It’s just Twitter

Without fail, the annual “how should we use Twitter as student affairs professionals” conversation started again yesterday. Call me a curmudgeon, but I am tired of this conversation and here is why:

It’s just Twitter: I have written about this before. Twitter is not the end all be all when it comes to conversations in our field. It is not representative of the field as a whole. I find that much of the conversation lately has been new pros and grads, which I think is fantastic. However, don’t fall into the trap that it is representative of the entire field or indicative of the pulse of the field.

Some of the BEST pros I have worked with are not on Twitter: I bet this is true for you two. This statement speaks for itself. Also, can we stop telling grad and other pros they need to be on Twitter? Show them the value, but let them make their own decisions.

Trolls will be trolls: I elicited a lot of responses when I tweeted this yesterday:

I used the word challenged: not bullied, judged, or trolled. The latter does indeed happen. However, it comes with the territory. I am by no means condoning the behavior. You can try to make Twitter something it isn’t, but it won’t change. It’s like sticking your finger in an electrical outlet: you know what will probably happen. You decide if it is worth the risk. Twitter has its own equivalent to the childproof outlet cover: it’s called the block button.

All of the things I just mentioned happen in other places too: Like in meetings, offices, and conferences. It is easier to see and to talk about on Twitter. Let’s have a conversation about how people feel invisible at conferences or are shamed in meetings. Let’s talk about how many professionals do not have a safe space at work. Let’s talk about this because it starts there. Let’s not mask the issue by trying to make a public social media that space.

Whatever happened to discourse?: The underlying and troublesome tone in parts of the conversation yesterday were about feeling and being supported. Want to support me? Challenge my thoughts and ideas. Cause me to reflect and change my perspective. Don’t ditto everything I say. I am better because people challenge my perspective. Why are so many seemingly afraid of this? The more we challenge perspectives and push each other to think differently, the better off we all will be.

Twitter is a fraction of a piece of your personal/professional reputation: Your work is most important. Tweets won’t get you a job or help you get promoted. Lack of a Twitter presence or voice does not make you a bad professional. Use it how and if you want. You do you.

I often reflect and ask those in my inner circle why I care about this so much. After all, is this very post not hypocritical? I am critiquing the way we talk about Twitter and our expectations of it by saying it is just Twitter, yet I am spending the time to write about it. I want people to feel heard. I want people to feel like they have a safe space. I want people to connect. I want people to share ideas. I want people to feel like they can be their true selves. However, I do not think it is reasonable to expect all of that to happen all the time on Twitter. Use it for what it is; one method of communication (albeit a really good one). Have realistic expectations, be prepared to challenge and be challenged, and know when to disengage because after all, it is just Twitter.

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Dear #sachat, we can do better

My fellow student affairs colleagues,
We (myself included) can need to do better. The time has come, my friends, for us to lead the hard and important conversations about our work, our field, and higher education as a whole.

We spend too much of our time in conversation on Twitter arguing about things like the value of handwritten notes when significant injustice is happening in our country and on our campuses and to our students every single day.
We complain about being busy and our right to not have to answer email past 5pm when so many are without jobs and a decent wage or our students are struggling to work three jobs just to afford their education.
We pay way too much attention to the behavior of professionals at a conference on Yik Yak and not enough about issues happening around the world that are impacting our students.
We spend time lamenting that faculty don’t get what we do, when they are the least of our worries. We are in for a fight to defend our worth and the value of a college degree altogether.
Our students and our academic colleagues do not care about your favorite icebreaker. They don’t care about what you think “professionalism” means. They care that you show up to work, do your job, and do your damn best for your students and your campus community.
When articles comment on the inflation of administration – they are talking about us! Yet, we are too busy talking about other things to notice. It’s not my job tell you what to tweet or how to think. I am also not saying that conversations about the nuances in our field are not important. I also get wrapped up in these conversations. I have even started them on occasion and for that, I’m sorry.  To have these difficult, bigger picture conversations, we need to be willing to talk about things that are hard, challenging, and likely to polarize us a bit, but are topics that matter and need to be addressed. The echo chamber is deafening. It’s time for that to change. There is a whole lot of support happening in this community, which is wonderful, but where’s the challenge? Of course, these discussions are already happening, but they are not as loud or as frequent as our usual topics of Twitter conversations. Imagine if we used our collective voices for a greater good instead of how professionals use or misuse social media at a conference? Imagine the power of collective advocacy we could have.
I’m not calling for rogue chats. I am not blaming any one person, blog, or hashtag. This is on all of us. If we can’t talk about these things with each other (on Twitter or on campus), then how can we talk about them with our students, with our academic colleagues, and/or in our communities? Let’s use our precious time and energy together for this and not seemingly small topics that are more about internal bickering and less about advancing our field. Let’s take ownership and leadership in promoting the importance of our work, fighting injustice on our campuses and in our communities, and continuing to advance the educational experience for our students in ways only we know how.
Who’s with me?

