Professional DevelopmentThoughts, Feelings

Restarting the University Experience: My First 6 Weeks

In the first 6 weeks of my new role as Events and Partnerships Specialist, I’ve been finding myself thinking these words frequently:

So this is my life now.

I say this to myself in awe. I say this to myself with laughter. I say this to myself in confusion. I say this to myself in frustration. Most of all, I say this to myself as a question, as a reflection.

Let’s circle back to my first week.

I can’t describe how odd it was to get my own office in the Student Affairs Department. As a student, I just housed myself in any open space with a chair available and sat there for hours, until the person who worked there needed the space for a meeting or something equally professional, in which case I jumped into someone else’s office for the length of the meeting.  It was strange to have my own space at first, but now I geek out about it and tell people I barely know to come visit me in POD-63G.

Cathy stands next to her office, a joyful smile on her face.

The official “Cathy Nguyen works here” sign is in the mail.

The “pre-Cathy” office was long and narrow and it had a little square desk and a desktop computer all the way in the corner, so when people stopped by I felt like there was a weirdly long space between me and them.  It has one wall painted what I would call a vivid yellow, which I really love. (Others have called it the colour of various substances that babies output, but that’s their opinion.)

So this is my life now?

Err… this needs to change, I thought.

I am very much a believer that the space has an effect on the work, so I quickly went to work on decorating. I got a longer desk. I brought in little knick knacks, photos, jars of candy, and mounted two of my favourite objects. One being a big print created by Estefania Giraldo, a fashion alumni who created these as an installation for her capstone. The second being the custom made midnight blue dress made for me by Willis Chan, a dear friend and talented designer, which I wore to Mass Exodus 2015 (which I prefer to keep as art instead of fashion because I can’t really sit in it…)

I love my office. It is a privilege to have one and I don’t know why I can’t stop writing about it. It just feels like despite it being the temperature of a fridge, having no windows, and poor cell service due to it being in a basement, it feels like I’ve made it. The importance of the environment and space.

Cathy's Mass Exodus Dress, hung proudly on the (ugly? pretty?) yellow wall; across from it rests the geometric, colourful print, jazzing up the small space.

I find myself constantly surprised by things I didn’t think would be surprising. An example of this is how my relationships with others have changed. Not in any significant way, but the dynamic has definitely changed. It’s been an adjustment working around students, but no longer identifying as one. I still feel like a student and I still use my student card to get discounts (obviously), but I know that things are different now because people view me differently.

I’ve always been professional, but now I am a professional and that makes a world of difference when networking and interacting with students—at least in some cases.

This was true when I attended a breakfast conference hosted by the Sponsorship Marketing Council of Canada. It was a panel session about professional sports and sponsorship marketing and featured speakers from the CFL, Olympic Committee of Canada, and NHL Canada. Troy, my manager/friend/mentor/”Money Man” said these events were a good opportunity to network and learn.

I felt a tiny bit out of my element because it felt like a very business-y event with a lot of powerful looking people from well-known companies networking with each other easily and confidently.

People wore suits and ties, stilettos and blow-outs; I was one of the younger people in the room. At my table, I exchanged business cards with people from NBA Canada, Juno’s, and TIFF. Where am I!? I thought to myself.  This is my life now? While “networking” with a couple people I had to refrain from asking them what program they’re in, or graduated from, because it wasn’t as relevant to them as it was to the students/alumni I am used to working around.  

Breakfast Conference; a dark room full of business folks, listening to people on stage talk marketing in 2016.

In my last post, I wrote about how I realized Student Affairs is a real industry. I felt settled in the fact that this would be my industry. Imagine my surprise when I realized that sponsorship marketing is a whole other industry that I should be well versed in as a part of my role. This breakfast conference was one of the more eye-opening experiences of my first 6 weeks because I felt some concepts went over my head. Frankly, I really don’t like being the least knowledgeable person in the room. I’m working on changing that as soon as possible.

The conference gave me perspective about what external partners and sponsors are looking for in order to buy-in. Although I am thinking about that a lot, the mantra I’ve been telling myself a lot is: how you make your money is more important than how much money you make.

Anyways, I have a mental diary of all the little learnings and reflections I have had since starting my role and I won’t share them all in this blog post. My transition into this role has mostly just been so delightful.

For some, the routine of having a 9–5 seems daunting, especially when you know that you don’t have the excitement and worry that comes every September when you start the academic year. I surely have had moments when I realized that this type of schedule and work is probably what my foreseeable professional career will look like—and I’ve been terrified. So this is my life now? Is this what I’ve been working towards?

You watch movies about unengaged employees who hate their lives and the routine of it all. They eventually succumb and start a fight club or assault a printer.

I don’t feel even remotely close to that. Yes, getting up on a Monday is a struggle. And yes, I will probably become an advocate for the 4 day work week eventually. My first 6 weeks have been just too busy and too fun for me to worry about it. If the work matched your values, it just doesn’t seem too stressful or boring.

I can’t help but smile: so this is my life now.