In mid-May, I went out for breakfast sandwiches on a Tuesday morning with my counterpart, Damian, to celebrate our one-year anniversary. Exactly one year prior to that day, we entered the office, sat down at our empty desks and collectively thought, “Well, ok. Now what?” So many things have happened personally and professionally over the last year – not all of them good, but all of them meaningful and important. I thought I’d take a moment to examine what my expectations were and what my first year ended up being. Sort of my own little transition theory.
Things that happened just as I thought they would:
Expectation: I’d walk into work everyday excited to be there and do my job.
Reality: Check and check! Even in the middle of registration season or summer enrollment or with a jam-packed schedule of probation meetings, I am glad to be doing the work I do, for the people I do it for, with the people I do it with.
Expectation: I would spend after-work hours reconnecting with people that I wasn’t good about talking to during graduate school because I was “busy.”
Reality: Ok, let’s not underestimate how busy graduate school is, but was that also kind of an excuse for my own laziness? Yes. Have I made the effort to re-forge those bonds? Yes, and I admit I’m surprised that that’s true, but certainly happy about it.
Expectation: I’d encounter colleagues and students what would very much challenge what I believe in and how I approach my job.
Reality: Every. Single. Day. But it’s not a bad thing, even if it can be frustrating at times, because just as the things I think matter, the things they think matter. And being put in positions where I have to navigate the potentially treacherous waters of conflict using instead what I know about empathy and respect makes me a better, more understanding person with stronger relationships with those around me.
Things that happened not at all as I thought they would:
Expectation: For starters, I thought I’d feel like I had more money.
Reality: I’m certainly making far more than I did in graduate school, but based on my diet that’s still currently 78% off-brand cereal, I really don’t feel like I have more money. There are reasons for that – like cost of living in a new area, general expenses going up and whatnot. Of course, I got into this work for the fame and fortune, but I definitely still eat like a grad student.
Expectation: I thought working with students would be so natural.
Reality: Because, obviously, I’ve worked with students before. So why would working with them now be weird or difficult or uncomfortable? I already know everything! No. I didn’t and I don’t. It’s getting better, but it’s still uncomfortable at times.
Expectation: I thought it would be easy to walk into a new job in a new environment and apply everything I learned in graduate school and use all the tools in my tool belt and call upon my mystical SA powers flawlessly.
Reality: No. It takes work to apply that stuff. It takes intentional effort to consider where and when and in what fashion to use my powers. And to remember I have those powers.
Expectation: I thought I’d just stumble into a new community and have lots of friends who wanted to spend time with me.
Reality: Though I received a very warm welcome, my colleagues are not my cohort, and that’s ok. They’re not supposed to be, because they are different people, and our relationship with one another is different. And community needs to be built. It’s not found our stumbled into. I’m proud of what we have together, but it took time to get it to where it is now.
Expectation: I expected to spend hours acquiring and reading new materials to build on the foundation from graduate school. NACADA articles and new books that sounded interesting and recommended readings from colleagues and former classmates and faculty and the like.
Reality: False. I had a 9-month affair with Netflix before I picked up something new to read. I revisited some graduate school materials as a reference prior to that, but I just wasn’t ready for anything new. If you want to know what I learned about SA work, as well as hear some general feminist criticism, after watching the entire series of Friends (twice), please let me know.
(This could be a very long list, but I’ll spare you.)
Things that just didn’t happen at all (yet):
Expectation: I’d find my, like, thing.
Reality: It seems a lot of people around me have their thing – a particular hot topic or issue or some kind of student population that they’ve really zoomed in on as their passion area. Career advising or transfer students or students of color or rural students or the academic probation process. Everybody has something they’re actively pursuing or researching, and I just haven’t found that one thing that’s speaking to me.
Expectation: The job would feel automatic after my newness wore off.
Reality: Not even a little bit (for the most part) because academic advising is a whole lot of things. And the students that come through the door have such different situations that it’s impossible to be automatic. In one day I had a single mom working full-time and going to school trying to choose courses for next semester, followed by a student wanting to drop some courses from his fall schedule because it’s football season and he’d rather have more social time, followed by a student that just lost her dad to a long and drawn-out illness leaving her alone several hundred miles from her extended family and needing to know how she could possibly complete her degree. Nothing automatic here, and I doubt there ever will be. And that’s a good thing.
Expectation: A parade would be thrown to honor my incredible advising skills and the profound impact I have on students.
Reality: I suspect we’re just waiting to see what Matthew Broderick’s availability is, because it certainly wouldn’t be a parade without him. I’d also be ok with leading a spontaneous but choreographed dance number after successfully guiding a student through a seemingly impossible problem.
The learning that has happened over the last year is incredible to me, and I feel like a better and better advisor every day. This adventure that I’ve been on and the people I’ve been on it with will stay with me a long time, and I’m looking forward to what year two will look like. And, howsabout a goal to get me started.
For year 2 I’d like to connect with other academic advisors not currently at my institution in order to learn more about different practices and advising models. I plan to do this by being more actively engaged with NACADA, and spending my time at conferences interacting with people from other schools.
This post is part of the Emerging SA Pro series following 4 awesome people: Meagan, Karyn, Michael, and Alice, 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.