Getting Started in New Spaces
Tiny thoughts on setting up to win while navigating unfamiliarity
This newsletter features weekly musings about life, career, identity, and behaviour by a questioning African centennial. To get it in your inbox every week, subscribe here ⬇️
Tomorrow will be another ‘first day of school’ for me.
I’ll be starting my Global Affairs master’s degree at Tsinghua University, where I’m a Schwarzman Scholar. For ten months, I’ll be honing my leadership skills, learning about China, and researching the techno-economic potential and policy implications of Sino-African partnerships on AI. All while making friends along the way.
Since my first year of undergrad, whenever I start a new job or a new academic program, I ask myself two questions:
What do I want to get out of this?
Who do I want to become after this?
These two questions may seem redundant at first, but they’re really not.
The first question focuses on the material (i.e., tangible things I want to do, have, or experience). My response to this question usually revolves around skills, people, money, and knowledge. This question is where I think most people stop.
The second question focuses on the personal (i.e. my mental image of an improved Arinze). This question goes deeper and zooms out of the details to measure the cumulative person I was before the job/program against who I want to be afterwards. My response to this question usually revolves around character traits, mental paradigms, and personal networks.
Answering the second question demands a degree of humility. You must examine yourself objectively, identify your imperfections, acknowledge them, and commit to working on them over a limited period.
There’s a lot I want to learn, do, and become in the ten months that I’ll spend doing my master’s. But to do all of that, I need to start right.
The start of anything is where first impressions are made, motivation is calibrated, and discipline is initiated. It’s usually the most crucial stage.
If you’re starting a new gig (school, work, or otherwise), there are four things I’d recommend doing. These are things that helped me maximise my undergrad, my internships, and my last job.
P.S. They may be modified as I learn and experience more 🙈
Set clear personal objectives
Basically, answer the two questions I shared earlier. By doing so, you set out your objectives and prevent yourself from simply following the current or getting overwhelmed by the plethora of exciting things you could be doing at work or school. Having clear goals allows you to prioritise your TEA (remember this? 😌)—time, energy, and attention.
Ask questions before making assumptions
When you’re the new kid on the block, you know next to nothing about the people, processes, and politics that exist in your new space. Instead of making blind assumptions, acknowledge your ignorance and ask as many questions in order to get a proper lay of the land. Doing so will allow you to gather the knowledge you need to find your way around on your own.
Make time to meet and talk to people
The people I meet are often the highlight of my time at any company or school. They teach me, they inspire me, and they entertain me. Realising this makes it easier for me to fight my introversion by putting myself out there to meet and interact with the people around me. The people at your new job or school could be your best friends, business partners, or spouse. But you’ll never know if you never get to meet them, physically or virtually.
Set intervals for reflection
When we’re on full-throttle for so long, it’s easy to forget to take our feet off the gas for a second to rest and take stock. This is where we set apart some time to hold ourselves accountable to the goals we set at the very start. Setting apart time for reflections allows us to intentionally learn from our experiences instead of just experiencing them for experience sake.
New spaces can be intimidating and scary, for me at least. But focusing on the thing you can control in the present (i.e. how you show up at the very start) can make a lot of difference in the outcome of your time at the new job or school.
Here’s to successful new beginnings for you and a fruitful master’s program for me! 🥂
See you next week!
- Arinze ❤️