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!

Giving passion the heave ho

What do I want to be when I grow up? Should I apply for that job or not?

What if higher ed is my purpose and I won’t let myself be excited or passionate because I think I am supposed to want something else? Like a non-profit job or something more cause-y? (Survivor guilt is real.)

Passion. Blerg. That nebulous gold standard that higher ed professionals think is a prerequisite to advancement, success, and fulfillment.

Usually, I am able to rein myself in and talk myself down from the passion precipice. Some days it takes longer than others. Thankfully, yesterday was an easier day. Because deep down, when I shut out the noise, here is what I know to be true.

You can be good at something and not have it be your passion.

I know plenty of colleagues who aren’t passionate. They are professional, timely, honest, committed, organized, focused. They come to work every day. They do good work. Then, they go home and live their lives. Wake up. Repeat. And really, working on a college campus isn’t such a bad place to not be passionate! Most campuses are beautiful. Here in the Midwest I get to witness the changing seasons. I work with young people who challenge me. Higher ed is relatively stable. I am fortunate to have health insurance and retirement benefits, and vacation.

What does passion even mean? Who says? When did passion become the measuring stick of higher ed professionalism? Who makes all these silly rules and why do we believe them? I am calling your bluff, higher ed.

In his pithy and profound book, Let your life speak, Parker Palmer wrote:

“Trying to live some else’s life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail- and may even do great damage.”

Abstract norm (passion). Great damage (self-doubt, survivor guilt, fear, anger, self-loathing).

What if I get a new job and hate it? What if I get a new job and don’t hate it but still do good work? There is no passion switch. It’s not like some magical position will be created just for me (or you) and then all of sudden I’ll wake up and say, “Now I am passionate!” One of the priests from our parish, Fr. Joe, used to say, “You don’t do one thing once and then say, Oh, now I am holy! It’s a process!”

I am choosing to give passion the old heave-ho and flipping the script for myself. I will no longer let other’s expectations of my passion dictate what I apply for (or not), how I choose to operate on a day-to-day basis (or not), and how I choose to see myself.

Passion and work are not mutually exclusive. You can have one without the other. Passion doesn’t automatically make you effective. You can be good at something and not have it be your passion. I think that is threatening to some people in higher ed. It confuses them because they drank the passion propaganda and believe that they have to be passionate to fit in, to be effective, to be professional, to be liked and relatable.

I wrote this post last night and didn’t hit publish because the passion demons (kind of like dementors in Harry Potter) got a hold of me and I chickened out. “What if some future employer finds my blog (doubtful) and they don’t like what I wrote and then they don’t hire me?” Yeah, what if? There is nothing I can do about that. And, if we hire people for passion instead of efficacy, efficiency, professionalism, relationship-building capacity, potential, education, and experience…well, then, I think our profession has bigger problems than lack of passion.

What would happen to “busy” if…

Earlier this morning, I posted this on Twitter “In higher education, presence is more important than contribution, effectiveness, efficiency.” The glorification of busy is rampant. The American “busy” rhetoric stems from fear. If we are busy, then we are productive and therefore, valuable. Neither of these things are true. But we keep doing it, don’t we? We post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn on and on and on. “Look at me!” “Look at me at this conference!”  “Look at me presenting this workshop!” Look at me writing this blogpost!” (irony anyone?)

Busy doesn’t equal productivity. Busy is just spinning wheels. Busy is for others, about others. And our value comes from who we are and the unique gifts and talents we bring, not a fancy Excel spreadsheet or working til 8pm every night. We need a workplace shift, a recognition and reward shift to productivity, accountability, impact, and efficacy. I bet that if we were judged on those things, then employee engagement and loyalty will increase. I want to be judged for the good that I produce, my outcomes, the things I create, the programs I make better, the relationships that I nurture. I do not want to be judged on how frazzled I look while trying to push paper.

I want to know what my employer believes and then I want to believe what my employer believes.

“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood, sweat, and tears.” – Simon Sinek

I would suggest that this really is what most people are looking for. As humans, we are social creatures. We were designed to belong- to a cause, purpose, another person, a family, a group. We need each other. We are hungry to feel that we belong. Each of us has a sign around our necks that says “See me. Believe in me.” What are we doing to really honor this in ourselves, our colleagues, students?

What would happen to busy if we started working for belief, rather than a job/money? Of course, I need this job (kids, mortgage, retirement) and some of the time I enjoy it. But what would happen if instead of presence, just taking up space, I was compensated/recognized/rewarded for my impact? What if, in higher education we started rewarding efficiency and efficacy, rather than presence? I know for me, I would start giving my blood, sweat, and tears and not just my time.