Tuesday was a bad day.
It wasn’t bad in a typical sense. There were no coffee stains on my shirt, I didn’t forget my lunch, and I left work at a reasonable hour.
It was one of the days that lurk around corners in Student Affairs, ambushing us, and unexpectedly reminding us that that the work we do has the potential to be raw and emotional. By noon, I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and spent most of the afternoon pulling together resources to help a student.
We often talk about the bright, shining parts of our jobs, and we should because there are many of them. We have incredible opportunities to connect with young adults and be a small part of their journey. We celebrate alongside our students and watch them reach moments of clarity and understanding. I would imagine most of us went into this line of work because of those bright, shining moments, and because there is so much good out there to be harnessed.
But we also see students in moments when their worlds are crashing down, when they just need someone to talk to. Or, occasionally, when they need to sit quietly and not talk.
And I don’t think we’re honest enough about that in our field.
In the spring of 2003, I worked as a grad in the Office of Student Activities at Ohio University. That quarter was… tumultuous? Challenging? I’m not sure there’s a word. Three sorority women from our campus died in a house fire on another campus. The senior class president was killed in a car accident in her hometown. An international student had a heart attack at his off campus apartment and died. Over and over again, we were faced with bad days. And though I would never wish an experience like that on any professional, I’m incredibly grateful for Anne and Michael, who were honest and transparent about the bad days. They talked about them openly and showed the staff a balance of professionalism and humbleness. When I think about what in my daily work I draw from my graduate experience, most of it is drawn from that quarter of learning what happens when the superhero capes come off.
When I posted similar sentiments to Facebook on Tuesday afternoon, the conversation in the comments turned quickly to social media and how we portray our work. For me, though, it’s more than social media. It’s about being authentic in our work all of the time and being true to what we experience. I directly supervise 3 professionals and indirectly supervise three more. I owe it to them to show them that there are still hard days as you move up in the field. They look different, and the ability to respond is different because access to resources is different. I want them to know that there is still good, but there is also still bad. And, in my experience, moving up has meant the bad is worse than what I’ve previously seen. I don’t always need my staff to know details; I need them to know that a bad day is inevitable and that it’s okay to feel the effects of it long after the student leaves your office.
It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to be tired, to be sad, to be frustrated by the limits of our ability to help, to be challenged, and to be mad at what the world throws at people.
And, with that, it’s okay to talk about in a way that helps other professionals to learn and not feel isolated when the bad days happen to them.
How do you talk about the bad days with your colleagues, peers, or staff?
Originally Published At This Side Of Theory