When working in Residence Life, the only constant thing is that things are always changing. I have seen myself change so much just in the past couple of weeks that I have been in my new hall with my new staff and new RD. Some changes have been good, other changes I’m sure are lessons in disguise.
Comparing current self to my baby RA self about a year ago, I can see how this job has changed and challenged me. I am not a naturally outgoing person, I rarely make the first move in anything, and I like to sit back an observe all possible outcomes before I make a choice. Now, these aren’t bad things necessarily, but I’ve noticed that over the past year I’ve grown in confidence in myself and my ability to do my job. Before, I felt as though my opinions were not important enough to voice, and I would take a backseat to many conversations. Now I know that my perspective and experiences are valuable and meaningful to the conversation at hand, and to voice them when applicable.
I’m not saying that my insecurities are gone, or that I’m a perfect RA, I’m far from that and far from the person that I want to become. However, I’ve learned to work with myself in a way where I don’t feel like I am fighting against my introvert tendencies in order to appear as someone I’m not.
So, how does this translate into how I am doing my job now?
Now that I have a better understanding of my strengths and weakness, I can work with them to better my community and to be the best RA for my residents. I don’t try to pretend to be super cool or in tune with current trends just to strike up conversations. Rather I invite my residents to inform me of what is going on in their sphere of influence that intrigues them, and encourage them to let me know when important things are happening in their lives. I no longer try to hide my mom tendencies, and I mother my residents as much as they allow me too. I used to think that I needed to stay in the common areas all the time in order to foster a good community, but now I know that taking time for myself is equally important. All of my residents know that I like to be in my room by 10 o’clock at night, and that is great because I don’t feel bad when I have to leave a conversation in order to go to bed.
As for staff dynamic, since I have moved to a smaller staff, there aren’t as many personalities that I can hide behind. With my veteran status, I has assumed a leadership position within my band of leaders. There’s a sense of greater responsibility because the room for excuses is a lot smaller. I didn’t know isn’t going to cut it, because I have two long semesters under my belt. This job is a learn as go and once you’ve been going, you’re expected to keep getting better. As a returning RA, I also feel more empowered to let my staff know what I expect from them as a fellow co-worker. As a member of a drill team, rank was super important, a rookie wasn’t supposed to correct someone who had a higher rank than them, it was just the way order was kept and that’s how things went. Even though my RD explained that all RA’s were of equal rankings and that I could voice my opinions, it still felt weird to me. Now that I am a returner, I feel that I have the “rank” to voice my expectations to the rest of my staff and have a sense of legitimacy. Being a returner gives me the digression between appropriate and inappropriate times to call in a staff member, or to praise them for their accomplishments.
The hardest part of being a returning RA is comparing the new year to last year. There are so many different factors that goes into making sure the hall runs smoothly and it is easy to forget until you are thrown into a new system, or working with new people. In my mind I keep telling myself that what worked for my last hall may or may-not work for my current hall. That doesn’t mean I can’t bring ideas from last year to be implemented. It just means that I shouldn’t be grumpy because the way that the On-Call schedule is made is different, or that the way mail is sorted isn’t the way I know.
I also have to remember that this crop of residents are completely and utterly unrelated. The problems that I had last year with my residents will not be the same problems that I will have this year. The relationships that I will build this year, will not be the same as last year. Neither is better than the other, they are both unique and independent circumstances.
All in all, I love my job and the people that I get to serve. I love the network of connections that I get and seeing the smiles on residents faces when they feel loved and appreciated. I love talking to a resident who is realizing that college isn’t what it’s like in the movies, and helping them navigate their path. I love being the person residents think to go when things are going wrong in their lives. I love being able to be creative yet educational at the same time. I love my job!