The paths to burnout

I’ve had a relatively short career in student affairs but over the course of my 3+ years post masters degree, I have seen (including myself) a couple dozen new professionals accept positions directly out of graduate school and the results haven’t always been awesome. With that in mind, I’ve thought of a few examples of things that I’ve seen or felt take a toll on myself and my peers.

I’ve had a relatively short career in student affairs but over the course of my 3+ years post masters degree, I have seen (including myself) a couple dozen new professionals accept positions directly out of graduate school and the results haven’t always been awesome. With that in mind, I’ve thought of a few examples of things that I’ve seen or felt take a toll on myself and my peers.

Taking everything too seriously

In student affairs, we sometimes get stuck dwelling on the very A grumpy looking catserious situations that we work with. These incidents or interventions can stick with us for a long time. We tend to focus on these draining experiences rather than the inspiring or uplifting interactions with have with students who are engaging with their community in a positive manner or advocating for a change in policy or creating a new program/initiative that is going to make a difference. With that in mind, we have to know when to have fun. We play an important role at the university but that doesn’t mean that we have to be stuffy all the time. If you’re stuck in the serious and negative all the time you’re going to reach your limit more quickly and then you won’t be able to assist students and do the important stuff when it’s called for.

Not taking time away

Vacation days are time when your job is paying you not to work. Use them. Sick days are also for us to actually be sick and recuperate. Limiting your life to your job can be seriously detrimental to your health and prevents you from being the holistic person that we help our students strive to be. I’m not even asking you to take a week-long vacation but find some hobbies, make friends, and get away from campus to recharge. Explore your town, I’m willing to bet that there is something there for you to engage with.

Making unilateral decisions

People don’t like change. That includes our A heterosexual white couple sit on a couch. The man says to the woman, students and peers when we move into new positions. Little changes to routines for our students can be difficult to grasp. We need to make sure the decisions we make take into account the audience that the decision will impact. This usually results from not learning the culture around you and how to exist within that. Learn the students and what they need from you. Make decisions that are going to help you all succeed and accomplish your shared goals (that should also be developed within the context of your university and department values and vision)

Ignoring your successes

We all make mistakes and one of them is ignoring when we do something well and staying stuck in the mistakes. Supervisors are going to define success how they want to but you also need to establish your own vision for success so that you can meet your own goals. Be realistic but also find ways to push yourself. Also think outside of your position (check with your supervisor first though!)… One of my goals one year was to get trained to facilitate a diversity and inclusion workshop that is hosted in our Multicultural Education office and use that as a platform to connect with students outside of my residence hall. One way to continue this work is to write down three things that you’re grateful for or that you did well each day. This simple gratitude practice can help you focus on what success is at hand.

Ignoring your passions

You may find your position limiting in terms of working with your passions outside of your day-to-day work. Ignoring them and not connecting with them are going to wear you down and demotivate you. One of my passions is social justice education and college access and I’ve been very fortunate in working at a university in which these ideas can come together in a summer bridge program for 1st generation college students. I’ve also created programs focused on social justice education that give space for us to learn from each other. I’ve made space for the things that I care about to be present in my daily work even though it’s not in my title. Find ways to make that work for you.

Avoiding reflection

A huge part of our lives is making meaning of A moleskine journal and penwhat’s happening in front of and around us. If we don’t take time to reflect on what we’ve been doing then we aren’t able to adjust to do things better in the future. Reflection should be a huge part of any professional’s work flow, but I think it’s especially critical to entry-level professionals because you’re establishing your career. Learning from what’s happening around you (both positive and negative) can be better professional development than  attending conferences. Set a reminder to reflect regularly whether it’s daily or weekly or monthly. Think about what you’ve done and what was great and what you can do better for next time.

Not having a mentor

Mentors are so critical! They hold us accountable to what we want to accomplish and the professional (or even person) that we want to become. Find someone you look up to who you trust and talk to them about being their mentee. Talk to them about what your goals are in your position and where you want to go in your career. They can also talk through how their career started out


There a lots of ways to make these things happen and this is obviously not an exhaustive list. Consider what’s going to work for you. Think about setting up regular practices such as journal writing in reflection. Meditation can also be a day changer (it has been for me) and there are lots of apps available for smart phones that help guide you through meditations (my favorite is Stop, Breathe, Think). Another app that I’ve used recently is Lift. It’s a coaching app that helps establish new habits. Whatever you do reflect on how you’re feeling at work and what you can do to take care of yourself.

ACPA: Institute on Social Justice

It’s been more a long time since I got back from the Institute on Social Justice (ISJ) at the University of California, Berkeley and I still haven’t taken the time to sit down and think about what I really got out of my experience… which is awful because I’m sure that I’ve forgotten several things since the conference. And I figured I need to sit down and ensure that I reflect so that I don’t allow this experience to merge into my ACPA 2013 convention experience as I leave for that within a week.

