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New Professional in a Pandemic: What I Learned in my First Year

New Professionals and Graduate Students New Professional
November 8, 2021 Ashley Rose Marino

I got my first full-time job as a health communications professional in the middle of a global pandemic. Talk about timing, am I right?

Being a new professional and navigating my first full-time job while also, you know, balancing my physical health and mental sanity, was a task I would wish on no one else. Difficult as it was, it was also the period of my life where I experienced a transformational amount of growth.

Here’s a short dive into what I learned about balance over my first year as a health communications professional in the middle of a (hopefully) once in a lifetime pandemic.

  1. Take time for yourself

If nothing else, please pay attention to this one and heed my advice. You’ll be pulled in 90 different directions daily as a new professional. And you’ll want to do it all because it seems like everyone else is on 14 committees, has the time for daily sunrise yoga, and is presenting at every conference under the sun. If they can manage all that, you should be able to do the same, right?

Well, not exactly. You need rest. We all need rest.

If you don’t, you’ll burn yourself out in 2 months and your body will force you to rest. It’s much better to figure out what you need and respect what your body is telling you rather than pushing yourself too much.

Prioritize the things in your life that refresh you. Go to therapy. Take a Jiu-Jitsu class. Find a new coffee shop and write some poetry. Whatever it is that you need, whether that be connection, peace, solitude, understanding, or just plain fun, be sure to seek that out and listen to your needs.

  1. Set Boundaries

No, really. Boundaries aren’t just for relationships with your partner anymore; they’re for relationships with your work, too.

Setting boundaries with coworkers is absolutely encouraged. Don’t want to disclose why you’re taking personal time in the afternoon? You don’t have to. Don’t want to attend that optional team lunch when you’d much rather sit and read a book during your lunch hour? You can do that, too. 

In addition to setting comfortable boundaries with coworkers, you’ll want to set boundaries with your work. Can you set time in the evenings and weekends aside to where you don’t answer work emails? I challenge you to take a deep dive into your own work habits to see how often you’re engaging in work affairs on your personal time.

  1. Take your out of office

It will literally always be the “busy season” in student affairs. Don’t let anyone fool you. There’s never a perfect time to go on that Alaskan cruise or to visit your family. Because there will never be a perfect time, that means you just need to make a decision to take your out of office when it feels right to you.

Of course, if you are in charge of a major event or awareness week and you dip out in the middle of it… that’s not cool. Don’t be that person. But do be the person that gives your coworkers enough notice if taking a full week off so that everyone can plan ahead and accordingly.

A lot of times, we let our lives revolve around our work. Be sure to remember that your work is a part of you, not the entirety of you. Taking even a day of staycation in your own town can do wonders to refresh you.

  1. You can’t do it all alone

This one was the toughest pill to swallow. You naturally want to impact the lives of every student you come across. But you’re one person. You can’t change the culture of an institution alone. Your work is important and it matters. But it’s not the job of one person to do it all.

It’s freeing knowing that you can do the things within your control to the best of your ability, but if something lies beyond that, it’s okay. You have permission to say that something is too much for you to take on yourself.

In the words of Leif, my favorite non-playable character in Animal Crossing New Horizons, “you gotta do what makes you happy”.

For most of us, working in student affairs is what we’re passionate about. Even if we love what we do, higher education can be extremely demanding on your mind, body, and soul. If I’ve learned anything over my first year, I’ve learned it’s time that we as new professionals set a new standard of prioritizing ourselves before we give everything we have to serve others. 

Author: Ashley Rose Marino (she/her) currently works as the Program Manager for Communications, Marketing, & Design for the Risk Intervention & Safety Education (RISE) Department at Texas Tech University. She graduated from Baylor University in 2016 with her Bachelor of Arts with concentrations in Psychology, Sociology, and ASL Interpreting. While there, she became a member of Phi Beta Kappa Zeta of Texas and was a leader on the quidditch team. During the pandemic of 2020, she virtually graduated from Texas Tech University with her Master of Science in Environmental Design and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Innovation with a focus in Advanced Digital and Social Media from Texas Tech University.

Ashley is the creative director of RISE, leading multi-faceted campaigns (backed by stats and science) to best communicate healthy lifestyles to the TTU and Lubbock communities. She believes the best way to connect is by meeting people where they are, which includes a heavy emphasis on communications via social media and using digital spaces to cultivate communities of support for college populations.