Last week was homecoming here at WKU. This celebration of returning back to campus, somewhere that holds so much meaning for so many alumni, got me thinking about my own return to the Hill. Since I started in July, I’ve had numerous people to ask me what it’s like to work at my undergrad institution, and honestly I’m still not sure I know how to answer them.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m thoroughly enjoying my new experience here at WKU. It’s been a great opportunity to create new memories and share some relevant stories with my current staff about my time as an undergrad. Those conversations have provided a great opportunity to quickly build some connections. However, my history with the institution has made for some unique circumstances during my transition into this new professional position.
One of the tips I remember receiving in grad school and then again during my professional job search was to avoid constantly referencing your previous institution. With my current institution being a previous institution, I wasn’t so sure how to apply that rule of thumb to myself. During the first few weeks on the job, I kept finding myself reminded that I’d been here and worked in the department before. And I began to realize that these reminders were shading how I was experiencing my transition. Whether it was someone mentioning during a training session “Oh, Doug, you remember when you were an RA here…”, or hearing myself saying the dreaded “Well, when I was an RA…”, I noticed this haze developing. I was unable to appreciate the challenges of a new position. Instead, I was developing a undeserved familiarity with the role.
Rather than acknowledge that this new position was going to challenge me, I began to convince myself that I already knew the job inside and out, because I’d seen it done before. I insisted that I knew everything I needed to know. So when I started to struggle a bit, I had trouble understanding why. I’d seen these responsibilities carried out, I knew these procedures. Why did it seem so much harder than it had looked back then? What had changed? And that’s when suddenly I lost the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, and began to see everything in the harsh light of day, because I realized the biggest thing that had changed in the three years since I’d left the RA role. It was me. I had changed. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle what I thought I could back then. It’s that I never appreciated how much of a challenge the position really was. I had inadvertently sabotaged myself by denying that I’d grown personally, and by insisting that what I saw of the department as a student would be the same image I’d see as a professional. Anyone who has been on both sides of the same department can tell you how wrong that is.
I was lucky, in that I have colleagues and friends who supported me as essentially restarted my transition. I took the time to reflect and realized the harm I had done to myself, both professionally and personally. I caused myself a lot of stress, trying to relive the “glory days”. Also, I’m pretty sure I made myself kind of obnoxious to those around me, and to those individuals, I’m sorry!
When I decided to write this post, I was worried it would come off as “whiny” or “Oh, woe is me!”, and that definitely wasn’t my intention at all. I wrote it more as an advisement to those among us that have chosen to pursue positions at our beloved alma maters. If you’ve done so, maybe you can find some commonalities between my experience and yours. If you’re considering it, just remember that as your role and relationship with the institution change, it’s important to allow your perspective to change as well. So many of us #SApros go into the field because of the experiences we had as undergraduates, and it can be so tempting to want to relive those memories by returning home. But remember you’ve grown while you’ve been away, and your institution most likely has too. You have to acknowledge both those changes if you want to succeed back where you got your start.
This post is part of the Emerging SA Pro series following 4 awesome people: Alexandria, Doug, Emily, and Alexander, as they blog monthly about 1 year of their journey as either a new SA Pro or SA grad student. We are proud to help them share their stories as they break into our field.