Four Most Powerful Words: I Need Your Help

I have been in my new position for four months now, and I thought it’s about time to reflect upon my journey. I accepted the position as a Hall Director at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana in late April. My start date was not until Mid-July, which seemed years away. I was excited to move to a new location that I had never been before and happy to be back in the all women’s environment (my undergraduate institution was all women’s).

With all the excitement of a new position I had some fears. My biggest fear was not how well would I adjust, make friends, or connect with my women, but how was I going to keep myself organized. With only a year experience as an RA back in the day I knew managing a building of 260 students, a staff of 8 and special projects were not going to be easy. I knew this aspect of the job would be a reoccurring struggle for me. In graduate school, I spent countless months trying to figure out an organizational system that worked for me. I tried keeping a planner; walking around with a notebook, color-coding my calendar, scheduling time for tasks into my calendar, writing to do lists. You name it; I did it. I failed at every single of one of these systems. Why did I fail you ask? Two reasons. One, I was using too many systems at once and could not keep up, and two, I never stuck to a system long enough to give it a chance to work. I typically would try a system out for two to three weeks and giving up if I did not see a change. Going back to my old system, which consisted of piles of papers and post-it notes everywhere just seemed comfortable to me. However, it was not working. I would forget dates, to reserve rooms, order food etc. I was on the path of self-destruction and something had t0 give before I entered into my first professional position.

It was important to me to be upfront, open, and honest with my new supervisor about what I struggled with in the past; which was a very hard conversation to have. I knew I didn’t have a plan on how to conquer my lack of organizational skills, so we had a long discussion about what I thought the perfect system would look like. At first, I thought it would be caring around my laptop to meetings, using the computer program OneNote to keep track of my 1:1’s with my staff, list of student concerns, projects etc. I was excited after our chat and spent half the day setting everything up. Well, I stuck with this system for about a week. I would forget to transfer notes from my notebook into OneNote or forget to bring my laptop to meetings. I was slowly going back to my old habit. I let this go on for about a month until I could barely keep my head above water. I had a moment of vulnerability with my supervisor during our 1:1 and told her that my system wasn’t working and I couldn’t keep up, I was drowning quickly. I finally tossed my fears aside and asked for help. It was at that moment, when she looked me in the eyes and said “ I would be delight to help you figure out a system.” We spent the rest of the afternoon brainstorming a plan.

I am proud to say it has been a month since I started to use my system and I am really excited to see the progress I have made. I haven’t lost or misplaced anything! My supervisor and I realized I am a binder person and not a technological person. I have two binders. The first is for my 1:1s with my RA staff with sections for student concerns organized by floor. The other binder is for department meetings, 1:1s with my supervisor, RA staff meetings, and hall council meetings. My supervisor helped me create my own to do list, a form to structure my 1:1s with my staff, and a student concern form. I have never been so productive and less stressed in my life than I have in the last month. I can find important information quickly, I enjoy crossing off my tasks on my custom to do list (who doesn’t?) and I remember in detail what the concerns are for my students and how I helped them. Every day I am grateful to have found my perfect institutional fit, to work with women who challenge me, support me and push me to grow not only as an individual but also as a professional. I have never been so happy.

“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” -Mother Teresa

Kelley McCarthy

Student Affairs - the First Years

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