Has it only been a year? It is hard to believe all that has happened in just one year of managing the student financial aid office at Williston State College. As I take the time to reflect and look back at the journey so far, I am thankful for each and every lesson it has taught me along the way.
One of my earliest memories is from a registration day we had at the beginning of fall semester. Phones were ringing off the hook and students were multiplying outside my door like gremlins exposed to the light. I thought, “This can’t be ok! What is happening? What am I doing wrong?” As I frantically called another director for input, expecting her to share my hysteria, she calmly replied, “It’s ok, this is just what a financial aid office is like before fall semester, always.” I thought, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, maybe my selection of adjectives to describe my current situation had fallen short? I tried again. Same response. At that point, I am pretty sure I blacked out but I vaguely remember tears, lots of tears and apologizing.
Two fall semesters later and I am still here gearing up for my third start to the new school year. And yes, that is what it’s like before fall semester, always. So why do I stay, why do any of us stay? Because without doubt I am absolutely obsessively in love with what I do. I love helping students, I love the thrill of hunting down the answer to a new and challenging situation. I love working with a team of people that support and care about each other, our students and our institutions. And let’s be honest I love Summer Institute!
As I look back, I am humbled at the kindness and generosity others have shown me. I have never worked in a profession where everyone is truly invested in each other’s success. Whether it is taking time out of their busy day to offer hours of training assistance or just a kind word of encouragement when I have needed it most, the financial aid professionals I have been blessed to meet along the way have never disappointed.
It is with their support that I have been able to learn as much as I have over the last year. Of course I have learned a ton of critical financial aid information, (at minimum eight pounds worth as determined by the Delta rep who requested that I remove my neophyte binder from my checked bag unless I wanted to pay his excessive baggage fee). Well beyond that, however, I have learned even more about myself and how to succeed in this profession without crying at my desk, most days.
Here are a few pieces of advice that have helped me:
Be patient. Patient with your staff, patient with your students and most importantly patient with yourself. Rome was not built in a day.
Enjoy the journey. Many projects are lengthy and tedious. Find energy in the process, finding new and better ways to get things done each and every time.
Let it go. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Leave your work at work. It will still be there in the morning. You will be better off after an enjoyable time away from the office.
Use your resources. Use your friends in financial aid. I know I speak for others as well when I say that you could reach out to me anytime and I would do my best to help you get the answer you need. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Attend the available learning conferences offered each year. If you haven’t gone to Summer Institute, go! Take every level they offer! Leave room for an eight pound binder to come home with you!
Celebrate the successes – even the small ones. You showed up today with a smile on your face. Your students appreciate it and so do I.
And remember…”Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” –Theodore Roosevelt. I think we are all pretty lucky to be able to do such amazing work. Keep it up!
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