Turning Challenges into Opportunities for Growth

Life has many twists and turns, and it never goes quite according to plan. Like many I have met in student affairs, I never thought I would be in this field. Some of you reading this may not even know what student affairs is; I didn’t as an undergrad. For a long time, through high school and college, I had plans to be in a completely different career field. Changing a lifelong dream is scary and a big challenge. I have learned several lessons along the way, and as I reflect back on them, I am better suited to respond to future challenges and opportunities both personally and in pursuit of strategic goals and objectives professionally because of them.

Challenges are just that: opportunities. It is not easy, but embracing challenges opens doors to new possibilities, growth, and innovation. If you ever find yourself saying that something cannot be done, challenge yourself to critically think about that response. Maybe it really cannot be done, but there is a difference between something being difficult to achieve and something that is truly impossible due to financial, structural, or other barriers.

When creating a vision for an office, organization, or group, we should ask ourselves what we want to be known for. What do we do really well and what can be improved upon? Who are the people that are going to make our vision a reality? Having an overarching vision is important. It can serve as a compass or a guiding light to keep you on track and in line, even if on the micro level, action items and daily practices are changed with new and evolving priorities.

One of the most important leadership lessons I learned during my time in the field, as a graduate assistant, and as a professional staff member is there are certain things that will come your way, positive and negative, that will change your course, and that is OK. That understanding has helped me embrace the unknown. Of course I want to be good at my job, serve students, and plan and prepare for future challenges, but I also recognize the importance of being ready when things don’t go according to plan.

Change is an opportunity for growth and innovation. When faced with new challenges, new co-workers or leadership, new objectives or policies, we must be able to draw from our previous experience and the tools we have accumulated to address those changes head on. We know that in higher education, broadly speaking, many changes are occurring; the reality is that whether it is the people working at an institution, individual students, or the organizations that make our campuses such unique and fulfilling experiences for students, being prepared and executing a plan is important. Embracing and recognizing that the ever-changing landscape may alter the path to achieving the vision is just as important. The moral of the story is: create vision and develop action items, but also be amenable to change. Without losing sight of the overarching vision, goal, or strategy, be prepared to confront new challenges head on, and if necessary, change your path slightly based on the changing variables of life on a college campus.


Bill Bowey is a Coordinator in the Office of Student Accountability and Support at the University of Missouri. In addition to working with individual students, he advises the Judicial Peer Advisory Council and the IFC Judicial Board.



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