As you can see, it has been a long time since I contributed a blog post to my website. My time away has been a combination of learning a new position, trying to take advantage of a more balanced lifestyle, traveling, creating a food blog, and stepping away for a moment from professional development. If you know me well, that last point -- stepping away from professional development -- probably sounded odd, and you would be correct. Professional and personal development are two things that are at the core of my identity, but since stepping out of student affairs for a few months, I have realized that they were my only identity. Four months ago, if you had of asked me "Who are you?", I would have told you I am a student affairs professional, or an educator, or an assessment nerd, or an aspiring career coach, or creative. And all of those things are true, but I wouldn't have told you that I'm a partner, a daughter and grand-daughter, a home owner, a wishful yogi, a blogger, an occasional gardener, a traveler, a wanna-be photographer, or a cat lover. Okay, maybe that last one is a lie. Let's be honest ... I probably would have said cat lover. But my point is that I never thought of myself as much more than being a learner and a professional. Most of my time and effort was spent on developing a career, gaining a reputation, and designing a professional brand. While I am so pleased that the energy I put into all of that has helped me be the professional I am today, I am so much more. One day, I hope to add "Mom" to that list as well.
Stepping away has given me some time to reflect, which I think is the best form of development one can do for themself. I have learned a lot of life lessons along the way as well: Letting go is hard. Handing off my work to someone else can be scary. Being disconnected from my central network(s) is isolating. Hearing about things that are happening but not having a voice to contribute is frustrating. Not working evenings and weekends is lovely. Being okay with instability makes me adaptable. Stepping away taught me who I have real, genuine friendships with in the office. Feeling a sense of purpose and passion for what I do in my work is important to me. Lacking a sense of purpose in my work is difficult. Being one of the most under-educated people in the department is challenging at times, but also motivates me to want to learn more. Working in the co- and curricular realms of higher ed. gives me more appreciation of a truly holistic student experience. Doing minimal project work reminds me how much I love project work. Thinking about returning to my position with so much personal and professional growth is exciting.
What I have also learned is that I needed to almost "not care" to really find myself back in a place where I do care. As I mentioned, letting go was hard. It was painful because I literally invested blood, sweat and tears into my role, but when I left, the more that I cared, the more difficult my transition was. I brought home pain, fear and tears, and I knew that I couldn't let that impact my new work or, most importantly, my relationships. So I chose to take a step back and not care, because it made it easier. But in doing that, it also meant that I lost a little bit of myself that is central to my true, genuine identity: being a learner. I stopped reading, I did not engage in any professional development related conversations, I declined some offers to support colleagues in student affairs, and I did my best to avoid asking what was happening in the department. Part of me is happy that I did it because I honestly don't think that I would have been able to let go otherwise, but there is also a part of me that is a little ashamed that I allowed myself to put so much into my work that leaving it behind caused me (and my support network) to struggle so much. Clearly, another lesson learned.
When I attended the Canadian Assessment Institute in Toronto, that was the first time in a very long time that I felt like myself again. I was excited, engaged, and inspired. Not only did I have the pleasure of presenting on assessment, but I also connected with so many colleagues I had missed and spent a whole day talking about assessment. But I also talked about me - my life, my balance, my vacation, my family, and not surprisingly, my cat. That was an ah-ha moment for me - I did not lose any professional credibility by being my authentic self, rather than just a student affairs professional. Talk about a moment of true self-actualization. It also reminded me of my love for learning, development, and engagement in a community that I had tucked away for several months as an unhealthy coping strategy.
This summer, I have made a promise to myself to not give up the things I love that have helped me become the educator I am today; rather, to be more intentional about allowing my non-professional identities to be an integral part of how I introduce myself. The first step in that is jumping back into my love of learning and constant craving for personal and professional growth. With that in mind, I have decided to create a professional development curriculum for myself, grounded in an archaeological dig, rooted in research, and with specific learning outcomes and intentional assessment. It will guide my learning journey over the next 12-18 months, especially as I transition back into housing, reworking and flexing muscles that I haven't used in a while. I have created a list of guiding questions for myself to consider before and throughout my journey:
After consider these questions, I jumped into the Archaeological Dig. I pulled together a series of documents, worksheets, personality test results, and articles that answered some of my guiding questions above to start thinking about the values, goals and competencies that guide my work. I am going to take a couple of days to reflect on what these documents say about me, ensure there is nothing I feel is missing, and then start to put together an educational (professional development) priority for myself. From there, I will move into my overarching learning goals. As reflection is an incredibly important part of any developmental and learning opportunity, I am committing to sharing my journey through my blog to document each step, but also as a great reminder if I get stuck or need some motivation. I hope you will consider following along in my professional development journey!
A creative educator striving to enhance the holistic student experience and committed to exploring personal strengths and fulfillment.