I fell into Student Affairs by mistake. That should be my first confession in this #SAFailsForward series.
My emergence into the world of higher education was the result of two pretty major failures in what I thought to be a grand master plan after graduation. Sure, I had been involved on campus as an ambassador, student leader, etc. Those were terrific experiences. But, my plan since second grade had been to be a teacher.
Something they never tell you as a kid, after asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is that there are countless options available that eight-year-olds haven’t heard of – including jobs in Student Affairs fields in colleges and universities. As a kid, if you want to be in education, that is synonymous with you wanting to be a teacher. It wasn’t until my last year as an undergraduate student that I considered Student Affairs, and that was really by happenstance.
Senior year of my undergraduate experience, I had this master plan to get into a fancy graduate school to get my master’s in History, study cultural history in America (a fascination embedded in my geneology), get my PhD, and become a university professor. All of this, despite being a Social Studies Education major and certified to teach in high school. Being exposed to high school again while still being involved in the campus community (and having an unforgettable and inspiring history teacher/advisor) enlightened a realization that I really enjoyed the university aura better than K-12 schools; now, it was about finding my niche.
I prepared myself well for graduate school applications. I worked myself to the bone academically, gained hands-on research experience, held an internship at a national museum, and more. Five prestigious graduate school applications later, and five rejection letters later, I was devastated. Honestly, I had never experienced this kind of a failure before; this was one that would uproot my entire plan, and I felt lost.
But, just as not all those who wander are lost, not all who feel lost continuously wander. Countless mid-life crises, mid-twenties crises, or mid-anytime crises later – we find a path to follow. The path is variable and rarely exactly what you intend, but that is the epitome of life. Find passion, and go for it. You will fail, inevitably, at some point. But, take wisdom from Jim Carrey:
“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”
Taking all of this into consideration, I inhibited myself from propelling forward in two ways:
1) Initially, I limited myself. No matter if one path is your first choice, keep all doors open until you find the right one that puts you down a desirable path. Many people will ask you, “What are your future plans?” when you’re nearing graduation; it’s perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know.”
2) I didn’t recognize the successes. Sure, you learn lessons from your failures, but you also have to recognize your successes along the way in order to know what success feels like an emulate it in the future. While I failed at my initial plan of getting into a Master’s program for history, I was in the middle of my last semester as an undergraduate and was going to be graduating Summa Cum Laude. I should have kept my hard work and rewards in the forefront of my thought process and deduced what mindset was necessary to get to those successes.
I had a self-realization the hard way. I am passionate about the social sciences, still today, and I love history. But, I love student interaction as well. Since my plan to attend graduate school for history didn’t cut it, I started applying for jobs. Applying for teaching positions was one option, since I would be certified to teach Social Studies; however, even though I enjoyed my student teaching experience, I still saw myself moving on to the college level in the near future. That moment of realization, and knowing I wouldn’t stay in the high school setting, provoked me to pick the brains of my colleagues and supervisors in the Office of Admissions, where I was a Student Ambassador. They are largely responsible for helping me realize where I needed to be and for giving me the foundations to better myself every day. Failure followed by recognition of my successes, collaboration, and moving forward with an open mind made me realize who I am and how much of a people person I am. This sequence of events also forged the realization that I would not be happy being locked in a closet researching with no student interaction or cooperative work environment. Frequently, the benefits of failing (or succeeding) are not visible until you gain the clarity of hindsight.
While talking about my options of public school teaching vs. other jobs vs. other graduate programs, I decided to start applying for jobs in higher education in addition to jobs teaching high school. I knew that higher education was primarily a Master’s field to get into, but you don’t know unless you try!
I was extraordinarily lucky. According to the old Roman philosopher Seneca, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I was lucky enough to have both. My training as an ambassador and campus visit coordinator in the Office of Admissions as an undergrad student prepared me to apply for jobs in the admissions field. But, it’s never that easy. I applied for 40+ jobs teaching high school and working in colleges. I received five interviews. Four for public school teaching jobs, and one higher education interview. Needless to say, I am still working in higher education and am now well on my way to completing my Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration. 22-year-old me might have scoffed at that last sentence.
My failure and 20-something crisis taught me that sometimes the path you will take is the one you don’t expect, that failure creates grit, and that to surround yourself with people who help you recognize success, those that you aspire to be, and those that challenge you to break your comfort zone. This is the growth that all professionals need. If you aren’t challenged, if you don’t have hard days and failures along the way, you’re not evolving to your full potential.
Quotation source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajMpfPYlHi4 (I encourage you all to watch this one minute highlight reel of Jim Carrey’s commencement speech; it’s truly inspiring!)
> BONUS <
Podcast With Danny Malave on New Professional Retrospective on the Job Search