Today, Facebook reminded me that during this week, three years ago, I completed my graduate degree in College Student Personnel at Bowling Green State University. Completing the degree was thrilling! However, I distinctly remember being an emotional mess as I drove away from my friends and the place I called home for two years. Less than 10 days later, I was unpacking and trying to settle into my new apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. Shortly after, I started my position as a career advisor for undergraduate business students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
I am astonished at how quickly the past three years have gone by. I’m also overwhelmed by all the professional experiences I’ve had. This is the first entry in a two-part series that will include a total of five pieces of advice that I’ve either received or learned through trial and error. While these are specific to my personal journey as a new professional, I hope that you will find them valuable and be able to mold them to fit your own needs and experiences.
1. Bloom where you’re planted.
The chair of my graduate program loved to give this advice to those of us in her Capstone course. I don’t think I completely understood what she meant until I arrived in Madison. While I was excited to start my new job, I wasn’t excited about its location; I still very much identified as an Ohioan. I told myself not to become attached to this new city because I probably wouldn’t stay more than a year or two. At some point during the first six months of living here, I gave myself permission to find places that would make Madison feel more like home. These places included the public library, a local coffee shop, and the UW Arboretum.
Making Madison feel more like home also involved developing friendships with colleagues. Doing so made my tie to the institution feel more tangible, beyond my work with students or my monthly paycheck. Whenever possible, identify the things you need to do to feel settled in a new place. Identify what you need to do to fully invest (and succeed) in the community and your role without reservations.
2. It takes time to learn your role. Be willing to fully commit to it before moving on to the next opportunity.
As a career advisor, I spend a lot of time talking about short- and long-term career goals with students. I am constantly thinking about the future and how my current position and experiences will prepare me for my next move. I can’t help it—strategy is my top strength. But something I’ve learned during these early years of my career is that while it’s okay to be thinking about what’s next, such thinking shouldn’t detract from your commitment to your current role.
Less than eight months into my position, I received an email for a job that I knew would be perfect for me. It was closer to home and at an institution I loved. For weeks, I found myself mentally checked out of my current job while deciding whether or not to apply for the position. In talking with friends and mentors, I realized that I wasn’t unhappy in my current role. I also felt supported by my supervisor and my team. Lastly, I didn’t have an actual desire to leave! I was, however, worried that a position like that might not come along again. In other words, FOMO.
I chose not to apply and instead re-focused on really learning my position at UW-Madison. I focused on identifying ways to make my job even more meaningful. There will likely be many ‘what if’ moments when you see a job or opportunity. It may make you question your current role, and sometimes it is the right fit. However, I’m learning that there’s value in being in my own role long enough to fully understand it. I can make improvements, see the longer term impact on students, and leave my position and organization better than when I arrived.
This concludes the first entry of this two-part series. I hope you found something within this post that resonates with you. If you found it helpful, return to it as you continue to navigate your own first post-graduate school role. Check back in soon for the second entry! In the meantime, feel free to reach out with comments or connect with me via Twitter or LinkedIn.
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.