5 Self-Reflection Practices That’ll Help Renew Your Purpose in Student Affairs

We’ve been living through a pandemic for over a year now. 

In that time, we have learned how to take our work into virtual spaces, supported students through hardships, and longed for the opportunity to connect with fellow SApros over conference breakfasts. Our jobs have shifted dramatically, and many of us are simply doing the best we can stay afloat.

As we go through the motions as a means to survive this trying season, it’s easy to lose sight of why we do what we do. The aspects of student affairs that once brought us joy have been shaded by rules, regulations, and fears of the unknown.

It took me the entirety of last year, but I’ve found a way to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve utilized self-reflection as a means to find purpose in my role, even on the most challenging days. 

I’ll share some of these tools so you can implement them into your own routines. I hope that cultivating these small habits will help realign you with your higher calling, one day at a time.

Pause for Mindfulness

This quote by Albert Einstein captures the essence of mindfulness well: 

“I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.” 

Starting a meditation practice is the first step that I recommend for uncovering purpose.  When we race from one thought to the next, it’s impossible to hear what our bodies and minds really want from us.

Do you need more time to safely connect with students in person? Or are you yearning to take a guilt-free vacation day in the midst of ever-changing chaos? 

Take a moment to pause, listen in, and discover what you really need to thrive. The answer won’t come immediately, but that’s why they call it a mindfulness practice

Start with five minutes a day of meditation and build up that time as you get more comfortable doing so. Apps like Calm and HeadSpace offer free, seven-day trials, and you can also find free guided meditations on YouTube, Spotify, and many other streaming services.

Explore Gratitude

It’s scientifically proven that gratitude makes us happier. Each day, challenge yourself to find one thing you’re thankful for as it pertains to your role. Perhaps you’re grateful for the recent opportunity you had to steer a student onto the right path after a conduct meeting, the budget you have to purchase a new desk chair, or your reliable WiFi that allows you to sustain a day’s worth of virtual meetings.

 Don’t stop there, though. Once you’ve identified what you’re grateful for, ask yourself why. For example, if you shared that you’re thankful for a disciplinary conversation you had with a student, explore that further by considering whether it’s because you find value in being a beacon of change, advocating for negatively impacted communities, or something else altogether. The reason for your gratitude will shed light on the things most meaningful to you.

Revisit Career Goals

Many of us struggle to think beyond the here and now. After all, we have a job that requires us to carry our students through a pandemic. But putting your dreams on the back-burner will inhibit you from doing small things each day that guide you toward your ultimate goals.

Think about what the pinnacle of your career looks like. Do you have a certain title? Are you working for a certain type of institution or in a particular functional area?

Once you have that vision in mind, think about what it would feel like to achieve that goal. What will have mattered leading up to that point? Would it be the committees you served on or the awards you won? How about the students you stayed in touch with or the relationships you built with colleagues?

As you think about the most successful version of yourself, drill down on what you need to do today to make that happen. Set small, manageable goals that help you work toward becoming that aspirational professional. 

These micro-goals will ensure that you’re doing something each day that lights your student affairs fire, as you’ll know that you’re getting yourself closer to where you someday dream to be.

Assess Your Wellness

When was the last time you sat down and intentionally took stock of your professional wellbeing? We are in a selfless profession that often results in an inclination to put ourselves last. 

That is not how you successfully work toward your purpose. You have to know that you’re worthy of a meaningful work life. 

On a scale of 1-10, rate your satisfaction and perceived successes within the following areas. Be sure to articulate why you’re giving yourself that score:

  • Wellness
  • Professional Relationships
  • Impact on Others
  • Role and Responsibilities
  • Professional Development

Once you’ve completed this exercise, consider how you might increase low scores and maintain high ones. Set actionable steps that you can work toward so you can increase your overall satisfaction and success in the workplace. While it may be tempting to solicit feedback from coworkers who know you well, make this a solo exercise. This is about your perception and what you intuitively feel when you think through these areas.

Remove The Pressure

 This blog post is about finding purpose in your role. But remember: Your life’s calling doesn’t have to be wrapped up in what you do for a living. The purposes you find outside of your role can fuel you to invest in your work in meaningful ways.

Here’s what I mean: I love being an aunt. I find so much purpose in making sure that I lead by example for my nephew. I want him to grow up in an equitable world, and for him to be the kind of person who respects and celebrates others. 

This is a purpose I found outside of work, but it absolutely translates to how I show up for my student affairs role every day. Working with the next generation of leaders allows me to play a critical role in shaping the college campuses that my nephew will someday visit.

Eliminate the pressure to find all your purpose in the 9-5 hustle. Instead, consider how your purpose(s) outside of working hours can contribute to a positive and intentional perspective toward what you do on a day-to-day basis.

gif of a woman saying 'I need a purpose'

It’s been a tough year for everyone, but a heightened self-awareness will allow you to make the most of the circumstances we’re living in, and beyond. These exercises aren’t meant to be completed once, never to be revisited. You should commit to processing your reflection often so you can continually assess and recalculate whether you’re living out your purpose.

As you think about the person you someday want to become (in or outside of the workplace) a self-reflection habit will serve as the compass toward your true north.

How has self-reflection brought you insight? Connect with us on Twitter @themoderncampus.

Chelsea Jordan

About the author: Chelsea Jordan (she/her) is a student affairs jack-of-all-trades with a passion for women's leadership. She currently serves as the Associate Director for Campus Life at Tufts University, and if she could have dinner with anyone tomorrow, it would be with the woman who inspires her most: Brené Brown. Learn how we can help get your students involved.