A little over a month into my graduate classes I found myself on the phone with one of my mentors. September had felt like a huge mess of not knowing what exactly I should be doing while everyone was telling me to do more. I felt I was learning a lot but didn’t feel like I wasn’t accomplishing enough.
“I just don’t know if I’m making an impact!” I sighed over the phone.
Many of us found our way to Student Affairs because we were deeply involved at our undergraduate institution. But think back, how long did it take you to get involved? It probably took longer than a month or even two. I know I didn’t become deeply involved at my undergraduate institution until I became an orientation leader during my sophomore year. It took me a full year to figure out the landscape and culture at my undergrad. In order to make an impact it’s important to first have an understanding of the institution so you know how to use your strengths to fill a need. So, why did I feel so pressured to be making an impact right now?
Perhaps, it’s because there seems to be shouting from all sides to make the most of being a graduate student. Seemingly constant pressure to get involved as much as possible as fast as possible leads to a whole bunch of grad students who feel like they’re sinking instead of swimming. Everyone is telling us to jump on in, which signals to us that we should know what we’re doing. But we don’t. We can’t possibly know how we can best utilize our strengths before knowing the landscape and the culture. And the thing I’ve been missing, along with many of my fellow SA Grads, is no one actually expects us to.
When I told my mentor that I wasn’t sure I was making an impact, he immediately countered with “that’s not your job right now. Your job right now is to observe.”
I felt like I had been thrown a life preserver so I could finally stop frantically treading water and slow down for a second. I was so caught up in everyone telling me to get involved that I didn’t stop to think about what my role as a grad actually was. Just like in my classes that sometimes seem to be endless readings, being a grad is about gathering information. Observing and using the information we’ve gathered to serve our students and institutions.
We don’t have much time as grads. We are told to get involved, jump on in. But no one is quite asking us to swim yet. It’s about getting to know the water, watching other people in the pool and seeing how they swim. Getting advice on how not to sink. Taking a couple strokes when we see an opportunity and then asking for feedback. We may not feel like we’re making any progress at first and that’s okay.
Our role as graduate students is not to make an impact right now or doing as many things as we possibly can, but to put ourselves in positions to observe as much as possible and ask questions. The information we gather now will serve us for the rest of our careers. It’s not about swimming yet, it’s time to test out the water and learn all we can before we have to take those first strokes on our own.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Quint Geis on #SAGrad, Life, and Job Searching