Hacking professional development: one year later

#suedle drawn by the talented Sue Caulfield

#suedle drawn by the talented Sue Caulfield

One year ago today, I launched a seemingly simple idea based on a single tweet:

If I had the $ and time, I’d go on an #sachat road trip. So many friends I’ve yet to meet in person.

— Tim St. John (@timstjohn) January 14, 2014

What has resulted since has been the most important, helpful, and meaningful year of professional development in learning in my entire career. The best part: it was completely FREE.

It seems like our community has been talking a lot lately again about professional associations, conference rates and the lack of accessibility that comes with ridiculously high fees. Here’s the thing – professional involvement and development is about the people, not an acronym, program, or conference in a fancy hotel with high profile keynote speakers. We learn from each other in presentations. We build our network through connecting with others online or in person. How is a Google Hangout any different? I have learned over the last year it is not much different, but a whole lot better.

When I started this project, I thought I would maybe chat with a few people. I did very little reaching out. I put this out there for the world and was at the mercy of people interested in taking the chance on an agenda free chat with a person they maybe had met before, never met but seen on Twitter, or never heard of at all. I was overwhelmed by the response.

What followed was 23 one hour chats, either through Google Hangout or in person (photos below). Many of the colleagues I met have become friends. Many of us still chat regularly. Folks I chatted with ranged from senior level to an undergraduate interested in the field and covered all functional areas. My trip took me from Canada to Texas, from New Jersey to Colorado and everywhere in between. We had no agenda and the topics ranged from the value of a PhD, how we recruit in our field, innovative educators, the trouble with how we overvalue social media in our field, running, family, starting a new job, and so much more. I am not exaggerating when I say that no single project has impacted my network, learning, and sense of belonging to my profession as this has.

Amma visits Clark!

Amma visits Clark!

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Hanging out with Courtney and Amma in Boston!

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Dinner with my #sabestie and queen of #sabullshit, Mallory Bower

It also led to some pretty amazing opportunities to be a guest on a podcast, contribute to an online course, and write for a prominent student affairs blog (the blog post I am most proud of).

What I have learned from this experience, above all else, is that we are a field of good people with incredible ideas that will are changing the course of education and the lives/experiences of the students we touch. You can only see this partially through Twitter or a conference meetup. These hour chats were everything that is great in a presentation, tweetup, informal coffee chat, and roundtable all in one.

My goals for year 2 of this continuous journey are as follows:

  • Pay it forward: help others see the potential in taking a hold of their own professional development and taking the steps to do so
  • Write more about the amazing people I have met and the profound impact they have had on my learning
  • Do more outreach and ask some people to connect
  • Bigger and better: take this to the next level by hanging out with an entire department, grad class, or even feed into a conference.

Who’s up for joining me on year two of my journey?

Reflect, relax, and just do you

We are under pressure as student affairs professionals like never before.

You can thank me later for the Queen ditty that is stuck in your head right now.

We are on information overload. As if the pressure for new grads to get a job is not enough to make one’s head explode, there are now added pressures in our field.

To write

To read

To be published

To have a side gig

To be professionally involved

To go to this conference or to go to that conference

To be on Twitter (and use it often)

To always be in the know for fear of missing out

To have a sponsor

To always be able to answer “what’s next” for you even if you have just started the next phase of your journey or are perfectly content with where you are.

