#SASpeaks: Breaking Up With Busyness

During the NASPA 2016 Annual Conference, I had the wonderful opportunity to give a talk on “Breaking Up With Busyness,” inspired by a post originally published here, as well as my ongoing personal journey and the great work of many writers and researchers. 

Busyness, which can be described as the constant need in our lives to be occupied by tasks and responsibilities, is not unique to Student Affairs, but, I would argue, it’s an insidious part of the culture of our field. It’s fueled by perfectionism, workaholism, and environments of shame. 
Before I came to these realizations about “busyness,” I would embark on each semester with an increasing sense of anxiety and urgency, with the belief that to she who works the most hours go the spoils. For years I kept this up, and I did it more or less successfully. It’s unsurprising that I found success by making myself continually busy in environments that tend to glorify the overworked, overtired, and overscheduled. I was the smartest, most accomplished, and damnit, the busiest. If I didn’t work the most hours, sit on the most committees, and volunteer the most, I wouldn’t get ahead. I wouldn’t be successful—or so I thought. 
I wasn’t the only person around me who felt that way or was behaving that way; most peers and colleagues were. I saw role models and supervisors glorifying exhaustion, so I, too, laid myself down for sacrifice at the altar of Student Affairs. It was a vicious cycle of loose boundaries, overwork, and complaining. And then, after a gradual wearing down over the course of years, I decided that it was time to show Busyness the door. One weekend, I came back to campus (I was a live-on professional at the time) after being away, and the very thought of being there caused me to burst into tears, sitting in my car in the parking lot– I knew then that I was burned out, only a few years out of grad school, and that if I wanted to enjoy my life and my passion for education, I was going to have to find the courage to change how I was working and living. 
I started seeing a therapist (which I recommend for anyone), and I intentionally started to name some behaviors that weren’t working for me. I started saying “no,” and quitting things that I no longer cared about. I’ve read a handful of books that have been really helpful in supporting my desired life changes, some of which I’ll reference today. The most important thing is that I truly started to believe that exhaustion is not a status symbol or a measure of success, and I started to measure my success by metrics other than the amount of hours that were filled on my schedule. And I’m here to say that when I did this, my life and career did not come crashing down. Contrary to my fears, I strongly believe that I am now more successful, more productive, a better colleague and supervisor, and…happier.


Although much of this journey has been personal and individual, I also see immense organizational value when we break up with busyness, especially those who are supervisors and leaders. So I would ask you to consider 5 tips for breaking up with busyness, both for yourself and for your organizations: 

The first is to stop always working. The idea that many of us have that our value is greatest when we spend the most time working is a total fallacy. Brene Brown has researched, among many things, boundaries, and says that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” 


I was awful at this; Not only would I stay late, volunteer for extra responsibilities,and religiously attend any and all “fundtatory” work activities, I would wake up in the middle of the night and check my email at 2am, which was very unhealthy. I felt like because I had my email in my hand all the time, I should be available to everyone all the time. So I stopped checking email at night and on weekends–I actually turn off the email on my phone unless I’m scheduled to be working. I started putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb” when I was sleeping. I scheduled my days for 8 hours and hardly ever stayed late. I didn’t eat lunch at my desk. I flexed time when I spent extra hours at night or on the weekends. I hold these boundaries and others respect them.
It’s important for us to stop believing that the world is going to come to a screeching halt if we don’t send emails at 11pm. And we absolutely need to stop expecting that people who aren’t on duty or on call are going to respond to work related matters outside of work hours. 

Research shows that workers experience negative physiological and psychological impacts as a result of working overtime. (slide) A 2004 CDC meta-analysis found that “Overtime was associated with poorer perceived general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, increased mortality…unhealthy weight gain…increased alcohol use…increased smoking…and poorer neuropsychological test performance.” Another meta-analysis of long work hours suggested a possible weak relationship with preterm birth. When we expect constant response from employees, we are being totally negligent with the health and well-being of staff; I don’t care how life-changing your job is: you can’t do it all the time, that is how you get burned out, and then you’ll be awful at the job that you used to love. 

My second tip is that free time creates innovation. One of my favorite books is Dan Pink’s Drive, which is about unleashing intrinsic motivation. In it, he discusses the concept of a “FedEx” Day, which many of you may have heard of. This is a concept that many technology companies use, in which they give employees an occasional day to work on whatever they want, whatever is interesting to them. It can’t be something that they are currently working on, and they have to have a deliverable at the end of the the day; hence the name “FedEx”, because they are delivering an idea. 

The concept here is that if we are constantly working on the same routine things, there’s no space for new ideas or creative improvements to our work. If all you’re ever doing is crossing off the to-do list and chasing deadlines, you’re not going to be unleashing the creative part of your mind. 

