Healing My Professional Sense of Self

Yesterday, I visited a local college in my area for an informational interview with the Director of Academic Advising. Working in higher education as an academic/career advisor is my short-term professional goal within an organization, while my long-term goals for work include taking on expanding supervisory/management responsibilities related to student and professional development. I plan to continue my private consulting work as well.

As I was awaiting my meeting, a student at the college arrived for a meeting with an advisor and sat down in the reception area with me. This young woman was juggling her laptop, backpack, and a large tri-fold display. With my interest peaked, I inquired about whether she had a presentation today. I was impressed that she indicated that her current attire of jeans and a t-shirt was not appropriate dress for a presentation at her school! She was actually visiting her advisor to have an informal discussion about her class. She shared that she’s a fashion merchandising major and had just completed a vision board of her dream retail boutique for a class. Completing a vision board in college sounded like fun to me. She indicated that she did love creating the vision board and at the same time was sick of looking at it.

During our conversation, we spoke briefly about her major in fashion merchandising and minors in business and marketing and about her desire to earn an MBA.  She indicated that she’s gotten the message that it really doesn’t matter what she majors in during her undergraduate studies. Reading through the lines, I surmised that the decision to pursue her interest in fashion merchandising, while ensuring that she has minors in more “practical” areas, was shaped by that message. I understand that people observe and experience that much of our academic preparation does not seem to correlate directly with the work we perform after undergraduate studies. I also potentially see the well-meaning attempt to reduce potential student pressure during decision-making about major selection. However, I have started to question that particular perception, which I am guilty of echoing, because it implies that undergraduate majors are relatively insignificant.

Academic majors or minors actually greatly shape the peers, faculty, and staff groups that a student engages with throughout their studies. undergrad copyIn turn, those relationships influence the foundation of professional networks that impact career options and professional development.

Experiences and relationships within one’s majors and minors are excellent assessment opportunities to help reveal potential career fit. Does the student actually enjoy the majority of the knowledge they are studying and practicing? Does the student actually feel like he/she belongs and is connected and engaged with their peers and faculty in their classes?

My own academic majors influenced how I experienced my self as a human being. Also, my committed efforts to understand computer programming languages, due my information and decision systems major, actually re-configured my brain! Furthermore, my degrees over-prepared me for work as an entry-level consultant. Consequently, my intent within higher education will involve making the case for and supporting more direct links between academic life and one’s post-college existence.

For me, the most poignant moment in our dialogue came when she shared that she’s not sure what she’s really going to do in her career and stated that “I just want to be able to take care of myself.” I was touched in that instance and clearly saw the need to take care of herself, born from her life experience,  mirrored in her eyes. I can definitely understand that yearning! I did encourage her to make sure to include what she’s passionate about in whatever work she chooses. She asked me about my own work and I shared a bit about my path before I was greeted for my meeting.  As I have been reflecting on the enjoyment of having that brief interaction, I know that intentionally developing my professional sense of self is an vital aspect of being able to take care of my self along with those other pesky details about income!

I am grateful for the unexpected opportunity to interact with this young woman and also felt greatly inspired by my meeting with the Director of Academic Advising. The uplifted feeling, generated by connecting with those two women, infused the rest of my day. Immediately after both of those conversations, I drove to the site where I am performing temporary work, which I have taken for income purposes.  I am fully aware that this totally income-motivated work and the surrounding organizational culture, is simply not a match for who I am. On subsequent days since beginning that position, I have heard a loud voice inside me repeat “quit, quit, quit!”

Like this young woman, I have a strong need to take care of myself and earning income is one aspect of self-care. So, as I work toward and anticipate the professional opportunity where I can truly develop and apply my enthusiasm, I am learning what it means to take care of my self in less than optimal conditions. I feel as though my current experience is helping me heal the feelings of disconnect and powerlessness that I felt early in my professional life. Now, I have developed the necessary awareness and skillful means to respond to and regulate my experience and to prevent harm to my professional sense of self in a mismatched work environment. Hallelujah!

