Balance. It’s something that a lot of us are seeking in Residence Life, but at least in my life, it seems simply out of grasp. Perhaps balance isn’t the right word any more, but the word is a placeholder until something better comes along. I think that finding what feels right when it comes to my professional and personal life seems more attainable. I have found a position where I am learning a lot and accomplishing professional goals. This position has also helped and encouraged me to be comfortable exploring the hobbies I enjoy. My challenge is coordinating all of this in small town.
I’ve worked in small towns for most of my career thus far, some smaller than others. Working as a professional in residence life in a small town is a challenge. I hold no illusions that the transition to a smaller town than my previous institution has been a bit sticky. My students are everywhere, including all of the closest places where we sometimes seek refuge (Target). I’m becoming more comfortable with this and would like to share a few things that I’ve done recently and in the past to help maintain my ‘balance’.
I frequently run into students even when I’m 20-30 minutes away from campus. Some interactions are wonderful, like helping them pick a carpet for their room. Others have been awkward, i.e. the student has just received a judicial letter. I generally go about my business without acknowledging them unless they come to me. For the student who comes up to discuss a judicial letter, redirect them. I remind them that we are off campus and they are here to do something else. If they continue, I remind them they’ve received a notification and to follow the instructions within and that I’ll be happy to discuss it further in a meeting at a later date. Often, this simple interaction gives them relief that I am in fact a person and am willing to hear them out. It also allows me to finish looking at something I don’t really need (TARGET).
My staff members also tend to pop up when it comes to my adventures in town and around campus. I want them to go out and have fun; they need as much ‘balance’ as I do. Something I do to ensure we all get our time out and about is set firm boundaries and expectations. My staff knows that I do love seeing them, but when we cross paths at other events or off campus, that a quick wave or hello is plenty. They can gush to me about their adventures in our one on one meetings.
Take time off
Lastly, I think the best thing to obtain that ‘balance’ is to make sure you use your time off. Don’t be afraid to get out of town for a little bit. You’ve earned it. I’ve been lucky to have amazing supervisors who encourage me to take advantage of the time off I’ve earned. Go on a trip, see some friends, visit a new place. Do what makes your heart happy. Just remember to also honor your institutions busy times. Trying to take a vacation during Fall opening is likely frowned upon.
In residence life, you live and work in the same place, but it’s okay to build in some healthy separation. You don’t have to be constantly working even if you are in a small town where your students are literally everywhere. I love my job, but I also love myself and I know for me taking care of myself means I have more life to share with my students. I hope that those small town ResLifers can find their balance in their loves. What are somethings you’ve used to find your ‘balance’ in a small town? Share them with me in the comments or on twitter @mlsanzo.
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Podcast With Wimer Alberto on Housing Operations