Every time I’m compelled to write a post about the other things that go on in my life besides parenting, it never seems to make the cut. I suspect that it’s probably because from an emotional standpoint, being a new mom is not easy and it’s life-changing every day. But being a student and professional? THAT I can do without a ton of effort and those are two things in my life that don’t require therapy later on if I don’t do them right.
These days, however, my experience in graduate school has gone way beyond completing coursework. I am a few months away from graduation and I am preparing to re-enter the work world with a new degree and a very specific focus, in the following order of what’s really going on: get a job in student affairs -> preferably in advising, student involvement/leadership, multicultural-> I really just need to get back on payroll-> so we can move to a bigger yet more affordable home and get back to paying off this student debt -> I HAVE UNTIL JUNE 10th HOLY CRAP.
Timing is what this is all about, really. Right now, many universities are kicking off their student affairs “hiring season” in which quite a few job openings are floating around in departments for which I have a huge interest . So at least I am finding jobs I actually want but then the panic begins to set in. The same panic I, as a career advising intern, often have to diffuse for undergraduate seniors and recent alums who have been job searching for a while. I have faith that student affairs is a small enough field in which SOMEONE will want me for SOMETHING but there is always a sense of dread that comes over me when I think about the possibility of months or even a year going by without a job offer.
I begin to obsess over whether or not I purchased the right interview suit or if I really even know what I’m talking about. I think about how much more I have at stake this time now that I have a child and many very important things coming up like replacing our car and paying off student debt and saving to buy a home. I think about our next move and whether or not we can find a place that we will love or if we have to make choices based on what we can or can’t afford.
I often joke that I too feel like a college senior preparing to join “the real world” once again but the difference is that I’ve actually been in the real world this whole time. The first two years of this program I worked full-time, planned a wedding, went through pregnancy and became a mother. This past year, I have had to give up my job in order to accommodate an unpaid internship all while raising a child, both of which I have never had to do before. And I’m not setting out to get a job so that I can prove to my parents and to the world that I can strike out on my own and pay my own bills. This time, I’m just trying to get back to contributing financially to our family again. So in many ways, it’s nothing like senior year in my undergrad because I actually know what’s at stake now, I know what I won’t be able to do without a job because I never actually went back to the protective college-town, college life bubble.
I’ve had conversations with several classmates, some who are in the same boat as well as some who went straight into graduate school from undergrad without having worked full-time. In our conversations about our plans for what’s next, I realize that those two and a half years I spent only working full-time without being a student really did something to me. It made me stand on my own two feet for the first time ever in my life. It made me learn what I liked and didn’t like about what I did or where I lived or who I interacted with. My judgment wasn’t clouded by a campus social life or driven by academic work. I found myself in that brief period of time, I fell in love with myself and in turn was able to start a life loving my partner and my child.
The next steps I take from here are just as monumental as they were 5 years ago when I rented a van, packed all of my things and left Ann Arbor behind to find out what that real world talk was all about. This time I have a totally different situation I’m working with but it’s just as meaningful now as it was then because it is still a big transition. Before it was get a job, any job and become someone. Now it’s get a job, a meaningful job, at an institution that suits me and get to know the new someone I have become.
I’m not gonna get cheesy with the caterpillar-to-butterfly analogies but there certainly is a re-emergence happening here. A shift. I feel it. I felt it two weeks ago as I prepped for my first phone interview. I didn’t feel nervous or even doubtful that I didn’t know what I was talking about. As I continue my job search, I don’t draw a complete blank when I write my cover letters or revise my resume. I actually have true, definitive reasons for applying for each and every job I find. This has never happened before, I don’t know what’s it’s like to have this much confidence going into a job search. I’ve gone from hoping I will get an offer because they see something in me to knowing what they will be missing out if I am not chosen for the job. I’m starting to realize now that what I am capable of in the right environment with the right job and I know that it will be truly worth having me around.
I think many of us (professionals), especially women, take a long time to start feeling this way. For some of us, it takes copious amounts of hard work and constant feedback from supportive supervisors and/or faculty to get here. For others, it’s having to endure years of unsatisfying jobs and/or unsatisfying relationships to get to a breaking point that shifts our thinking. And for others it takes years and years of preparation (i.e. undergrad, masters then PhD all back to back) to finally emerge feeling this way. However one gets here, it is unbelievable once you’ve crossed over. I feel so empowered, so ready to take on this job search while I finish up these last few months of my program. My job application to-do list feels less daunting, as if I’m just crossing off chores or items on a grocery list. And as someone who has never been very good at staying organized in my personal life, I have actually devised a system in which I keep track of everything from job postings to the matching CV’s, CL’s and email correspondence (shout out EverNote!). Who is this person?
And thank goodness because it’s always nice to have one area of your life where you feel like you have a pretty good grip on things. Advising I can handle and I’m getting much better at it. Coursework no longer perplexes me, I actually look forward to our class discussions. Professional preparation I am also starting to master. Figuring out what foods to pack my pre-toddler-who-now-rejects-baby-food and how best to get her to sleep longer stretches through the night? Not so much. So feeling pretty awesome about work stuff certainly does the mind and the heart some good.
Can you relate?