As a now seasoned student affairs professional and mid-level manager (AKA no time to breathe without interruptions), I have often wondered how people have time for this mythical practice they call reflection. While I have always intellectualized the importance of reflection, I never made the time to do it and if I am being honest with myself, never put as much stock in the practice as I should have.
Over the last week and a half, I have had my first true vacation in almost 5 years – I don’t count conferences or business travel as vacation. Hopefully, you don’t either! I needed this vacation because I had come to a point in my career that felt like a crossroads. Full-time housing and social justice professional and full-time doc student. Burnout was making its way into my life, as were health consequences that had been diagnosed weeks prior. During this vacation, I truly began to look for the answer to “what is making me crazy and what is slowly killing me?”
Reflecting on these questions has really helped me carve a new approach to my work and I have gotten back in a positive mindset to move forward when I return to the office in a few short days. Make no mistake – this reflection took a lot of time, energy, and emotion. It made me question my values, my boundaries, my relationships, and my investment in a variety or personal and professional arenas. Below are some of the key questions that I had to reflect on to get myself where I need to be. I would encourage you think reflect on your own experiences and see if these questions help you too.
Who Am I?
It is easier than most people think to lose who you are in our profession. There are many people that will give us advice on what job we should take, who we should befriend, what professionalism looks like, how we should talk or behave, etc. We must critically think about our own identities and how they impact our daily existence in our jobs and in our personal lives. We must come to terms with how we can be authentic in the workplace so that we don’t feel like we are living double lives. We also have to be adaptable and know that we will evolve over time. We have to be patient with ourselves and make time for this exploration on an ongoing basis.
What do I believe in? What are my values?
We have all taken a hundred values inventories and personality assessments. Deep down, though, what do you believe? What is your “why” for who you are, how you act on a daily basis, and who you aspire to be? When the rubber meets the road what are the beliefs that will cause you to pack up your office (if that is a financial possibility for you), leave a relationship, or pursue a new life path if violated? What are the values that while important to you won’t create havoc in your life if they are not followed or adhered to every single time? What “stuff” are you willing to deal with?
What is my goal for the next three to five years?
While we have all thought about this question to prepare for interviews, have we all really interrogated ourselves about where we want to be? For me, it was overwhelming to think about the next 20-30 years because there are so many life factors that could prevent or alter that path. Finding my career and personal goals for the next three to five years wasn’t quite as overwhelming. It’s also helpful to be very understanding of where you are mentally, emotionally, and physically. Be kind to yourself. Challenge…yes. Sling into the fire… not so fast.
While these are only four questions, they are incredibly important and take quite a bit of reflection to answer and flesh out for oneself. Most student affairs professionals will say they don’t have time to think reflectively when there are to-do list items to be completed. The good news is that we always have time to do the things that are important to us, as Covey would argue. The bad news – you’re right. The to-do list will always be longer than the hours in the day and something will have to be postponed or marked off the list in order to do this self-work. How do you want to look back on your career…listing all of the tasks you got done or seeing the impact that you – as an instrument and leader – had on people through intentional, purposeful, engaged work? The choice is for each of us to make.