Preparedness Meets Opportunity: My Philosophy of Education and Journey to Student Affairs

“Success is what comes when preparedness meets opportunity.”

I first heard this phrase during my high school years; while I would love to confidently attribute it to a source, in a cursory search I found that many people have laid claim to the words. Regardless of its inception, the phrase had such an impact on me that I felt impelled to share it with my fellow graduates as part of my Valedictorian address. In that moment, its meaning was still vague and mysterious and that is exactly what I liked. The world ahead was unknown, limitless, and ours for the taking. If we could visualize something we wanted for ourselves and our communities, we needed to put it into the universe, work as hard as we could to prepare ourselves, and create or accept any and all opportunities to meet those ends.

Fast forward a few years and I am a Concurrent Education student at Nipissing University. In the first year Bachelor of Education Methods courses we were asked to develop our philosophy of education and were challenged to continue to reflect on this as we progressed throughout our academic careers. At the time, as a near-sighted undergraduate, I couldn’t even begin to fathom how and why this would be asked of me. I struggled to put into words all of the ways I believed education could impact an individual and how that individual could impact the whole. Each year I did my due diligence and updated the word document, inserted it into my teaching portfolio, and resubmitted for it to be commented on by faculty. Something was missing, the fire that had lit the path toward my degree programs was burning out and I couldn’t determine exactly why that was.

My undergraduate years were a consistent struggle for me. I knew that education in the traditional sense (as it was being presented) was not what I was passionate about. The increased standardization of learning and assessment weighed heavy on my heart and mind. I, myself, had thrived in an education system that appreciated unconventional interpretations of assignments and new ways of thinking. Now, I was being asked to enter into a system that I was increasingly recognizing as foreign to my own – and more importantly, in contradiction of what I was realizing was my true philosophy of education.

Education is the integrated sum of experiences (facilitated at times, but often unplanned) that help prepare you for any and all opportunities that your imagination and soul are open to. I have been blessed by my undergraduate co-curricular experiences. Being a part of Model NATO, Residence Life, Academic Support Services and Peer Tutoring, a Peer Mentorship Program, and my involvement in orientation initiatives showed me that the world where learning is allowed to exist in a variety of contexts did still exist – in Student Affairs.

Since earning three degrees from NU (yes, I need to diversify that sooner than later – looking at you doctoral degree!) I have had the distinct pleasure of giving back to the institution and community that gave me so much. The experiences that I was afforded as a student who was disenchanted by the education system and discovered that his passion was misplaced, had found refuge in the waiting arms of a supportive, inclusive, and innovative community that focused on developing its own future, casting leaders in appropriate roles to challenge their contexts and move them forward, and benefited from confident leaders who were willing to fail forward. I found my professional home.

During my time in Student Affairs, as a student leader (we brand these as Peer Educators now to show the impact of each and every role), practitioner, and administrator, I have continued my own journey of preparation. I have embraced the fear. I challenge myself regularly, despite my internal urges to run the other direction, to experience new things, enter into new areas of the profession to learn more, and to engage folks who I know will challenge my own worldview and help me get better. As a Manager, I have had the amazing opportunity to broaden my experiences in doing this for others. I am able to interact with students, student leaders, emerging and seasoned professionals alike and work with them to become more prepared for the vast opportunities that lie ahead. I have found my philosophy of education.

In life we sometimes find ourselves going down roads and not knowing why. I have been a firm believer in the mantra “everything happens for a reason.” In the last year or so, I have realized that this reason is the universe letting you know that “you got this.” In my journey within Student Affairs I have had my own personal and professional identity explorations and perceived crises, but at each obstacle, I never felt as though I didn’t have what it took to overcome it. Faith in your own learning and desire to be better encourages you to work hard for the elusive opportunities that you don’t yet know about. Continuing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone will force you to learn more about yourself and the limitations of your passion. This isn’t a new concept. Vulnerability and fear are hot topics right now, and are enriching the dialogues of self-exploration, identity, and yes, education. I urge anyone and everyone to join these conversations, be fearless, reach out to a new experience that will help prepare you for what’s to come. Don’t stop learning, don’t stop growing, and don’t stop caring about yourself and your impact on the world around you.

If I could give advice to my younger self, it would be to worry less about 5 or 10 year plans. Instead, worry about how much you’re challenging yourself. Are you prepared for when plan A doesn’t work? If not, how can you adapt and adjust to make sure that a plan B, C, and D can be developed given your array of experiences and interests? We no longer live in a society where employment or success are experienced in a linear progression, so we should stop planning and acting as though we are. Follow and create your own pathways and never let someone put a roadblock in them – be the master of your own story. Embrace your fear. Ensure your own preparedness.