Like many professionals within higher education early in their career, I left my graduate program ready to take on the world and moved halfway across the country for my first full-time job. My excitement and energy was palpable as I began Day 1 at Rollins College in the beautiful sunshine state. Then things started to change a bit.
The past two and a half years have included a whirlwind of change, transition, and ups and downs. I think this is pretty typical as one’s first job involves a lot of emotional roller coasters; some rides that result in people leaving the profession within their first few years. Well after all that, I’m still in it and here are some reasons why.
The following list includes some thoughts I’ve focused on to keep me happy and committed to a career in student affairs.
One can spend all their time during the week at work and committed to a job. However, this leads to burnout, and burnout very early in a career. Howard-Hamilton, Palmer, and Kicklighter (1998) shared that “administrators often embrace a ‘yes I can, yes I will’ frame of mind and work ethic”. I encourage others to be okay with “no” especially when it will allow you to spend more time on something else. Remember, every time you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else, and sometimes this is a no to your health, your family, or your hobbies.
2. It’s not always about the money
It’s no secret that education is not where people go to make millions. And if you’ve found a job where that’s true- let me know if you’re hiring! Just kidding. But the reality is, most of us make a living wage, and it’s tight at times, especially in our first jobs. It’s important to remember that the money isn’t what fulfills us. Yes, more money could buy us a flashy car, a larger house, or even another cruise but it’s the sense of purpose and belonging that we really need as humans and what truly drives the professionals in our field. Focus on the relationships and remember, if you’re able to eat and sleep in a comfy bed, you have a lot more than others in this world.
3. Sometimes you’re not going to love it
We talk a lot about vulnerability and being authentic with others. Yet, at the same time, we strive to show up to work every day with a smile on our face and “positive energy.” This tension causes a polarization within our emotion filled minds. I think it’s okay for us to have those days where we do not love our jobs, those days where we think about “what if I had been a lawyer?”, and those days when we think “I can’t do this anymore.” It’s those days that allow us to also have the days that keep us coming back to work and the days where a student says to us “you’ve changed my life and I cannot thank you enough.” Keep a file (either electronically as an email folder or at your desk) of reminders of the “You’ve changed my life” days. Trust me- you’ll use them!
4. Rely on professional colleagues across the country
We can all think of a colleague (or two) we’ve worked with in the past that makes us think “You’re a challenge to work with” for one reason or another. In these moments, I constantly rely on my professional network of friends. Through NASPA and the NUFP program, I’ve made connections with individuals that I would consider best friends (I was in one’s wedding party this past June!). These people get me, push me to do better, understand when I’m challenged, and provide me with feedback that makes me forever grateful. In the moments when you’re extremely challenged with a supervisor, colleague, or student, rely on those near and far that you consider the best of the best for advice and support.
5. Continue to push yourself to do better
When you don’t have formal coursework, it’s easy to become comfortable in your job. Remember that working in higher education, we’re all committed to learning and that includes self-development. Seeking out continuous professional development allows you to grow, network with other people, and to continue to find more opportunities for success. I’ve continued to volunteer within professional organizations and attend other professional development opportunities and it’s made the beginning of Year 3 incredible.
These are some thoughts of what have worked for me. Some may work for you. Some may not. But I encourage you to find out what DOES work for you to help you STAY IN IT!
Howard-Hamilton, M. F., Palmer, c., Johnson, S., & Kicklighter, M. (1998). Burnout and related factors: Differences between women and men in student affairs. College StudentAffairs Journal, 17(2), 80-91.
This post is part of our #CSAM15 series, in partnership with NASPA. Through these posts, we hope to highlight what it means to have a career in Student Affairs with a diverse group of contributors. With a focus on the students, defining Student Affairs, hot topics, and Striving Towards Betterment, there will be a lot to learn about this month! For more information, check out the intro post by John Weng at NASPA. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kevin Kruger on Avoiding Burnout in Student Affairs