“We promise you discovery: the discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe, and your place in it.”
— Sister Madeleva Wolff, CSC, Former President of Saint Mary’s College
I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since I’ve written a blog post! Where has time gone? It’s difficult to believe I’m in my final month at my first professional job. I don’t think I’ve fully grasped the fact that this is the last week I will see many of my students or that I only have next week to spend with my RA staff. Regardless, I have gained so much from the past 3 years at Saint Mary’s College, and I thought it would be great to reflect on what I’ve learned from my first Student Affairs job.
Sometimes you need to move away to find yourself.
Moving to a new state was one of the most difficult, yet positive experiences of my life. Throughout the past three years, I have become more independent and confident—both professionally and personally. Though challenging at times, I learned how to create a support system and build new connections. I recommend that each of you move away from home for a period time at least once in your life.
Create traditions that you can bring to other institutions.
I have created many traditions that I plan to carry to my GA Area Coordinator position. Reflect on the traditions your SA professionals had when you were a student, and use them to get ideas for your own. Personally, I give my RA staff a pen, notebook, and welcome letter when they arrive for the year. I also do a “Treasure Chest” affirmation activity during staff meetings and periodically make baked goods for them. Bring what you love to your student staff.
Accept your mistakes.
Own up to mistakes you make on the job. I’ve learned that people value you more when you’re willing to accept and own up to your mistakes. Being real goes a long way.
Wear ALL the hats.
When you begin a new job, it’s important to discover new and interesting things within it. It’s not always easy to find your niche or passion areas in Student Affairs, which is why it’s important to have an institution that allows you to gain experience in other offices. Had I not agreed to get Green Dot Certified, I would have never realized that I was passionate about doing Violence Prevention Work on the side. Chaperoning events and showing up to student programs are also great ways to get involved in the community.
Find your ways of practicing Self-Care EARLY.
Working in Student Affairs/Higher Ed is extremely stressful at times, so it’s important to figure out what works for you early in your career. Remember, it’s NOT selfish to take care of yourself. Once you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to take care of others. I like to take walks, go to yoga classes, and cook myself breakfast. Also, remember what works for others may not work for you.
Be open to new things, especially during your job search.
When looking at institutions for my first job, I never imagined I would end up at an all-female institution. When I arrived on campus, I had a feeling it was meant to be. During interviews, focus on whether or not the institution and job is a good fit for you, and trust your gut. Everything will work out in the end, and you will grow from each experience.
Learn how to say no.
As a new professional, it’s difficult to say no to people who ask for help. Remember, it is okay to say no! It’s easy to experience burnout in our field. At the beginning, I struggled saying no. I slowly but surely learned I wasn’t able to take on everything. Keep this in mind early.
I learned that being vulnerable and real with my students is the key component to building genuine relationships. It’s okay to share stories about yourself with your students. Let them know who you are and, most importantly, that you are a real person. This will help with building an understanding with them, especially when you need them to be flexible.
Learn time management skills if you don’t have them already.
I learned more time management skills more during my first year of employment than I ever did as an undergrad. Learn what works for you. How much time do you need to dedicate to each task? What organization skills are required to finish your work? Learn what works for you and your productivity.
I’ve grown tremendously from my first professional job, and I hope everyone else can say the same. No matter where you end up professionally, remember to take time to reflect on the lessons you learned along the way. I’m excited to move forward into graduate school and my GA position with the experiences and lessons I learned at SMC. Remember to focus on learning from your employer and the steps you can take to get where you want to go.
Originally Published At A Year in the Life: Confessions of a Hall Director.