The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Megan Thurston.
I was living life as a graduate student and new entry-level professional. I had a fully furnished apartment, a closet full of the latest fashions, the most up to date technology as well as access to fully prepared meals anytime of the day. I was ignorant to the impact my decisions were having on my personal future.
After serving as a live-in professional for seven years, I was itching to move off-campus and begin my life. I craved the independence of coming home without having to walk into the lobby of a residence hall and be stopped with a thousand questions. I wanted to be able to go home after the work day and not be disturbed by the tedious noise of a bouncing basketball from the floor above me. I needed to develop a routine as 10:00 pm staff meetings and 4:00 am phone calls were beginning to irk me.
I anticipated my life would begin once I accepted my first mid-level position. I now had the liberty to live off-campus, work traditional business hours as well as have a social life outside of my student leaders and hall director peer group. What I did not account for was the financial burden of living off-campus, the struggle of making new friends and feeling overwhelmed by a new environment. I moved to my new job filled with so much excitement, but ended up broke, lonely and lost.
I packed up my entire life and moved half-way across the country. I spent every penny I had to afford the moving truck and first month’s rent. It wasn’t until I was sitting on the floor of my living room amidst all my boxes that I realized the magnitude of the situation. I was overwhelmed. I sat on the floor in tears questioning my decision. I stripped myself of security and comfort by taking on this new job.
Making conscious decisions on how to spend money was a foreign concept for me. Previously, I never had to worry about whether or not there was enough money in my checking account when swiping my debit card. I now lived in fear every time I swiped my card. There were days where I had anxiety of whether or not I would be able to pay to put gas in my car to get back and forth to work. Money was a constant stressor for me. I was uncomfortable in my financial situation. I was broke.
Lesson Learned: Apply budgeting lessons learned from your housing career to your personal finances. Put money into your savings each month, pay your bills on time and always track where your money is being spent.
I moved away from everyone I knew. I previously packed up and restarted my life before with attending college and graduate school, but this felt different. I could no longer walk outside my apartment door and instantly have hundreds of people to hang out with. My new off-campus apartment provided me independence to my demise.
To combat my loneliness, I adopted a seven-month-old puppy to assist in my transition; however, this new mouth to feed contributed to my financial debacle. I met neighbors at the local dog park, but I knew more dog names than I did human names. These relationships were superficial and did not amount to anything. I was uncomfortable being alone. I was lonely.
Lesson Learned: Apply networking skills learned in your housing career to develop your personal relationships. Put yourself out there, attend community programs, knock on your neighbor’s doors, and always accept an invitation to spend time with friends.
Living off-campus was not what I expected. I still had to fill out a room condition report, abide by quiet hours and manage noises from the rooms above me. I anticipated moving off-campus was going to provide me a new lifestyle, but I found myself still working more than forty hours a week and unsettled with the lack of a social life outside of work.
I moved to my first big city. I did not know where to begin. The campus and the community were overwhelming. I had hoped to identify organizations within the community to volunteer with as well as a young professionals’ network to join, but I did not. I could not easily find ways to acclimate to my new city. I felt like a tourist rather than a resident. I was uncomfortable in my new environment. I was lost.
Lesson Learned: Apply identifying campus resources and building connections skills to be successful in navigating a new environment. Ask questions, do your research, attend interest meetings, volunteer and always be willing to pay it forward to the next lost person, who moves next door.
I quickly recognized that I was experiencing my freshman year of college all over again. I was struggling with living on my own, making friends and figuring out where to go for what. I was embarrassed with my struggle. It was not normal to be uncomfortable and unstable at the age of thirty.
Being broke, lonely and lost were some of the best things to ever happen to me. I have grown to be a stronger professional and better equipped adult. My mother expressed to me during my move how brave she thought I was for packing up my life and beginning all over again from scratch. I brushed off her comment and thought, “This is no big deal”. I did not realize how right she was until I lived through my first year off-campus. The tears, distress and unrest were well worth it. My life has finally begun…
Megan Thurston is an assistant director of residential life at Virginia Commonwealth University. She previously worked as at Western Illinois University. Megan received her Bachelor's degree in classical studies with a minor in education from University of New Hampshire, a Master's degree in college student personnel from Western Illinois University and is currently pursuing her Ed.D. in educational leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Megan's professional and personal passion is social justice and diversity education. She believes in making space for everyone to explore and develop in this area, while also being an ally for people who identify in underrepresented social identities. Megan is happiest when she is spending time outside with her camera snapping pictures, playing with her puppy, shoe shopping, drinking Starbucks coffee, watching movies, and spending time with family and friends.