The alarm sounds–it’s dark. I tiptoe out of my bedroom, attempting to avoid my brown dog who blends into the lightless room. It is 4:50am. I change into my running clothes and hop into the car. It is cold–12 degrees Fahrenheit in New Hampshire. I have a 20-minute drive to the YMCA (where I run when it is too cold or too dark to run outside). I can be classified as a “morning person” but I am also cursed with the issue that once I run, I am energized. (Because I get so energized, I would not be able to fall asleep at a normal hour if I were running after work!) I am there when they first unlock the doors and today, I planned a 7-mile run to stay on track (pun intended) to reach my goal of completing a half-marathon in May. My day has officially begun.
The rest of my day balances serving as a Dean of Students, doctoral student, and life with my amazingly supportive wife and twin 5-year-olds. I must admit, during introductions with folks, I love to share what I balance. It is not because I like to boast, but rather because I love seeing how eyes widen when I say, “Dean of Students…doctoral student…twin five-year-olds…oh, and a half marathon in May.” This month I also add, “State Director for NH in NASPA Region 1.” Truth-be-told, it is not as hard as it sounds for the key elements.
First, I have an amazingly supportive family.
It helps that my kids have an early bedtime. After putting the kids to bed at 7:30pm, I spend time with my wife, Melissa. Following that, I head to my basement workspace for homework, reading, and work emails. Without the support and understanding of Melissa, this would not work. If not for an early bedtime for the kids (or me), this would not work. Luckily, without assuming it would not work, my wife and I figured out how it could work and what we would be willing to sacrifice. I will be done with my doc program in 2.5 years and the hours of nightly homework will pay off.
Second, I have been able to overcome most of the mental barriers that stopped me from finding balance in the past–or made me think adding a doc program or exercise to my day would be impossible.
I used to think: my day has been so busy and stressful that the best thing I could do at night to regroup would be to watch TV or surf the web. While some of my coursework is not as exciting as Game of Thrones, reading and homework has actually been a way to shake-off my work day and re-center myself. (No kidding, it is actually a stress reliever on most nights!)
Third, this did not happen overnight!
I am in my sixth year as a Dean of Students. It took three years to add regular exercise to my schedule and five years to start a doc program. There are still many days when I have internal arguments about whether to go back to sleep or to actually get up. The key to running long distances—or committing to whatever exercise you have chosen—is getting through the mental barriers.
Getting back to my early bedtime:
I am in bed by 10pm so I can be up by that 4:50am alarm. Before including exercise in my life, I would head to bed later and sleep in as long as possible prior to getting ready for work and the day.
Here is the payoff:
I am sleeping 10 times better and feel 1,000 times better! 4:50am sounded impossibly early when my bedtime was midnight, but the earlier bedtime has forced me to focus on getting work done. As a dean, I am on call 24/7/365, so some late night phone calls derail my bedtime. Those tough mornings-after are worth the greater balance I need to stay healthy!
For the first five years of my career, I was incredibly unbalanced and thus, unhealthy. That leads to the best advice I could give to anyone about finding balance.
Find a buddy who also wants to get on track and will hold you accountable.
For me, that was Kevin Solomon. Kevin invited me to run every morning when we were both Residence Directors at Oklahoma State. We were both brand new to running but had a simple and effective plan: we would run/walk for 40 minutes each weekday. The first day, we probably ran 2 minutes and walked 38 but within weeks, we were jogging and eventually running the entire time. We both got into awesome shape and to this day, on tough mornings when my internal argument is taking place, I simply think, “Remember how great you felt that day when you finally ran the whole 40 minutes!”
I’m running much longer than 40 minutes now but all it takes is one great experience to motivate you to keep that balance!
This post is part of our #SAfit series for April. With the constant hustle and bustle of our profession, we can’t forget to put ourselves at the top of our to-do list sometimes. It is essential that we remember to take time for self care and this series highlights how our colleagues work #SAfit into their lifestyles. This can look different for each of us and your journey is your own. For more info, please see Mandi Stewart’s intro post. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series too!