Late June marked the completion of my job search. My last day at the institution I was serving was June 20th, and as the date loomed, I was still awaiting the calls of a few prospects. I finally got that call on the afternoon of June 16th. Relief would not even begin to describe what I felt.
The past three years had marked my entrance into the field of Student Affairs and for the past three years, my goals had been pretty extrinsic. They were the “do what you gotta do” kind of goals: successfully complete M. Ed degree requirements, internships, and assistantships, attend national conferences and network, find your first full-time professional staff position within the field, do well in that role, build a network of support. At the end of my last job search I felt good about the work that I was doing. I felt like I’d succeeded in setting and achieving my goals. However, I found myself going back into the job market after a year of service at my previous institution due to personal circumstance.
As I re-routed my career path, the extrinsic goals continued: leverage networks, create application materials, research positions, apply, interview, wait, repeat. All of my energies were pushed outward as I communicated what my skills were and what my career trajectory had been. This process came to an end when I accepted my current position. It’s one that I felt was “right’ for me in that indescribable way when everything is aligned: your personality, skills, and passions, the mission of the organization, the culture of the department, and the timing. So, I packed up my bags and moved across the country for another time. I think somewhere along the way, during the 10 hour drive, I settled into a new perspective. In the upcoming years, I was going to focus on paying attention to my inner process and the intrinsic goals that I’d downplayed in my time of simply breaking into the field.
However when I arrived, car still dusty from the hours on the road, people within my inner circle were asking me “So, what’s next?! PhD? Moving up in your career?”. I was absolutely baffled. Starting a new position is enough work to last for quite a bit of time! Yet, the barrage of questions from those in the field and outside of the field was, “What’s next?” I understand that, somewhat. It’s the way our field works (i.e. first, you’re an RA. You get your credentials. You’re an RD. After that, you just try to keep moving up and up).
It’s not that I don’t want to attain what many may call “higher roles” in the field. However, at the moment when people asked, I wanted to respond, “What’s next is to do well at my new job, learn stuff in a timely fashion, and try to find an apartment in the city of Chicago that’s not overwhelmingly pricey”. (I never said that though because it sounded a bit snarky).
Upon arriving to the office, I started reflecting more on what my goals had been, what they are currently, and what they might be over time. My professional life has always something that is incredibly important to me. So, I take a lot of pains to make sure that everything is flowing correctly. The grind of graduate school and these early parts of my career taught me lessons and helped me gain tangible results that I will always appreciate. They solidified my work ethic. They taught me how to prioritize tasks and attend to deadlines. They helped me to understand the ways that I viewed student affairs work and they allowed me to work with students in a variety of contexts: rural, urban, commuter-based, residential, religious, non-religious, state, private.
However, I also realized that I had run myself ragged in keeping myself on this 1 year, 2 year, 3 year strict plan. I did not plan for the unexpected in my own internal process but I was right on track according to my extrinsic goals and level of “success” in entering the field. I realized that some of my intrinsic goals had gotten lost and I was out of balance. But this time would be different.
So, when I received the following prompt at our staff retreat, I knew that my answer would not sound like it had during the past three years. During our staff training, my supervisor asked us to share our answer to the question, “Where are you going?” My first instinct was to respond with what I already knew would manage perceptions. Internally, it went something like this: “I’m going to continue to build on my career in the field of student affairs and higher education. I’m going to take advantage of the professional development opportunities I am afforded and maintain strong relationships with my colleagues in this field.” And that would have been accurate.
However, this time, I decided to voice my trajectory in another area of my life: the intrinsic parts that I previously did not voice in these kinds of settings. It went something like this: “I’m going inward. I realize that my entry into the field has been extrinsically driven and that was appropriate for the time. I am aware that there are still a set amount of objectives, outcomes, and deadlines that I need to reach in this role and at this point in my process. However, I now know that all of these things can happen, and I’ll be better, more centered, and balanced as I go inward and engage with my internal process along the way”.
So, what does that look like? Surprisingly, it looks like a lot of the things that I did to maintain my extrinsic goals! It looks like time and schedule management. Yet now, the focus is on managing my time and schedule both professionally and personally… so that I can improve my quality of work, my quality of life, and not be too tired to contribute to the quality of other’s lives. I have learned to pay more attention to the areas of connection: I started doing this work because I identify as an ally, advocate, and resource for students… not because I just wanted to have a title. I find success in collaboration… not because it’s a buzz-word in our field… but because I believe that we can learn and grow as we engage with others. I place an emphasis on advance planning… not because I’m afraid that everything will crumble… but because it’s a best practice and it is important for me to work on professional excellence in my own life. I will achieve the goals of building on this career, maintaining networks, and planning in advance… but not without first “going inward”.