One of my favorite things about the end of the year is the preponderance of lists about everything possible during the previous year. I spent a good hour yesterday afternoon poring over the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly analyzing their lists of top movies, books, and television shows from 2010 and listening to tracks from NPR’s list of the top 25 albums of the year. These things tend to be fairly arbitrary, but I’m a sucker for them.
As many members of the #sachat community know, I started a new student affairs position in July, after being at my previous institution (and alma mater) for the previous 5 years. It has been a whirlwind of a semester, and in the spirit of the end of the year I’ve written my own Top 5 list of things that I’ve learned.
1. Understanding students is not a universal ability. At my previous institution, my rapport with students became second nature. It was really easy to relate with students and start a conversation, even about challenging situations or topics. In my new position, though, it has been a challenge for me to connect with students. I’m still learning about our students and what makes them unique. I’ve been second guessing my skills in this area, but it’s getting better as I learn more.
2. Sometimes starting over helps you to remember what it’s like to be a student again. I’m not exaggerating when I say this: I think I enjoyed orientation as much as our new first-year students. It was invigorating for me to learn many of the traditions at my new campus. I spent the first few weeks of school with the same nervous feeling in my stomach that I had when I started college as a student. It may sound silly, but not knowing acronyms or where buildings are really helped me put some of my work with residence hall students in perspective.
3. Trying something new can be invigorating. I’m not saying I was phoning it in at my old institution, but with time and experience comes the ability to get really comfortable with your tasks and projects. Starting something new, with challenging responsibilities that I am very excited about, has resulted in me feeling energized about my work in a way that makes me excited to go to work each day. I’ve enjoyed applying my critical perspective to my new department (in appropriate ways) and trying lots of new things. It has been refreshing.
4. You’re only as strong as your network of friends and colleagues. One of the best parts of starting this new gig has been the outpouring of support and help from friends and colleagues. I’ve leaned on my contacts regularly for answers and feedback. Knowing that help is only a phone call or tweet away is an awesome safety net, especially when you are doing your best to make a good first impression at the new job.
5. It’s not all about work. Starting over in a new city has helped me to think more about maintaining a sense of balance between work and everything else. With this move I’ve also had the complication of living apart from my partner, which has been difficult to navigate. It would be easy for me to say yes to everything and work 70-hours a week, but I have tried to be disciplined and spend time reconnecting with family and friends in the area, exploring the city, and staying connected to everyone in the town I moved from.
I don’t think that these are lessons that can only be learned by picking up and moving to a new institution. Reach out to students who are outside of your bubble. Take a step back and reconnect with the student experience while forging new relationships with colleagues. Ask to try new things at work (or better yet, start doing the things you are excited about on your ‘someday, maybe’ to-do list). And perhaps most importantly, keep things in perspective and surround yourself with the people and activities that bring balance to your life. Happy holidays!