I was an Orientation Advisor in college, which meant that in the beginning of my sophomore year, it was my job, along with a bunch of other peppy sophomores to welcome the new freshman to our school. Although it sounds like a job any friendly person could do, it was surprisingly competitive to get picked for the roles. The selection process was a series of three separate interviews, some individual and some in groups, to see how you worked as part of a team.
The year before, when I was a nervous freshman moving away from home for the first time, I looked up to the students that showed me around and made me feel a little less nervous, so I was thrilled to be one of the students selected for the position myself. We arrived at campus a week or two before the freshman and had an intense training process. We had to be able to speak about all aspects of my college, The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. During the four-day Freshman Orientation, we gave presentations, tours of campus, helped the new students move into their dorms, eased worried parents, and were supposed to be built-in friends to these new students and help them feel good about where they’d be spending the next four years. There were about 50 of us to welcome the 800 or so freshman. Some of our training included learning about the history of the school, we had to know a ton of different info about the various majors, there were stats and statistics and numbers we were supposed to rattle off. All of us OAs, as we were called, took our roles seriously and wanted to make a great impression on these new students. We also wanted to make an impression on the heads of the Orientation Team because if we performed well as OAs, then the following year we could apply to be a POA (Parent Orientation Advisor) which was a smaller team of 12 and much more competitive.
The final day of our training, the night before the freshman and their parents were about to set foot on campus, the head of the Orientation program sat us all in the lounge in the University Center where most of our training had taken place. She opened a large cardboard box in front of her and took out one of the purple shirts with the orientation logo on it that we would each be wearing tomorrow. She told us something that I’ve never forgotten and has been applied to many areas of my life.
She spoke about “the power of the shirt.” She explained that no matter how nervous we were or how much information we were trying to remember, that all of it wouldn’t matter tomorrow. We’d have “the power of the shirt” on our side. She said that when we were wearing it, we’d almost magically know the answer. Even if we weren’t 100% sure, we’d come up with something suitable and close enough. Once that shirt was on, we were OAs and we would live up to that role.
She was right. When I left my dorm room the next morning with my purple Orientation shirt on, the mandatory crisp, white shorts it needed to be paired with, and my name tag, I was officially on OA. It was game day and we were all ready for action.
Over the course of those four days of welcoming the freshman and their families, I carried boxes up flights of stairs while moving in new students (and then whispered to them about why that dorm in particular was the best one to be in), organized outings for the freshman to attend that night (like a scavenger hunt around the National Monuments), answered questions about departments of the school I barely knew about the week before, and consoled many teary parents.
Every once in a while since being an OA, I’ve thought again about the “power of the shirt.” Each time I’ve been promoted or started a new job, I’ve felt just a touch under-qualified. That’s how it should be if you’re going to grow, but it’s still terrifying on those first days. Introducing myself with my new title and setting up my email signature with it resolved my nerve just a bit. Even when training for a marathon or triathlon, dressing the part made me feel more confident.
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that as nervous as I was when I went into my labor induction, when my son was in my arms 24 hours later, I was still the same person, but with my new “mom” title things were just a bit different. Don’t get me wrong, I was still nervous holding this tiny little boy, was confused by each of the different breastfeeding holds the nurses showed me (which hand goes where for the football hold?) and changing his diaper was a two-person job until we’d been home from the hospital for a few days. Every time I gave him back to the nurses, his swaddle was messed up and I never do it properly until I was home and using a blanket with Velcro to make it easier.
Okay, maybe becoming a mom didn’t magically prepare me or help me to have everything figured out in those early days, but I knew we’d get the hang of it eventually. And each time I reminded myself that I'm his mom, I felt more confident.