I started my new position as a resident director at Portland State University about two and a half weeks ago. The first week was a whirlwind of training, shaking hands, learning new technology and terms, and meeting new staff members and campus partners. These past couple of weeks have been a little looser in structure, so I’ve been taking the time to continue meeting PSU campus partners, reading up on institution-specific manuals and documents, and preparing for the next big thing: RA fall training!
One of my favorite parts of the past few weeks so far has been learning about the many different resources that are here to support and enhance the student life at PSU. I’ve met some very passionate professionals, and I’m enthused to begin collaborating with them to engage the students in my building here on the residential side of campus life. This aspect of my job is something I’m also looking forward to the most: developing strong relationships with resources across campus. One of the aspects of residential life that is most dear to my heart is its interdisciplinary approach to education. I’ve met with the Disability Resource Center, the Veterans Resource Center, the Queer Resource Center, and will also be meeting others, in the future, from the Women’s Resource Center and the Enrollment Management and Student Affairs team. I’m very excited as the educational programming and community development opportunities that lie ahead.
There are, too, a few things I haven’t expected: there have been some major ups and downs to living alone and starting out as a new professional. Relocating involved some major costs. My new apartment came unfurnished, so I had to purchase some basic furniture items– and never would I have expected furniture to cost so much, even at the bare minimum! I’m a week away from my first paycheck (yay!), but I’m still finding it difficult not to spend money on buying food and groceries. I had money saved since I did have a few previous jobs, but even then, it’s not easy suddenly being independent. Fortunately, working in residential life, I can forgo paying rent and utilities– whew!
The hardest adjustment so far, beyond the financial hardship, has been the emotional hardship. Having been through a whole slew of jobs before coming here, I’m used to having some minimal level of competency in what I do but I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into this mild imposter syndrome which, WikiPedia explains, is “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” Perhaps, I’ve thought before, it’s the shakiness of the transition from being a student to a professional staff member. I wonder to myself: is this easier for those who are graduate students, making this transition, having a network of support and a background of preparing to face these kinds of situations?
As I’m settling into my new office–which is awesome, by the way– I feel more and more restless, unaccomplished and incompetent even, with every passing day where I’m unable to get anything done (or so it feels). I’ve reached out to my new supervisor (who is delightful, by the way) and we’ve talked over some of the things I’ve been feeling– lonely, needing a bit of support as a professional– and she has provided me with positive thoughts, but I still can’t seem to shake this feeling: what am I here for, and what am I doing here? Do I really belong here? A part of me wants so bad to sink my teeth into this position, to get change started, to get excited about student development, community development, meeting new people and learning new things and developing as a professional– but an equal part of me doesn’t feel like I belong here yet. At all.
From so many years of being in school and putting such high standards on myself, I realize that some of this may simply be that I’m being too hard on myself but I also know that I’m capable of so much, yet I’m not living up to that standard. I want to be involved and integrated already. I want to belong and be valued. I’m trying to create opportunities for myself to be involved, but if there’s already an existing underlying structure where my role has been defined for me already– what is there for me to do?
As I’m wrapping up this post, I’m starting to see that I’ve been coming off very negatively, but I’ll let you know that most of these feelings are probably attached to something else personally. For most of my life, a great proportion of my fulfillment has been attached to work and academic achievement; I’m very much used to some external affirmation that I’m doing something right. Having that structure vanish in the matter of two or three weeks is hard to cope with, so, to clarify, this isn’t an institution-specific problem, but something I’m personally struggling with. I live a long distance away from my partner–one of my best friends– and I don’t have the support or family network here that I used to. Without school in the picture, I’ve been struggling the energy or drive to find new hobbies outside of work. On most days, I wake up, go to work, and come back home, unmotivated to take myself out on the town or involve myself with productive things, like writing or even taking a trip downtown (again, money problem). I’ve been taking naps, watching TV and reading, and moping.
Having reflected on what seems to be in front of me, I’ve brainstormed a few things I could do that might help. If you have had a similar experience, or want to share your thoughts with me, I’d be grateful just to have a bit of company.
- Define a schedule / goals for yourself at the beginning of each day and block out specific amounts of times dedicated to completing self-assigned tasks (e.g. brainstorming staff meeting topics, ice breakers, and team building activities).
- Spend time each day, or each week, getting to know a different or new campus resource; attend campus events.
- Seek professional development opportunities, such as workshops and webinars.
- Challenge yourself to find something new to do (or to eat or drink) in the city of Portland at least three times a week.
- Write letters or update your blog more often to help externalize and process your thoughts and feelings.
- Find something to be happy for or excited about each day (see #100happydays).
- Begin decorating your office; surround yourself with positive thoughts and feelings.
- Cut down on the caffeine so you stop crashing in the middle of the day. Sleep is essential. As I’m sitting here and listening to my body, my eye feels tired and dry and I’m dehydrated. I should probably fix these things.
- Find opportunities for yourself to continue your learning! As someone who is interested in diversity and gender issues, student conduct (this is recent, but I’m particularly excited about this one), educational programming, and student development, I could definitely use the time to find more articles and readings on these topics to better inform my future work.