Begin with Confidence In Mind

Most people know my extremely outgoing side – always being social, participating in random activities with no shame (karaoke, costumed events, sometimes both of those combined).  But I am actually quite the introvert.  This is something I have been learning about myself since the end of my undergrad years.  After defining myself as an extroverted, positive person all the time, learning a new definition of self has been a process.  I still derive my energy from others, but have realized I need to take time to find energy from within as well.  As I transition into new environments, both my extroverted and introverted tendencies come out.  I have an extraordinary amount of energy as I am meeting new people, but I also hang back a little as I observe my new surrounds.  These observational moments have served me well.  Mentors have always stressed the importance of learning a new culture before attempting to make changes.  Learning a new culture means understanding policies and processes, people and their relationships to others, traditions and history, and probably a dozen or so more as well.  While I see the benefit in stepping back in a new environment, I think to some extent this isn’t always possible.  Sometimes you need to jump in, ask many (of the right and perhaps the wrong) questions, and then “fake it until you make it."

I have only worked at Mines since June, (exactly seven months last Friday for those of you counting).  I have been thinking about: how the year has gone thus far, the relationships I have developed, and to some extent, the mistakes I have made.  There are quite a few instances where I wish I would have been more vocal at the beginning of the year.  There is a fine line to walk between feeling confident in understanding your surroundings and using the knowledge you have gained in past environments to fit into this new culture.

These thoughts were triggered by a recent conversation I had.  As we were talking about started new jobs, this individual mentioned a new employee should really focus on learned the culture the first six months of a new job.  I think the phrase used was “head down, eyes forward.”  I remember cringing inside.   Six months is a long time.  If I had kept my “head down” for six months, I barely would have started blossoming, one month ago to be exact.  I am uncertain whether or not this individual really uses six months to learn a new culture before jumping in, or if it was something read and recited about new jobs that is “good to do.”  Maybe it is expected in other professions, but it is not possible in Student Affairs. Either way, this got me thinking.  Had I waited for half a year to share my thoughts or pull from my experiences, I do not think many people would have trusted in my abilities to lead and make good decisions, including my supervisor AND the students I supervise.  It would have been a hot mess. 

However, I would like to note the importance of continual learning and growth.  Still maintaining an observational attitude while pulling in the knowledge I have gained form my experiences elsewhere is imperative.  From the history or traditions of my institution, to why things are done the way they are, to the relationships between stakeholders in the university and how this translates into how things are run or whom I need to visit to get things done, I continue to learn something new every single day.

Ultimately, it all boils down to confidence.  Are you confident in your knowledge and experiences (frankly, why you were likely hired)? Are you confident to ask questions and make educated decisions?  Or at least, are you confident to “fake it until you make it”?   Because most of the time you end up “making it.”

Katie Schmalzel

Student Affairs - the First Years

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