“I can’t wait to leave [insert University or Department here], everything here is backwards . . . other schools are not this dysfunctional!”
Recently I was having lunch with colleagues from my former department; we were discussing how frequently we hear some version of the sentence above from graduate students and new professionals entering the field. I’ll even own that I likely made similar declarations six or so years ago.
During a recent #sachat on finding happiness in our day-to-day work I left this Final Thought:
FT So much of our work is about mindset & approach. As I tell grads, EVERY school has issues, you just have to manage & thrive #sachat
We know that every institution is unique. Each campus will have a different culture, history, organizational structure, and political dynamic – all of which can contribute to a sense of frustration. While the specific issues will look different from campus to campus, every institution has issues that may impact your work in big or small ways.
But it is all about perspective. Instead of approaching these frustrations as ‘oh well, I’m leaving in 7 months and 5 days – wherever I end up next HAS to be better’, reflect on your current experience. Reflecting on campus or department issues, the organizational & political structures in place, and your personal/professional reaction, can help prepare you as a professional place those issues into perspective.
Consider Your Approach and Perspective
What are those day-to-day frustrations? Do you attend committee meetings where you feel they continuously spin their wheels? Perhaps your office fails to provide timely information for an annual event? For others it may be the lack of accountability or celebratory practices. In most cases, there are historical and political forces at play, take the time to learn campus politics!
A point for reflection is to consider the “why”; why do those things frustrate you? Are processes and procedures at your current institution different from previous experiences? Are they the result of personality conflicts with peers or supervisors? Do inefficiencies impact your professional development and the overall student experience? Reflecting on the answers to these questions can help you as a professional frame the issues and place them into a broader context; those answers can also provide valuable insight for how to manage frustration.
Manage and Thrive
A technique I commonly use when facing a frustrating issue is to develop mitigation strategies. For example, I previously worked for a department that was notoriously late providing staff with information for events that happen every year (i.e. Hall Closing for Winter Break, RA Staff Evaluations, RA Recruitment information, etc.). Instead of being angry or frustrated, I adapted. By my second year in the position I was familiar with the rhythm of the year, utilized resources from other colleagues, and would ask my supervisors for information well in advance of the time it was needed. This allowed me to shift my expectations and complete essential job tasks with reduced frustration.
When frustrations are directed at policies or procedures, it is important to reflect on your sphere of control. When you are tuned into campus politics, you are able to identify areas where strategically advocating for change can be successful – this also requires creative brainstorming of possible solutions/recommendations. If you know a policy is in place because of direct initiatives by the President or Board of Trustees, your energy may be better placed advocating for smaller changes that have the potential to lay the groundwork for greater changes down the road.
As a VPSA once told me, “every school has their own unique set of issues, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.” When you are able to reflect on your approach/perspective, develop strategies to manage frustrations and thrive, and take time to celebrate small victories, we are capable of accomplishing great things on our campuses.