If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it.
— Seth Godin, Stop Stealing Dreams
Seth Godin has written extensively about jobs that fit neatly in manuals, that require few judgment calls, leaps of faith, or human connection:
They’re in trouble.
The Academic Advising Manual
When I’m doing it right, my job (academic advising) won’t fit in a manual. It’s too messy.
When I’m at my finest, I think critically, encourage intellectual growth in my students, and solve interesting problems with a human touch. This is higher education at its best.
Sometimes, though, I fall short. I occasionally catch myself essentially reading a script to my students:
“I see you are a biology major. Wonderful! Here is the university catalog, which contains the requirements for the biology degree as well as the university’s academic policies. It’s on the university website, of course. Here is a four-year plan for the bio major, to help with course sequencing. It’s also on the website. Here is a PDF with instructions for registering for next semester’s classes. Come to think of it, it’s on the university website, too. Any questions?”
This isn’t a script, actually: it’s a manual. (And it’s not quite this bad, but you get the idea).
If all I’m doing is pointing out existing resources that can be found with a few clicks, I’m not doing much to help the student, the university, or my profession.
Keep Your Job Messy
We all have a choice at work: we can stick to the script or not. We can adopt an attitude of “Sorry, I just work here,” or an attitude of “Whatever you’re facing, I’ll find a way to help!”
Going off-script is more fulfilling, since it involves looking for ways to give, to forge connections.
And it keeps our jobs too messy for a manual.