I’m sitting in an office that clearly has not been used in a good long while. Who was doing this work before I got here? Shoot…I don’t know what I am doing! Who is going to do it now???
We talk about onboarding our new staff, helping them to feel welcomed and oriented. We host socials to introduce them to their colleagues, send them to trainings, and leave lovely coffee mugs or t-shirts with their new schools’ logo so they can feel like they fit in. We do regular check-ins to answer questions, drop in and take people to coffee, and go around the table at staff meetings asking everyone to share one thing they wished they knew when they started. There’s announcement emails, and lists of “people to meet,” and new employee breakfasts…it goes on and on. If there is something we do well in student affairs, it’s reaching out to people in order to give support.
All of these things are amazing, and while new employees may feel overwhelmed (particularly us introverts), it really does help to create connection to the community and to the work. All of these things were done for me when I arrived at Oregon State. It was awesome.
But then…well, then we have to DO the JOB.
I’ll never forget how much reading I did when I took my current position. Miles and miles of reading – paper, books, articles, files, reports. I remember how many people I met with. I had no less than 10 post-its with lists of names and departments…three weeks of meeting people and taking meticulous notes. I remember spending a lot of money at the campus coffee shop to sit with my student employees to learn what they did, hoped, wanted – and even more time letting them train me on all of the ins and outs of the office. It was a lot…and with every new bit of information I gleaned I realized there were 10 more that I still needed.
My first “official meeting” in my new role was to insert myself into a capital building process that had been going on for months and secure 2500 square feet to support my program (no pressure). It was my third day on the job. Why did we need that space, and for what? Well…let me get back to you once I figure that out…
Most of the time I learned what to do or not to do by doing the exact opposite. I got very familiar with the feeling of having screwed up in front of groups of people. My students were used to me saying “I don’t know…let’s see if we can find the answer together.”
I share all of this not to make starting a new job sound scary (though if you find it so that’s totally ok – I did), but to share that my experience was a humbling process, and one with a lot of steps. A. Lot. Of. Steps.
We read a position description, dream big, interview hard, and spend a lot of time thinking about how amazing we will be when we start our work. And guess what? We will – but not all at once. It takes time. In my story the mistakes became fewer and farther between (though I think the ones I make now are WAY bigger), I began to have answers (though I often still tell my students I don’t know so I can teach not only the answer but how to find it), and the ideas and dreams I had for the work are now becoming reality.
Here’s a few of things that I think helped me – I hope those who read can also share their thoughts:
– You start at the start, and the start can be hard to stomach. After the rush of being the search committee’s MVP, you have to spend some time on the bench memorizing the plays. Eat some humble pie and put in the time in order to get into the game.
– The people with the knowledge are most often the people who are looking to you for leadership. This is a valuable time for all of you – you will miss having this growth opportunity in your tool kit. I say take advantage. You only truly get to teach by not knowing once.
– Resist the urge to think about the job 24/7. I know I can get obsessed and think about it all the time – particularly when I just moved to a new place and don’t know anyone. This is the time you are creating your work habits. Practice self-care right from the start or it becomes harder to create that space for yourself later on.
– Be kind to yourself. Starting a new job is hard. It’s like trying to eat an elephant. You can’t do it all at once – you have to do it one bit at a time.