Treading water

This is the third guest post in the #SAMid series. Thanks to Sara Ackerson for adding her voice to this important conversation.

Each year, as professional development opportunities come up, I see them: the “Mid-Level” institutes or seminars or conference presentations and I ask myself…”Do I fall into this category?” As Chelsea explained in her previous post, checking a box is just really not that simple. I go on to read the descriptions of these workshops and see the following text…

This curriculum is for those with at least five years of experience as a full-time professional and who are currently responsible for the direction and oversight of one or more functions and supervise one or more professional staff. (NASPA WRC Mid-Level Institute https://www.naspa.org/events/2015-naspa-western-regional-conference)

Or this…

Your responsibilities include staff supervision, budget management experience, and designing and implementing programs. (NASPA Alice Manicur Symposium)

Well, I guess that answers my question. Each day I struggle with how to describe where I fall. I’ve been working, in a professional capacity, as a Higher Education Administrator for ten years; 5 years post-Masters. Ten years is clearly not a new professional. I’ve advanced in my positions as much as humanly possible, given the opportunities provided to me at my various institutions. What I lack is the supervision of full-time professional staff members. This really impacted my last job search as I hoped to move into an Assistant or Associate Director position but didn’t meet that one minimum qualification. How do you get past that? The basic logistics of it, but even deeper, the feeling that you’ve been treading water. I’ve supervised students, chaired committees consisting of professional staff members, and trained faculty. Still, I doubt myself because of sheer lack of opportunities.

Some of this is my own fault. I’ve worked at smaller institutions where the chance to move up just doesn’t exist. You can’t create a position out of thin air (and clicking your heels like Dorothy doesn’t work either). I managed a budget of quite a large amount as an undergraduate student running a student organization, yet I haven’t had that experience as a professional. How does that make sense? I chose to work in Academic Advising, where it is more difficult to move into a higher-level position, than say, in Residence Life.

So what do I do?

I’m constantly looking for opportunities to develop and grow my portfolio. I’m connecting with upper-level administrators at my current institution to network and simply learn from them. This has opened up opportunities to sit on task forces and our upcoming strategic planning committee. I keep my finger on the pulse of our department, our needs, (most important, our students’ needs), and ask about possibilities. This is really all I can do to keep from getting jaded. I’m asking “why?”, “how?”, “what can I do to help you make that happen?” Even more important to me, is that I’m helping other advisors and higher education professionals grow themselves. I’m chairing the Vancouver Advising Committee Professional Development committee which is giving me a unique opportunity to help shape our advisors, and then by default, our students’ experiences.

What opportunities are you grabbing ahold of to add to your own professional development? How are you filling the gaps in your portfolio? How do you get to supervise professionals if you’ve never supervised professionals?

Will I ever stop treading water?

This is me.

This is me.

Sara Ackerson spends her days as an Academic Coordinator in the Carson College of Business at Washington State University Vancouver. In her role, she creates new initiatives to best serve their unique student population and to craft meaningful experiences for all students on campus. In her free time, she is usually found snapping pictures of food, dogs, or other pretty things and hanging out with her two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Connect with her on Twitter: @sara_ackerson

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!