5 Career Lessons from Student Activism

As an undergrad, I was involved in a few different student activist groups. Participating in these groups was my way of getting involved with my new community as a college student. I had a lot of fun, met some amazing friends and learned a few lessons along the way.

You might not associate NCOR with networking or sit-ins with supervision, but the skills I gained while participating in these groups are directly applicable to my current life of working 9-5

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Here are a few lessons from student activism that translate to the working world and beyond

1. Just show up

As a member of a student environmental group, there may have been a few meetings or places of business to which we had a habit of showing up 'un-invited'. During these moments, we were able to express our feelings regarding purchasing choices or other issues that had a direct effect on our experience as students. When we expressed our opinions effectively, decision makers took our opinions to heart and in some cases, changed their course of action.

In today's world of constant electronic communication, it's easy to hide behind a screen and avoid interacting with humans. I am a big proponent of just showing up at someone's office and taking to people face to face. You are not intruding if you are visiting a place of business. This should not be such a huge surprise to people but in my experience, it catches people off guard in a positive manner.

In summary: It's much easier to get a 'yes' if you ask someone a question in person

2. Don't be afraid to 'freak out the squares'

Student activists are often seen as pretty extreme. Embodying environmental and social justice beliefs often manifest in minimalist practices, veganism and 'off-beat' fashion and hygiene practices. These choices can make people uncomfortable and sometimes even visibly upset as they reflect on their own personal choices.

In the business world, innovation is a word that gets thrown around a lot. It's easy to stand by an innovative idea that people like. It's quite another to defend an idea against popular opinion. Living in a way that makes people curious about your beliefs prepares you for that staff meeting where everyone looks at you and says "Really?!"

Get comfortable with other people being a little uncomfortable.

In summary: When presenting an innovative idea, expect pushback and be prepared for it

3. Make it fun

Vegan potlucks, trips to great local restaurants and documentary viewing parties were woven into our schedule as gatherings that fostered group cohesion and connectedness. It was important to take a break from 'talking shop' to just have fun and get to know each other. We were particularly good at this and that was a huge part of what kept our organization running strong.

The saying 'people don't quit jobs, they quit supervisors' is true, but they also quit 'cultures'. A friendly and affirming office culture makes people excited to go to work. Going out to lunch, informal outings and team building are all ways to get co-workers to relate on a more personal level and show a different side of their personality. Fun is different for everyone but in general people want to just feel like they can be themselves.

In summary: Fun can sometimes take effort but a positive work environment will make everyone more productive and less dramatic

4. You can't win 'em all

On local issues, we were often successful at achieving our goals. A few national campaigns were effective but we did have some losses. (I mean, we protested the war and we all know how that turned out)  BUT-that doesn't mean we did not create a conversation or show our dissent. Real progress takes time and all our steps, large and small, add up.

Things worth doing are often difficult and take more than one attempt. With unified goals and a great team, you can ride out the losses and still see your progress.

In summary: Celebrate the wins and learn lessons from the misses. When you're working for something you believe in, you always win

5. Let people know that they are important

When a new student wanted to join our group, we were So excited to get them involved! It was easy to get them in the door, but keeping them in our organization was a group effort. Recognizing members for their accomplishments in front of the group (either with a title or public announcement) was always a great way to make them feel personally invested in our campaigns.

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