What makes for a sustained career in student affairs? My answer to that question: Do not commit to one area of the student affairs field, and do not focus on a specific title or job. Do not pick your career, but understand your calling.
The word vocation comes to mind. At one time, having a vocation was noble. At some point, the word lost luster, and vocation or vo-tech became a synonym for a job, not a career or calling. The word career resonates with a seriousness of purpose and longevity. At the end of a career, you retire, and a token watch or chair may be involved.
Vocation as Life Work
Vocation is defined as life work based on skills, talents, and strengths. You know you are in the midst of career well-being when you are able to bring your gifts to work and back home again. You recognize the great responsibility of using and sharing your strengths daily to impact the lives of others, not just between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. In our profession, it is a 24/7 commitment.
I am not a big fan of all the talk around work-life balance. I am a fan of using strengths at work and at home to continuously engage in a higher quality of living. Using the gifts you’ve been given, being grateful and reflective, and having agency over the decisions and choices you make are spot-on indicators of career well-being. A sustained career in student affairs demands that you understand your values, your mission, and the contributions that you alone can make. It requires that you recognize those opportunities that match the talents you possess.
Parker Palmer, the founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal and a recognized writer, speaker, and activist, believes that one must “listen for the voice of vocation.” Exuding energy, engagement, and enthusiasm for your life’s work is a clear signal that you have been called. Have confidence about what you love doing and the curiosity to know your authentic self. Have the courage to live your strength and the agency to calibrate when necessary. Calibration of strength represents an act of compassion, reflects an awareness of others, and is critical to your well-being and the well-being of those around you.
Palmer poses the hardest question we must all answer: Is the life you are living the same as the life that wants to live in you? The answer: Before telling your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you the truths that you embody and the values you represent. Trust your strengths, and practice listening to your deepest truths.
Finally, Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian wrote, “To find your mission is to discover the intersection between your heart’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.” Your mission is ultimately the key to a sustained career in the student affairs field.