Student Affairs is messy. Being a professional is messy.
I am participating in research right now and was asked a question about what I have learned about the field since my two years out of graduate school. As I paused to ponder my response, I thought about my favorite artist, Claude Monet. If you have not seen his work, please stop reading and do a google search (you will thank me later). Being one of the main Impressionist artists, Monet’s works typically focus on fields of flowers and various landscapes. The content of his work is not what is important for this analogy. It is his impressionist style that supports my leading statements.
Student affairs is painted as a pretty picture. When we see it as a possibility as an undergraduate student we are staring at a Monet from 10 yards away. It is clear to see the beauty and the scene that is established through his masterful brushstrokes. It is exciting and breathtaking. We enter graduate school and then take a couple steps closer to the painting. We can still see the overall image, but we notice things are being more blurred. We can start to see some messiness.
We graduate from our program and start our search. We take a couple steps closer and we start to lose sight of the original picture. We can see more and more of the imperfections. The blurring continues to become more prevalent. The overall image deteriorates and individual brushstrokes become clearer. It is harder to tell what the strokes represent.
Then you are thrust into your first position and your nose is right up against the photo. We can only see the brushstrokes immediately in front of us. The original beautiful landscape of a valley of brightly colored flowers has now eroded to simple colors seemingly thrown onto a canvas in a haphazard way. It is organized chaos on a canvas. We know what the original image was but it has become harder to see because of our position in relation to the photo.
As new professionals, we have a tendency to bury ourselves in our work. We work ridiculous hours. We establish expectations for ourselves that are unrealistic. We act as if we have to prove something and therefore create systems reflective of the statements in this paragraph. Our field tends to reward people who do these things. So as a field we have established a culture of unbalanced professionals which is extremely concerning because of the millenial generation entering the field and their need to feel rewarded/acknowledged. Our nose is pressed up against our own respective Monet (or your favorite Impressionist artist).
Slowly we start to take steps back. We remove our nose from the painting. We acknowledge the messiness and try to recapture our original perspective. We clarify and solidify our views of the profession as we take steps towards our original position ten yards away. The individual brushstrokes become hazy and the beautiful fields and flowers start to reemerge with each step we take. With each motion, the landscape becomes clearer, the messiness fades away.
We reach our original position and the beauty of Monet’s work overwhelms us. As our career progresses we will do this back and forth as we view the painting. There are times we will be right next to the painting and the messiness is all we can see. The importance is recognizing how the messiness contributes to the greater portrait.