This is the second entry in a two-part series. Please click HERE to read the first entry.
Below, you will find my final three pieces of advice for recent graduates. I’ve learned the following ideas during my first three years as a professional in higher education and student affairs, and I wish to pass them on to you. I hope you’ll find them beneficial as you begin your own journeys.
3. Keep pushing for equity and justice, regardless of your functional area.
One of the most important things I’ve realized during my first three years as a professional is that I still have a lot to learn and do when it comes to diversity and inclusion work. I’ve also realized that while my coursework provided a strong foundation of knowledge and terminology, it could not have feasibly covered everything I need to know to be the best possible student affairs professional. In part, it was because this work (and learning) should be continuous. It would be easy in my current functional area to place issues of equity and justice below other concerns. It would be easy to rely on my colleagues in the Multicultural Student Center to labor alone. But I believe we all have a responsibility to center our work on those who’ve been most marginalized in our communities and at our institutions.
I urge you to keep learning through books and research. Learn through the willingness of our peers to share their wisdom, time, and experiences through hashtags such as #citeasista and #sjechat. This field and our institutions are far from perfect. To disrupt and dismantle systems of oppression, all of us (including new professionals) must be willing to push for equity and justice in our work, even when it’s hard, regardless of our functional areas.
4. Find your professional home.
I wasn’t extremely involved with any particular professional organization as a graduate student. I attended conferences at the state and national level, but I wasn’t sure how much time and energy to give them. During my first year at UW-Madison, a friend suggested that I apply for a role on the directorate board for the Commission for Career Services within ACPA. Serving on the directorate has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my professional career; it has given me a network of colleagues far beyond the boundaries of my own campus. I feel more deeply connected to our profession and the people in it. My leadership has also allowed me to better advocate for my own attendance at ACPA Conventions. This leadership has contributed greatly to my own professional development.
Find a professional space that will challenge you, help you think critically about your work, and allow you to foster meaningful relationships with other professionals. Whether it’s a state, regional, or national organization matters less than the organization’s ability to push you forward in your development as a professional in the field.
5. Be fully committed to your job, but don’t forget to take care of yourself.
I will never forget my first performance evaluation at UW-Madison. My supervisor said, “I think you’re an excellent employee, but I’m worried about you burning out. I appreciate your commitment to the position and your interest in collaborating or helping other team members. But it’s okay to say no sometimes.” Full disclosure—I continue receiving this feedback. I am working on prioritizing my own well-being over that of my organization, though at times, it feels wrong. I’m fortunate to have a team that tells me that sometimes finishing something is more important than finishing it perfectly. They also try to model some semblance of harmony between work and who they are beyond it. I recognize that not all offices and teams encourage this behavior.
It’s critical to find meaning in your job and to find new ways to challenge yourself as a professional. Seek out opportunities that don’t necessarily fit your position description. However, whenever possible, give yourself permission to take the time necessary to take care of yourself. Whether your self-care is through exercise, mindfulness, therapy, or Netflix, take some time to do it. You’re more valuable to your organization when you’re able to bring your best self to work.
Transitions can be both exhilarating and difficult. I often find myself thinking about the ways I’ve continued to fail, learn, and grow since arriving in my first professional role after graduate school. There will be times when you wonder whether or not this career path was the right one for you. There will be some days when students are rude, or a decision will frustrate you. But these early years are full of possibilities and opportunities to bring your energy, passion, and new ideas to your team and institution. I’m excited to have you as a colleague in this community. I look forward to learning with you along the way!
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.