More Questions Than Answers: Navigating Not Knowing

After reading Beyond Meetings: Lessons and Successes in Advising Student Organizations I found myself feeling validated in my own experience as a Program Assistant in several ways. I didn’t expect to be able to relate as much due to the fact that I am still very new to this profession and less than a year ago, I was still a student leader.

One story that stood out to me in particular was that of Casey Mulcare, I Have No Idea What I’m Doing. I could really identify with everything she was saying. She starts by sharing that she was excited to come into a role post-graduate school that was in a functional area that she was familiar with which was in student activities and programming. She spoke about how comfortable and confident she anticipated feeling in this position and was extremely eager to prove how ready she was for the role. I was in a similar position seven months ago as I began my role working in First Year Immersion. As a student, I worked with first year students in several capacities. I was an Office Assistant for New Student Orientation for 3 years, an RA in an all first year Residence Hall my senior year, and I was a Student Academic Mentor. How perfect was it going to be that I would be able to continue supporting first year students in ways that I am already familiar with? I was ready and just like Casey, eager to prove myself worthy of this role.

But what I thought I knew about supporting first year students was being challenged in this new role. I had gone from attending and being a student leader at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) to working as a student affair professional at an HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution). I had to acknowledge the barriers and hardships that exist for the students I work with in order to better support them. I had to become aware of the additional support needed in order to be inclusive of all students whether they were non-traditional, first generation, or students whose second language was English, or their families/ support systems only spoke Spanish. This was new to me. I assumed that this role would be easy and that I could just take what I learned as a student leader and just use it in my new role. But this was not the case, and even apart from supporting students in the ways that were the most beneficial for them, I truly had NO idea what I was doing (just like Casey). I struggled (and still do) to ask questions and for help. A large part of that is that I honestly didn’t know what questions I needed to ask. But the other part is that I didn’t was to seem like I didn’t know what I was doing. But I’ve learned from the people around me that it’s okay not to know, it’s okay to ask questions. In fact, this experience is not about knowing. It’s about learning. So in the words of Casey – I am reminded that “we don’t have too have the answers, and we don’t have to be afraid to ask for help.”

– Jane Kungu

Where Do I Go From Here? A Self Reflection

“Without self-reflection, you live reactively to the environment around you and not proactively from within for the best desired outcome. When you fail to self-reflect, it can cause you to be unsure of why you are doing what you do”

The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career by Sonja Ardoin has been an extremely eye-opening book to read as someone who does not have much of a critical understanding of student affairs from a professional (and in a lot of ways personal) point of view. What I have valued most about this book has been the personal stories and reflections from people who have had different experiences and taken various paths but share a connectedness to student affairs. These stories have been essential in terms of forcing me to reflect on my own path and where I hope to go, how I plan to get there, and most importantly – why.

If I am being honest, I am struggling with the why part and it scares me. It scares me so much that I have convinced myself that because I haven’t found my why yet (at least I don’t think I have), then I must not have one. But I am slowly learning that this is not necessarily true. Just because I don’t see it clearly, doesn’t mean it’s not there. I recently spoke to someone who really put my doubts about my path into perspective. It only took the word “exploring” for me to realize that this experience is about embarking on a journey towards that why without the expectation that it will or should be easy.

So, what do I mean when I say that I haven’t found my why yet? Hmm, answering that question has been its own process for me. But I have decided to stop searching for a why and instead focus on what matters to me, what I care most deeply about, and let that guide me to it.

“Strategy is not a straitjacket. It is not intended to be. We do not want to lock ourselves so firmly into a strategy that we leave no room for movement, adaptability, or growth”

After reading this section in chapter three, I quickly wrote the words strategy is not a straitjacket on an orange sticky note and placed it on my desk to serve as a reminder. I am the type of person that is always thinking ahead (whether or not I have a plan is another story!). But I’m noticing the flaws in my forward and futuristic thinking. I haven’t created a strategy for myself. The future can be overwhelming, and for me, not having a clear picture in my mind of where I am going to be seven months from now is daunting. So I have decided to challenge myself to be more active in strategizing a plan for myself beyond this experience. I have also promised myself that I will be more gentle and patient as I move towards my why. After all, I don’t just have seven months to figure it out, I have the rest of my life!

– Jane Kungu