I can look back at some specific moments and think “that — that right there — that’s when it happened.” It feels like a literal shift, a puzzle piece finally slipping into place after being rotated in every direction except the right one.
I had one of these moments as I walked across the stage to receive my Master’s degree. Others include the day I was baptized my junior year of college, the morning after my college graduation, the day I brought Sawyer home. Each time, there was a brief yet significant moment that came and went in the space of a breath.
I’ve spent this past year struggling with my career choice, feeling as though my current work is no longer the right fit. I have questioned everything — the institution I’m at, the people I work with, the students I do my best to serve and educate, the value of my day-to-day work… the list goes on and on. But nothing has felt right, and as I came out of conference season, I had begun to resign myself to the fact that ResLife may not be the life for me anymore, and I started looking at my other interests and options.
Last month I went back to Tallahassee to visit Florida State for the first time since I graduated in May of 2015. The purpose of my visit was to spend some quality time with my last RA staff from my time as a grad student since the majority of that staff is graduating this year. I got to see some other friends, go back to some of my old favorite haunts, and do some strolling down memory lane, but the core reason I went back was to see a handful of amazing students who are about to change the world.
The night before I departed, I met up with half of my former staff at one of the local campus bars. Effortlessly, we slipped right back into the rapport and banter we had two years ago, just with the added benefit that as I’m no longer their supervisor we were less careful with our words and could consume adult beverages together.
The night ended after several hours of stories and laughter, countless hugs, a couple of tequila shots, and me bringing one of my RAs who was slightly the worse for wear back to their apartment. I’ve developed a solidly strong friendship with the RA in question, so we spent some time just chatting and listening to music in their room. During a moment of silence, I processed the sense of pure joy I had had all evening long and suddenly found myself tearing up and confessing that I had no desire to go back to South Carolina. I had my moment of crying it out — or rather, several moments of ugly crying and not being able to talk or breathe — on their shoulder, and then we went back to talking. But then our conversation took a turn towards the deep, and suddenly we were talking about a number of emotional and hard and real things that we both have experienced and struggled with, and how conversations like these are always difficult but help so much. And as we did, something happened.
Through the tequila fog, I finally heard what I was being told. My former RA said some great things about me as a former supervisor and a now friend, some of which I can buy into and others that I can’t. But what finally clicked for me was that this human being wouldn’t be saying and sharing what they were if it wasn’t for the relationship we built as a result of the year we worked together. That even though it’s taken us some time to get to where we are, we’re finally there and able to connect in a more human and real way than we ever were able to during our bi-weekly scheduled one-on-ones. That what I have been doing in their life for the last three years is real, and important, and necessary. It isn’t mundane, it isn’t tiresome, it isn’t pointless. It’s needed. And suddenly everything fit back into place.
At all three college campuses I’ve been on, I’ve worked for the Housing office in a ResLife capacity. And at each location, I’ve been told that I won’t necessarily get to see the impact I’m having on my students, but to not worry because it’s there. ResLife is the profession of delayed gratification. But last month I got to see it, tangibly, right there in front of me, in the face and words of a former RA.
I’ll always be able to articulate the “why I work in the Student Affairs profession.” At this point, I’ve been asked it so many times that I’ve got it down to an elevator pitch. But since graduating from FSU, and throughout the course of this year in particular, the words have become hollow. There was no longer any meaning behind what I was saying. But that Saturday night, half drunk in an apartment in Tallahassee, I was suddenly flooded with emotions as my “why” was refilled. And a question I’ve been asking myself for the last 8 months has finally been answered.
When I job search this year, I will be looking for ResLife positions. This past month, I’ve been able to set aside my frustrations and annoyance with the mundane parts of the job and focus on the big picture. I can finally see the forest for the trees again.
I don’t write this post as a way of saying “Look at me! I’m great!” or to say that I deserve a “Best Boss Ever” coffee mug. I write it as a reminder that we’ll find the answers we are looking for in the most unexpected moments out there. I went to Tallahassee to give some final words of encouragement to my graduating RAs, and instead I got a whole lot more in return. So thanks, P, for giving me my “why” back. I know I’ve already told you how much our conversation means to me, and I’ll keep telling you because it needs to be said.
Keep fighting the good fight, friends.