“Intentional” and “authentic” are used often in our profession. I have come to strongly dislike both of these words. Our profession’s overuse of them and lack of real meaning behind them had rendered them useless to me.
A few days ago, a colleague tweeted this article by Herminia Ibarra, entitled “The Authenticity Paradox.” I almost didn’t click on it. Because I am authentic already. And, well, because!
I’m glad I got out of my own way and read it. Ibarra’s piece is the most insightful and useful framing of authenticity I have ever read. I viewed loyalty, consistency and honesty as my professional “brand.” That’s what being authentic meant. Ibarra and her research suggest the opposite. Relying on old habits and stories actually limits our authenticity and reduces our credibility as leaders. Instead, Ibarra suggests, “An important part of growing as a leader is viewing authenticity not as an intrinsic state but as the ability to take elements you have learned from others’ styles and behaviors and make them your own.”
I thought I would write this #MySAPath piece about my story. I would detail every piece of it and then offer tips and suggestions for how to do (or not do) the same as me. Getting out of my own way (or not) has been a theme in my career.
My student affairs path looks like this:
- Involved undergraduate student leader: resident assistant, orientation leader, service-learning, study abroad, internship, club sports, writer for the student newspaper.
- Summer between junior and senior year of college, my orientation supervisor says, “Monica,you are good at this. You know BC has a program for it, right?”
- Spend one weekend studying for the MAT (do they even still have that test?) and submitting an application to a master’s program I knew nothing about.
- Graduate from accelerated master’s program, then volunteer with AmeriCorps for one year.
- Take first job in residence life. Rock it out for three years. Supervise amazing student leaders. Intentionally immersed myself in student leadership & activities experiences, so I could position myself for my next professional move, out of residence life.
- Get married.
- Work as assistant director of student activities for two amazing years.
- Give up full-time employment and start doctoral program.
- Have two children while a full-time doctoral student and part-time graduate assistant.
- Older son becomes very, very sick, but I soldier on and finish my degree in five years. Job search for eight grueling months. Take on director role. Dream job, right? This is it. Why I did all that work, why our family sacrificed and scrimped and saved for five long years.
- Leave director role after one year because it involved three-hour daily commute, and I desperately missed my family.
- Make less-than lateral move to current institution because it is closer to home and involves advising student population I admire and respect (nurses).
These events are true, and they are my story. But, Ibarra cautions: “Don’t stick to ‘your story.’ Most of us have personal narratives about defining moments that taught us important lessons. Consciously or not, we allow our stories, and the images of ourselves that they paint, to guide us in new situations. But the stories can become outdated as we grow, so sometimes it’s necessary to alter them dramatically or even to throw them out and start from scratch…Try out new stories about yourself and keep editing them, much as you would your resume.”
Reading the authenticity article helped me realize that my path in student affairs has been wrapped around old stories. Our son’s cancer diagnosis, combined with my doctoral journey and subsequent job search changed me. Trauma is part of my story, but it doesn’t have to be the story.
Peppered throughout my journey are many, many job interviews. Some went well. Others were disasters because I didn’t “fit.” Usually, the word fit makes me bristle. Too often in our profession, fit becomes code for “I don’t like you.” Sometimes, though, we don’t fit and for good reason. At this point in my career and my life, I can finally say that there are places and positions where I don’t fit. And it is has nothing to do with my experience, my education, or me. The authenticity article helped me realize that fit can (and should) be about who I am at a particular moment matching up with what the organization needs at that particular moment in time. It’s authentic if there is a match, if there is fit.
I’m turning 40 this year. It’s the perfect time to reflect on my path. I cannot go back to who I was and what I wanted before my son got sick. But the more I reflect on my “career,” the more I accept that I’m different now, and always will be.
I am also not finished. I still have things to offer and things to learn. If that happens in student affairs or higher education, great! If not, that’s ok, too. I’m going to be intentional and authentic (ha!) in how I write my story.