Transitioning to another job can have one of two immediate effects – satisfaction and excitement over a new city, new responsibilities, and new opportunities, or an immediate panic that this may have been the wrong move. This article will focus on the latter, as it is a terrifying place to find yourself in. There is a sense of feeling trapped, as it would appear incredibly unprofessional to resign shortly (within 3 months) after accepting the position. In general, student affairs is a very accepting group, and usually goes above and beyond to make a new hire feel welcome. It can make one feel all the more guilty when it’s already in one’s mind that this is not the place for them. I’ll skip over “things to look for or ask in an interview” as a preventative measure, because for as much due diligence as one may do beforehand, bad decisions will be made, and one needs to learn how to deal with them, personally and professionally.
So what do you do?
1.Identify what’s making you unhappy.
If it’s the town you’re living in, try to find towns nearby (60-80 minute driving distance at most) so you can get away. If you’re someplace remote, without a lot nearby, you’re going to have to push to find at least a few places you can identify with for the time being. For example, If you like to work out – find a gym you like. If you go to church regularly – find a place of worship you can go to regularly. If you need stuff to do – find what interests you, even if you have to literally drive around town going in and out of establishments until you find one that’s right for you. This is a matter of damage control at this point.
2. Talk about it with your supervisor, early.
You’ll always need to give the transition process some due diligence before stating to your supervisor your unhappiness, but what’s most important about the conversation is how it’s framed. In most cases, a supervisor wants to support you in any way you can, within reason, so you’ll need to be clear in terms of what you need to help you through the transition process. If you usually keep things in and deal with it on your own, you need to stop it. Even if this part isn’t figured out yet, it’s still good professional practice to approach the conversation as, “I’ve been having a difficult time with this transition. I’m not quite sure yet how to pinpoint what may be the issue, but I wanted to let you know it’s something I’m working on while not letting it affect my work performance to the best of my abilities.” Honesty and forthrightness, communicated eloquently are very valuable attributes in a SAPro.
3. Make a connection.
At every stop, there’s at least one other person you can connect to. It may be more or less difficult given the culture of the institution, demographic of faculty/staff, or size of the institution, but there’s at least one. You need to find that one. They will keep you from total unhappiness or loneliness on the job, for as long as you’re there. It wasn’t until I started to sharing my struggles with a colleague at my last institution that I got to a place where I could continue doing the work I was doing, but after she left, I never found another person, and thus lost a component of anchor keeping me rooted there. It can’t be stressed enough, the importance of finding your person in an unsatisfying situation
Wrong job moves can be depressing situations, but progress is rarely a road paved on a straight path. Do what you need to do for the time being, and stay invested one day at a time. If you focus too much on the big picture, and the implications of a bad choice determine your happiness, you’re not going to survive. Fight for your survival.