Joe Levy is the senior assessment manager for co-curricular asessment at the University of Phoenix. Joe has worked locally on campuses, as well as served as a consultant for various institutions to lead, foster, and develop strong and successful cultures of assessment. Joe is passionate about data-driven decision making, accountability, and promoting a student-centered approach inside and outside of the classroom
What I wish I knew before entering this field was that you need to amass energy and ambition as your career unfolds to sustain and to succeed. Support structures vary, obstacles and stressors keep coming, and you need to be your own biggest advocate. I’ve always been a self-starter and autonomous in my work style, but I’ve had to adapt my approach and intentionally reflect on how I’m investing my energy and whether my ambitions are best placed.
We take for granted the advisory structure provided to us in school, a combination of faculty and staff continually offering support or assistance. Whether you appreciated that structure or not, it is not as guaranteed as a professional. Some institutions have great professional development set ups or you may have an awesome supervisor who cares about you in addition to your work, but know it’s not guaranteed. Moreover, things get a bit fuzzy after you enter the field.
You land your first job and questions stop popping up. Whether you like the job or not, how long are you going to stay in that role? Aside from switching jobs (within or outside your current institution), what about further education? Do you need an advanced degree for your particular path? There’s plenty of people who will support you in however you might answer these questions, but you are the key – you need to know what you want in order for others to help you. You don’t want to get a new job or embark upon an advanced degree if you don’t really want to do that in the first place.
Energy and ambition are crucial because they will help you stay motivated. You need motivation given various stressors you’ll encounter:
The initial honeymoon phase will pass as you encounter difficult situations, students, colleagues.
You’ll encounter campus politics, which are not fun or easy to navigate.
There is still a looming gap between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. In some way or another, this will present issues and attitudes to work through.
You will realize you are overworked and underpaid.
While there is plenty more that could be added to this list, these elements can prove challenging. Sometimes complacency can be the most difficult challenge you face, finding yourself going through the motions or unhappy and unable to find an excuse why. That’s when it’s helpful to have your reserves of energy and ambition to tap. Take a step back, center yourself, and look to engage in something you’re interested in. This may be an interest project, an event or activity, or just connecting with a colleague or student. This may also be a time for a career/job change. Either way, you need to take care of yourself in order to be the best version of you.
Know, too, that ambition doesn’t just come in the form of climbing the organizational ladder. Ambition can just be owning your own professional development. It can be working to bring an idea to fruition, or remaining determined to achieve a goal you set for yourself. Ambition is acting with purpose and showing initiative. I continue to be surprised by how many people just seem to lack initiative. They go through the motions or work without thinking they could be doing more to improve a situation or process. It’s as if they need permission to think bigger than what they’re doing. In some cases you may actually need permission, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent; brainstorm some ideas and ask!
Time is too precious a resource and you can only dedicate your energy towards a finite amount of things. Don’t go through the motions. Do something to challenge yourself, learn, and grow. I always have a side project going, whether it’s taking a class, writing an article, or participating as part of an external/national organization. Attending conferences are always particularly enjoyable, as I always walk away energized and inspired by people and practices.
Ultimately, energy and ambition can be problems or priorities. I’d advocate for the latter, encouraging you to prioritize taking care of yourself to retain a proper amount of energy and enough ambition to make a positive change in your work. Know this may look different per person and can even change over the course of your career, so keep reflecting and paying attention to what makes you tick. Do this and both you and the students you serve will be all the better for it.
What No One Told You About Student Affairs is a month-long series of guest posts highlighting lessons learned in the field of student affairs.