Okay, so before I introduce myself or go any further with this blog, it’s time I confess something – I’m a brony. Yes, I am a 29 year-old man who is a fan of the television series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Usually when I talk about this, I get a lot of strange looks from students and other student affairs professionals alike. But I feel like here in the WISA community, I can talk about that without fear of it being “anti-masculine.” Not that I’m typically worried about that…
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “brony” is a portmanteau of the words “bro” and “pony.” If you’re familiar with the brony community, you know that most of the individuals who identify as such are the furthest things from your stereotypical “bro” – the hyper-masculine, beer-drinking, overly-competitive guy who is usually afraid of being perceived as feminine in any way. Which is why the brony community seems so much like home to me. I can enjoy a show, which has a target demographic of girls ages 5-13 without being judged for it. Lauren Faust, who created the show, is also part of the team that brought us The Powerpuff Girls, possibly one of the most powerful pro-feminist cartoons of the Millennial generation. Frankly, I feel there are many lessons taught by the show that, while rudimentary in nature, could benefit so many of the students we work with – which is probably why this show has a growing demographic of college-age students, both male and female (as evidenced by the club that I advise at my institution devoted solely to the watching of this show). You see, the basis of the show begins with Twilight Sparkle, who spends all of her time studying magic, being sent to Ponyville to study lessons on “the magic of friendship.” Some of the lessons they teach include: not judging individuals based solely on appearance, accepting help when tasks are too daunting for you to take on by yourself, finding your inner strength, and (in one of my favorite episodes) the fact that even though someone may be feminine, it doesn’t make them weak. Which leads me to my “friendship lesson.”
Several episodes throughout the series are devoted to “The Cutie Mark Crusaders.” These are three younger ponies without any “Cutie Mark” (a play on the term “beauty mark”) on their flanks. Older ponies have cutie marks that display some unique aspect of their personality. Twilight Sparkle’s cutie mark is a star to symbolize her gift of magic. Another character, Fluttershy, has the special ability to communicate with animals, demonstrated by her cutie mark of three butterflies. My favorite pony, Pinkie Pie, loves to laugh and have a good time, and her cutie mark is symbolized with three balloons (for the parties she loves to throw for her friends). The Cutie Mark Crusaders, on the other hand, have yet to discover their special talent and they embark on a number of adventures in order to try to discover what makes them unique as ponies. Many of their adventures are outlandish in nature, from mountain climbing to zip-lining to scuba diving (can you imagine a pony in scuba gear and flippers?). Even their more mundane attempts, like papier-mâché or making taffy, leads to no success in causing their cutie marks to magically appear. In one episode, Twilight Sparkle gives the Cutie Mark Crusaders the important advice to earn their cutie marks in areas they already enjoy. In fact, this episode shows that they already have talents in certain areas (although they still don’t discover this lesson in the end of the episode).
I found that this lesson hit pretty close to home. Throughout my graduate assistantship as well as my first few years as a new professional, I (like many of us) tried to learn several new skills in order to find my true calling as a student affairs professional, with only limited success. It wasn’t until I found my calling – which, oddly enough, was to help students and staff find their calling, that I realized what gave me the most joy and purpose in my professional work.
Now, far be it for me to say that you shouldn’t try new things and gain a breadth of experience in your work. In fact, I’ve found that you learn a lot about what gives you that sense of satisfaction by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and trying something unfamiliar – many mentors have told me that you learn the most about what you want out of a work environment by discovering through experience what you don’t want out of that environment. In fact, in the episode where we first meet the Cutie Mark Crusaders, one of the lessons is that discovering who we are is part of the adventure – that we have near-limitless opportunities to figure it out, and that we shouldn’t rush a process like this that takes time.
However, if we find that calling – something we really enjoy, we shouldn’t let our fears push it to the side in favor of trying out things that we know won’t give us nearly the same thrill. Maybe it’s something you did a few years ago that possibly even inspired you to enter the field of higher education in the first place. If you haven’t earned your cutie mark yet, the time will come soon enough. If you have discovered it, and you find that it’s not a good fit for the work that you do on a daily basis, ask yourself if there’s a way to incorporate that into your current position. As a residence life professional, I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to help individuals become better professionals unless I looked beyond the job description to take on those professional development opportunities. Now, whenever I meet with students for issues that aren’t typically pleasant, I try to find out where their career passions are and what steps they can take to get into a path that gives them the most satisfaction, including offering to help them with their resumes and cover letters. I also have taken on the role of assisting my supervisors with planning professional development and training. And of course, there’s the pleasure of learning how to help my fellow professionals through sharing advice through social media like this. But if you don’t have that possibility, maybe it’s time for a change in scenery.
So what’s the story behind your cutie mark? If you could provide a picture to your professional passion, what would it look like? Is there a story to how you earned it? I would love to hear some of these stories, even if you’re still in the quest to earn your cutie mark.