It was around 10am when it struck me. My day started like most of the days I’ve had over the previous few months. Driving my partner to work, going home, making coffee and breakfast, and listening to a podcast in the morning. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it hit me like a hammer: today was the start of most people’s academic year. And, I didn’t have a job. Earlier in the year, I had termed out of my contract in my second professional position and spent the summer searching for any and every opportunity to keep working at a college or university.
Nothing had panned out yet, but I tried very hard to remain hopeful. That day, after that moment, I felt pretty defeated. I wondered if I still counted as a student affairs professional, doubted I would ever find a job again, and questioned if going to graduate school had been a waste. I cried, I felt angry at my previous department for throwing me out, I felt angry at everyone who had rejected me from a position, I cried more, and I wallowed. For a long time I wallowed.
I wish I could say something happened that magically altered my circumstances, that a position fell into my lap and I rebounded into a perfect career trajectory. But I can’t. I didn’t have a full time job for about nine months. Eventually I secured an interim role, which led to another interim rime around the same time I started going back to school. As a PhD student, I worked between two and four part time/student worker/short term gigs. I graduated in May and have been searching for roles as a faculty member or student affairs professional.
As of publication, I do not have a job offer. Most schools on the semester system have begun their academic years. However, I did not share my experience so that other people will feel bad for me. I’m writing this for everyone else who might be experiencing these same or similar circumstances right now.
First and foremost, you are not alone in this. It might feel like it, but I promise you are not. There are many other people in the field who are also seeing social media posts about move-in and aren’t getting responses to their follow-up emails from interviews they had weeks ago. We are feeling our own version of what you are feeling. You likely also have people around you who care a lot about you and want to support you. Even if they don’t completely understand what you are experiencing, even if they can’t fix it for you, they still want to be there for you in any way that they can.
Below I am going to share a few things that helped me greatly through one of the more difficult times in my life. My hope is that anyone going through this experience may find some insight or help.
Maintain your sense of purpose.
Remember why you wanted to enter this field. Revisit a reading from your grad program or a memento from a former colleague or student. Reflect on it, find its connection to you in this moment. A lot of this experience will make you want to disconnect from the field, but holding on to what made you want to do this will help you keep going.
Stay connected to the work and the people.
Facebook and listservs can help with this, but might also be a source of pain or discomfort. Perhaps, it would be better to reconnect with cohort members, a faculty member or a former colleague. However you choose to do it, find a way to stay connect to what it is you want to be doing. Know what is happening in the student affairs community and form your own opinions and thoughts.
Find a non-student affairs hobby.
As helpful as staying connected can be, letting them consume you won’t be healthy. Find a way to balance student affairs connections and interest by reading books for fun, drawing, going for walks outside, or teaching yourself something through YouTube tutorials. The first two items will become easier if you can find energy in different places.
Hold on to supportive people.
Like I mentioned before, there are people who still care a lot about you, even if they don’t understand. And while it might feel better to push them away or not talk to them about this, I promise you it will only hurt you and them more. How they care for you might need to change, but they can be better at that if you are willing to help them do it. Getting through this will be much harder alone, especially when we don’t have to go through it alone.
I will close by saying that I am able to get to this point because a number of people, first and foremost my partner, stuck by me, loved me, supported me, and challenged me to keep going when I didn’t want to and felt like I couldn’t. As a way of showing them how grateful I am for that love and support, I offer the same to you. If you are reading this and are going through anything like what I described, I am here to support you. Know that you are not alone.
September is the month of transitions, especially on the college campus. Follow #SATransitions to read as the community reflects upon transition and change, personally and professionally. Have ideas about a future series for the Student Affairs Collective? Contact Nathan Victoria on Twitter at @NathanVictoria or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.