#alt-ac · #post-ac · learning · transition

I Don’t Know What I’m Doing, and I’m Okay with That

I’m nearing the end of the second week of my new job at the SickKids Research Institute, and I’m starting to feel a little less like I know nothing. I’ve scoped out a great place to eat lunch, I’ve figured out the coffee situation, and I don’t get lost anymore on the walk between the hospital and the Institute. I understand the acronyms most of the time, and the way that the Institute is organized mostly makes sense, and I’m getting a pretty good sense of all the things I need to be keeping on top of.

The view from my favourite spot on the 19th floor. Better when it’s not pouring rain.

But I still feel so strange.

Despite my vast experience with impostor syndrome–which, funnily enough, almost completely disappeared once I moved onto the administrative side of academia, but plagued me on the scholarly side–I’m generally used to feeling like a competent, knowledgeable person. At York, I was the go-to girl for information and policy clarification and getting stuff done. I was very good at my job, and I left with lots of success under my belt. But now, I feel incompetent, unknowledgeable, not at all on top of my game. I have to check with my admin assistant on the answers to basic questions. I need to ask for context and the history on just about every program and initiative our Centre currently has running. Every face is new, every system just enough different from the ones I was using before to trip me up, every action deliberate and thought out rather than automatic.

It’s really good for me.

Aimee wrote awhile back about becoming a student again when she entered yoga teacher training, about the doubled-consciousness that comes from remembering what it’s like to be on the other side of the desk. There’s lots to be said for experiencing what it’s like to be the new person, especially when a good part of my job is figuring out how we can make the transition to SickKids a more seamless one for our students and postdocs. Trainees, as we call them in science (and living in science world as a confirmed humanist coming from a humanities-focused university is a whole other level of new that I’ve yet to fully process), have to figure out how to negotiate all of the various structures and policies of SickKids when they come over to work at one of our many labs. And those structures and policies are just different enough from the ones they’ve already learned to negotiate at their university to trip them up. I know, because they’ve tripped me up, despite having successfully figured out how to navigate four different universities since I first started in higher ed fifteen years ago. Understanding what it takes to figure out the complex structures of the Institute and how to effectively work within them is going to make me way better at identifying and responding to the needs of the trainees, especially the need to make all of this more transparent and easily navigable.

Aside from letting me serve our trainees better, feeling like a total n00b is just plain old good for me. I come home every day feeling completely juiced up about all of the new information I’m learning, whether it’s mundane or a big deal. So much so that after about ten meetings on Tuesday to meet and hear from various people with whom I’ll be working, I came home and almost immediately fell asleep–my brain needed to process that badly, despite the fact that it was my birthday and I quite wanted to do something fun. As a gal who loves to learn, I’m in heaven. And not knowing quite where to step makes me step carefully, really pay attention to what’s going on and where I fit into it, be considered rather than (probably unadvisedly) jumping right in. It’s also rather nice to have a work story to tell my husband that he hasn’t already heard fifteen times.

In a meeting with our senior manager recently, I remarked on how odd it sometimes was to be on a career trajectory so different from the academic one. If I were to be making a 5-year plan as a new assistant professor, it would probably read something like “be doing the same job I’m doing now, just with tenure.” But now, what I could or want to do five years from now, within the SickKids organization or elsewhere, is far more open and uncertain. Like being the new person in the office, that can be a little scary, but it’s also really exciting. I don’t know what I’m doing five years from now, and I’m totally okay with that. I’ll take it over feeling like there’s nothing I can or want to do any day.