October is upon us. That means it’s Careers in Student Affairs Month! The annual occasion when we turn our attention to doing our darndest to indoctrinate bright-eyed student leaders into the cult of Student Affairs. Or perhaps more accurately put, a time when we reflect on our own career paths, our professional aspirations and goals, and the future of our profession.
Earlier today, I was thinking about my own career thus far, and considering how drastically I have changed as a professional, even since I began my current job just over two years ago. I decided relatively early in my college career (as a sophomore) that I was going to pursue a career in student affairs. So I wouldn’t say that I just “happened on to” the field, but rather spent 3 years of college researching, attending conferences, trying to gain experiences, and starting to shape my student affairs career. I was sold on student affairs at age 19.
My experience since my student leader days has been rewarding, challenging, and enlightening. But there have been a whole slew of experiences that I could have never anticipated, understood, or prepared for. Perhaps this is true of all careers, but I really had no idea what I was signing up for when I embarked on this path. I have embraced it and generally thrived. But I sometimes worry that we portray our field as a rainbows and sunshine kind of situation, without having frank discussions about how emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding this work is.
In my opinion, the demands of student affairs life don’t make this career not worth it. The difference I feel I’m making, the ability to have life-changing moments with students, the ability to be part of a higher education institution, to be a change agent, to work in an environment where I can be myself, where social justice is valued, and where I generally have a ton of fun at work all easily outweigh the negatives. However, we need to talk openly about the negatives and accept them in order to improve our own experiences as educational professionals and to set up future professionals for success in this field.
If we sugar coat the realities of dealing with human emotion, negotiating institutional politics, addressing trauma, or working long hours, we discount our own ability to deal with and overcome these vocational struggles. We also set up future professionals to feel like absolute shit when they run head first into those professional challenges. I think that we (especially new professionals and graduate students) have a big complex in our field about admitting that not everything is rainbows and sunshine. Maybe we feel like we were tricked a little bit. Maybe we thought that working in student affairs was just going to be an extension of our student leadership glory days. Maybe we didn’t anticipate that the work-life balance struggle is so very real. But most of us feel deeply passionate, inspired, and energized by our work. I do not hesitate for a moment in saying that embarking on a career in student affairs has absolutely changed my life.
Which is why I am going to do my best this month to post some very real reflections on the nature of student affairs work in recognition of Careers in Student Affairs Month. I hope that through honest reflections of the lessons I have learned as a new professional, I can inspire others to consider a career in student affairs, armed with a full knowledge of what that career means.