Prompted

Summer 2017

Prompt: What's the best advice — or worst advice — you've either given or received?

In high school, everyone said college would be the best four years of my life. So when I was looking at schools, that’s what I looked for: Where would I have the best four years of my life? And it was such a difficult thing to ask of a school, any school. 

Now, as an admission counselor, I make sure to tell students looking at colleges that they should choose a college that will make them happy and able to be the best version of themselves, because that’s how it becomes the best four years of a person’s life. That’s why Grinnell was for me.

At the time I was stage managing a show for the theatre department and going to talk to Erik [Sanning ’89]. His wife Susan Sanning was in his office, and when I agreed to do something I didn’t have time to do, she commented, “Saying no makes your yeses mean more.” I still have a lot of trouble following this advice, but nonetheless I think of it every now and again when I’m taking on a new project.

As each of my five kids prepared to leave for college, this was the advice/wisdom I offered: “Dance with your friends.”

 

I got some great advice at the start of my career, which is that I’m the one responsible for my professional development (and my career), not my employer. Don’t take development or career for granted: It’s on you to make it happen. 

When my son was born six weeks early, a co-worker told me that all the trials and tribulations we were facing would turn out OK and just “become part of his story.” At the time, I wanted to punch the person through the phone, because I thought he was minimizing the situation and didn’t understand. However, he was right. My little guy is now an amazing 12-year-old because of all the things that are “part of his story,” and I share the idea and what it means to me now, all the time. 

My adviser was a senior member of the history department in 1964 when I had my first advising meeting with him. We chatted a bit about course selection and then he asked, “What do you intend to do with a history major? Become an airline stewardess?”

Even now, after 50 years, I remember being very surprised. And I did not go to work for an airline after graduation.

“Don’t apply to Grinnell. You’ll never get in.” From my high school guidance counselor.

“Just put your dreams on the back burner and strive to make HIM (ex-husband) happy.” Said by a marriage counselor.

"Do what you love, not what makes you money.” Although true in the long run, it’s often very hard to do what you love without making money first. Also, lack of money can inhibit other non-career goals, like having kids. If you try to pursue what you love right off the bat, there’s a good chance that in order to survive you end up doing something you hate AND being poor."

I was a “secretaries’ assistant” back before secretaries were administrative professionals in Steiner, and Helyn Wohlwend was my boss, before she was a Writing Lab instructor. One day she asked me to call in an order of supplies or something, and I had never done that before and wasn’t sure how to go about it. Helyn told me, “Sara, everybody is faking it. No one knows exactly what they are doing. No one got a manual that you didn’t.” That has always stuck with me. Everyone is just making life up as they go along. It makes me feel better when I get overwhelmed and think I should have all the answers.