I recently transitioned out of what I thought to be my dream job. It was in a major city, I was supervising Masters-level professionals, and was working with faculty to build and improve a living learning community program. My professional peers made it an entertaining and motivating place to work, the institution aligned with my personal values about higher education and yet, I was still unhappy. So unhappy that I decided to leave after a year and a half. After a LOT of soul searching, I realized a position can be great and still not be great for you.
I didn’t plan to job search. I planned to tough it out, make the best of it, and learn some things I could look back on and say, “Look at me! Look how much grit I showed. Look how resilient I was.” But then I realized the only person I would be hurting would be me. I simply was not happy, but it took a lot to talk myself into realizing it. The problem became not about the department or people or processes, but instead about fit.
I think fit has gotten a bad wrap in student affairs. It is often seen as a magical reason not to hire someone who doesn’t align with the culture of the department or university and we can severely limit the diversity of our candidate pools. However, fit matters. Feeling like you belong and align with what matters to the university, quite simply, matters. At least it did to me.
The problem with fit is that it often changes. I really thought my last employer was a good fit when I applied, interviewed, and came to campus. I thought it was a good fit until it wasn’t. Until I got overwhelmed during our department meetings that were 35 people strong. Until I realized I didn’t actually like living in a huge city. Until rent sucked up more of my paycheck than I had anticipated. Until I realized I wasn’t interacting with students nearly enough due to departmental structures and my own workload, both of which often kept me in my office.
I also realized this mismatch in fit was no one’s fault. It wasn’t my department or university’s fault. It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t my co-workers. It just wasn’t working. And this is in no way an indictment of my previous workplace. I will sing their praises until the day I die. Their work ethic, ingenuity, ability to make things happen with little notice, commitment to social justice, and many other attributes all make it a wonderful position, great department, and the job will be the perfect fit for another great professional. It just wasn’t a perfect fit for me. And that needs to be okay, too.
But then the worries and naysayers and caution creeps in. The voice that says only staying 18 months at a job “looks bad.” Looks bad on your resume, looks bad to future employers, looks bad on your LinkedIn, looks bad at conferences, it simply looks bad. You know what else looks bad? A burned out professional who leaves the field, or worse, phones it in, but doesn’t give it their all. Our students deserve more.
I’m writing this at the start of my second week at my new job. It is too early to be sure, but I am already finding a better alignment within what now matters to me and what the position will offer. I’ve had more student interaction in the past week that I did in the past several months. Our department has nine people around the table. The city I’m in has a ton of arts, culture, and restaurants, but I feel like I can explore without getting overwhelmed. I’ll have the opportunity to grow and shape processes that matter to me and matter to the student population. I’m on the path to home ownership. Is it a fit? It certainly feels like it.