To start an #sadoc program

To do research

To be a Vice President (and climb that ladder quickly)

Where does this pressure come from? I have struggled with this question for a while. Perhaps, it is largely internal – the drive or want to do the things these folks you admire,want to be like, or are (gasp) competing with are doing. I appreciate that our field is small. I love that I have a strong network of professional colleagues friends because of it. I know some people who are doing some amazing things (like Sue, Mallory, Matt and Valerie, or Paul Gordon Brown for example). I both admire and envy these people.

Or maybe, we pressure other people into this through social media, classes, and actual pushing (i.e. Hey you should really start a blog. Seriously. Start writing now. – kind of “advice”). I worry even more that we do this, albeit unintentionally, to our students. Join this club, apply to be an RA, go to grad school, run for this position, go to this workshop. We create this pressure  to compete – to do or fall behind.

We are a field of generally good people who want to help. We have taken that need/ability to want to help to a new level. Let’s slow it down. You do you, I will do me. More importantly, take it easy on yourself. Do what is important to you. Do your job and do it well. What else you choose to do with your time and how else you choose to engage in the field is up to you. After all your blog, digital identity, side gig, etc. etc. etc. is all for nothing if you are not good at your job or are generally miserable.

Let’s be ok with giving each other a gentle nudge now and then framed in a compliment, but back off when that person is not interested. I owe this site to the gentle nudge of Ed Cabellon, the voice to write this post to Mallory, and one of my best/most favorite ideas to Sue. Their advice was based on a foundation of knowing me, my skills, and my interests and not based in an “everyone is doing it” kind of approach. The distinction is of profound importance.

Let’s make 2015 the year to reflect, relax and just do you.

Permission to brag

I’ve written about this before: we have a branding issue in Student Affairs. We are misunderstood, and it is largely our own fault. We spend a lot of time in the classroom, on campus, at conferences, and especially on Social Media talking about this. How do we talk about what we do? How do we articulate and demonstrate our value to the academy? How do people outside of our field come to better understand what we do? I don’t have a solution, but I may have stumbled upon something, perhaps a starting point…

This morning, I was perusing my Twitter feed in the short few minutes I had before my next meeting and I stumbled on a particular tweet from my friend Jason Meier at Emerson College. He was talking about how proud he was that they addressed and discussed mental health at Orientation to begin to destigmatize asking for help. I immediately responded asking him to share what they were doing.

This is just one small example of many posts I see throughout this time of year; pictures of RA training, stories of move-in, Orientation program highlights, excitement for the start of the year, interactions with students, etc. I too find myself mostly posting about work this time of year. I do it to connect with students, but also, I am damn proud of what we do. I am proud of my team, my institution, and myself for what we accomplished during our Week One program. Here’s an example: I have posted several times about our new Consenting Communities workshop that was designed and led by students to begin to discuss the real issue of sexual assault. This program was created and led by students, with staff support. I was proud and felt the need to brag. Why does that not feel OK?

consent

Here’s my takeaway: we need to be better at ok with bragging. Jason’s tweet and my post are small examples. They show people outside of our field that we are more than just party planners or chaperones. It provides ideas and motivation to those within our field. My plea to all of you, my colleagues, is to keep these posts coming. Don’t let this just be an August thing. Make it an all year round thing. Let’s continue to talk about issues within our field, the future of it, and share ideas, but let’s also (and especially) be OK with showcasing our work. If it feels like bragging, embrace it. You do meaningful work – share it! At least in my mind, this will go a long way towards increasing the awareness and respect of what we do.

Let’s brag: share what you are proud about from the last few weeks!

The Trouble with Twitter

Disclaimer: This will not be one of those posts that tells you how I think you should use Twitter or what to tweet. Rather, it is a reflection of my own experience and professional development via Twitter. Take it or leave it.