5 thoughts on “Healing My Professional Sense of Self

  1. Kellie says:

    Latoya,

    A wonderful serendipitous meeting…surely meant to help your development. I, after months of working with different career counselors have also decided (although I had an inkling years ago) to work toward a position in Higher Education. This is a large part of my choosing to explore and now relocate to the Raleigh area. Your intention for helping students hold not only the current decision of what major to choose but also how to use that as information going forward is fantastic. I only wish someone had assisted me in learning the reasons why I jumped around from major to major and school to school. The reasons which are all now important aspects of my personality and guiding lights toward work I will enjoy hopefully. In my world and family there was no such thing as “enjoyable work.” I recently found an old journal where I was doing some kind of self-assessment quiz where you fill in the end of a sentence. The beginning was-I think work is…-my response was Hell. That definitely lets me know the uphill battle I have with reconciling taking a “good enough” job to support myself and longing deeply for work I well, won’t call work.
    This is very exciting, I’m happy to be witness to your evolution!

  2. Mark W Barnett says:

    Thanks again Latoya. I keep thinking that the next edition will not speak to me…NOT.

    “I feel the need to take care of myself” sums it up nicely! You just know when its right or wrong.

    Also, we had a Jung class together with Craig Chalquist. One class he passed around a non-tarot deck and we all took a card. My card was the “Prostitute.” And that was my prevailing mindset before, get a job and just do what ever is asked of you, work hard and harder, make them happy… . And that is what is expected in many jobs: they act as if they owned me. And now something inside of me is saying “no more.”

  3. Latoya J. says:

    Kellie,

    I’m sure that working with students again will have some complexities and at the same time, what’s important for me is learning and collaborating with people who I respect, admire, or feel a sense of kinship. The other aspect is finding those subjects that inspire me to learn and to practice more. Helping students identify majors or minors that include subject areas that link to their deeper questions about self and life and that motivates them to explore will be key in the work that I do.

    If you’re going to spend alot of your undergraduate time with specific faculty and students within an area of study, I think that it’s important that you mostly like those people and can feel a sense of belonging. At that age, I didn’t think in this way about the importance of building relationships, feeling a sense of belonging, or connecting who I am to what I studied. After my freshman year, I was a pre-college counselor for 25 junior and senior high-school students, during a summer program at CMU. I also was a teacher’s assistant for 3 of the 4 years during my undergraduate studies. In addition, I was a peer mediator from 6th grade through high school. I loved working with students in all of those roles and yet I didn’t make a connection to a career working with students. Instead, I was seduced by movie images!

    Most definitely…your unique journey does provide clues to where you can become more whole and benefit the greater world in the process. For me, work is a beautiful word as in “my life’s work”. So, I hope that word can be redeemed in your experience. Job is the word that means “hell” in my personal lexicon. I’m also still working through inherited perceptions related to that whole concept of a “good enough job”! I’ll share about that aspect in future posts. It’s so cool that I have you and others to share with during this new phase of my professional life. 🙂

  4. Latoya J. says:

    Mark,

    Have faith!:) I have some more interesting musings coming through. I think that you’ll be able to help me expand on some of my developing theory in a post that I’m doing some research on right now. I have needed to dis-identify with worry about everyone connecting with my posts. I’m simply going to give attention and care to whatever comes through me.

    Yes! Terms like a “buyer’s market” and a “seller’s market” are used in job search vernacular. A good friend of mine, whom I worked with at the same company, was the first person to highlight that felt sense of being used. Wow…”get a job and just do what ever is asked of you, work hard and harder, MAKE THEM HAPPY…” I definitely have a post coming up that relates to that sentiment. No more, indeed!

    I am going to contact Craig and let him know that I’ve experienced a level of professional alchemy and feel like I’ve produced one of my philosopher’s stones. I’ve been thinking about this subject for some time and it’s finally coalesced. My card was the “Redeemer.” A quick search revealed the following definition: “one charged with the duty of restoring the rights of another and avenging his wrongs.” I’m certainly not looking for vengeance, simply encouraging liberation and exaltation will suit me.

  5. Mark W Barnett says:

    Thank You so much Latoya:

    I just wanted to share this quote:

    “A journey like this goes beyond the prevailing current. It requires you to step out of line, to break with polite society. Other people will feel the ripples, and they won’t like it. Any authentic movement usually requires a break with the past–not because the past is bad, but because it is so difficult for a deeper truth to make itself known among the accretions of habit and conformity.

    It may mean that, one day, for no apparent reason, you simply know that you cannot continue to play by the rules you have accepted for years–the unwritten rules of a relationship, the abuses of power at work, the script you have written for your own life.” Ten Poems to Change Your Life, Roger Housden

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