My Student Affairs Dichotomy: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

written by: Mandi Stewart

I’ve been feeling weighed down lately over a certain dichotomy: to stay in student affairs or to leave the field. It’s challenging and I’ve spent a lot of time playing out all sorts of situations in my head. I leave student affairs and hate it and then no one will hire me back in SA. I leave SA and loose connections to colleagues and relationships that matter to me. I get another job in SA but find that I am not truly happy and I’m back to square one again. What if the grass isn’t greener on the other side? What if it really is and I don’t go?

I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to make a decision on this dichotomy - announce to the world (and myself) which direction I’m going to go. Leave student affairs, or stay. I have felt over the years that the field of student affairs creates this “in or out” mentality. I’ve created this space in my mind where you either stay or your leave, there isn’t much gray. What is the world like "out there"? Is is something I want to be a part of? 

I like to think of myself who someone who is okay with things being gray and on a spectrum. But when it comes to my job search I have struggled to break from this mindset: to leave student affairs or to stay. Should I Stay or Should I Go?

So, I’ve been applying for jobs all over the place. In and out. Some totally different positions way outside of my comfort zone and others right in my comfort zone. And then, I accepted a position, outside of higher ed. It promised all sorts of opportunities to grow and lead and was in an industry that was totally unfamiliar to me. I felt ready to make the change. I was leaving student affairs and I was excited.

I lasted a day and a half before I left and didn’t return. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that the position and the organization didn't align with who I was as a person and what I wanted to be a part of. It was a huge values mismatch coupled with poor leadership and business models. My feelings of failure quickly transitioned (with the help and support of my partner) to feelings of relief. I am glad I didn’t try to make it work. I am thankful that I was able to stand up for myself and not let myself be treated disrespectfully. I made a brave decision by leaving that role and knowing that it wasn’t a healthy environment for me. I am choosing to prioritize my worth and wait for a job that is right.

That led me to think more about this dichotomy again. I “left” student affairs for 36 hours and it didn’t work out. Does that mean I should continue on a higher-ed-only search? Not necessarily.

What I’ve concluded is this: it doesn’t matter whether my next position is in student affairs or not. What matters is what I am looking for in an organization: values, growth, leadership, etc. I’m choosing to focus more on those things, instead of what job category or industry the position falls into. I am spending time instead, thinking about what I need to feel challenged and invincible. What I need to thrive.

I'd love to connect with some of you and hear your thoughts on this dichotomy. Twitter/Insta @mandijstewart or by email