I felt so inspired and motivated after the #SAgrad chat tonight that I began some great reflection on my time as a grad. So naturally, I decided to take my Twitter posts further and continue the conversation into my blog tonight.
I am so thankful for this community. Being a graduate student is hard work, but I’m thankful that I am entering a profession that provides so much love and support and a chance to reflect, connect, experience, and learn before I earn my “professional” status. Every day I become more thankful that I have these two trial years to challenge, fail, grow, and learn before taking on more responsibilities. Not every profession provides that.
This summer has been an amazing opportunity to reflect on year one and prepare for year two. I am so lucky to be an #SAgrad, and here are some of the reasons that make it so great:
You’re allowed to make mistakes. And guess what? It’s okay.
I am positive that this point was the hardest concept to grasp my first year. Growing up as an extremely competitive perfectionist, I always felt that a failure or disappointment was the end of the world. It was shocking how much a mistake could completely tear down my entire mood (let’s be real, it still can). I made a huge mistake my first week on my job (even though it was more of a miscommunication about my on-boarding schedule) and my immediate thought was This is it… the first week and they probably already want to fire me. Guess what? I still have my job. And guess what else? I have made a lot of mistakes since then. But guess what else? I have a long list of mistakes I will not make this upcoming year. I forget a lot of times that the mistakes are okay, as long as you learn from them. We have all heard how the only real mistakes are the ones where you don’t learn anything. As long as you are trying and learning, it’s okay to make the mistakes. How else are we going to learn? Where’s the challenge if you never try? I think I sometimes get so caught up in being a “perfect professional” that I forget I’m a student too, which brings me to my next point…
You get to be a professional, but you get to be a student too.
Okay, this one is a blessing and a curse. I like to joke with my friends about how excited I am to finally be a professional soon, but how scared I am to no longer be in my “grad bubble” where I can wave my wand of “oops, grad mistake!” and quickly move on. Granted, I am blessed with an amazing graduate assistantship with the most fantastic supervisor ever who is the perfect balance of challenging, supporting, encouraging, relatable, and most importantly, trusting. I have the ideal graduate experience of gaining responsibility to work independently on our mini team of two, but still having her by my side during every challenge, dilemma, or unpredicted issue (which in student programming is practically every event!). However, there are definitely struggles with being a graduate student. My biggest challenge is having the responsibility of an organization and for students without the authority to always make the final decisions. While I’m fortunate to often be able to speak up and have my opinion heard, at the end of the day I am still just a graduate student in a non-perfect situation and have to just accept things the way they are. At the end of the day, a professional staff member trumps my graduate assistant recommendation even if they’re not my direct supervisor. Some days I just feel all the stress of school, work, social life, family matters, personal struggles, and more that I just feel overwhelmed.
One day I got news that an old student of mine (I directed the middle school show choir with my mom while I was in high school) had passed away due to cancer. The next month, another student died by suicide. At work I just had a complete melt down in my supervisor’s office. While she talked to me and consoled me, I felt more guilt for having break down at work than I felt sad for my friends or overwhelmed. I had a lot going on in my life, and it was okay that I needed to process it, but I let the guilt add to the weight of my emotions. I felt like I had to be perfect and couldn’t show weakness at work. I had to be “professional” and couldn’t be having “student” like mental breakdowns. But I am allowed to do both because I am both. Putting this extra pressure on myself to be perfect was just hurting me more. After that moment, I became a lot better at separating when I needed to be a professional and when I needed to be a student. Once I started identifying this difference in my daily schedule, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It’s not that I would lower my values, my actions, or my morals, but I would simply stop putting unnecessary pressure on myself when I really DID have a lot going on. And how cool that sometimes I get to take off my “professional” hat and just enjoy being a student for a little bit* longer. (*Little bit being 10 more months, but who is counting?)
I once had a friend give me the advice of “Be A 10” and honestly it is probably the best advice I received all year. One time I was venting frustrations about how I felt I wasn’t good enough at my job. He asked if a student had every come in to talk to me outside of a meeting, and I said yes. He asked if a student had every asked me for advice or talked to me about a personal issue, and I said yes. He asked if a student had ever asked me for a favor or thanked me for my work, and I said yes. He made the point that I had made a difference in those student’s lives already, and they trusted me enough to engage outside of 1:1s or events. He had me reflect on the many GAs that I interacted with when I was an undergrad and I remembered how many of them made such a positive difference in my life. He told me, “Amanda, your students need you. So no matter how bad of a day you are having or what else is going on, you have to Be A 10 for your students, because you’re making a bigger difference in their life than you know.” That conversation resonated with me stronger than I would have ever expected. I can make mistakes and I can have bad days but I need to always give my best. For them.
Disclaimer to the point above: it’s okay to “be a student” some days. It’s okay if you have bad days. Hopefully you have a supervisor like mine that you can be 110% honest with and explain when you are having those hard days. However, #BeA10 really changed my perspective on my bad days (context point: this conversation on #BeA10 was after the breakdown mentioned above, hence why I felt like I wasn’t doing well enough). You can have bad days, but that does not give me an excuse to not do my best. I can have bad days, but don’t let my students see. But if I do let them see, I need to be real and raw. Why don’t I want them to see? Because I want to be the foundation for them. Nothing is worse than going to talk to someone about a bad day and them breaking down with worse news. It makes you feel like your problems aren’t worth it, right? I would never want that for my students. At the same time though, I want to lead by example. If I am real and raw and they see me battle my challenges and overcome it in a healthy way, then hopefully they will see that I am human with struggles but I can successfully overcome them so they can too.
I wrote #BeA10 on my mirror in my bathroom. Every morning I would look at it while getting ready and be reminded of my passion and my purpose. Not only that, but it reminded me why I love to do what I do. I’m here my students. I’m here to support them. I’m here to advise them. I’m here for them. And if I can challenge myself every morning to #BeA10 and be the best advisor that I can be, then I am sure to have a good day.
You have a community of hundreds of grads that are going through the SAME EXACT STRUGGLES.
If you’re like me, you may usually assume that if you are facing an issue, everyone else in your life has all their stuff completely figured out and you are the only one that is struggling. HAH. I laugh because it is so ridiculous, yet I believe it to be true so often. I cannot express how much relief I feel in hearing two simple words: “me too”. One of the best things to happen during my #SAgrad time is finding the #SAgrad community on Twitter. It may sound silly, but it honestly has been such a relief to find an uplifting and support community that is there for the “me too” moments in my grad adventure. I can’t solve every problem and I don’t have every answer. But often times, someone else does. And when none of us have an answer, we simply find comfort in “me too” and know that we will work through the challenge together. I sometimes think we feel like we have to prove ourselves by doing something alone, which everything we have every learned really proves that we are better when we are together. I am so thankful for the community I have found and the friends I am making. I love the insight and inspiration that these fellow grads (and young SA pros) are willing to share. If I could collect every individual I have interacted with during those chats and put them all in the same university, I would be in heaven but I would never do it. I am thankful to have a diverse community with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives that relate to my issues but provide new insights that I never would have discovered on my own. But the coolest part of this community? Who knows which of these members will be my colleagues in the future. And that excites me more than anything.
I am here to help you.
Please reach out if there is any support I can provide you. I would love to hear ideas for future blogs. I hope that this blog can be as much of an external processing/reflection process for myself as it can be a tool or relatable piece for you. If you have any ideas you can comment, email me, or tweet me using @amanda_koslow .
Happy Sunday, friends. I hope you have a wonderful week.
quote of the day: “Be A 10”