I’ve been beguiled by the work of student affairs for nearly two decades. In fact, most people who know me would say that I was born to be a student affairs professional. What they would find surprising is that I never aspired to this work. Student affairs courted me. I never courted student affairs.
During my senior year in college, I was comfortably sailing along to a career in the legal profession upon completion of my undergraduate degree in Economics (with a minor in English). And then, something happened.
I began to reconsider my plans of becoming an attorney. I realized that what had attracted me to pursue the law as a long-term career goal was really nothing more than an attempt to replace the labels placed on me throughout my childhood and schooling. Low-income. First-generation. At-risk. I had earnestly sought to strip myself of these labels from the moment my teachers had begun using them to describe me and what they thought were the obstacles that would, ultimately, affect my career trajectory. Becoming an attorney, in my mind, represented an opportunity to replace these labels with those which would create a more elevated level of prestige: Attorney. Educated. Wealthy.
The writing was on the wall. It was time to reframe; change course; move forward.
I decided to put my law school admissions process on hold and took a full-time job working as an assistant legal librarian. I can’t say I was surprised to learn that interpreting legal documents for attorneys and developing evidence and related courtroom exhibits further solidified my decision not to pursue a career as an attorney. It was not easy, and the level of fear and anxiety in making the decision to move away from the law was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The moment I decided to move away from a career as an attorney was the same day I turned in my letter of resignation and submitted an application for admission to a master’s program in Education, Teaching and Secondary English. I had never envisioned myself as a teacher, but I had a compelling interest in pursuing a career involving leadership and service, and I felt like teaching was the best route to service. I was still scared but experienced some gut level of relief–which assured me that I had made the right choice.
After graduating from a master’s program and teaching English to adult, high school, and ESL students for four years, I was pleased with the direction my career had taken. At this point, it seemed necessary for me to move my career to a higher plane; one which would allow me to pursue a more direct role in leadership.
I decided that the next phase of my career would be crafted in such a way that would allow my interests in leadership and service to co-exist. I chose higher ed. And, in doing so, student affairs chose me.
Nearly twenty years later, after completing a doctorate and initiating countless student success efforts over the course of a career in graduate admissions, university administration, and career services, I had hit the “middle-management” wall. The trajectory that I had envisioned for my career had stalled.
The writing was on the wall. Once again, it was time to reframe; change course; move forward.
My decision did not take long. Unlike in the past, there was no fear or anxiety associated with my decision to leave higher ed. In fact, I felt truly at peace with the decision to leave. One thing I knew for sure: I would carry what I loved about higher ed to my next career–a passion for student success.
Over the past year, I have been using my leadership skills to position myself as an expert in student success alongside building my consulting firm, Lee Success Consulting, LLC, and serving clients focused on creating the architecture of student success within the context of colleges, universities and non-profits. It’s a role I feel comfortable in.
But, at the end of the day, I’m still student affairs obsessed. And, while working as a consultant allows me to live on the fringe of higher ed minus the politics, bureaucracy and budget challenges that inhibit every industry in the world, I still dip my feet back into those waters whenever I take on a new higher ed client. It’s a good balance. Who knows where my leadership pursuits will take me in the future? But, I’m fairly certain that I’ll be taking student affairs along with me on the journey.