Last night, I was fortunate to have an amazing conversation with Matt Bloomingdale and Valerie Heruska (to pros whom I tremendously respect and admire) as a guest on their Professional Reputations Aside podcast. After we stopped recording, the conversation continued. I had been lamenting my struggle with the transition on how I use and view Twitter for professional development and it finally clicked for me. Let me explain….

Twitter is not the end all be all of professional development. At one time for me, it was. This past semester, I embarked on an #saroadtrip where I have met with a whole bunch of amazing colleagues from around the world (thanks to my friend Lisa in Canada!). We discussed everything from branding in our field, to disrupting education, to creativity, to graduate preparation and much more. Including several conferences, webinars, and #sachat topics, this was by far the most fruitful learning I had experienced as a professional yet. The best part: it was FREE! While this post may at times seem like an anti-Twitter post, it is not. Rather, it is pointing out the limitations of only focusing on 140 characters and not using the network built on Twitter for even deeper learning and connection.

Twitter is fantastic for helping us to expand our personal learning network. It connects us to people we otherwise perhaps would never meet. The discussions that happen here are great, but very limiting. It is easy for something to be perceived differently than you intended. Dissenting opinions often seem like attacks. Trying to keep up with any given conversation results in a lot of agreeing or retweeting – and not enough actual dialogue. We start a great conversation about something important like mental health in our field or the purpose of higher education, only for it to take a back seat to the next topic a week later. These #sachat discussions are starting points – not a one time topic to be discussed tweet after tweet for two hours on a Thursday.

What I have found to be most helpful is to use Twitter as a stepping stone. It has allowed me to meet some fantastic people and then to further the discussion, connection, and learning in a much deeper way beyond tweets. 140 characters can be so painfully limiting. Twitter is also public. I can’t be completely vulnerable, honest, or authentic knowing my students and colleagues will see it. I need another space to have these honest conversations with colleagues in a way that does not come across the wrong way or harm my relationship with folks on my campus.

In many ways, I think our profession has grown to overvalue Twitter as a communications tool. As many have said before, it is but one tool for learning and communicating – not the only one. I think it is important that we remember some amazing professionals who are doing incredible things in this field are not on Twitter and you will never see them on #sachat. The mark of a student affairs professional is much deeper than his or her digital identity. I do not want to be remembered or recognized by my handle or profile picture. Instead, I hope people will connect with what I write here on my blog or appreciate the work I am doing on my campus or professional association.

Twitter helps us to connect, to share articles, and to have some base level conversations. I fear, though, that it has become for many the only place to connect, share articles, converse and learn. I challenge each of you to deepen and broaden your connection to your network you have built on Twitter. It does not have to be the way I did it through Google Plus. Many other people are doing this – chatting and meeting, learning and discussing. Make it your own and know that there are many professionals out there with stories to tell, ideas to share, and encouragement to give. All you have to do is ask.

What are you doing to learn and connect beyond Twitter?

How running has made me a better professional

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My wife, Amanda, and I running my second ever 5K!

I am sure, by title alone, you are already wondering how I can make the claim that by becoming a runner, I have become a better student affairs professional.  Over the last 10 months, in large part thanks to running, I have lost over 40 pounds (and counting).  I am in the best shape of my life.  I also feel that, professionally, I have found my groove.  Part of this has to do with experience, but I think is in large part due to my new found health and fitness.  I came to this realization the other day, where else, but on a 4 mile run.  Let me attempt to explain….

Running makes me happier

It is no secret that working out is good for one’s mental health.  Since being active, I find myself to be a happier person.  This is not to suggest I was not happy before, but rather I am happy (and proud) of the holistic “me” for the first time in a long while. This certainly translates to my work with students.  I am more positive, patient, and overall cheerful.

Running gives me energy

No amount of coffee in the world can compare to the energy I have gained from being active.  I would take a morning run over a morning coffee any day.

Running gets me up and away from my desk

With more energy, I am less apt to sit in my office all day.  I walk all over campus and to meetings.  I meet students in various locations for our one on ones.  This has helped me to interact more with folks I did not see as often within my Campus Center bubble.

