I was running very early the other morning with my kids in a stroller. For the first half of the run I concentrated on my running speed, talking to the kids, and asking myself why did I get up so early (and push two kids in a stroller). I was so focused on my own needs and keeping the kids “entertained” that I forgot where we were going. After a half hour, I turned around to head home but this time I was aware of the trees, the sound of the creek next to us, the tweeting of the birds, and the pounding sound of my shoes and the stroller tires. It was at this point I realized how much running was like what we in student affairs do to prepare for the upcoming academic year.
For those who run, setting new goals is as common practice as increasing your running pace to prepare for a half-marathon. A running plan is developed to achieve goals. Either daily or weekly achievements are set toward the final goal. Similarly for student affairs professionals, summer is seen as an opportunity to refresh, renew, and begin new practices. This is often reflected by analyzing the previous year’s assessment reports, new policy development, and project management. We set deadlines, do project review, develop policies and procedures. The summer moves along until August.
For runners, injuries may accrue due to the pressure of the training program. They have been so focused on meeting goals that they forgot to listen to their body. The end point may be close, but they continue or increase their training sessions. For student affairs professionals, August means training and preparation. The grand plans developed during summer are set in motion. We spend endless hours in training sessions and meetings. We push ourselves and our team to the max, prepping campus for the arrival of our students.
Then “the wall” hits. For the runner, the body reacts to the training and pressure it is under and a fight between the runner’s mental and physical strength occurs. They begin to question why they run at all if this is what running is about. This can also happen for student affairs professionals during this time period. We may ask ourselves: Why are we here? Why are we doing this?
Some student affairs professionals (and their staff) can be over-trained, and overwhelmed by the pressure of meeting new goals. We work endless nights getting ready for the grand arrival of our students but suffer burn-out and exhaustion when they do arrive. Yes, the students are moved in and ready for classes but we are no longer happy to see them. Runners also experience this “over-training” concept. They have worked so hard toward their goal but are no longer are joyful on achieving it. The body may fail and even though the goal is in sight, the runner might stop altogether because the desire is gone.
I realized this quickly on that morning run. I was so focused on my goals, on what I was trying to achieve that I forgot why I was out there running. I was pushing (literally and figuratively) towards something so hard that I didn’t allow the goal to be “right there” with me. For runners, this is called “the zone”. I have only experienced this a few times in my running experience so I’ll try my best to explain it. “The zone” is where the body and mind unite and in motion together. The world around you seems to move in slow motion even though you are running. You can hear your heart beat and your mind working together. Thoughts seem to flow in and out but never distracting you from your path. A greater awareness of self comes into place.
For student affairs, I advise that we take a step back and find our “zone”, especially during August. Let’s release the pressure we have on ourselves to have everything ready for our students. Look around and be in the moment with your colleagues and your staff members. Enjoy their laughter and awkwardness in getting to know each other. Listen to their conversations, rather than thinking of that batch of emails you have to send out once you get back in the office. We push so hard to put our grand plans into action that we forget to step back and allow them to develop organically. The students will come no matter what. It’s best for us to finish the race, at ANY pace than to not finish at all.
Now, I’m off for a casual run (physically and mentally). Are you ready to join me?
Licinia “Lulu” Barrueco Kaliher, Ed.D., is a Ray Street Complex Director at the University of Delaware.