One of the themes that I took away from ISJ was about parenting as a social justice advocate/educator. Some of my fellow group discussion members talked about it, it was a topic for a couple of contributors in Dr. Shakti Butler’s film Cracking the Codes, and Michael Benitez talked about it in his featured speaker address. It isn’t something that I’ve thought too much about previously to attending ISJ so when it felt like it kept popping up, I took notice. Many of the people in the discussion group talked about the hard part being what happens outside your locus of control. At home as a parent you’ve got a substantial amount of influence over what your children experience, watch, read, and you directly influence how they make meaning. Outside the home, at school or someone else’s house, there is far less influence from you and more influence from people who may not share your same values. So I guess the focus is really about making sure that my children (still weird to think about right now…), think critically about what they’re taking in or hearing from other adults. Focusing on the conversations on what they’re day was like and what they learned is so much more important than I really ever thought about. In both Dr. Butler’s film and in Michael Benitez’s talk, the focus was on the influence that we have on our on children. One story was about a white man who started to take racial competence more seriously after watching Peter Jackson’s King Kong with his son. One was about Michael Benitez’s son wanting to do a boycott for something that happened at school and then his daughter creating the word girlcotting because she wanted to protest too and felt that boycotting didn’t apply to who she is. It was an awesome moment to hear about and I believe it spoke volumes to the kind of parents Mr. Benitez and his partner are.

When I think about radical parenting I also think about self-care because it’s become so much more of a focus for me this year for a number of reasons. And challenging my students and then coming to home to make sure that my parenting is matching my values will probably mean I’ll need to be taking care of myself.

Another huge takeaway for me was, as ludicrous as it is to say it, realizing that I’m not alone in social justice education. I rarely feel alone because I have great colleagues here at Mason, but sometimes social justice work feels very isolating and it’s a great reminder to me that there are so many of us working toward change. Whether we’re newer to the work or seasoned educators it’s important to know that we’ve got a huge network.

One of the other major themes I took away (which wasn’t very surprising because I know I will always need to do personal work on my identities) was some of the identities that we spent time on at ISJ. One of the TED-like talks at ISJ was about supporting our undocumented students. This really challenged me to think more about my privileges in not ever having had to worry about my national status or how people might treat me if I can’t fill out certain paperwork. It’s been highlighted more and more as we continue to talk about immigration reform (which the speakers challenged as being a politicized word because there has been natural migration of people and animals throughout history – it was only when we created artificial political borders that we changed it to “immigration”) I also was challenged to think more about my identity as an atheist because I still benefit from Christian privilege even though I don’t identify that way. My family still celebrates Christian holidays which are usually reflected as time off on my university’s calendar but they don’t hold the original meaning to me because it’s always just been time for family to be together.

ISJ was clearly a great experience that gave me a lot to reflect on as I continue to grow as a social justice educator and as a person. In addition to all of this I met some awesome people who I hope I can continue to connect with over the years.

The Resolution Game

It’s 2011. This is going to be an very interesting year for me as I will graduate with my M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration and find a full time job. Given the circumstances, I think my resolutions could simply include making sure I graduate and find a job. But I like to challenge myself a little bit. 🙂

  1. Read more – Over break I finished up a book I’d been reading for a couple of months, breezed through another in a day, and then read two of the books that I got for Christmas. There was something about it that was refreshing. I really enjoyed curling up on a couch with the book and losing myself in another world while surrounded by silence. That relaxation is something I want to continue through the year. (you can see all of these in the GoodReads widget on the right of the blog)
  2. Yoga and more water – These are my obligatory health related resolutions. I’d like to do yoga because it keeps you limber but also strengthens. There is also an amount of calm and concentration associated with it that I’d like to keep going. As for the more water, it’s really about replacing the soda that I drink with water and trying to cut soda out as much as possible.
  3. Find time to be inspired by new people and things – Over the break I discovered some new people that I’m inspired by. Jean Michel Basquiat is one of them. I want to make sure that I’m allowing myself to draw inspiration from a wide variety of people. Whether it be my supervisor, my peers, my students, or scholars and artists, I want to diversify my inspiration to incorporate music, literature, art, as well as scholarship in my work.
  4. Take more photographs, write more music, write a story – This is where the diversity of my inspiration will really come into play. I love taking photographs and I want to create the time and the frame of mind to do it more. I’ve written a few songs and many more fragments. I’d like to continue to use music as a medium for self expression. As I was reading some of the books during winter break, I was inspired by what I was reading as well as the Hudson river (I was on a train right next to the river). These inspiration led me to write a few fragments of stories. They are really just character sketches, but I want to do more with it and create something complete.
  5. Professional Identity – In addition to all of the goals above, I’d like to continue to define my own professional identity. My areas of passion drive my work and I want to define what it is about those passions that drives me to be the professional that I am.
  6. Expand my work as an advocate. A professor that I had last semester truly inspired me to become an advocate and activist for the things that I believe in. I want to make sure that I focus on these beliefs and incorporate them into my work.

I have a varied list of goals/resolutions that I want to keep this year. Not all of them apply directly to my professional development, but they are part of my identity which defines me as a professional. So reading a novel or writing a song may not directly apply to my work as a Residence Director, but they all influence who I am as a person which influences my work as an RD. It’s all connected.

Now that I’ve written them, I just have to follow through with them all!