Higher Education & Student Affairs

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Over-committed and Under-caffeinated; A First Year HESA Perspective by Carly Zerr

Carly Zerr, Grad Apprentice, Baylor & Beyond LLC

Carly Zerr, Grad Apprentice, Baylor & Beyond LLC

So far this week you have read chapters from 5 different textbooks, wrote 30 pages describing theory, planned an event for 300 of your closest students, answered 37 emails, counseled 4 transitioning first-years, and have had 3 cups of coffee. Did I mention it is only Tuesday?

Welcome to Grad School. At times it is very easy to feel like you are drowning in assignments and to-do lists. I am pretty sure over-committed and under-caffeinated has become my new personality. It can be difficult being pulled in multiple directions and trying to determine if today you can be a good student/mentor/friend/significant other/Christian all at the same time, or if one category must take a temporary back seat.

It’s interesting being a first year in this program, because I know I was adequately warned about what I was getting myself into. From the countless times the phrase “academically rigorous” was tossed around at interview weekend, to our second year mentors reminding us to definitely start that midterm early; there was no shortage of signals that this would take a lot out of us. When you feel like you are drowning it can be hard to remind yourself how much you had previously loved the water.

David Foster Wallace once gave a commencement speech where he told a story about two fish. It goes like this: There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says “What the hell is water?”

The point of this story is that it is frequently the most obvious, important realties that are often the hardest to recognize. What was not mentioned in the warnings about this program is the sense of fulfillment and gratification that comes with doing something that you love. It is so valuable, yet often hard to distinguish. It is rare that a day goes by where conversations with my students or the developmental support I receive from my cohort and staff does not validate my decision and calling to be in this field.

We may not be able to control the class assignments, to-dos, or unwarranted challenges that swarm our lives daily, however, we do get to control the way we view such situations. Like many things in life, you get out of this program what you are willing to devote to it. I am humbled everyday that I witness my cohort pour so much of themselves into their students and programs. I am in awe everyday that I witness my students develop into the people God has called them to be. Most importantly, I am re-centered every time I choose to focus on why I am here rather than what I need still need to do.

It is really easy to let the days pass by and passively go about life checking off responsibilities and simply surviving. It takes intentionality and courage to reframe your thinking and force yourself into viewing your role here as much more than administrative.

So far this week you have developed a stronger concept of how institutions work, the role you must play, and they ways in which your students think and act. You have made struggling first-years feel more at home in this big foreign place. You have supported your upperclassman as they successfully fulfilled leadership roles they were previously too afraid to take on. Most importantly, you proved to yourself yet again, that this is exactly where you need to be. Did I mention it’s only Tuesday?

Moral of this story; if you feel over-committed, under-caffeinated and like you’re constantly drowning, good, that means it’s working. Grab some coffee, just keep swimming, and don’t you dare forget why you love the water.

yolande_graham • November 7, 2016

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