First off, happy Careers in Student Affairs Month! There are so many cool things about this field that are shared this time of year. Like most fields, however, there are those pesky negative feelings that pop up from time to time. A colleague told me that whoever can find a cure for this burnout will be the richest SA pro on the planet. That sounds great, so I’d like to take a swing at it. Here we go!
Pros and Cons of the Field
Burnout exists because we are human. Let’s make that clear right away (look at me, saving you hours of Pinterest “inspirational quotes” searches). For aspiring SA pros, I believe that there are few things more rewarding than helping a student achieve his or her dreams. Helping a colleague achieve goals on campus is another great feeling. The energy on campus in August every year is indescribable.
This field asks you to give your all every day, to mentor them when you can’t even pick out matching socks, and to solve problems on your toes. This field provides opportunities to seamlessly integrate personal and professional growth. You could say it’s the very best example of challenge and support. *ba-dum-tss*
Approaches to Burnout
I have a theory about this level of intense stress: you have two options to get rid of it. Option one… Let your work take over all that you are and don’t make time for yourself. Allow it to consume you and give in to the nagging “just give up on x, y, z” mentality. You might even leave the SA field completely out of sheer frustration.
Option two… Cry, because adults do that sometimes. You’re allowed to break down and acknowledge that what your job asks you to do is tough. You might take a day (or a few) to regroup, because that is healthy. Then you need to get back up and remind yourself why you entered the field in the first place. For many, it is because of their own student experiences. That’s what keeps me going every day. I want to make college, I don’t know, more for students (better, easier to manage, just more than what it was for me). Knowing why I started helps me find reasons to keep pushing forward.
Is that it?
Nope. Whatever got you into this field, I assure you it likely won’t be enough to keep you here. In addition to remembering why you became an SA pro, reflect on things surrounding your conflict/burnout. Ask how you can fix things, delegate to those who can help, and identify what the outcome needs to be. Remind yourself that it was a bad day or week. That does not mean it has to be a bad month, semester, or year. As you move through your career, you will begin to see a pattern. Each new response to conflict or burnout will tie back to your initial goals, which is another really cool thing about what we do.
I know that most people talk about how awesome and positive the field of Student Affairs is in October, and it absolutely is amazing. This post is for everyone who needs it, though. The intrigued undergraduates, the grad students, new SA’s, and the more experienced professionals. How you feel about your work and how you move forward has little to do with the power of burnout and much to do with your perspective.
If you are looking at graduate programs or searching for your first post-grad school job, I would love to hear about your journey and ways you have stayed positive during stressful times! If you are an experienced SA pro, please comment with advice for those who are new to the field, it would be so appreciated.
> BONUS <
Podcast on Gamification in Higher Ed & Student Affairs with Stacy Jacob & Dave Eng