Running gives me confidence

I was NEVER a runner.  When I set my goal in December of running my first 5k in June, I thought knew I was bound to fail.  The more I ran, the further I pushed myself, the more I believed in myself.  Self-confidence is something that has helped me tremendously at work as I am given more and more responsibility.  That voice in my head that often says “you can’t” is now drowned out by “remember that time you said you’d never be able to run more than a mile…”

Running has pushed me to take more risks

I ran my first 3.16 miles on a whim.  I had set out to run my usual 1.5-2 never thinking I was close to that elusive 5k.  While out on my run, something sparked that drove me to give it a shot.  What resulted was a 34 minute 5k and one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment I have ever felt in my life. This spark has not gone away, as long as I am consistently running.  It has followed me into my professional life and with more self-confidence and trust in myself, I take more risks and, as a result, have been more creative and innovative at work.

Running has helped me to own and accept my mistakes better

Let’s face it; we all hate to fail.  What running has taught me, however is that sometimes, it just isn’t my day and there is not anything I can do about it.  Other times, it is because my will and resolve were not strong enough.  Other times, it is because I have made a poor choice, such as bad nutrition prior to a run.  All of this, professionally, has better helped me to own my mistakes and realize that mistakes are bound to happen, especially as I get more comfortable with taking risks.

Running has helped me be a better role model

I’d always felt like I was a good role model for my students, except when it came to wellness.  I was significantly overweight and not at all active.  What’s worse, is I work in a building which houses the fitness center, and the department, which oversees student health and wellnes..  I was not leading by the example I should have been setting.  Now, the opposite is true.  I chat often with my students about my journey and what running has done for me.  A group of orientation leaders approached me about wanting to run with me.  It has now become a regular, weekly run.  Two of them, having never run more than two miles, ran a 5k our first week!  This is an experience I would have never been able to have shared with students prior.

Running gives me balance

Running, for me, is the greatest form of stress relief.  Instead of getting lost behind a screen or in food as I did in the past, I lace up the shoes and hit the pavement.  I feel rejuvenated and energized afterwards.  Running is my “me” time.  I am fierce when it comes to protecting it, in a way I had a hard time doing before.

I am not suggesting that all student affairs professionals should, or could benefit from, running.  I am simply hoping my story will help others who are in a situation like I found myself 10 months ago find hope.  Whether it is running, lifting weights, yoga, biking, etc. physical activity will pay off for you both personally and professionally, I promise.  If you did not know already, there is an amazing, supportive #safit community on Twitter and Facebook.  It is these people who inspired me and continue to support me throughout my journey.  It is safe to say, without the #safit community, I would not be where I am today.

So, what are you waiting for?  Lace em‘ up!

Time to let them see behind the curtain. Are we overselling a career in Student Affairs?

A conversation this morning with Jeff Lail and Sally Watkins really has me thinking.  Are we overselling our profession and is this negatively impacting the longevity of our young professionals?  I think we are.

Here’s how the story goes for many.  Somewhere along the way you get involved on campus.  You link up with an advisor, mentor, hall director, and so on who says something like, “You know you can do this for a living, right?”  Student Affairs professionals, more than most, love it when we hear someone wants to do our work.  Most of us value our work and it is a sign of respect and admiration when a student expresses interest.  Next thing you know a professional has taken you under her wing, taken you to conferences, and shared with you all the rewards that a life in higher education will bring.  What’s missing?

Here’s what happened for me.

I was an overly involved student and as a sophomore RA, student government leader, and Class President identified that I wanted to be a Student Affairs professional.  My mentor did all of the above, but more.  Under his guidance, I enrolled in courses outside of my major that would strengthen my critical thinking, reading, and analytical thought.  I was encouraged to continue my path in student government and became student trustee where I learned all about institutional politics.  I was able to go to staff meetings, be a part of the budget process, and even supervise other students.  I was encouraged to turn my work in the Student Involvement Office into an academic internship, where I was required to put my work into a portfolio, make decisions, and justify my work.  I was a fly on the wall of many conversations and meetings that most students are not privy to.  On top of the usual conferences, my mentor took me to meet colleagues at other institutions who are Deans/VPs.  I listened and asked questions as they discussed the issues on their campuses and what things they were working on.  I was fortunate to be given a realistic view of what my work in Student Affairs would be like.  As a result, I was fully prepared as a grad and new professional and have progressed quickly as a result.  I do my best to pass this approach onto both the students and the grads I work with.

