My Student Affairs Journey: A Love Story… Sort of
15 years ago I uttered those infamous 8 words that most, if not all, student affairs professionals have said in their career infancy – “Wait, I can do this for a living?” It was in that moment, much like Ariel signing Ursula’s undersea contract, I was hooked! I spent the next 11 years dedicating my time, education, and life to students: their development, their future, their dreams. At some point, I burnt out. The drama of the day-to-day, the highs and lows of molding young minds, the “do as I say and not as I do” mentality around wellness, the pride with explaining my job to family and the shear annoyance of saying, “No, I’m not a RA, I supervise them” (insert a million eye rolls), and the low pay… ¡Ay dios mio!, the low pay. I had become the sum of these squeaky parts. So I did what any serious educator would do – I applied to a second graduate degree! “Surely, this will quench my woes!” My journey led me to pursue a career I had wanted since childhood. And since becoming the next Madonna, Britney, or JLo was completely out of reach… sigh… I decided to become the next Dr. Phil, minus all the problematic Cash me Outside gems of the interwebs.
Adam-Jon Aparicio, LMHC/NCC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor/National Certified Counselor). My counseling credentials were shiny and new. They were translatable in a way that felt grounded and told a story of helping people through trauma and the spooky forest of their past. The work was similar. As I sat with clients I became acutely aware of the awesome power of human resiliency, humility, and strength. Yet, something was missing from my interactions. At the end of each 50 minute session there was an “okay, same time next week!” The predictability of clients showing up to session after session had become an oddity to me, as if I was second guessing my skills or techniques. “Why are these people showing up with such regularity?” Why was this strange to me? In my work as a therapist, I became, well, bored. While I am not saying that helping individuals in a therapeutic manner is boring, I believe something was missing by the practicality of helping one client for one hour week-to-week. My inner Chickering, Schlossberg, and Baxter Magolda were itching to get out.
As I considered moonlighting as a consultant for a residential life department, I told my friend and colleague a compelling reason for him to hire me – “I need to be the Olivia Pope of higher ed again!” While my aim wasn’t to erase missteps of high-powered DC politicians like Ms. Pope in the ABC drama, what I wanted to do was fix –something, anything! In the world of counseling and mental health, fixing is no bueno. People do not get fixed –we heal. Shout-out to Dr. Phil: when you try to “fix” people, they get their own reality show on E!, We, or another respected cable network. I’m sending positive vibes to America’s next Honey Boo Boo. When my consultation gig came, I told myself that I would hate it or realize there was a reason why I left student affairs. And yes, you’re correct – I loved it!
The rush I got from blending my humor, knowledge of building solid teams, authentic communication development, and strategic planning skills was abundant and clear. I was able to connect with students and staff in a way that was dynamic and familiar. And while there was no “okay, same time next week!”, the positive feedback I received left me hungry for more.
Our work in student affairs can be unpredictable. While SA professionals prepare and plan per best practices, there is a level of unpredictability that, for me, is exhilarating and life giving. The nature of university life is such that every new (academic) year equals a new adventure. Helping students as they stumble and succeed through their development is why many SA pros enter the field, and frankly, why they stay or in my case – come back.
Over the last year I have served in an interim role as Director of Learning Communities at Seattle University while running a small counseling private practice called Axis Counseling, PLLC. The work I do in both roles fuels me. While I continue to evaluate where I want to land in my career, I’ve learned several things about myself.
- I am the sum of my career parts. Like any healthy relationship, my career journey ebbs and flows. And I love it!
- Student affairs will always be my home. SA pros are the Oprah’s and Michelle O’s of the world. We inspire and get things done!
- I do not want to be the Dr. Phil of student affairs. There is already one Cash me Outside girl and that’s enough.
Adam-Jon Aparicio serves as the Interim Director of Learning Communities at Seattle University and the founder and psychotherapist at Axis Counseling. He holds a M.Ed. in student affairs administration and a M.A. in community counseling. In his 10 years working in student affairs, Adam-Jon has primarily worked in residential life where he incorporates his passions for identity development, authentic communication, and team success. He has worked in community mental health, was a community college faculty member, and served as a counselor in a college counseling center. Find him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/adam-jon.