by Patty Hambler
Such is the Student Affairs annual cycle… depending on your role, you may have been sprinting since August 1, and now you can take a deep breath, lift your head up to see the changing colour of the leaves, and then put your head back down to the day-to-day of the school year. Which, more than likely, includes occasional or regular evenings, weekends or on-call work.
When I observe my younger colleagues engage in this work, I sometimes think “Wow, they have so much energy! I remember when I could work those hours and still keep going.” But, when I really reflect on how I’ve been able to thrive in Student Affairs, and not get burnt out, it’s not just that I’m older and not able to keep up. I truly believe that I’ve learned to adapt to the annual cycle of my job and thrive as a Student Affairs professional despite the hectic pace of the busiest times of the year and the demands of a job that’s anything but 9-5.
Here is my version of ‘how to thrive in Student Affairs’. I share this from a place of wanting to engage in a conversation, not a place of assuming that I have all the answers. Here is what works for me – how I continue to have energy for my professional and personal life and have no regrets for a single evening, weekend or early morning that I’ve spent doing my job.
- Self-compassion – When you mess up, or you can’t get it all done, don’t beat yourself up. Say ‘that’s okay, I’ll learn from this and move on’.
- Prioritization – Sometimes it is impossible to get it all done. What is the most important and urgent and what can be shared, delegated or dropped from your list?
- Recognizing health and wellbeing as a process, not a product – Taking care of your physical health and mental wellbeing is important. However, health is not a destination. It’s a lifelong journey that requires ongoing commitment. Any shift in your life (new job, new home, new baby, etc.) is going to require a re-evaluation of what’s important for your health and how you will prioritize your wellbeing given the change.
- Mindful moments – It’s too easy to walk across campus looking at your phone or mentally preparing for the next meeting. Take some time to look up at the sky. Use your five senses to experience the moment and get out of your head – it’s like a mini vacation for your brain and body.
- Meal prep service – Find whatever your version of lightening the load looks like. What aspect of your life can you make easier by sharing the responsibility, paying for a service, or changing your standards?
- Being okay that my career is an important part of my life – I make no apologies for working odd hours because it’s part of my work and my work is important. Instead, I try to give lots of notice to those who are important to me about upcoming commitments so that we can plan for the change in our schedule.
- Growth mindset – This is related to #1 and #8, but important enough to be on its own. When you don’t nail it, tell yourself ‘I’m not great at this – YET’. It’s okay to not be great at every aspect of your job. It doesn’t mean that you won’t grow your capacity over time, and with practice.
- Practice what I preach – Think about the training you’ve done for student leaders, the advice you’ve given students, and the feedback you’ve given to your staff. If you only listened to and acted on half of what you tell others, you would undoubtedly be a superstar.
- Recognize the privilege you have to be doing this work – It seemed like a corny meme when I saw it on my Facebook feed, but when I thought about it, I realized that it really matters how you think about things. Your mindset colours how you see your work. Instead of thinking “I have to work this weekend”, think “I have the privilege of spending the weekend with some amazing students”.
- Flex your day – I can thank Residence Life for this lesson. I flex my week and my day, as my job allows. The important thing isn’t punching the clock, it’s getting the work done well. Every job is different, but exploring the opportunities to build in flexibility to offset the odd hours and extra commitments can make a huge difference.
What’s on your Top 10 list for thriving in Student Affairs? How do you keep your energy and passion for your work, prioritize your wellbeing, and make time for your personal life and relationships outside of work? I look forward to hearing from you, and reading more about resilience in SA from colleague Cassie Wever because this discussion is an important aspect of our work as professionals in SA, related to our “commitment to wellness, growth and lifelong learning”.CACUSS Student Affairs and Services Competency Model.