My college experience started out pretty rough. I was unprepared academically, frequently felt homesick, and became really unsure of my career path or any sort of future plans. I was incredibly intimidated by my peers who knew exactly what they wanted to do and seemed to have it all figured out. Finally, I wasn’t focused on personal interest or passion. Mostly, I was concerned with how much money I’d be able to make, and even more concerned with what others would think of my choice. Feeling the pressure of my family’s eagerness for me to succeed, combined with the fear of falling behind, I pigeonholed myself into a major that was clearly not my strong suit and just prayed for the best. It was no surprise that after my first semester, I was stressed, unhappy, and again, lost.s
I knew continuing the way I was going wasn’t an option. So I switched my major, got involved on campus, and did some serious soul searching. I fell so in love with the things I was doing that I never once stopped to think I could make it into a career. Working closely with the professionals on my campus excited me. I finally felt as though the work I was doing was important. I explored some options with my supervisors and it suddenly clicked that the world of higher education was my niche.
Once my decision was made, I was beyond thrilled to share it with the important people in my life. I expected them to share in that excitement with me. The reactions I received were unfortunately not what I was expecting.
“Oh, you want to be a teacher.”
“So you’re going to be a guidance counselor?”
“Is that kind of like a life coach?”
“So you want to be in college forever?”
I was so frustrated and discouraged by the lack of understanding for something that, to me, made perfect sense. Along with that frustration, I was fearful that it may wind up coming along with disappointment. Discussions of graduate programs, the job market, and potential salaries had me feeling unsure of myself and my decision. I was left with mixed emotions. Ultimately, I pulled back from sharing a lot of my career aspirations with people I normally shared everything with.
Fast forward to now, four years, six internships, and almost a master’s degree later. I still find myself having some of the same conversations, explaining student affairs. The difference now, though, is my attitude toward those conversations. While I used to be confused, and slightly concerned, I now take the opportunity to help others understand the importance of student affairs professionals.
I explain the value of the work we do. I’ll make it a point to explain the developmental transitions we witness, the support and challenge we foster, and the goals we help students achieve. I explain our tireless effort to be inclusive, our willingness to go the extra mile, and the impact we can have on not only a students college experience, but their life beyond undergraduate years. Nine out of ten times, by the time the conversation is over, I have yet another person not just interested, but excited in the career that I find myself endlessly passionate about.
Looking back on it, I’m not sure why I was so shocked that no one I knew really understood what student affairs was. Especially considering it took me years to figure it out, myself. Truthfully, we’re never going to have complete understanding or approval from the people around us. At the end of the day, that’s really okay. We constantly encourage students to go for their dreams, regardless of what others say. So why should it be any different for us as professionals? Even as a graduate student, I experience some really incredible moments with students. These moments constantly reassure me I’m in the right place. Remember that if we, ourselves, are happy, the rest will always fall into place.