I will always be slightly in awe of my colleagues who went straight through four years of undergrad, straight into a master’s program, then straight onto working as a professional in our field. That just ain’t me. Have you ever seen those classic Family Circus cartoons? The ones where a son goes on some sort of adventure around the neighborhood? Hopping over shrubs, climbing through a neighbor’s fence, splashing across a stream, stopping to play jump rope, all while a dotted line follows their path from start to finish? That’s me. I seemed to end up all sorts of places, in all sorts of situations, before finding myself as a new student affairs professional the year before I turned 30.
The start of my adventure began by not knowing what the heck I was doing when I graduated high school. I eventually enrolled at a local community college to take advantage of their matriculation agreement with the major university in my hometown. Two years there and I’d be able to transfer in automatically and have my associates degree. That time was tremendously influential. I had great faculty who helped me build academic self-confidence and a student affairs division that got me involved in the school’s student programming body.
The dotted line continued to move, and my next stop was transitioning to a large state school. After two years of living off-campus, TV shows like Felicity taught me that living in the residence halls was the way to make friends, so I quickly signed up for housing. I joined my building’s hall council and was hooked. The following year I was chosen as a freshmen leadership mentor, Relay for Life Exec board, RHA Exec board, AND I was hired to be an RA. Whew. I think I was supposed to find time to sleep, eat, study, and have a social life as well, but those were minor details. I was having a blast and loving life.
I made the decision to take a fifth year of undergrad to plan out my next steps, having decided that I wanted to continue with this path and go into higher education instead of secondary ed–shout out to all my people who thought we were going to be high school teachers! Unfortunately, I placed myself into a bad situation where a plethora of issues really threatened to push me over the edge. I was overly involved, I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t taking care of myself emotionally, and my grades suffered. I was soon on academic and job probation heading into the spring semester, stress which triggered panic attacks.
At the time I didn’t have a clue as to how to make the world stop spinning so wildly. On one hand, I was going through the grad school search and had two schools offer me amazing housing assistantships. On the other, I was dealing with mental health issues and had started two prescriptions. When my significant other broke up with me, all those proverbial balls in the air came crashing down. There was a solid month I didn’t go to class in the spring of 2007. In the end, I made 5 Fs and the university kindly asked me to take a year off and reevaluate my academic priorities. I was unable to attend grad school, and I was forced to do what every 23-year-old dreads–I had to move back in with my dad.
Trying to navigate after having lost what I perceived to be everything important to me was really hard. Desperate for a job to help alleviate my loss of purpose, my sister told me about an administrative opening at the salon and spa she worked at. Unsure of what to expect, I went in for the interview and was hired right away. The work itself wasn’t very emotionally demanding, and I found myself craving that leadership piece of my life that was missing. I quickly started asking for greater responsibilities and was promoted up to an assistant department head. During this time I was able to really focus on myself and getting myself back on track. After a year off of school, I continued working full-time while taking a few classes a semester to raise my GPA back up.
Fast forward three years, and I knew that I would be graduating with my bachelors in May 2010, eight long years after I first stepped foot on a college campus. There was a bit of uncertainty as to what would happen after I graduated, but I vividly remember the moment that sparked my decision. I went to work for my annual review, and the manager gave me some pretty unsettling feedback. My favorite piece didn’t involve my “well-defined features which made me look unhappy,” but instead that I was “empathetic to a fault and seem to solicit emotion from people.” Yes, friends. I was too empathetic. I went home that day and registered for the soonest GRE and signed up for the Southern Placement Exchange to seek housing assistantships. I knew I needed to be back in a work environment where empathy was valued and not seen as a negative. Three weeks later I sat down to my first interview, and two months later I was preparing to move out of state and finally start grad school. I’ve never looked back.
I could have saved myself a lot of trouble–and let’s not talk about the student loans–but ultimately my complex, messy, non-traditional route is what makes me a better professional. I am able to have candid, genuine conversations with students in their darkest moments because I too have been there. I know the pain and fear and frustration, but I can also be an example that sometimes the messy route is the one we were meant to take. These stops, some planned and some unexpected, combine to make the story of me and how I’ve become the woman and student affairs professional that I am today. This is #MySApath story, and I wouldn’t change a thing.