We need more of this in our profession.  At most conferences I attend, there is some sort of session, roundtable or talk on “growing the profession.”  We need to stop and think about how to grow our profession.  Do we want a wave of new professionals who enter the field thinking their work will be much like their experience on the programming board, as an RA, or peer advisor?  Do we want a field of new professionals who chose their field only because what they saw from their mentors, or what was presented to them?  OR do we want a field of new professionals who understand the holistic work and not just the icebreakers, ice cream, events, and laughs that most students see and are capable and willing to the job in its entirety? If we are not realistic in telling our story while recruiting, we run the risk of having new professionals who are not cut out or who burn out quickly.

Additionally and consequently, we also need to better prepare our new professionals for mid-level management.  The higher one climbs in our field, the less the job becomes like that dreamy, fun, college job that many first perceived when expressing their interest in this work.  We need to teach, emphasize and require hard skills and competencies such as budgeting, legal affairs, risk management, and technology not just in a textbook, but in a way that is practical.  Most undergraduate students do not see higher education as a business, and this is problematic when they enter their graduate programs.  There is only so much damage that can be undone in a two year graduate program.

By no means am I trying to be a negative curmudgeon and say our work is not fun, meaningful, and important.  After all, my first strength is positivity and I have written about it before.  What I am trying to say, however, is that I fear that is all some people think our work is.  It is certainly all of those things, but like any work, can also be stressful, political, and challenging.  This is also why we are not so good at justifying our work with our academic colleagues (another post for another day).

I think Student Affairs is but one example to a greater problem with career decision-making.  People choose careers at a dangerously young age for so many wrong decisions (money, fame, comfort, power, respect, parental choice, etc.)  We are in the field of education, we owe it to ourselves and our students to encourage them to make an informed decision about their path to a career in higher education by being honest and allowing them to have many opportunities to see it for themselves.

Like the Wizard of Oz, it is time for us to let them see the “man behind the curtain”

What was your path to Student Affairs like?  Were you prepared for your work?  Any surprises?  Share your story.

How to be innovative (sort of) in Student Affairs

I have been reading and thinking a lot about innovation lately.  The culture at my institution is fast-paced, forward thinking and innovative, especially in the last few years.  In general, the landscape in Higher Education is changing and we as Student Affairs professionals need to adapt our thinking, programs and services.  Something I have noticed though, is that for some, innovation and new thinking can be difficult.  Often, we get stuck in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.  For many of these folks, they have an all or nothing approach to innovation. The notion is that you have to come up with the next best thing, this big new idea, and it has to be grand.  It is when you realize that is not entirely true, that you can begin to think differently and in a way that fosters innovation.  I am writing this post to share some tips that have worked for me to think about innovation in a smaller, more manageable scale.

1.  Assess first

Trying to innovate without knowing what the needs or problems are is like running a marathon without shoes, and perhaps without any training.  It can be done, but it makes your task much more difficult.  I am a firm believer that you can’t find a solution until you have identified the problem and its scope.

2. Think thrift shopping

Sometimes you don’t need to spend all kinds of money to get a pair of jeans when you can get something just as good from a thrift shop.  The same  thought process can be used while seeking new ideas.  Some of my most “innovative” ideas for my work and my institution have come from colleagues or by researching what is done at other institution.  Though it is not a new idea or innovative in the truest form, it is new and innovative for my work and my institution.  You will be amazed by how many incredible things your colleagues are doing and we are fortunate to be in a field that is so willing to share and help.  Utilize your resources and watch the new ideas flow.

