Discovering my Place in the Universe: What I Learned from my First Professional Job

“We promise you discovery: the discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe, and your place in it.”

— Sister Madeleva Wolff, CSC;  Former President of Saint Mary’s College

I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since I wrote a blog post! Where has time gone? I find it harder to believe that I’m in my final month of employment at my first professional job. I don’t think I’ve fully grasped the fact that this is the last week I will see many of my students after they leave for finals. Or that I only have next week to spend with my RA staff. Regardless, I have gained so much from the past 3 years at Saint Mary’s College, and I thought it would be great to reflect on the things I’ve learned from my first Student Affairs job.

Sometimes you need to move away to find yourself.

Moving to a new state was one of the most difficult, yet positive experiences of my life. I have grown more in independence & confidence throughout the past 3 years both professionally & personally. I also learned how to create my support system & build new connections, which was challenging at times. I recommend that everyone moves away from home for a period of time at least once in their lives.

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Create traditions that you can carry on to other institutions.

I have created so many traditions that I want to carry over into my future GA Area Coordinator position. Reflect on some of the traditions that your college HD or other SA professional has done for you when you were a student & use that to develop your own traditions. I personally give my RA staff a pen, notebook, & welcome letter in their rooms as they arrive to campus for the year. I also do a “Treasure Chest” affirmation activity during staff meetings & make baked goods for my RAs once in a while. Reflect on what you love & bring that to your student staff.

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My lovely RA staff from this year! 

Accept your mistakes.

It is important to own up to mistakes that you make on the job. I’ve learned that people value you more when you’re willing to accept your mistakes and own up to it. Being real goes a long way.

Wear ALL the hats.

As a new professional, it is important to reflect on some things that you may be interested and ask to help when you can. Sometimes it’s not always easy to find your niche/passion areas in Student Affairs, which is why it’s awesome to have an institution that allows you to step in and get experience in other offices. I would have never realized that I was passionate about doing Violence Prevention Work on the side if I didn’t agree to get Green Dot Certified. Chaperoning events & showing up to student programs are also great ways to get involved in the community.

Find your ways of practicing Self-Care EARLY.

Working in Student Affairs/Higher Ed is super stressful at times, which is why it’s important to figure out what works for you early on. Remember that it is NOT selfish to take care of yourself first. Once you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to take care of others. I like to take walks, go to yoga classes, & cook breakfast for myself. Also remember that the things that work for others may not work for you.

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Be open to new things, especially during your job search.

When I was looking at institutions for my first job, I had never imagined that I would end up at an all-female institution. When I arrived on campus, I just had a feeling that this was meant to be. Focus on whether or not it is a good fit for you during interviews & don’t be afraid to trust your gut at times. Things will work out in the end & you will always grow from the experience no matter what.

Learn how to say no.

As a new professional, it’s hard to say no to people who ask for help. Remember, that it is ok to say no to things because it’s easy to experience burnout in our field. At the beginning, I struggled to say no to anything. I slowly but surely learned that I wasn’t able to take on everything. Keep this in mind early if you can.

Delegate tasks appropriately when you can.

During my first year, I felt the need to take on everything in my building or with departmental projects. I quickly learned that I could delegate to my RA staff when it was appropriate & also ask coworkers to tag team events with me. Don’t be afraid to delegate. Inevitably by delegating, you are helping others to grow by providing some ownership & leadership for important tasks. By providing this leadership, you are helping them to grow just as much as they are helping you.

Be vulnerable.

I learned that being vulnerable and real with my students is the key component to building genuine relationships. It’s ok to share stories about yourself with your students. Let them know who you are & most importantly, that you are also a real person. This will help with building understanding with them, especially when you need some flexibility on their end.

Learn time management skills if you don’t have them already.

I learned more time management skills more during my first year of employment than I ever did as an undergraduate student. Learn what works for you in your office. How much time do you need to delegate for each task? What organization skills do you need to develop to get done with your work? Learn what works for you & your productivity.

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I’ve grown so much from my first professional job & I hope that everyone else can say the same. No matter where you end up professionally, remember to take time to reflect on the lessons you learn along the way. I can’t wait to move forward into Graduate school & my GA Position next year with the experiences & lessons I’ve learned here at SMC. Remember to focus on how you want to grow from your employer & what steps you can take along the way to get where you want to go.

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One thought on “Discovering my Place in the Universe: What I Learned from my First Professional Job”

  1. Excellent, Angela! I’m always so proud of you! Your experience at St. Mary’s is so positive and you’ll reflect on those memories as you launch your next adventure! Remember that you never stop learning and surround yourself with people that bring out the best in you!!
    Love you, Aunt Donna

    Liked by 1 person

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