Reflections on Transitioning From an Entry-level Role to a Mid-level Administrator
By Anonymous Author
I started my first mid-level position about a year ago. Before being hired, I was one of the best entry-level residence life professionals my prior institution had ever seen (so said my students—especially the ones with whom I had difficulty conducting meetings). I made it through a rigorous and nationally known graduate program. I developed relationships with mentors who pushed me and challenged me. These mentors also saw great potential in me and said I would be a strong candidate at any institution I applied. They were right—I was a finalist at four institutions before settling on my current role. I was flying high as I transitioned to this role.
I share the above not to prove I am an egomaniacal professional who is simply seeking to elevate my own reputation (although I may have accomplished that task as well). I share it, rather, to illustrate the high expectations I had when I became a mid-level professional. When I started in the field, it was hard enough to find an entry-level position. I thought—now that I’d found a more long-term position—I’d made it!
I’m not living the easy life like I thought I would. In fact, my current role has challenged me much more than both my first position in the field and my graduate work.
Why has it been so challenging?
My supervisors don’t advocate for me in the same way previous supervisors and advisors have. I know fewer students because of my elevated role (especially compared to my previous work in residence life). I’m exposed daily to the draining realities of institutional politics (and my institution seems to be hyper-political at times). The Christian faith is expressed in a very unique (and sometimes frustrating) way. And as I pull back the curtain on how decisions are made here, I’m not always convinced the best decisions are being made. And to add insult to injury, I don’t get free housing anymore.
Despite all of this, I love my job and where I work. After what I just wrote, you probably don’t believe me. To prove it, I’ll honesty say that I’m not looking to leave any time soon. I serve a place that is committed to teaching the liberal arts through the lens of the Christian faith. I am honored to serve the Lord through the role. This, however, doesn’t make the challenges I’ve faced in the last year and a half any less frustrating.
When I entered the field several years ago, everyone talked about what it was like to be a new professional in Christian higher education. To date, I’ve heard scant mention of the transition from a being a new professional to a mid-level professional with 5-7 years of experience. Thus, at times I feel alone in this journey.
Sometimes I feel like I am being far too self-centered in these grievances. And other times I am convinced that I am right and my institution is just plain crazy.
It has been helpful to figure out what is actually frustrating to me. Sure, my supervisor may not be as supportive as I’d like, and I don’t always feel like wise decisions are being made. And yes, I actually do miss the free meal plan. But really, I think the trouble I’ve had can be reduced to two factors. One, I underestimated how different the challenges are between the mid-level role and the entry-level role. Two, I failed to perform a “cultural audit” of my institution during the interview process.
The reality is, I’m not always going to be shielded from “institutional residual politics” in this mid-level role. When I worked as a resident director, I was sheltered from some of the muddier parts of institutional life. In this role, I see it more.
I also could have done a better job at performing a cultural audit of my institution during the interview process. While I did an extensive “missional audit” during the search, it’s clear now that espoused goals aren’t always enacted or implemented effectively (Baxter & Baxter Magolda, 2011). I wish I would’ve researched how the mission of my institution was put into practice. Not just what my institution aspired to do.
But I’m here now. And I refuse to pack up my bags simply because things are hard.
What could my response be to the challenges of this new role?
I could choose to stay frustrated and grow resentful. Or I could accept it as a reality and ask the Lord to show me ways to stay faithful to the mission I’ve committed myself to (both the school’s mission and the mission of the Gospel).
I could choose to close myself off to my colleagues. Or I could look for common ground with people I disagree with.
I could bask in a feeling of isolation. Or I could find allies in and out of my division who can encourage my spirit and sharpen my talent.
I could be upset that I failed to anticipate the challenges, ignore my feelings, or decide to leave and look for a better place. Or I could understand that none of those simple solutions seem to be productive or worthwhile in solving a complex problem (Baxter & Baxter Magolda, 2011).
Institutional life is difficult. Yes, even in Christian higher education I won’t see eye to eye with my colleagues in every situation. Low enrollment may negatively affect my workplace environment. Politics will continue to permeate budget and policy decisions. And all of these stresses will become more visible as my professional responsibilities increase.
I know there are situations when it is appropriate to leave your institution. But now is not that time for me. These problems exist everywhere, and I still feel called to this place. Thus, will my response to these challenges be one of cynicism? Or will it be one of hope and faithfulness? I choose the latter. Even when it’s hard. Besides, who ever said faithfulness in this work was supposed to be easy?
Due to the sensitive nature of this piece, the author wishes to remain anonymous.
Magolda, P. M. & Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2003). Engaging in dialogues about difference in the workplace. In P. M. Magolda, M. B. Baxter Magolda. (Eds.), Contested issues in student affairs: Diverse perspectives and respectful dialogues (1st ed.; pp. 453-465). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.