I’m exactly the same as when I was a college student at the University of Georgia from 1988 to 1992—academically inclined, involved in many activities, with friends from many sectors of my life, a hard core Beastie Boys fan. But things are different than I intended.
I had many plans for my future–to be an attorney, perhaps a lobbyist in DC or Atlanta; to be married to my college boyfriend because that’s what you did in a seven year relationship; to essentially be important and prestigious and to reap the rewards of that well-planned life.
Here is some reflection on life of the past 20 years, and how my personal journey took me in many directions that were not planned and some were tough to do at the time. It’s easier to look back and accept them as part of life’s lessons than to live through them. It’s a constant reminder that life is a choice of paths and that neither path is truly wrong—they just lead different places. You really can’t screw it up too much, although you might go down a path that isn’t the best one and you have to change to a new one.
So let’s start with the career in student affairs. I went to law school like I was supposed to do, and hated it. Probably my big lesson is what I’ve been telling students since my first full-time job as an academic advisor and pre-law advisor—you should go to law school if you definitely want to practice law, but not to go if you want to do something else. It was a true struggle to be in a program that wasn’t a good fit and then it was really scary to think about changing careers after seven straight years of school that I had a lot of loans for. My parents were mad, my law faculty were disdainful, my college boyfriend was furious that he waited for me to finish law school for the big career.
It was this “aha” moment—I adored my student involvement but I had snobbily decided that I could do something more prestigious than student affairs. Yet as I muddled through my last year of law school, preparing to move to where my college boyfriend was and desperately hoping for nobody to call me for a job interview as an attorney, it became clearer. So I made the switch. The relationship ended eleven months after I moved there, and I still had another year in graduate school.
In my master’s program (immediately after law school), I was very convinced that I would have one of those fabulous student affairs careers where I would move around the country for different jobs as I moved up the ladder. The word on the street was that “one institution wonders” were never able to get good jobs and would be trapped in mediocrity. Yet I find myself having spent 15 years in four jobs at the University of Florida and I am now convinced that the grass isn’t greener elsewhere just for the sake of moving. I’ll move around when and if the timing is right, and it will work out.
During my years at UF, I also finished my Ph.D. in higher education administration (under Dr. Art Sandeen as my dissertation chair—how lucky am I?). I also got to see the Beastie Boys perform live three times—once outdoors in Atlanta, once in an indoor arena in Atlanta, and in a small club in D.C. with the Rock the Vote tour as part of the Obama inaugural activities. A Beastie Boys poster hung on my office wall for my first three jobs.
Also during my years at UF, I was involved in political work in the community. I chose to do something relatively unusual as a student affairs professional—I ran for office as a city commissioner. So I held two full-time jobs for the past six years (I was reelected in 2009 and was term limited out last month). Running for office as a single woman who did LGBT advocacy in her job and life led to some interesting times, including a push poll asking voters if they would vote for me if they knew about the LGBT work. In a college town, that got me votes and donations and a clear path to the win!
I was a serial heterosexual monogamist for years, constantly in relationships that ended within a year or so. I was convinced (seriously, you single women know what I am talking about) that there were no good men left that had not been snapped up long before. I was certainly a good catch, right? So I essentially gave up and came to terms with my single life. I was going to be just fine, thank you very much.
Well, the ending to that part of the story is that I got married in 2008 to the right man that I started dating in 2006. The punch line is that I was not interested in having children, but it was very important to my husband so I was willing to give it a try (fully anticipating a lack of success at my advanced age). I missed NASPA 2010 in Chicago because I couldn’t travel as a huge pregnant lady with twins on the way. I still can’t believe I am a parent at all, but certainly not to identical girl toddlers (Savannah and Scarlett). Seriously, that is pretty funny, especially if you know me!
When MCA–Adam Yauch–died last month (he’s one of the Beastie Boys, if you are clueless), I sobbed at work and at home and understood it marked the end of an era. I heard from college friends, former students, and people all over the country who knew how important they were to me. I can no longer just pick up and go see them play live. My life will never be the same. But I’m ok with the great memories and the 195 Beastie Boys songs on my ipod, which are probably more than you have.
So when I look back on this path, I think about the fact I am nearly 42 years old with toddlers and a great job and husband and I can’t even tell you anything that is missing (other than the Beastie Boys). But it’s definitely not what I thought I would be doing at all when I was a college student with my well-crafted plans. It’s easy for me to say “don’t worry so much, it will all be OK,” to young women who don’t have some of their lives as tidy as they might like. It’s all about choosing a path and going down that path until you realize you need to shift paths.
If I had to do it all over again, I am not sure what I would change—probably should have bailed from law school earlier, and ended that relationship earlier, figured out my career path earlier. I was clinging to what I was supposed to do and not what I wanted to do, but it was really hard to see it at the time. So do your best to seek clarity about your path and if it’s time to take a different one– there is a path for the good for all, as the Beastie Boys said. And go see your favorite band once in a while, fun is important too.