Angela Lawrence, Associate Dean, Staffordshire Business School
As the summer draws to a close and we pack away our well-worn flip flops, it’s good to reflect on the long, warm days that we have enjoyed outdoors, before the shorter days of Autumn set in. I recently spent some time browsing through photographs taken this year, to remind myself of the best of 2020. I came across two pictures that led me to ponder on how each one of us approaches life so differently.
Both pictures taken on the same day, within the same 10 minutes. Both taken at the same location. Both my grandsons, yet both with such different approaches to life. One a risk-taker who throws himself headfirst into everything, giving 100% and constantly on the lookout for the next challenge. The other a thinker, a complicated little soul who weighs the options up very carefully before making any decision and even then, approaches life cautiously, sometimes with some anxiety and trepidation. Can you tell which is which?
What this means for me is that I have learned to speak to them differently, to explore different activities that each may enjoy, to play different games with them and read them different stories before tucking them up into bed at night. I accept that they are very different and embrace and enjoy their unique personalities. I celebrate their individuality, encouraging them to be true to themselves and to live their life the way that they, and only they want to.
Don’t be a sheep
We are all unique, all different – let’s face it we are all made up of different DNA! As I welcome new students to the university this week for the start of their journey as independent learners, I’m at pains to remind them of this. I have spent many years welcoming freshers, excited to be beginning a new chapter in their life. Amongst the information and advice that I share to prepare them for the student journey ahead, is the video of a social experiment that I call Don’t be a Sheep.
The video never fails to make students smile and laugh. It depicts a young lady behaving the way that others around her do, just because she feels that she must. My advice to students is to be true to themselves and not to feel intimidated or pressurised by anyone else’s behaviour. I’m acutely aware that in today’s society there is a great deal of pressure from the media and social media, to be someone or something that you are not. Many have written about the phenomenon of social comparison and the ensuing mental health related issues and lack of self-esteem.
Generation Z in particular seems to be challenged by continual obstacles in the path of individuality. This uber-connected cohort has spent a lifetime inundated with messages telling them how they should look, how they should behave and whom they should aspire to. The 2020 documentary film The Social Dilemma has gone further to heighten fears around the controlling influences of social media and the divide deepens between those who readily fall under the influence of social pressure and those who have the strength to follow their true self.
Something for everyone
The first few weeks at university provide an opportunity for students to get to know their housemates, their lecturers, their surroundings and their studies. Whoever you are and however you like to approach life, there will be something for you. A full range of societies to join and different teaching methods to accommodate different learning preferences – diversity is recognised and embraced in a way that many have never before experienced.
This is one of the reasons why I love working in higher education so much. I love to see confidence build, personalities develop, independence grow and life ambitions accomplished.
Live your own life
Steve Jobs famously told us “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”. I fly the flag for being yourself but I appreciate that not everyone has the confidence to do so. The beauty of university life is that support is always available for those who struggle with mental health issues or anxiety. We know that some find this new environment harder to adjust to than others. Don’t be afraid to reach out and be reassured that you are absolutely not alone in feeling this way.
I hope that my grandsons will continue to follow their own individual, unique paths through life – that people will accept them for who they are and that they will be confident to do things their own unique way. My message to students beginning their university journey is live your own life and follow your own path – you don’t have to look that way, you don’t have to dress that way, you don’t have to behave that way, you are unique, you are yourself and that’s okay! Be kind to yourself and be kind to others.
At Staffordshire Business School, we understand that business evolves with time and technology, so we are constantly adapting our learning strategies and courses to give you the best chance to get ahead of the competition when you graduate.
For 2021, we have developed four brand-new courses that follow contemporary themes such as sustainability, entrepreneurship and digital marketing: