I can remember when I first discovered the field of higher education. I was an undergraduate student finishing up my senior year. As positions became available at institutions in the area, I remember reviewing the job descriptions and thinking, “I can do this job”. After all, I was a marketing major, that had done a few marketing internships. I was fairly confident in my ability to perform the job responsibilities. I could bring a unique perspective to the higher education environment. It bothered me though, that many of the job descriptions required a minimum of a master’s degree to even be considered for the job. I wondered to myself, “Did I really need a master’s degree to do this job?” I would be graduating with my bachelor’s degree in a few, okay maybe several months… but still, I could do that job.
Perhaps, I was a bit naive about the factors that required one to have a master’s degree in the field of higher education. During that time my focus was solely on the skills, the knowledge and the experiences that I already had, that would help me be successful in that particular position. Now, after receiving my master’s and after working full-time for several years, I have a different perspective. Now I understand that obtaining the master’s degree had less to do with the skills that I had but more to do with the skills that I lacked and consequently, would need to perform at that level. I needed to experience the higher education environment in order for me to understand how to operate in it. I needed to gain more in-depth knowledge about the higher education environment in order for me to effectively navigate through it.
I’m sure you’re thinking, why is all of this important. Well, it occurred to me that the process of gaining skills, gaining knowledge and new experiences is a consistent process that we must all undergo if we are to move to the next level in our professional and personal lives. Even as a graduate student and a “green” professional out of graduate school, there were times when I thought, “Well I can lead that committee or I can perform that task”. Again, I was focused more on the skills that I had (or at least, I thought I had), rather than on the skills, knowledge and experience that I needed to gain. It is much clearer to me now that each role, each assignment, each task and responsibility that we undertake is really about preparation and competency building. The challenge for us to remember that both our professional and personal lives are enriched (whether we know it or not) by each experience that we have.
As eager graduate students, new professionals and sometimes, I would imagine, even as seasoned professionals, we are looking for the next exciting opportunity. And perhaps, the next exciting opportunity just might find us. However, if we have not gained the requisite skills, learned the important lessons or gained the proper insight for this “exciting new experience” we will find ourselves unprepared, ineffective and wishing that we could go back in time to gain what we needed then, to help us now. Unlearned lessons and dismissed skills can be as detrimental as not having the degree or the years of experience. So, let us focus on what we can learn, what skills we can gain and the knowledge that we can acquire now.
Civil right activist and leader Whitney Young, Jr. coined it best when he said,
“It’s better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.”