3. Think small

The point, for me, of innovation is not necessarily thinking large scale.  It could be the smallest tweak to a program, a minor change to a service that could make the biggest change or impact.  By thinking small, you open yourself up to more ideas that are practical, and oftentimes more cost effective

4. Brainstorming; groups or individuals? BOTH!

It is no secret that Higher Education loves committees!  We have meetings about meetings.  While thinking and brainstorming in large groups can be helpful, it is not the only way.  Sometimes group think can occur and the politics involved with any organization can stifle individual creativity.  With my students, I encourage them to brainstorm on their own, once the problem has been identified, then come together as a group.  Instead of a rattling off of undeveloped ideas, the group gets to hear solid, well-thought out ideas and evaluate them instead of starting from scratch.  This saves a lot of time, a valuable resource for all of us.

5. Be flexible and adaptable

This final step is, perhaps, the most important.  Sometimes an idea can seem so profound and everyone is sure it will work; and then it all blows up!  There are outside factors that effect whether or not a new idea will work.  These are often out of our control.  It is important to not let the failure of one new idea deter you from trying others.  It is important to learn from your mistakes and move forward with the new knowledge.

What innovative ideas have you implemented in your work lately?  What was that process like?

Work-Life Balance: Lessons Learned

All too often we are told as young professionals to seek work-life balance.  It is ingrained in our graduate school experiences.  We talk about it at conferences and have discussions with our supervisors and mentors.  How many student affairs professionals can actually claim they have achieved balance?  What does balance mean?  I always thought it was like a UFO; something many look for, few claim they have seen, and most believe it does not actually exist.

I have a few thoughts…

  • Balance does not equal 9-5.  Let’s face it; we all knew coming in that this field requires late nights and weekends.
  • Balance is subjective and means something different to everyone.  This is important when comparing yourself to others and when having discussions with colleagues and especially with your supervisor.  Know what it is you need to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
  • No one will hand you work-life balance or offer a magical solution.  You need to advocate for yourself.
  • Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  (See below for some steps I have taken that might help)

I would like to share some things I have learned and some steps I have taken to improve my work-life balance that might be helpful for others.

  • Learn how to say no.  How many times are we asked to take on another advisor role for instance?  We are dedicated to our students, so we most often say yes.  I challenge you to think of balance the next time you volunteer for something.  Being an over-committed, hard to reach, always busy advisor is not helpful.  Maybe there is someone else who is able to give that organization the time and attention they need.
  • Decide whether or not you will check email from home.  This could be an entire post.  The subject is still open for debate.  The moment I purchased my first smartphone, balance went out the window.  I checked and responded to emails regularly.  I’ve learned over the last 3.5 years that you can be more effective and efficient with this.  I have stopped notifications from coming to my phone alerting me when a new message comes in.  I check it only when I have time and feel like checking it.  I use the functions afforded to me in gmail that allow me to filter out unimportant or less important emails, so the only ones I read on my phone are important.  Lastly, I ONLY respond to the vitally important emails.  See Ed Cabellon’s helpful blog post on Achieving Inbox Zero for more helpful tips.
  • Set boundaries with students.  I used to have students call, text, and email me at all hours of the day.  I have worked hard to educate my students about the difference of something that would require a phone call or text and something that can wait for an email.  With this, I also set the expectation that emails would not be answered at all hours of the day, so if something is indeed important, to just pick up the phone.  This has been surprisingly helpful and students have respected it and communications with them have improved.
  • Work smarter, not harder.  Find simple ways to make your daily tasks easier, so that you can spend your time and energy on your students and larger, more important projects.
  • Get a life outside of work!  Find hobbies and make time for friends and family.  If you are a calendar fan and schedule every daily event like I do, putting dinner with friends, a concert, date night, etc. into your calendar will help you stick to it.
  • Think about becoming a pet owner.  Pet ownership is not for everyone.  For me, it has done wonders on improving my work-life balance.  Having a dog helps me stay active (via our daily walks), improves my overall stress relief, and sometimes gives me the much needed excuse to escape the office for a little while.  Besides, my students love when she comes to visit as it provides some stress relief for them

Our pup Sadie at her favorite place, the beach!

No one knows better than you, what will work best for you and what work-life balance looks and feels like for you.  I hope what I shared will be helpful.

What do you do to improve your work-life balance?