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. In 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!