My guess is, if you asked anyone what they thought they would be doing for a living when they were 18-years-old, it would not be anywhere close to what they are currently doing. Yet as a country we expect everyone to know this before they go to college. Additionally, if you do not know what you want to do, you are made to feel “less than.” This is further complicated for first-generation students who pursue college. And even further if you are from a traditionally underrepresented population. I am all of the above.
I honestly do not remember having a conversation with my mother or father about careers, about passions, about talents, about intrinsic motivation, or about well-being. You see, careers play a critical role in our overall sense of well-being. It wasn’t until I failed a lot that I realized how important it is to pursue a career in which you can utilize your strengths in a field in which you feel you matter.
My first exploration with life and college led me to DeVry Tech in Phoenix to pursue a career in electronics back in the mid 70’s. Now I’m not sure why I was there, but I went with one of my brothers. It sounded like a good idea at the time. That lasted a semester.
I then pursued an associate’s degree at a local community college. Again, I was not sure why I was there, but it appeared to be better than working full-time – although I was working 30 hours a week at the local grocery store. I obtained my AA degree in 1978.
At this time, I started thinking that I wanted to be a teacher (I had two older brothers who were teachers) because I wasn’t sure what else to do. I was then offered a management training program with the grocery store chain that I had worked for during high school and college. Knowing that I could make more money in retail than I would teaching, I saw the dollar signs! Cha-ching! I made the decision to enter the work of retail.
I did this for twelve years.
By then I was married and had two kids. I woke up one day and said to myself, “I really do not like what I do.” I could do it, and I was pretty successful, but I was missing something. That fulfillment thing!
The biggest risk and my greatest reward was to pursue a bachelor’s degree after being out of college for twelve years. Frankly, I was not a very good student. But while working 52 hours a week and going to college full-time, I was able to successfully complete 67 credits within a twelve month period. I have no idea how I did this. I always say, “I was too stupid to know that I was supposed to fail!”
After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I was lucky enough to be offered a position as a vocational evaluator at a small, rural, community college in Wyoming. They should have never hired me, but I had a blast. While I was there I pursued a master’s degree from a regional state college, and within two years I had another degree.
Again, I had the fortune of being offered a job at a land-grant institution as assistant director of admissions. I was encouraged to pursue a Ph.D. I was not even sure what a Ph.D. was, but I accepted a position as an academic advisor and started the course work. By 1999, I had a Ph.D. If you don’t know this yet, education is liberating! I now believe the reason you chase post-secondary degrees is to enjoy life more, and having a career is part of that journey.
At that point, I was offered a job as the senior student affairs officer at my alma mater, a community college. I was there for eight years and enjoyed every minute of it. I thought I would stay there for an extended period of time until colleagues encouraged me to apply for an assistant vice chancellor position at the land-grant institution, also my alma mater. I returned there for seven years and learned a lot during that period.
This all brings me to my current position as the senior student affairs officer at a mid-size land-grant institution. I truly love what I do. My philosophy has always been, “All my days are good, and some are better than others!” Think about it. Parents are sending us their most prized possessions and expecting us to help them find their way in life. I take that very seriously, but I have fun doing it.
What I have come to understand is that there are probably ten thousand jobs that we could all do, and we could probably be good at them. But it you do not receive a sense of self or that you are contributing to something bigger than yourself, it is not very fulfilling. I also believe we are more defined by our failures than our successes. When life does not go the way we expect, what are you willing to sacrifice to reach your objectives? This means that you need to have courage, you certainly need to have curiosity, you need to be willing to take risks and maybe even do something you never thought you would do. Lastly, you should try to understand that gratitude can have a lasting impact on your well-being. I am grateful every day that I have the opportunity to encourage students and staff alike to attempt to do something they never thought they could do. You never know when one of these experiences will lead you down a “road less travelled.”
Life does not follow a script. Life is not is linear.