When I first came to the Leadership Office I was happy to see that we had an office pet, a beta fish named Joy. Joy lives in a half gallon tank next to our front desk and is there to great all our visitors with his bright colors. By chance I had researched beta fish and their needs a few months before when we were getting a new tank for my partner’s fish. I wondered if a beta might fit in the small one gallon tank I had for my own desk at the time. To my surprise I found that my tank was far too small for what should be considered happy beta fish habitat. So, when I came to the office and found a fish in the same predicament that I had nearly put one in, I quickly suggested that this be changed. In the space he has now there is room for a five or even a ten gallon tank. This would give him more room to move, room for habitat to hide in, plants, and things to play with. At first the response from my coworkers was positive. They agreed, even offering to pitch in monetarily to help purchase the new habitat. Then I got sick and busy and distracted with my own problems and when I came back to the subject the view had changed drastically. No one else was in favor of changing Joy’s home anymore.
This started me thinking about that change. About how badly I missed the mark on this project, about how apt Joy’s name is, about the continuous improvement we strive for in evaluation, and about one of our office’s favorite mottos: no growth in the comfort zone.
Beta fish can survive in tiny bowls that hold little more than a drinking cup’s worth of water. The most extreme poverty can still produce a smiling child and loving parents. Life in a war zone can bring out stories of people who go above and beyond reasonable risk to shelter those who are in need. So what can we learn from this? While life can survive in a situation that is far from ideal, I don’t think many in our office would argue that it should have to.
So what about the other end? Joy was bought through UMarket, and therefore would have been sold as a biology experiment if not for the chance of landing in our office on the whim of one of our student associates. Isn’t that so much better than what could have been that I should stop worrying about it? Should women be appeased by the right to vote and not press on for equal pay? Should African Americans be satisfied that slavery ended and not push against racist police brutality that still haunts our country?
I work specifically with the program evaluation section of the office and my supervisor has worked hard to instill the idea of improvement through evaluation into the core of our program. We do two sets of evaluations every semester because getting information at the end of the semester isn’t fast enough. We have our own evaluation because we want to improve our curriculum with feedback on questions specific to our course. We read every single answer that is written to us. All done in order to improve our performance. Our course ratings are nearly perfect and yet we continue to look for ways to improve. Why should we let something so simple slack?
“No growth in the comfort zone” is a motto repeated at least once a day in our office. It’s a reminder to students to push themselves off of the balcony, to instructors to keep themselves on the dance floor, to associates to take on a task at which they might fail.
Joy is no longer “growing” and I can’t do much about that right now. There are so many bigger things going on and so many things that I want to change, but don’t have the power or influence to do so. But I can keep fighting for this silly little fish named Joy as a reminder that even if things are surviving they deserve a chance to thrive; that improvement is important even when the baseline has been surpassed; and that even those who seek growth outside of the comfort zone have to be careful of the little things we let ourselves get away with.
Cayley is a Biology, Society, and Environment major from Wisconsin and a student associate with the Leadership Minor who loves her cats and ice cream way too much.