Being New: A Superpower

Jivanto P. van Hemert

August 28, 2017

Starting a new role, moving to a new city, joining a new institution (and, particularly, doing all three simultaneously) is understandably anxiety provoking for many people. I've had countless conversations with new professionals and graduate students over the last couple of months about the challenges of this transitional experience. However, through these conversations, I've realized there is also incredible opportunity within this transitional space—I've outlined a few specific examples of this from my most recent transition (still less than a month fresh, so I feel your pain!), other turning points I've experienced over the years, as well as observations and stories shared with me by others. Fret not, while undeniably challenging, there is inherent and exciting opportunity built into this new experience. You're much stronger than you think you are. Trust me. Rather than becoming paralyzed by all the newness, hopefully this will help you reframe your thinking to consider being new as a series of super powers:  

You have the power to put people 1st:

As I met more people in our field, I quickly realized it is the people of our work that are the most important to me. (In a field as relational as ours is I'm willing to bet I'm not alone). Being new is a fantastic excuse to get to know new people-- students, staff, and faculty alike are all willing to share their experiences and expertise to help the new person. After sending countless "can I buy you a cup of coffee" invitations I can confidently say no one turns this offer down—you can use this to your advantage as you learn the landscape of a new institution. 

In this recent NASPA Blog post, Todd Porter shared some thoughts on the importance of culture with the Small College & University Division that I believe is applicable regardless of the size of your institution. To be sure, making connectedness a priority is a great way to learn about the institution and begin to understand the culture. 

You have the power to be ahead of the game:

When the expectation is that you know (next to) nothing it is amazingly easy to exceed expectations. Think of every meeting as worthy of some preparation; you'll be amazed by the impact a quick search can have. A little research may give you some historical perspective from the institution or a recent news article at another institution entirely. Either way, this approach is effective in two ways; 1. you'll feel more confident going in and 2. everyone will be very impressed you did your research if something you read happens to come up (don't force it, that's obvious and no one likes a know it all).  

You have the power to make an impact—right out of the gate:

You have the power to challenge the status quo, push your office/ department forward, to bring new ideas with you, to breathe life into programs that have grown tired. You have tangible and specific experiences that are wanted in this space (that's why they hired you). Justin Zackal warns about the dangers of "faking it till you make it" and the power of owning your imposter syndrome in this recent Inside Higher Ed piece. Know that you are not an imposter; you were hired for a reason. You have tangible experiences that are wanted by your new institution AND you simultaneously have things to learn.  

You have the power to learn:

This one bears repeating. You have the power to learn in every single moment! What could be more exciting for folks that have dedicated themselves to developing and honing educational experiences? You can learn about the institution, colleagues, best practices, the field, new perspectives, and more in nearly every moment of a new role. Use this power, pay attention, and soak up all that your new institution has to offer. Take note of the way people say things and the things they don’t say as much as what they do—these observations can speak volumes about the person and/or institution if you let them.

You have the power to give grace: 

Start by giving yourself the gift of grace. Be patient—drinking out of a fire hose is exhausting. Be okay with not knowing, this is one of a few times in your life no one will expect you to have (all/ any) answers. Then, share that grace with others—your presence means their work environment has changed significantly as well. Work with them as y’all figure out how this new relationship will take shape.

You have the power to teach people how to treat you:

For better or worse; you've hit the reset button on many of your day-to-day colleagues. Take some time before you begin to reflect on aspects of your interactions that have worked well (or not) in the past and incorporate the relevant changes right out of the gate. Rather than making a dynamic shift with a team that is already used to a way of doing things this new interaction can simply be the new normal. Your new colleagues aren’t mind readers; you'll need to communicate your needs. This will feel more natural to them and many will appreciate you helping them navigate this new relationship.

If you haven't had experience in a workplace yet or are looking for some innovative ideas I suggest you try the concepts of caring personally and challenging directly as outlined in the Radical Candor podcast/ book. I've found it to be a great read/listen in life (particularly as I intergrade into a new office).  

You have the power to be a person outside of your (day-to-day) work:

We see and hear about folks in our field struggling with the work/life balance/integration phenomenon/struggle regularly. Set yourself up for success and take this opportunity to build in your self-care from the beginning! Ensuring you are fulfilled outside of work is just as important as being satisfied in your professional role. Volunteer; engage with the local community; meet people that aren’t colleagues; be human.     

Moreover, you have the power to own your professional life outside of your day-to-day work. Know that your professional development is your responsibly. While it's great to have a supervisor that cares about your development, at the end of the day committing to this continued growth (or not) will have far more impact on your life than theirs. Find professional association(s) that align with your interests (I particularly enjoyed Tara Milliken's reflections on this point in this Student Affairs Collective piece), name a direction (if not a specific goal), and intact tangible steps to head in that direction.  

Enjoy your newfound powers, super-colleagues. 

Do you have thoughts on this blog post? Share them with us on Facebook @NPGSKC, on Twitter @npgs_kc, or on Instagram @npgs_kc!

Jivanto P. van Hemert (He/Him/His) is an Area Coordinator at the University of Dayton and serves as NASPA's Membership Coordinator for the State of Ohio. Jivanto did his undergraduate work and a Master of Business Administration at Salve Regina University (Newport, RI). Most recently, he completed a Master of Education at Ohio University where he served as the Graduate Assistant for Student Government. Tell him about your super powers on twitter at #TalkNPGSTuesday and@Jivanto or via email [email protected].

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