As student affairs professionals, we are committed to educating and supporting students in their personal and academic growth. As wom/e/x/y/n in the student affairs profession, we often find ourselves juggling multiple responsibilities and striving to make a positive impact on our campus communities. While we are passionate about our work, it is essential to remember to take care of ourselves and also prioritize our own professional development. In this post, I share a few lessons that were reinforced for me during the 2023 NASPA Annual Conference. I was very intentional this year about planning a conference experience that was directly aligned with what I needed at this point in my career and life. I hope you too can use the acronym L.E.A.R.N. to add an additional framework for approaching your conference and professional development experiences.
L.E.A.R.N. stands for Lead Authentically, Enjoy the Experience, Apply your Values, Rest and Recharge, and Network Strategically.
L- Lead Authentically: Authentic leadership means being true to yourself while leading others. When you lead authentically, you inspire others to do the same. So, while you are presenting, facilitating, discussing, interacting, and doing all the things…be intentional about embracing the truest version of yourself. No one is quite like you and that makes your brand of leadership unique and especially necessary.
E- Enjoy the Experience: It's easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of all it takes to plan, travel, and participate in professional development, but it is essential to enjoy the experience once you get there. Look for and savor particular moments that bring you joy. Engage your senses. Take in new sights and sounds. Stop and smell the proverbial roses. Notice the literal and figurative steps that led you to this moment and reflect on how much you have enjoyed, or at least grown from, the journey.
A- Apply your Values: Our values drive our work, and we must apply them in everything we do. When our values align with our work, we are more fulfilled and satisfied and our work is more impactful. Identify ways to live what you believe and give the things you believe in air to breath. As you pose questions, interact with colleagues, encounter new information, and think critically about emerging trends in the field, let your values come to the fore and be top of mind.
R- Rest and Recharge: Self-care is critical for our well-being. Set boundaries and prioritize self-care. It is not selfish - it is necessary. For many wom/e/x/y/n student affairs professionals, participating in professional development is a rare and brief respite from the busyness and responsibility of everyday life. Be self-centered and take full advantage of this time to refuel yourself. That might mean going to lots of conference sessions because you are energized by learning and being in community with others. This might also mean sleeping in and also retreating to your room in the middle of the afternoon to read your favorite book or watch your favorite movie while eating your favorite snack.
N- Network Strategically: Building relationships is essential in any profession, and student affairs is no exception. Networking strategically means being intentional about building relationships that will benefit you professionally or personally. Conferences present many great opportunities to connect on purpose with colleagues and opportunities that will enhance our lives. Wom/e/x/y/n are often socialized to believe that strategizing is a nefarious activity that is synonymous with disingenuousness and selfish ambition. Let’s change the narrative and contemplate that given the demands of our lives as wom/e/x/y/n and burgeoning professional burnout, being strategic is a critical sustainability issue and a demonstration of responsible stewardship of our finite human resources (time, energy, money, mental and emotional capacity, etc.).
In conclusion, the L.E.A.R.N. framework is another way to approach professional development that pushes back against the ways some wom/e/x/y/n in student affairs have been socialized to deprioritize themselves and give until they have nothing left. Ultimately, leading authentically, enjoying the experience, applying your values, resting and recharging, and networking strategically may help you achieve professional success while also maintaining your well-being as a wom/a/x/y/n in the student affairs profession.
I would like to acknowledge and thank NASPA’s Womxn in Student Affairs Knowledge Community and Center for Womxn for supporting me to attend the 2023 NASPA Annual Conference.
Note: I use the spelling wom/e/x/y/n to create space for the wide and beautiful array of gender identities and naming conventions associated with wom/a/x/y/nhood.
Nicole M. West, Ph.D. is a tenured Associate Professor in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Missouri State University where she teaches the program’s sequence of research and assessment courses. As a Black feminist scholar-pracademic, Dr. West’s research focuses on enhancing the experiences of Black women enrolled and employed in higher education via the study and development of critical cultural theories, research methods, and praxes. She is currently co-editing a highly anticipated 20-year anniversary issue of the New Directions for Student Services (NDSS) series, which will serve as an exploration of the status of contemporary Black women in higher education.