As you may know, over the past year and a half, I have been very focused on growing my consulting business, specifically as it relates to purposeful life coaching. I have recently completed several advanced trainings related to purpose, goal setting, and career aspirations, which have continued to help me support young adults in exploring career opportunities that align with their own values, purpose and talents. It has also made me realize that so many people are relying on discovering a personal 'passion' to help them decide where they want to go next or what they want to do with their life. Between my own experience and the training I have received from Dr. Rivera and the Transformation Academy, it has become very apparent to me that encouraging people to follow their passion is not actually all that helpful.
So why am I trying to resist the urge to tell people they should find a passion and follow it? In one word, I would say 'flawed'. Is it actually realistic for us to think that our passions are hidden and waiting for us to find them. How long might it take someone in their career to discover this mystic 'passion' that may change their life and the direction of their career? For some people, I'm sure it takes their whole life and they still don't find fulfillment. Instead, I like to think about it like this: You do not find your passion, you develop it over time. Passion is cultivated from hard work, fun, and skill development. Too many people judge themselves and become anxious that they don't have a "thing" or a niche that stands out to make them unique. Not only is that approach inauthentic and may not bring the person true fulfilment in their work, I don't think it is realistic because we are living in a world where jobs are constantly changing, as are trends. Jobs that were necessary 50 years ago, may not be in another 10 years, and in 30 years there will be jobs that we haven't even considered yet.
If we truly want to think about passion in a productive and meaningful way that can be cultivated, I think we need to consider it as a form of personal development. As with many personal development moments, passion can happen accidentally - an opportunity to do or try something that suddenly sparks intrigue and curiosity. It also takes encouragement and exposure because it is not just a one-time thing. Like with Kolb's cycle of experiential learning, a passion is often cultivated through multiple events or experiences that continue to trigger reflection, reinforcement and eventually an interest. Recognizing those opportunity for on-going reflection and growth can often be a catalyst to develop a passion and choose to pursue it. Notice I said 'choose'? That's because I believe that passion doesn't necessarily require a natural talent or skill, but that it is a willingness to choose to explore this topic for the sake of curiosity and learning.
Cultivating passion also takes practice and self-discipline, no different than trying to stick to a diet, or go to the gym every day (... can you tell I'm talking about how little self-discipline I have in these areas?). In order to reach levels of mastery or commitment to cultivating the passion, a lot of effort must be applied so knowledge is acquired and skills are constantly developing. This choice to be committed to improving often shows reward and results. It is these results, which could be anything from successfully completing a project to seeing growth in another person, that often spark that feeling of passion. When that passion starts to align with purpose, that feeling becomes stronger and helps guide our decision making.
With that said, it is also important to recognize that you need to let yourself off the hook if you haven't found your passion yet. Focusing so much time and energy on having a "thing" likely just makes you feel more overwhelmed and upset, especially if you are comparing yourself to others. It is very possible that your friends, siblings and/or colleagues have found a true passion, and that is great. But don't belittle yourself because you have yet to find yours; instead try to take opportunities that are presented to you to dabble in areas or topics that you feel align with your purpose (values and mission) and talents. See where it goes and continue to use reflection as a tool to determine if those opportunities are congruent with who you are as a person or not. When you find something that peaks your interest, continue to dedicate your time and effort into exploring that topic a little bit more. Instead of waiting for your passion to find you, make the choice to develop it yourself.
If you're following along with my blog, you're probably familiar with my post from Friday, where I talked a lot about my renewed enthusiasm for professional development and personal fulfillment. I have spent a lot of time over the past few months trying to decide what I need to be a better professional and to develop my identity as a person first. I decided at the end of last week to undertake in developing a professional development curriculum for myself to help guide my goals over the next 12-18 months. The reflective practice has been really rewarding, and in true curriculum fashion, I started with an Archaeological Dig using a variety of resources to help me identify professional competencies, personal values, strengths and problem solving skills, and theories that guide my work as an educator. One of the theories that I have been placing a lot of emphasis on recently since finding it a few months ago is Integrated Life Planning (ILP). Although it is actually used more as a career development theory, the connection that I have drawn directly to being an educator is really inspiring. Hansen argues that, "Through ILP, I suggest that we are all quilters ... We try to help [others] make sense of where they have been, where they are, and where they are going. We as counselors are also quilters in the lives of our clients and employees, and in our institutions, as we try to make them more humane and meaningful places to study or work" (2011). Furthermore, it encourages inquiry into, what I would suggest should become a self-reflective question: "How can I continuously use internal and external critical life tasks to develop a meaningful holistic career pattern, including both self-fulfillment and betterment of society?" (2001). But seriously... does it get any more motivating than that?
As I have mentioned before, the reason I love education is because it provides an opportunity to work with students and colleagues and help them find meaning and purpose in their life. Whether it is in an academic program, a co-curricular learning experience, community engagement opportunity, or a fulfilling career path, I love that the work I do is directly related to helping others find their purpose in life. In fact, I was once asked in an interview "If you were given a million dollars to help others, how would you use it?" My answer was that I would use that money to help homeless people or those feeling unfilled in their lives find opportunities that are purposeful, because I truly believe that the best gift we can give another person is supporting them in their journey to self-actualization and purposeful living. As I'm sure you can tell, I am really drawn to this idea that we as educators are quilters, trying to weave together knowledge, skills, experience, academic pursuits, and purpose into a quilt of success for ourselves and those we support. With this in the forefront of my mind recently, I decided to use it as the basis of my educational priority: Professional development will enrich my knowledge and skills as a purposeful educational "quilter". I can't even begin to tell you how excited and inspiring this statement is to me in this moment.
From there, I began to list out several learning goals that I felt directly connected to the priority. My initial brainstorm list included 7: lifelong learning; personal values; mentoring relationships; holistic educator; professional skills; academic commitment; and career exploration. As I started to think of what defined each of these goals for me, I started to see a lot of overlap. Academic commitment and career exploration were very much integrated into what I believe my own lifelong learning looks like, so I combined the three of those. I also thought that having expertise in professional skills for my role was an important part of being a holistic educator, but so too was personal values, which I later changed to fulfillment. Initially, I had also connected personal values and mentoring relationships because I firmly believe that much of my own personal and professional success is in thanks to mentors I have had throughout my life and career, but each time I thought more about it, I really felt as though it deserved to be its own goal. The more I started to define what mentorship meant to me, I also really interconnected it with helping others develop in the same way my mentors had done for me. After about an hour of sorting, sifting, combining, defining and organizing, I finally had three goals:
As I'm sure you can imagine, there is a lot going through my head right now. I have all of these ideas about ways I can achieve my outcomes and some opportunities for self-assessment as well. The next step in this curriculum journey will be to decide what my educational strategies will be, and who the "experts" in helping me facilitate this learning experience are. I think I will likely need to brain dump into a concept map in order to make sense of all of my ideas. I'll be sure to post it when I'm done! :)
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 fulfillment.