Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?

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

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.

Introducing #SAMid

Mid-career is a nebulous time in one’s life. We’re not new professionals but we’re not yet senior. Some of us have terminal degrees, some don’t. Some mid-career professionals are always job searching, while others intend to stay mid until retirement. “Mid-career” and “mid-level” also get used interchangeably. Are they the same? Does it matter?

All of this happens concurrently with significant life decisions and issues: children (or not), marriage (or not), terminal degree (or not), care for aging parents (or not), stay or leave.

The lack of research, professional association knowledge communities, conference themes and sessions, and overall understanding is counter-intuitive and frustrating. The current state of affairs led me to my dissertation topic, Mid-career women student affairs administrators with young children. That was five years ago. Not much has changed since then.

As student affairs professionals do, some colleagues and I took to the twitter-verse and found each other. We started sharing stories and found solace in the “I am glad it’s not just me” feeling that resulted from our conversations. To keep the momentum going, I suggested a series of blog posts focused specifically on mid-career issues. With that, I present the first #SAMid post from Chelsea O’Brien, What box do I check? Thanks, Chelsea!

Be sure to follow #SAMid on Twitter for more conversation and check back here every Friday for a new post! If you’d like to contribute, please do! Your mid-career voice is important. You can connect with me on Twitter @monicamfochtman, LinkedIN, Facebook, Instragram, etc. etc.

Happy reading and happy Friday!

What box do I check?

This is the first guest blogger post in the #SAMid series. Thanks to author Chelsea O’Brien.

I’m not sure if I’m mid-career. I’m not even sure if I have what’s called a career, but I’m certainly not an entry-level professional. To me, where I am in my career path only matters in two ways: my paycheck (I can barely afford to support two people on my wage from my job in higher ed) and when I have to check a box to label myself (e.g. NASPA forms). I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I contribute to student success, watch students enter and graduate from undergraduate and graduate programs, contribute to search committees, and continually learn.

Some of the benefits of not being an entry-level professional is that I now see and understand there are different paths in higher ed. There is no “one” path, no “true” path. There are many paths and all are true to the person making them. I’m also much more balanced. All of my various jobs have taught me a lot of things including patience, balance, and boundaries. I’m also learning that there are some really fantastic leaders in higher ed, and that I shouldn’t settle for terrible ones. I won’t settle for terrible ones or bad jobs. I can’t make that sacrifice, no matter how long I might be in that position. I learned that lesson the hard way.

There are some drawbacks to where I am in my professional career: I’m still seen as young, as someone not in a professional-level job, as someone who isn’t a legitimate campus partner in certain things. I don’t supervise other professionals, only students. I don’t directly handle budgets, only credit cards and invoices. Finding my next job will probably be difficult because of these things. I’m also in a weird mid-place, where new professionals don’t quite respect my opinion because I’ve “only” been in higher ed a few years, and more seasoned professionals still view me as a new professional.

Some of the things I’ve learned in my years since being an RA have lead to really important life lessons for myself, and I wish I had known them or had accepted them as a young professional:

  • There are some things you don’t compromise about.
  • Don’t take a job you don’t want just to get into higher ed.
  • There is no shame in working outside of higher ed to pay your bills or to make you happy.
  • There is no shame in leaving higher ed.
  • Stay loyal to people, not things. Things can’t be loyal back.
  • Always be ready to lose your job, always have your resume updated, always have savings in case the worst happens.
  • Document your transferable skills, you never know when you’ll need a part-time job.
  • You have a ton of skills, you just need to figure out how to translate them to non-higher ed jobs.
  • HR and campus partners are not there to look out for you, they are there to protect the institution.

Some of the major professional lessons I’ve learned have to do with leadership and expectations set by Senior Student Affairs Offices on campus, and even senior vice presidents. It’s hard to find partners, but it’s even harder to work with partners when certain populations or needs of populations are ignored. As someone with experience and contact with students but also a fresh perspective, I can see needs not being met. While those populations of students might not fit into a larger plan, they’re still important. For me, it’s hard to feel legitimate in asking for some time, when I see patterns of behavior that show some populations don’t matter. I also see the needs of different levels of staff on campus and I hope SSAOs require and support professional development of everyone, including support staff. As well as contribution of that development to the larger campus community.

My favorite part of my current position is contributing to student success and connecting to students. My career label isn’t as as important to me as what I do with my career. I don’t often think about how to label my career, except when I have to check a box on a form. That question always makes me pause. It makes me question myself, my choices, my career, my path, and my future. My career, like my life, is messy. I can’t fit it neatly into one of those boxes and I always want to not answer that question. But I usually cave, choose whichever box fits best (it’s like the SATs all over again), and move on.

Chelsea O'Brien

Chelsea has worked for RIT for over three years and enjoys her job as an office manager. Outside of work, she hangs out with her husband, fixes up her house, gardens, and cooks. Professionally, Chelsea is interested in student veterans, adult students, and talking about what success means. She hangs out on Twitter as @ChelseaMDO.