Teresa Roberts, MS, CCC-SLP
Your career is a marathon – not a sprint. Perhaps you are still operating at the breakneck pace of graduate school, completing one activity as fast as you can before moving on to the next task. Months and months of assignment after assignment, followed by test after test, can affect your behavioral patterns once you begin your first job. Graduate school has a defined end point. You are only in grad school for a couple of years. The funny thing about working in a career is that the end point is usually 30 years from when you begin. Thirty years is a long time to work absolutely as fast as you can.
Your first year of work is a lesson in pacing. You learn that you cannot finish all of the required work in one day. Some days you may need to leave projects half-completed, a jumbled pile of notes, unfinished reports, and stacks of file folders in varied levels of disorganization at your desk. We can’t actually live at work (and believe me, I’ve tried). Understanding that your career is a marathon helps you recognize when to push yourself and when to rest.
Pacing means that you understand that you can’t learn every single thing you need to know about being successful in your job in the first 12 months. One of the best things that you can do in your first year is to learn the documentation required for your work setting. Paperwork is a crucial part of services because written documentation serves as a primary accountability measure that intervention was delivered. Data collection, report writing, progress monitoring, and all forms of compliance paperwork are actually a complex form of technical writing. Energy spent mastering paperwork will serve you well for the remainder of your career. Gaining skills and speed with conscientious and thorough documentation allows you to reduce the amount of time that you spend on your paperwork for the rest of your career. As you become faster at completing forms, you will be able to dedicate time to all of the other aspects of your job.
Your first year is a time to think about your goals for subsequent years. You will start to recognize the specific needs of your clients and areas of further professional development for you to support them. Congratulate yourself when you complete a self-assessment and find areas in which you may feel less prepared. This year is a time to make plans for how you will find additional training. It’s okay that you don’t know it all. It may seem the goal is to become an expert, however, recognizing that we are not experts in everything, and continuing to seek out new learning opportunities, may be a better reflection of how we will grow professionally.
Pacing is about recognizing priorities and gauging the flow of time. Some things are due immediately and some things are due eventually. It’s hard to leave your work site in the evening when you have just a little bit more to do, but your longevity in this field means that you are not the last person to go home every single day for an entire year. In my first year of work, an important leader I know shared that when you work copious amounts of time outside workday, you actually misrepresent the amount of work that needs to be completed for the job. You inadvertently give supervisors a false impression of the workload.
We want you stay in this career for a long time. We need you to be the service providers, colleagues, leaders, mentors, and supervisors of the future. We want you to be kind to yourself. Remember that you are better than you know. It takes a while for us to see growth and change in ourselves. Your clients are receiving quality therapy this year, in this, your very first year, because they are receiving therapy from a knowledgeable and compassionate therapist. You have learned about the fundamental aspects from our field in graduate school and now you are honing how you implement this knowledge to serve clients. Yes, the first year is challenging, but it is an incredible opportunity to build a foundation for an amazing career!
About the Author: Teresa Roberts, MS, CCC-SLP, works as a Speech Language Pathologist in a public school setting, provides clinical mentorship, and teaches as adjunct faculty in Portland, Oregon. She is committed to making connections between knowledge and practice.