It was this past spring, with my slightly overpriced convention center eatery panini in hand,that I scoured the halls of the convention center looking for a place to rest my feet for a minute while inhaling my lunch. At a national conference like NASPA, a spare seat is hard to come by in those busy break periods in between sessions, but after taking an escalator to a lower level, I founds some freedom from the hustle and bustle of networking and last minute program planning.
I eyed an open seat next to a young gentlemen who looked like he needed a breather as much as I did from the craziness upstairs of our large national conferences. We got the classic conference niceties out of the way, where we were from, where we worked, how long we’d been in our respective gigs, you know, the usual conference conversation warm up topics.
We quickly found we both worked in student activities. I had just transitioned to a new institution after two years earning my stripes as a new professional and my break time buddy was getting close to wrapping up his first year in the ranks after grad school. Our conversation about our roles contained the usual compare and contrast, how many organizations we worked with and how big our staffs were, the usual things student activities banter. But with our shared experience as relatively new and young people to field, our conversation took a different tone. In between bites of my panini, we shared our challenges and frustrations with our jobs, things we wanted to work on, things we felt our offices could work do better. We bounced back ideas and talked about the limitations of OrgSync verse CollegiateLink, basically geeking out ok student activities topics. We go to national conferences like these so we can have these exact conversations with other people who get it. As we wrapped up and I wiped my hands, my break time buddy had a closing thought about changes he wanted to make within his office but quickly dismissed what I thought were great ideas with a curt, “What do I know, I’m just the new guy.” With that we shook hands, swapped business cards and trotted off to our next session.
But his last remark stuck with me.
“Just the new guy.”
I venture to say we are doing something wrong in our profession when new professionals feel like they have less to contribute, that our ideas are less then because they aren’t seasoned with years of experience. Maybe we are a little green, coming fresh out of our grad programs, but that fresh set of eyes and eager beaver attitude can bring innovation, change and challenge to the way things have always been done, we can and want to make things better!
As a young, new male professional, I have been “just the new guy” twice in the past three years with a recent transition to a new institution. I fully embrace that fact that I don’t know everything and I challenge those around me to teach me as much as they know and welcome their perspective and knowledge.
But don’t hesitate for a second in thinking I am not trying to leave my own mark and bring in my experience and my knowledge for the betterment of what we are all trying do to collectively. Yes, I have only recently arrived on to student affairs scene. Yes, the number of years I have as a pro are less than the fingers I have on one hand. Yes, I wear skinny khakis and hipster looking glasses. And yes, the landscape that grew up in, that brought me to this field may have been drastically different than yours, but NO, I am not “just the new guy.”
I don’t know if my new friend’s comment meant anything, if he really felt like he lacked the clout to be a game changer on his team, but the fact that he said it…that was enough for me to write this blog post months later. It’s tough being the new kid on the block, coming in as a new professional, still trying to find your niche in the profession. So I think it is important that we ask ourselves what kind of cultures fostering in our work places? How are we supporting our newest members of the team and are we giving them space to take risks and make moves or relegating them to their comfort zones because they are too new? So ask yourself that question the next time you are about to onboard someone in your organization.
Will he feel like “just the new guy?”
> BONUS <
Podcast With Tony Doody on Unconventional Leadership