This was an interesting post to ponder before I began writing, as I’m often asked about my leadership story and I find myself telling it in different ways. (I have talked about it with reference to servant-leadership, as well as my background in Jesuit education, in the past.) It can be a difficult story to tell in an organized way, because truthfully, I fell into the study of leadership.
I wasn’t your typical “student leader” when I was an undergrad, and I fell into student affairs by chance. Most of my friends were 1-2 years older than I was, and one of them happened to enroll in a combined BA/MA program while at Boston College. She took extra courses as a senior, and finished her Master’s in Higher Education Administration the following year. I was intrigued by her experience, and spent a lot of time chatting with her about her coursework, research, and the impact she felt that she could make in a field like higher education. I enjoyed the mentoring opportunities that I was given in my summer internship experiences, and it felt like a place where I excelled – but it took a good friend and mentor to realize that I could continue my education with a focus on that path. So, at the end of my junior year, I applied for the same program. I did so to further clarify my professional goals as well as learn more about the field of student affairs and figure out if it was “for me.” (And for a while, in my fifth year on campus, I wasn’t sure if it was.)
Now, you’re probably wondering how this all plays into my leadership story. While some of it is simply background information about me, the main point is that my path into student affairs and my journey into leadership studies are largely similar – I fell into something I enjoyed, went full throttle, and developed a renewed focus, passion, and enthusiasm for my work. And, I’m a strategic learner – I’ was the type of student who goes for the A. I’ve slowly begun to break the habit and focus on “learning for learning’s sake,” which I believe has contributed to my StrengthsFinder results drastically changing from the time I was a student.
I didn’t see how my graduate program influenced my leadership story until roughly 6-7 months into my first position. I needed that time away from the books, away from worrying about my grades, instead devoting it to learning the job. It took feeling comfortable in the (leopard!) shoes of a student affairs professional, and some time away from my studies, to begin satisfying the deep craving that I had to learn. I wanted to learn about things like mentoring and leadership to become a better advisor, practitioner, and professional. Once I felt comfortable in my skin and with all of the hats I was wearing, I knew I could dedicate time to investing in my own development and finally figuring out what leadership meant to me. I started a blog, got to talking to folks, and read. I read a lot. I talked a lot. I listened a lot (contrary to my nature!).
Just before my one-year anniversary as a full-time professional, I dedicated roughly a week of my time to reflection and introspection. I retook all of my tests, I mulled over the student experiences I had over the last year, and continued to chew on what my definition of leadership would look like. I couldn’t believe how much I had changed – I felt confident, forward-thinking, and grounded for the first time. Studying leadership made sense to me. I started to really re-visit a lot of what I studied in graduate school, bringing with me my new experiences and a renewed understanding of the value of reflection.
My leadership story is far from over. In fact, I’m still trying to make sense of it. But, the study of leadership and how it impacts my work as a professional, and my students’ development, means a lot to me – and for now, I think that’s enough.
What’s your leadership story?
Shout out to Christina Ferrari for giving me the suggestion to talk about my leadership story in this space!
Originally posted at Life in the Yellowhammer State.