Working on My Roar: Beyond the Classroom

Yesterday I attended the second installment of the Distinguished Speaker Series: Beyond the Classroom, hosted by the Department of Economics and Finance and the Economics and Finance Society. The featured speaker was John Holland, CEO of Agriland Farm Credit, which is East Texas’ leading agriculture lending institution. With financing and farming as the topics at hand, I presumed that Holland’s presentation wouldn’t have much to offer me.

I love being wrong about things like this.

Though Holland works in a very specific industry, he was able to provide his broader insights on the world of work and generational divides and confluences in the workplace that extend beyond the process of lending to farmers. In fact, generational differences and expectations of young workers made up the bulk of the hour. Holland identified traits in members of Generation Y that he perceives as strengths: the desire to contribute and make a difference, a sense of passion, and a native understanding of technology. Flipping the coin, he identified a failure to be punctual, a lack of basic skills in writing and math, and technology obsession as weaknesses.

These beliefs about Gen Y are not new revelations. However, as I listened to Holland toss out questions about percentages and a tale of the habitually late, young new employee who’d rather text than go out and talk to people—while watching some audience members tap and swipe on their devices—I saw these perceived strengths and weaknesses in a different light.

To some, we are a generation that has a concept of solid work ethic but cannot consistently put it into practice for all of our distractions. We know what to do, but we can’t—or worse, just don’t—do it.

But this isn’t about the time gap between the dates of our births. This is about youth.

Holland admits that when he was in college he was a “screw-up,” the self-proclaimed “social chairman.” His distractions were basketball games and post-game hanging out. College students haven’t shunned those diversions; they just Instagram them now, too. Of course, many of those students will go on to be successful in business as Holland has been, even after he initially failed to make the GPA necessary to secure his undergraduate degree.

Frequently, the ones who will have that success, as Holland describes, are those with people skills who are energetic and motivated, who embrace their critics, and are compensation-driven workers who “don’t want to finish last.” Holland also specified that he’d like to work with people who are direct, no fluff folks like him. Oftentimes, though, the working world perpetuates the opposite of these qualities. And sometimes those requiring these abilities in others are those who have the weaknesses Holland also mentioned. After all, the young business students in the room weren’t the only ones on their smartphones during his presentation.

To put it simply, generalizations say little about individuals. As my preconceptions of where John Holland’s speech would fall on my personal scale of interest almost blinded me to its value, biases about your peers, superiors, and potential hires will obscure your vision of what’s possible for your project or organization. I like to think that most of us know this; we just occasionally forget.

You may be asking what any of this has to do with “working on my roar.” First, I’ve been able to reconsider what it means to roar here at A&M-Commerce (or anywhere else). Yes, as Lions, our sense of school spirit is our “roar.” It is a kind of metaphor for the jobs we do as students, faculty, and staff. However, now I am more acutely seeing that your roar is your voice and its fit in the harmony of your environment. Your roar is the sound at the intersection of how you’re perceived and who you actually are, what you bring to the place where you are and what that place gives to you. It is the balance between who you have to be not to “finish last” and the part of you that may just want to snap selfies all day. And your roar is what will echo after you leave this or any institution.

I reflect on these ideas of generational perceptions, reputation, and “being yourself” every now and then, but had I not gone to listen to Holland, it is unlikely that I would be contemplating any of this on this particular day. By listening to Holland speak, I’ve been able to realize that working on your roar isn’t just showing up to do your job (on time, of course) or going to every activity you know will be fun; sometimes it is about finding and attending that extra event that somehow changes what you thought your roar could or should sound like. Whether it is participating in Yoga on the Lawn, viewing “Raid of the Rainbow Lounge,” or listening to a speaker from an industry you know very little about, you never know what you’ll take away.