otherwise how can we best handle these situation professionally, ethically and still have a glimmer of hope of having a decent golf game?
One of the best approaches that I have found is the generic answer. I work in higher education. Or I work at UNK. Both answers accurate, vastly generic, but a great way to still be able to claim your career without “claiming” your career.
Another approach I utilize when someone starts vomiting out financial aid questions is a two pronged approach. Step one find out what college the student is attending/planning on attending. Step two refer the person to that financial aid office. Now occasionally this backfires and the student is at my institution but when confronted with that situation I use my get out of jail free card. Ethics! I state that since student financial aid is confidential it would be best to answer these questions in my office so confidentiality is maintained.
How about those angry or woe is me debtors. This types of situations can be tricky. If I get the “angry I have so much student loan debt” I try to SHUT THEM DOWN! I try my hardest to not let them go there. These is usually accomplished by saying so what I am hearing you say is that your degree is not worth anything. That usually makes people backtrack very quickly because of course their degree is worth something. For the “I have too much loan debt, you should feel bad for me” individuals I happily spout out that there are several different repayment plans and they should talk to their loan servicer about them.
Now I could keep going on and on and on about the various questions, reactions, and encounters I have when people know that I work in financial aid and my various approaches to help better my golf game. But I’m not going to. I am going to switch tracks and tell you what I have finally come to accept and understand about these encounters.
They are coming from a place of fear, frustration, and desperation. By being able to put an approachable face to our career opens up a world of reactions. These reactions are starting to give me hope. It gives me hope that students and families will be more confident, inspired, and nicer when speaking with other financial aid administrators. It gives me hope that maybe I can change the perception of our field. It also give me hope that one day maybe, just maybe, I can exploit their services.
Hope you all have a great day!
–Becca Dobry, Association News Co-Chair, Nebraska