On June 25, 2007 I walked out of my office at McKendree University to head home for the day. It was a day of firsts for me. My first day of work at McKendree, my first day as a Director of Residence Life, and the first time I would leave work and travel off campus to go home. I had served as a live in staff member for seven years previous to my arrival as Director.
I opened the door to my house and felt an immediate shift upon walking through the door. The stress of the day (which was not too bad at the time) had left and I was mentally at home. The next morning I went to work, put in my hours, and returned home to the same experience. I remember being struck by this pattern and wondered…why had I not experienced this separation before?
Can We Care Too Much?
I have often shared the most important characteristic for a student affairs professional is to care about the work we do. Many of us link this caring mentality with helping all students we encounter. While this desire to help is admirable, and in many cases necessary for success, it can go too far. We feel we must act immediately to “save” students from poor decisions. We also remember our student failures more than our successes. I recognized this helping nature within myself and made a key decision: I began a “fun folder” in paper and electronic format. This folder contains thank you messages from students, peers, and supervisors. Whenever I am stressed or question my ability as a professional, I access this folder.
Recognize Your Habits
What habits contribute to your lack of balance? Are you a residence life professional who has evening hours but still begins each work day at 8am? Are you a judicial officer who considers the cases of today or tomorrow before bed? Do you work in student activities and feel you must attend every program? Are you a senior administrator who constantly discusses work when away from work? These are some samples of patterns you may have. My pattern…having my work email on my phone and setting a “ding” whenever I received an email. I would receive a notification, my heart would race, and I would check my phone. Really? Why would I do that? Perhaps I enjoyed the idea of being needed, worried about response time, or felt I needed to be current. Whatever the reason, this process impacted my health and it had to stop. How will you address your habit?
Let me share one final recommendation in conclusion: find an honest friend. This person can be a colleague, external peer, or perhaps someone outside the profession. Sometimes a friend can identify our habits or overworking tendencies better than us. It is harder to see the issue when you have the issue.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Paige Erhart at firstname.lastname@example.org.