First year on the job

My last post was Jan 5, 2018, which was during the winter break between the Fall and Spring semesters. Now almost five months later, I’ve finished the Spring semester and thus my first year in my tenure-track job at George Mason. As my decreased posting frequency should tell you, I’ve been extremely busy this year getting oriented to my 3/3 teaching load (3 courses in each semester, Fall and Spring) and my new environs.

These next three days, I’m participating in a lovely Faculty Writing Retreat that Mason has put on. After each day concludes at 5pm, I’ll write up a short blog post with my observations reflecting on the 2017–2018 school year (today’s topic), my goals for Summer 2018, and my goals for the next year. Which brings us to my current topic: how I’ve grown in my first year on the job. They’re all interrelated, and I think they all come from the kind of inevitable boost in maturity and confidence that your first big-time job can sometimes slap into you.

1. I have learned to be far more assertive.

I know, I was already pretty assertive—in some ways. But as the saying goes, I contain multitudes, and I was simultaneously fearful or insecure in certain other ways. As a harmless example: I’ve always had anxiety about asking food service people for various accommodations, for fear of seeming high maintenance. But here’s the thing—who cares if a server thinks you are high maintenance? I’m not rude, and I tip well, so I’m not mistreating anyone here. If the waiter complains about me to their coworkers when they go to the back of the house, who cares? I don’t need to be friends with that person. Not every person in the world needs to like me.

Translating this example throughout my life, I’ve really started to take notice when I use the words “sorry” or “just,” especially in writing emails. As many people have observed, this is something that especially women tend to do to minimize the space they take up with their opinions. I think it also comes a bit from the student mentality of subservience to our professors, and all PhDs have been students for a loooong time, so it takes a while to shake off. There’s no need to apologize for making a reasonable request of anyone, whether at work or out and about.

2. I have learned to be (more) okay with letting tasks wait to be finished and saying things are “good enough.”

This whole year, I’ve been running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and I made about a billion mistakes in various ways. Old Me would probably ruminate on these failures for days. Now though, I won’t have the brain space to relax at all if I obsess over all the things I can’t fix.

So New Me has started to notice when I’m going into these anxiety spirals. (It only took what, 5 years of therapy, reading, meditation, and medication? It’s that easy! ha.) And I’ve learned to stop and give myself a reality check. “Does this mistake matter? Will anyone really notice if I don’t do this right now? Am I really the person who needs to volunteer for this service activity, or can I let someone else handle it so that I can keep my head on straight? Lesson plans and assignments can always be improved—but isn’t this good enough for right now?”

3. BOUNDARIES.

I made a choice a while back to value my own free time and time spent with my family (“family” is perhaps a generous term when what I’m referring to is really my husband and cats). I really try to stop working at 5 or so, like most full-time people do, so that I can chill and hang out with my favorite non-/humans. Of course I could get more done if I worked at all hours, but there is no need, and plenty of negative consequences.

I’ve taken a few concrete measures to establish good boundaries with myself and with others who need me.

I leave my work at work. I have a separate personal computer to use at home; I leave my work computer at work. I don’t bring home grading (usually). If I have to work, I have to go into my office. When I am at home, I am relaxing. I don’t have to schlep my stuff all over the place this way, so it’s good for my back, and plus it’s good to be visible in my office.

While my work email does go to my phone, I disable notifications for it, and put it on the back page of my apps. I don’t need my daily tasks interrupted by emails. I told my students that I don’t really do email on the nights and weekends, and I generally hold to that. I never write lengthy responses on my phone—anything that needs a lengthy response can wait until morning, or Monday. (For a little while I tried not having it on my phone at all, but… let’s be real, that’s not practical.)

I set up a schedule for myself and stick to it, including scheduling meetings with students. Okay, to be honest, I didn’t abide by this one too well, but I tried to. For me, teaching-brain is totally different than research-brain. If I try to switch between them, teaching-brain takes over completely and I end up feeling frustrated that I can’t write. I like to schedule student meetings late in the day, when my mental energy for research has waned anyway, and when I can simply go home early if the student ends up being a no-show. I started respecting my own research time and not meeting with students earlier in the day. It worked out just fine! Next year to handle student meetings even more efficiently, I’m going to try out using SignUpGenius—but I’ll talk about that more in a future post.

So, I have noticeably more grey hair now than I did a year ago (seriously—I wish I had taken a before and after photo). But now that I’ve wound down from the stress of the year, I’m looking back on it and seeing that it was pretty successful, and a good experience for me to boot. Now, on to the summer!

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