“So what’s your major?”
“Are you involved in any clubs on campus?”
“What res hall do you live in?”
If you’re a young student affairs professional, you know what I’m talking about.
I could probably count on my fingers and toes the amount of times I’ve been confused for a student as a professional. Being a graduate student, the assumptions aren’t too far off. But it can certainly feel discouraging!
I’ve come to the realization that this confusion comes with some pros and cons. The cons are a bit more obvious. But I think it’s important to focus on the advantages of being a young professional in the student affairs world.
You remember how overwhelming the student experience can be.
I’m sure the memory of how busy college can be never totally escapes you. But there’s something about experiencing it during the same time frame as current students that really soothes them. While there’s a fine line when breaking the barrier between professional and student, I’ve found it to be really helpful to sometimes let them know that I’m in the same boat as they are. The stress of going to class, finding time to complete assignments, keep up with readings, and somehow still have a minuscule social life can be overwhelming. Helping them see that there is someone who can understand what they’re going through helps them identify people to turn to in a time of serious need.
You use similar ways to relieve stress.
No matter what role I’m taking on when working with a student, my absolute favorite thing to find out about them is how they manage their stress. I know how quickly stressful situations can go downhill. So, I always want to identify what a student does to make time for themselves and what they enjoy doing outside of their academic endeavors.
As a student and young student affairs professional myself, I can sympathize with the limitations of what qualifies as a “leisure” activity. Of course, I’d love to spend my free time traveling to new cities and eating my way around the world. But my wallet certainly says otherwise. Finding ways to relax, recharge, and take care of yourself looks a lot different on a student budget. Having this conversation with students has given me the chance to share new approaches to self care. These tactics prove to be pretty successful in the student community.
You have a similar world view.
I think almost every millennial can admit that being part of this generation is both a blessing and a curse. We’re constantly stuck between being praised for our cutting edge use of technology. Yet, we are also looked down upon for how much we rely on it.
As a young student affairs professional, I grew up in relatively the same time frame as most of my students. This has helped me realize a lot about our generation and its pitfalls. Yes, there are plenty of us who are far too consumed in our devices and the social media phenomenon. There are, however, just as many of us who kick it old school and value the human social experience. I work with students who fall on all ends of that spectrum. So, I’ve learn more about technology than I ever needed (and probably wanted) to know. Plus, I’ve learned different methods for effectively communicating with people my own age.
You’re constantly reminded of why you chose this career path.
One thing I love so much about student affairs is that most professionals didn’t intend on pursuing a career in higher education. We all have some pretty interesting stories and no two are the same. There have been so many times that I felt behind or unsuccessful because it took me longer than most of my peers to decide on a career goal.
I’m reminded every single day of how intimidating that process can be by the anxiety in my students eyes. That anxiety gives me an open door to support that student by reliving my own experience. I can instill that passion for exploration with the reassurance that everything will fall into place when and how it’s supposed to. Not only does this help me connect with students, but it gives me the sense of purpose and fulfillment I chase after when I come to work every morning. What could be better than that?