I never knew how much my work tied to my identity, until the day my work no longer made sense.
Like many of you, I too found this field by accident, through an impactful mentor who told me that she made a living facilitating the life-changing experiences we had together. She was confident and seemed to always have an answer for everything. And I wanted to be her.
So I emulated her track. Housing (RHA and RA), graduate school, hall director. For 8 years I was dead-set on becoming a housing director.
I did everything I knew I should in order to become exactly who I thought I wanted to be professionally. I was right on track to reach the SA dream, but instead of being in heaven, I was in turmoil. I was a stressed, sensitive insomniac when it hit me: maybe housing isn’t for me.
The thought rocked me to my very core. Housing was not just something I did, but had, without my meaning to, become who I was. I introduced my work like it was my last name. “Hi, I’m Hayley, and I work in ResLife.”
If housing isn’t for me, then what is? Filled with guilt, disappointment and sadness, I took my shattered identity in my hands and carried it to my mentor. She listened to my meltdown and then said,
“You know, its ok to not work for housing.”
Her words were simple, but she gave me something I had not been willing to give myself: permission. Permission to change, permission to fail, permission to have a new/different dream.
Today I am miles away from the residence halls, and while I miss so much about it, I am thankful that I have found a field that recognizes my ability to change and allows me to do so. Here are 4 keys that helped me navigate my SA identity crisis:
- Start with Why
Why did you start working in Student Affairs and why do you stay? Chances are, why you are here fits in many roles within student affairs. As Simon Sinek says in his book Start with Why, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Fostering sincere connection with students can take place in the residence halls, in the conduct office, or on the intramural field. Location and method is fluid, motive is fixed. What can change, Why should be consistent.
- Practice self-kindness
How we talk to and about ourselves matters. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown shares, “ If we want freedom from perfectionism, we have to make the long journey from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.” That journey begins with shame-resilience, self-compassion, and owning our stories. To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and the very imperfect nature of our lives, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections. To be kinder and gentler with ourselves and each other. To talk to ourselves the same way we’d talk to someone we care about.” (Daring Greatly p.131)
- Talk it out
Talking about current concerns, fears and expectations with a trusted friend or colleague can help bring perspective. When we are in the heart of a situation it can be hard to see the pitfalls, the irrational spaces, or next steps. Saying things out loud can also change how we understand or feel them. What feels complex may actually be very simple, such as my realization that I didn’t have to work for housing to be a successful professional. Until I heard it said to me, I could not feel or see the impact of the statement.
- All advice can be good advice- just not good advice for you.
When seeking input from others, remember that what you need can only truly come from you. What worked for your best friend, your boss, your teammate, may not work for you. Filter decisions through your own beliefs and values. Does what you do match what you believe? When making decisions, what you value can help you filter out the wrong fit. If you value a predictable schedule, an on-call position may not be for you. If you value shared religious beliefs, a private religious institution may be a logical fit for you. (Start with Why p. 168)