Lessons from Sharing an Office

by MaryLyn Silverstein

As an introvert, I find overstimulating spaces exhausting. Loud noises give me headaches, I am uncomfortable making small talk, and crowded spaces force me to shut down. I have a hankering for spaces so desolate that you could see a tumbleweed pass by. So when I walked into my office for the first time as a graduate assistant, my jaw dropped at the sight of four desks huddled together.  

In that moment I could feel my heart rate spike before I even checked it on my Fitbit. My biggest fear was being constantly overstimulated and surrounded by chattering colleagues. I pictured unfocused work days followed by unproductive evenings recharging in my apartment. I had no idea where I would hold my one on one meetings with my resident assistants or my conduct conversations with students. I was pushed out of my introverted comfort zone the very first day.

As I entered the first few days of my assistantship, I remained timid and task orientated in the office. My goal was to stay as focused as possible and to clear off my daily to-do list. I was hesitant to put myself out there and start making friends.

As the days in that office turned into weeks, I slowly realized that sharing my work space was the greatest scenario that could have happened in my first year of graduate school. I gradually became an active participant in the daily office shenanigans and got to know my coworkers. I am oftentimes too hesitant to put myself out there and start making new friends. In that office, I learned how to work collaboratively in student affairs and balance professional relationships with personal friendships. My colleagues and I co-supervised twenty resident assistants together. We created schedules, shared concerns regarding staff members’ performances, and asked for advice on what to do in tricky situations. We spent afternoons eating in the dining halls and evenings after work laughing at movies.

In an environment filled with WOO’s and extroverts, I started to learn how I fit into the world of student affairs. I learned that, apparently, I type too loud and not everyone listens to Christmas music year-round like I do. I learned that asking questions is okay if you tried your hardest to find the solution on your own first. I learned that your coworkers will initially be annoyed that you left your birthday banner up past your birthday but will eventually grow accustomed to the sparkly pink sign greeting them every day.

I learned that Andrea gets her best work done when she has Rihanna or Beyoncé playing in the background and that sometimes she just needs five minutes to lay on the floor to blow bubbles. I learned that Amber loves bees and will always hold me accountable to recycling, even if the trash can is closer to my desk. I learned that Mike can only make about 50% of the paper ball shots that he takes but he still has the confidence of a NBA player.

I now know that one on ones with resident assistants are best spent going for a walk around the Jardine pond or on an adventure to eat Call Hall ice cream. I know that conduct conversations are best held in the conference room away from your distracting work computer and email.

I realized I am capable and adaptable. I am not afraid to tell my coworkers that I’m focusing on completing a time-sensitive task but would be happy to catch up with them over lunch. My apartment is now the perfect quiet place where I can always recharge at the end of a long workday.

At the start of this summer I had to clear off my desk in the office that I shared with my colleagues.  I was preparing to move to the residence hall just down the road. As I packed the pink birthday banner that hung above my desk for ten months, I already missed the bright laughter and Friday afternoon chaos of my coworkers. The space that I once feared was now an area that I would long for. I would miss Mike asking me to go get snacks with him at Cornerstone. I would miss trying to get Amber’s attention when she wore her giant white headphones and I would miss seeing Andrea’s face over my computer screen every single day.

I was lucky enough to share that office with three incredible graduate students who supported me through trying times and cheered me on through my successes. Even as an introvert, I would take the opportunity to share an office with colleagues again because I would always be able to look up over my computer screen and see a friend.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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