The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Candace Dennig.
If you’re reading this, I want you to know that we all think some similar things at 2:00 am when we should be sleeping.
“Am I in the right field?”
“Is my current position feeding into something bigger, larger, more impactful, and/or more meaningful for the future?”
“Am I ready to be a (insert your own intimidating title here)?”
To normalize and rationalize this type of self-questioning and self-reflection, we talk to our family, friends, colleagues and supervisors about our strengths, challenges, and goals. There is an extraordinary amount of support and “real talk” found in these chats, helping us get out of our own heads and talking about things that might have a huge impact on our lives. I’ve found this to be far more common in higher education and in particular, residential life and housing departments and offices. I’ve spent the majority of my professional life in these departments at small and large institutions, working and leading in one of the largest areas in student affairs divisions. While they’ve all had their own nuances based on the school, there are some things that are absolutely the same. I have three things I’d share for other women that I’ve seen as common struggles for women in housing, and some recommendations I’d offer to give perspective and help you keep moving on and up toward whatever goals and aspirations you have.
Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right. Everybody has an opinion and a lens in which they see the world, but not all opinions are made equal, and some are differently intentioned. All opinions, including yours, comes down to this – whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right. So many women decide ahead of time that they can't – can’t take on more responsibility, can’t do the job better than someone else, can’t take the risk of accepting a job they not 100% they can rock out in. And sometimes, your outside counsel will support the Can't model, which is why choosing your friends wisely is so important.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
This quote from Mary Oliver has pushed me farther than any others because it reframes out of the day to day grind to think about your work in a greater sense. Especially now living in Washington, D.C. and taking on a larger professional role in student affairs, I realize now how narrow my understanding was of all the players in higher education, especially outside individual colleges and universities. Many professionals think your career will be linear (resident director – assistant director – associate director – director), but really, you need to consider what you are best at and how you want to serve. That could be working inside of universities, working for the state or federal government, working with agencies or special groups, or working for yourself in regards to consulting, public speaking, and presenting. Don’t get stuck trying to fit the safe and secure model of what other people have done – what’s the amazing life you’re going to lead?
Risk and reward. Risk and failure tend to be scary words to many women. The thought of a taking a risk that could result in a public loss makes it feel like some leaps of faith aren’t worth it. I’ve seen many women shy away from even the most conservative risks (small public speaking events, taking a seat on an influential committee) because they didn’t feel “prepared” or could think of someone higher up on an invisible list of professionals in their department who would be better at whatever the opportunity is. Recommendation: put yourself FIRST on all these lists! You’ll never know what you can do unless you do it – sometimes you’ll fly, and sometimes you’ll fall. But to assume you’re somehow “less” than others is worrying about something you have no control over. All you have control over is you and your choices – so always choose yourself for opportunities and new chances.
Candace Dennig is currently the Dean of Student Affairs at The Art Institute of Washington in Arlington, Virginia. She is also in the Higher Education Administration Ed.D. program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Previous to this position, Candace served as a Residence Director at Loyola University Chicago, an Assistant Director of Residential Life at Valparaiso University, and a Director of Residential Education at Johnson & Wales University (Providence, RI). She holds a bachelor's degree in Piano Performance from Xavier University and a master's degree in College Student Personnel from Ohio University. In addition, she earned a Women's Executive Leadership Certificate from Loyola University Chicago. She has presented at the state, regional, and national level on the topics of management, leadership, effective supervision, and alumni programs. You can reach Candace at firstname.lastname@example.org.