Deeper Self-Understanding is Worth the Wait

Sun streaks across purple and brown rocky mountains.

By Dan Moseson

In this blog entry, I want to share how my understanding of meaningful work has evolved with time and experience.  I’m at least 15 years older than most folks reading this, and I’ve been surprised and pleased by how my understanding has continued to change and grow.  I am sharing it here to show that it’s a continuous, even lifelong journey, and you never know where it will take you.  15 years ago, I never expected to be doing anything I now do at CDPC.  I like it, but it’s taken me until now to understand how clearly it flows from my past experiences.

I was trained to be a college professor and researcher.  Academics are an introverted bunch.  Collaboration and good professional relationships matter, but the real currency of faculty careers is the drive to develop one’s own distinctive research program.  It makes sense that I went this way.  In high school, I always disliked group projects because I usually ended up doing most of the work.  I did most of the work because I cared about the final product much more than most of my classmates.  I was also a nerdy kid who was much more interested in The Discovery Channel than I was in kickball, so I got used to having fun on my own.

While I was completing my doctorate in religious studies, I did not realize that the experiences I gained outside of class would be the most important to my career.  My Lone Ranger side had a lot of autonomy to experiment with new kinds of programming for graduate students and branch out into radio and activism.  But just as importantly, I learned what a good workplace felt like.  The older graduate students created a supportive, collaborative environment.  They helped new students adjust to the program and they modeled teamwork and mentorship, even in a very individualistic and competitive career field.  I was later able to help new graduate students succeed in the same way.  It was my first positive experience of being part of a team.

By the time I finished graduate school, I had left behind any desire to be a professor.  Still, when I started working in student affairs, I worried I would lose the intellectual freedom and creative fulfillment I got from research.  It was immediately clear that I was part of a committed and supportive team, and I enjoyed the hard work we did together in office-wide events like career fairs.  But, I did not know how my itch for intellectual adventure would get scratched.  I have now found at least two ways to combine team camaraderie and the exploration of new ideas.

The first is creating interdisciplinary panels on graduate student career paths.  Most graduate students are still trained to be professors, but they can do many other things, and it’s my job to show them how.  I’ve created panels of U of U alums and other professionals who have used the focus, determination, creativity, critical thinking, and deep knowledge they built in graduate school to launch careers in science communication, government, entrepreneurship, and the corporate world.  I have the extreme privilege of building interdisciplinary teams to educate our students on the potential of their degrees, and even get to ask them questions myself (when I pull out my radio host skills to moderate the panels).  It’s a huge thrill to get to create these rare encounters between people trained in science, medicine, humanities, arts, and other fields.  It’s gratifying to see panelists’ passion for their work and their willingness to work together to share it.

The second way I get to explore new ideas with a team that cares is managing this blog.  I get to develop ideas for stories, and I get to recruit colleagues to write about them.  We then get to work together to develop the final product.  As much as I love editing (I love it too much), it’s even better to work out a general story idea with a contributor and have it show up in my inbox needing only a few small changes.  Developing ideas together is as good as developing them myself, if not better.  It’s the shared commitment that makes it so.

This insight is blogworthy to me because it took me until literally last week to figure it out, even though I’ve done all these things, separately, for my entire adult life.  It even affects how I think about future goals.  It may not matter exactly what I’m doing ten years from now.  What will matter more is intellectual challenge and committed colleagues.  I didn’t have a straight, logical path to this understanding of myself.  And I didn’t get there until 12 years after I finished college.  For an undergraduate reading this, I want to say that your path may not make complete sense now, and that’s ok.  You will never figure everything out!  But you will figure some things out about yourself, and they will be worth the wait.