This is the second post in the #SAMid series. Jason Meier shares his thoughts about answering the ever-present “what’s next” questions. Thank you, Jason.
When you’re preparing for your first job out of grad school, well-meaning professionals will tell you to expect this question –
Where do you see yourself in 5 and 10 years?
As a young, eager grad student, I had great answers for this question. In five years, I would be working at a large state institution overseeing the student activities board (check!). In ten years, I would be Director of Student Activities at a school on the east coast (check!).
Now, almost five years into my job as Director of Student Activities at a small, private institution in downtown Boston, I’m vexed. I did what I said I wanted to do. But that’s the problem. I did exactly what I wanted to do, but sometimes I feel others didn’t let me enjoy it.
- Day one in my current position people started asking me about what comes next.
- Day one in my current position people started asking me when/where I’d start working on my Ph.D.
- Day one in my current position people started asking me if I wanted to become a Dean or even a President of a college.
The more I think about this, the sadder this becomes. How could I ever enjoy the fruits of reaching my own professional goals when people wanted to know what would come next?
That, of course, leads me to a series of questions:
- Why do we place so much pressure on professionals to constantly be moving up?
- Why do we assume that everyone needs or wants a Ph.D?
- Why do we assume that everyone wants to be a Senior Student Affairs Officer?
Because we’re trained to push our students to be their best, we push other professionals to constantly achieve. We do it without thought or regard to what those individuals want.
- Maybe that professional is coming off of a major life change and wants to enjoy their new job. Maybe they need some time to process and digest.
- Maybe that professional really struggles with taking classes or can’t afford tuition for a Ph.D. Or even more so, maybe that professional sees no added life value for working on a Ph.D.
- Maybe that professional enjoys the work they are doing currently and has no desire to move elsewhere at this time.
These pressures can manifest in any number of ways. As a professional experiencing these pressures, it makes me question my own judgement. It makes me doubt my own abilities and it makes me doubt my own commitment to the field. I’m not a bad professional for not wanting these things but it can be hard not to feel that way when others give me a look of confusion when I say I like where I am.
- No one teaches you how to enjoy the position you’ve set out to get.
- No one teaches you how to reflect on the work behind you.
- No one teaches to reflect back so you can make your present better, so you can learn from your mistakes and not make them again.
- No one teaches you to take a breath.
More specifically, no one lets you enjoy the position you’ve set out to get. No one lets you reflect on the work behind you. No one lets you take a breath.
So, I fight. I loudly proclaim my professional intentions and share the joy in my current position. I loudly proclaim my reasons for not pursuing a Ph.D or Ed.D. I loudly proclaim my intent to stay in this professional orbit for as long as possible.
As I sit in the position of being a mid-level pro, I still don’t know what I want.
- I know that I want to enjoy the position I’ve aspired to achieve without the pressure of keeping an eye out on what comes next.
- I know I don’t want a terminal degree. I’ve decided to be selfish with my time and my money, instead using that time to explore and enjoy where I’m at and the people I’m around.
- I know that I don’t want to be a college president. I want to push and challenge from the middle.
I do know I want to let others enjoy the view from the middle. So I challenge you to do the same.
- Let others celebrate promotions or new positions and to enjoy the challenges that comes with a new position without asking what comes next.
- Don’t make blanket statements about the importance of terminal degrees for all positions. Not everyone needs or wants a terminal degree.
- Understand that some people don’t aspire to senior-level positions and don’t judge them for staying in current positions. You may not fully understand their situation.
And most important, enjoy the view.
Jason Meier is doing his best to enjoy his experience and time Emerson College right now. Located in Boston, Emerson College devotes itself to the study of communication, while bringing innovation to communication and the arts. In his spare time, you can find Jason awkwardly dancing at a concert, exploring the local food scene or hanging out with his cat, Lil’ Poundcake. Continue the conversation with Jason on Twitter at @jasonrobert.