What’s with all the squirrel fascination on the Penn campus? I mean, I get it – they’re everywhere… jumping out of trash cans, gathering up discarded sandwich wrappers and pestering any human with a morsel of food. But as a person who grew up just over the bridge in a small, squirrel-infested Jersey town, I felt baffled when I first started working at Penn. I watched intelligent adults, sometimes whole families, prowling through the grass near College Hall holding outstretched iPads or phones, trying to snap a photo of an unsuspecting mutant rat. It was entertaining for me, of course, and soon I was hoping to catch people photographing squirrels. In fact, I started taking photos myself. I coined the series, “Photos of People Taking Photos of Squirrels.” They got a respectable number of “likes” on Facebook.
Regardless of season, squirrels remain abundant on campus, as do the squirrel photographers. Over time, my intense befuddlement transformed into perplexed amusement, which then became simple curiosity. Why do I not share such fascination for this animal I’ve apparently taken for granted my entire life? I’d muse. What am I missing? The question burned at my brain. As a result, I started paying more attention to the little guys.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on campus eating lunch down near Van Pelt, which has become a bit of a ritual for me. As usual, the crafty rodents were milling about, pilfering what they could. I noticed one squirrel in particular was collecting leaves with his little paws and strategically packing in them into a nearby nest in a tree. He’d collect one leaf, and then another, and then maybe another, at which point he’d stop and look me directly in the eye. It was practically robotic and at the time hilarious. I instinctively snapped a photo with my phone and studied the blurry picture, amused. In a following moment of self-awareness, I marveled that I had become the person taking photos of squirrels.
Part of success in the work place is achieved by seeing something from a fresh perspective, often another person’s perspective. By doing this, the successful employee or intern can often avoid detrimental conflict and more effectively solve problems. It’s not a skill that everyone naturally possesses – it often must be learned, and then practiced. Mastering this skill, however, opens the mind to be more innovative, intuitive and resourceful, with the valuable ability to see situations from alternative points-of-view.
As we wrap up the fall semester, many of you will look toward future internships or full-time jobs, primarily landing them. If you think you possess the ability to branch out and tap into different perceptions, consider using it to market yourself in an interview or on a cover letter. If you think there’s room for improvement, try to practice the transferable skill, starting small. Perhaps simple curiosity about a different point-of-view is the ignition that leads to a greater understanding and appreciation of that viewpoint – an indispensable tool you’ll ultimately use in any career across all industries.
Tune in next time for Anne Marie’s Animal Planet. We will discuss the infiltration of those pesky, golf ball-sized bees that swarm the campus benches each spring, an obvious metaphor for the chaos often perceived during the job search process. Why is no one taking photos of them?!