Quarter Life Realization

It seems like a simple topic, and maybe it actually is a simple, yet unexposed topic. The process of a young, female professional realizing that life is unscripted was a journey that I wanted to share. It may not be the most uplifting journey, or the most insightful process, but it is a real glimpse into the exercise of choice and the serendipitous nature of life. 

Around a month after graduating with my M.Ed. and four months before I started my first professional position in student/academic affairs, I had a consortium of thoughts in form of an epiphany. These thoughts included freedom to choose the direction of my next steps in life. This was the first time I had felt liberated to make choices in my life that did not necessarily align with my past strategic steps. This was a life that included an unknown factor that excluded the predictability of syllabi and coursework systematically laid out for two or more years. 

I'm fairly young in the world of higher education. I went straight through high school to college to graduate school to find a job. Bam, bam, bam! It was all planned out, and I could set my sights on what was just beyond the horizon and achieve that goal. So it surprised me when I found myself struggling to find a professional position that suited my talents. I watched my cohort members find success after success being offered positions at great schools, and eventually it took a toll on emotions and my confidence. I was in this grueling process for a little longer than I thought I was supposed to be, and I started wondering if there was something wrong with my approach and second-guessing my trajectory up to this point.

From feeling behind the curve, I started looking into positions that were not "cookie-cutter" student affairs positions. I started looking into the Peace Corps, technology/marketing jobs, study abroad third-party organizations, any jobs that I would be semi-qualified for, and even a variety of courses/certifications I could take to further my education. After this mad search of trying to find where I fit in, I had this feeling of release. (Take a deep breath here.) This feeling of realization that I could take my life in any direction I pleased – as long as it agreed with my wallet. I would basically call this feeling a quarter life realization. Not a crisis, but a realization. 

Most people around this point that are not succeeding, in the average sense of the word, call this feeling a crisis. I think it's labeled as a crisis due to its infeasibility of the possibilities, or the internalization of the responsibility that society has placed on a young, female professional to achieve our culture's sense of success. Is the image of success so ingrained in our world that we tend to miss the road that has never been traveled before? From my realization, I brainstormed on how to tailor my decisions so that my professional trajectory would display personal values, wants and needs, not culture-driven values. Reexamining your values and setting out on a different path takes courage and guts to begin living a different life after we are already comfortable with our normal routine.

If you know my demeanor, I am a freethinker, a rock-the-boater, and as independent as they come. The solidification of this realization was a paradigm shift that my predetermined plans don't have to be my actual plans. I can change my mind, and so can you. Who cares if it took you 10 years to write your dissertation? It's done. Isn't it? What difference does it make that you decided to take a six-month reprieve from being a professional to be with your family? Aligning your actions with your values and not society’s expectations is what counts. Does it really matter if you make 5 lateral jumps within your career? No, it is not the norm, but it is what you wanted to do.

Success is in the eye of the beholder, and I think sometimes we forget about this concept. Society's expectations of success is finding that big-paying job right after you graduate and enter the "real world."  Sure. Finding the big paying job at the most well known institution would be nice, but that does not align with my personal goals and values. I see that now. My question is, "Why did I have to get that far behind and deep into self-doubt in order to really examine my options?"

I challenge you to think of how you define success in your career and personal life, and how your actions align with that definition. Too often we let expectations, reputation and stature dictate our definition and in turn, our actions. I want to lead with an integrated blend of values and personal thought in my life. I want to adopt this serendipitous model of living. I want to be a role model for other women in our profession. I want to be happy.

What do you want?

Colleen Marquart works for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County as the Coordinator of Academic Initiatives & Pre-Transfer STEM Advising. Connect with her on Twitter: @cmmarqua. When she's not there, find her on her blog, Facebook, or connect via LinkedIn.

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