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 serious 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 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.
A huge part of our lives is making meaning of what’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.