As semester schools begin settling into the start of the fall semester, and quarter schools prepare for opening their halls and campuses, we may find ourselves struggling through a bit of transition into new roles, new communities, new supervisors, and new institutions. This cyclical transition finds many new professionals beginning their first full-time position, and former RAs entering graduate school and starting assistantships. It is important to take a moment, however brief, to reflect and prepare your approach to this academic year.
It is likely you have questioned your own worth, value, preparation, etc. and have even felt some imposter syndrome creeping into your psyche. You might be questioning your own abilities and feeling like a ‘fraud’ or imposter in your role and/or department–or perhaps even the field of student affairs itself. For so many of us transitioning upward this year, you probably came from a place where you felt more confident; you’d been there for a period of time and had learned all of the acronyms, policies, hall names, etc. and were familiar with that institution’s style. Now, here you are at a new school, or even a new role at the same school, and are learning all sorts of things in rapid fire succession.
While this can be incredibly overwhelming, I wanted to offer some advice that has helped me move states, regions, and positions to recognize this feeling, address it, and practice some mindfulness with my own emotions. Taking the time to reflect on your feelings in these moments can also help you identify if your reactions to things are presenting as imposter syndrome or are part of a poor workplace environment that does not suit your own style and values.
A practice that I have been consciously working at, is to notice when I am having a strong reaction or big emotion to something. I try to notice it, pause and ask myself a few guiding questions:
- Why am I having this reaction?
- Is it because I believe it will look bad on me if the less-strategic approach is taken? Will this impact me and/or my staff’s work-life integration?
- Is this my problem to solve?
- Do I have to be in charge of everything – nope! Can I allow someone else to take on the follow up of this decision/situation?
- Have I made my points as clear as I’m able?
- If I have done all that I can to present a different option and it is not followed, then I have done my part. I cannot control all of the things, nor does anyone expect me to.
Now…this is wonderful in theory, but certainly as a human it can be challenging to do this every time. I still have strong reactions to things, and feel frustrated or even angry at decisions that seemingly happen in a vacuum. However, even after the fact, I have been better able to release those emotions sooner than before and allow myself to be free of that weight. I have even started practicing mindfulness on my commutes to and from campus. This can have an impact on the rest of my work day.
My first year at my current institution was likely my lowest mental year of my career. I felt like a complete fraud, as though all of the things I had learned and experienced that got me the job swiftly left my brain as soon as I started work. I questioned every decision and impulse I had, that had previously given me confidence to act. Learning a new school after having been at a prior one for over 5 years was incredibly challenging. I had to really begin to think about my learning curve more abstractly: “I didn’t know all of the things I knew at University when I started – it took me 5 years to make those relationships and gather that knowledge”.
How can we expect to perform at the same peak level in our first month (often before residents have even moved onto campus) that we displayed in our final month at a job we’d learned to be successful in? When you think of the knowledge gap in this way it can give you permission to make a mistake, not know the right person to call to fix your voicemail, etc. There exists a natural onboarding phase, so give yourself some grace to simply learn and take it all in. Try to avoid putting on the pressure to avoid asking any questions, or even for assistance when needed to find the answer. That level of expectation to immediately perform in a new environment is not fair to the employee nor the employer.
We are known in residence life to be the “feel good folx” with little kudos, and warm and fuzzy team activities. I have long kept a manila envelope full of these things. I keep thank you cards, OTM nominations, anything that will give me a boost of support when I am feeling low and/or undeserving. These written pump-me-ups can also be supplemented with a quick phone call to a mentor or time with a friend., but I find that quick access to something in my desk drawer has been a comforting reminder that I am capable and deserving, and this has assisted me in recentering my confidence as I struggle through career transitions.
You may have your own additions to this list of tactics for transitioning as well and I hope that you share them with peers and others in the field. It is my belief that as a “helping profession” we often forget to help ourselves and acknowledge some of these challenges that are a natural part of career advancement in any profession. Even if you remained at the same school but transitioned to a new role there are things you didn’t know and/or understand that may cause you to second guess yourself. But know that “this too shall pass” and as you listen, take in the training, manuals, coaching conversations, etc., that you will find your footing in this role too. You got this!