Many #SApros join the profession because they were once involved leaders. For these individuals, what was once their “extracurricular” becomes their jobs. I remember attending my first regional careers in student affairs conference. The saying, “if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life” was thrown around many times. The idea of it was so addicting. Fast forward nearly four years later and I had landed my dream job.
Quickly, I realized how true this mantra was for me – how work never felt like work. I could effortlessly put in 50, 60 or even 70 hours a week into my work and feel completely ok with it. After all, it was something that I loved doing. When my friends would encourage me to seek “work-life balance”, I always laughed and said…,”What work-life balance? My work is my life.”
I recognize that the student affairs field can be hectic. Between the programs we oversee and the needs of our students, it’s easy for our schedules to get out of hand. That’s why instead of always juggling the number of hours I spend in and outside of the office, I allow for some overlap.
“Work-life balance” is a common buzzword in the field. Colleagues emphasize the importance of striking a balance between your work and personal life. Thinking back to my first NASPA Western Regional Conference, I will always remember a facilitator who talked about “finding your rhythm.” It led me to think that instead of trying to balance everything, it might before more useful to think of it as work-life integration. Trying to be balanced – every single day – sounds exhausting. I think of it like preparing a thanksgiving dinner. Instead of trying to mix the stuffing with my right hand, and pour a pie filling with my left hand, I can prepare the stuffing while the pie is baking.”
That being said, just because my work was easy to pile on doesn’t mean I didn’t need to take breaks. Burnout is still real, and it’s possible to overextend oneself. I had to incorporate time to “do me”. And for me this meant that I had to find a new hobby.
Find a New Hobby
During graduate school, I sold all of my camera equipment to help pay for a summer internship. My mentors and friends cautioned against this move, encouraging me to keep a creative outlet outside of work. I sold my equipment against their advice. I told myself: my job is the fun stuff…why do I need to do anything else fun?
It’s helpful, even if only for the sake of refocusing on your job, to have an alternative activity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the leading researcher on “Flow,” claiming it as the “secret to happiness.” Allowing yourself to fully immerse yourself in an activity can do loads for your brain and allows me to feel refreshed.
Since grad school, I’ve found other hobbies, like weight-lifting, playing Pokemon Go, taking a walk around my local Costco/Target with my roommate and enjoying the local scenery around the Bay. When I need a mini “reset” I remind myself to take a break and partake in another one of my hobbies.
Think Big Picture
On a day to day basis, I utilize an hour to hour view of my calendar. On a weekly basis, I look at a month view with my personal and work calendar enabled. Important engagements get added to my calendar as an all-day reminder. Seeing work and personal commitments together help me determine when I need to take an afternoon or day to make something in my personal life work out. Take control of your engagements and plan for some outside fun.
I have an amazing supervisor who is not only my “boss” but also a leader. While I know that there are high expectations to get the job done, my supervisor emphasizes taking breaks. When something needs to get done, it needs to get done. But, when I have something else going on in my life, it’s ok to focus on that too.
Here’s an example: I am an Apple fanatic. I have pre-ordered every iPhone on launch day since as far as I can remember. And I will never forget the moment when my supervisor (jokingly) yelled at me to go home so I can sign for my new Apple watch that was being delivered. She doesn’t just value the work that I put out. She makes sure that I am able to get what I need (yes, need) as a human too. Establishing trust has helped me in this area tremendously.
I am grateful to have a strong support network that understands the chaos of my job. My network understands that there are weeks where I will disappears into the frenzy of welcome week, retreats, or student government elections. During these times, I have friends who send a text to check in. Some of these friends take me out after work and bring me to my favorite food places to ensure I’m physically and emotionally nourished.
I also have found it incredibly critical to find a support network at work as well. When I was in graduate school, people always talked about the size of the student affairs field. I was always nervous to “befriend” someone at the workplace and put up barriers. Now, I am grateful to have developed a strong sense of trust with some of my colleagues. I can be open and honest around them and have found “my people.” These are the friends that I can have my cup of coffee with or the ones who schedule a 30 minute meeting with my so I have time to breathe. Without these people…I don’t know how I’d do it.
I have friends and colleagues who laughed when I told them I was doing a piece on work-life balance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. But I’ve also found that I’ve made things easier myself by not trying to “balance” everything all the time. I find ways to integrate things into my day. It also helps that I have a really strong support system who I know will always be there for me.
What are your tips for juggling all that you do? Leave me a note in the comments below!
October is Careers in Student Affairs Month (CSAM). While increased awareness of entry-points into the field are important to highlight, CSAM also serves as a way to discuss the larger culture of student affairs. Our pursuit of ensuring student affairs staff is representative of diversifying student demographics can’t come at the cost of health and well-being of staff. Add your voice to the conversation by using #CSAM17. Have ideas about a future series for the Student Affairs Collective? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.