You Are What People Think You Are

A couple of weeks ago, I joined the Ambassadors as they debriefed their experiences and student feedback from the “street smarts” program this semester.  The street smarts program is a peer-to-peer effort to on-board students entering the College.  Designed and run by the Ambassadors, the program consists of two different one hour workshops.  The first workshop occurred in the second week of the semester and was meant to provide students with survival skills as they encountered lecture capture, the testing center and a culture that demands their attention and engagement.  The second workshop occurred just after midterm exams and focused on helping students find their passion, major and path forward.  It was a very impressive undertaking by the Ambassadors that required creativity, project management, and getting out of their comfort zones. More than 700 students attended each workshop.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the debrief session was the observation that some students thought the Ambassadors were intimidating and a bit unapproachable.  If you’ve met the Ambassadors you know that they tend to be “Type A” folks who kind of want to rule the world, or at least their part of it.  They are joiners, aspiring leaders, and engaging students.  It is these characteristics that drive them to be Ambassadors.  They are also strong personalities.  Speaking from personal experience, sometimes people interpret aggressive action spurred by passion for a cause as being arrogant and unapproachable.  As a smart Director of Marketing once told me: “You are what people think you are.”

I was tremendously impressed by how the Ambassadors owned this observation by some of their peers.  Rather than try to refute it, they talked about how to become more approachable.  At our holiday party last week, I suggested that the group adopt a value championed by Rich Lyons who is Dean of the Haas School at Berkeley: Confidence without Arrogance.  It is a wonderful phrase that encapsulates what I think a great education provides people—enough confidence in your abilities to know you don’t need to display an air of self-importance to succeed.   It is also an incredibly flattering way to be described by others.  Perhaps we can all join the Ambassadors journey and resolve to work on becoming confident without arrogance next semester (i.e., a quiet, but discernible swagger).



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