I don’t know how possible it would be for me to regularly take a day off from my normal responsibilities, but the way that I have created space for innovation is by setting aside a few hours a week in my calendar for ambiguous tasks that I’m working alone on. I also add big-picture items to my actual to-do list, like “Think about Supervisory Philosophy” or “How to better engage learning community faculty?” I think that we have to communicate that this type of work is not only legitimate, but necessary to the progress of our organizations. If you imagine a supervisor or colleague asking you “Hey, what are you working on?” would you be comfortable saying “I’m thinking about my supervisory philosophy today!” ? How about if you are the supervisor in this situation? We have to be okay with giving our smart, talented, creative employees (and ourselves) the time and space to be smart, talented, and creative! 

The third tip is that wellness is a strategic priority.

As I mentioned, there are a many studies that show the connection between overwork and serious health concerns. Ultimately, if staff are physically and mentally struggling, that is going to negatively impact productivity, success, and the workplace environment. Sick days exist for a reason: sometimes our bodies and/or minds are not operating at the level we need to be able to be productive at work, and we should give ourselves the time and space to heal and recuperate. That includes being able to care for a sick parent, spouse, or child; I know that when someone I love is unwell, I’m not going to be a great employee that day.
I used to feel guilty about spending time taking care of myself, because in the culture of Busyness, we quantify every minute of our lives to achieve maximum productivity, and I thought that taking a walk, going to bed early, or taking a sick day was wasting time. All of these things, though, are essential steps for my care and upkeep as a human. The way to be most productive and successful is not just to put the most hours toward your tasks, but to make yourself best equipped as a whole person to address the challenges and opportunities of life. For me, that means leaving the office at a reasonable time in the evening to go to the gym regularly, getting up and walking around every hour, spending time cooking nutritious meals for the week, getting between 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and making time for my favorite activities like hiking. When you and your staff are physically well, mentally calm, alert, and happy, every minute that you spend on your work is going to yield more success. 

Tip number four: If Everything is a Priority, Nothing is a Priority.

I have been influenced quite a bit lately by the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown. McKeown espouses the practice of Essentialism, which is the idea that to lead a very successful life, we need to identify the things that are absolutely most important for us to spend our time on (the essential), and get rid of the rest.  

 We need to intentionally and strategically say no to opportunities to remain focused on what is most important, and we need to deliberately and continuously re-assess what our highest point of contribution is. The highest point of contribution is the intersection of “What do I feel deeply inspired by?” , “What am I particularly talented at?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?” You focus on that and get rid of the rest.
This is difficult to do, because someone is always looking for a volunteer, and often, we know that we are skilled and would be a valuable asset to a task or new idea. But we have to ask ourselves, at what cost? Just because you have the opportunity to do something or are asked to do something doesn’t mean that you should do it. I think of leading an essential life as a way of avoiding “mission creep” in my work life. There are things that I’m here to do for my department and university; I could do many other things as well, but if I don’t identify and protect my most important priorities, then I’ll never achieve success in my area of responsibility. 

This can seem harsh and anti-collaborative, but it’s important for us to learn how to say “no” so we can say “yes” to the right things. If you don’t decide what your priorities are, someone else will. 

The last tip is that we can’t help others unless we help ourselves first

Burnout is very real when you work in a helping profession like student affairs. Burnout includes three aspects: 

  • Increased feelings of emotional exhaustion, 
  • development of negative, cynical attitudes about those you are helping, and
  • unhappiness with yourself and dissatisfaction with your work accomplishments. (Maslach & Jackson, 1981) 

Because burnout is caused by organizational, interpersonal, and intrapersonal factors, (Huebner, 1993) there are opportunities to prevent and treat burnout as a supervisor, colleague, and for yourself. We should expect that the type of stressors that we deal with related to difficult human emotions and experiences may lead to burnout, especially when combined with overwork, conflicting workplace demands, or insufficient organizational or supervisory support. Avoiding burnout is like when you are on an airplane and they tell you to always put your own oxygen on first We cannot bear every burden and solve every problem, and if we don’t develop and sustain healthy coping mechanisms to address work stressors, we won’t be able to bear any burdens or solve any problems. So make sure you have your oxygen on.
We, as the field of student affairs, need to look Busyness in the face and name it for what it is: a toxic personal and organizational attitude that devalues our holistic selves and replaces good management and efficiency with anxiety and wasted time.
It’s time to break up with Busyness for good.


  • Essentialism, Greg McKeown
  • Rising Strong and Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
  • Drive, Daniel Pink




How to deliver innovation overnight



Journal Articles: 

The Measurement of Experienced Burnout Author(s): Christina Maslach and Susan E. Jackson Source: Journal of Occupational Behaviour, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Apr., 1981), pp. 99-113



Breaking Up with Busyness

About a year ago, I started breaking up with Busyness. Busyness and I were pretty deep in a toxic relationship that had started sometime in my sophomore year of college, just around the time that I was introduced to a budding career in Student Affairs.

Busyness, which can be described as the constant need in our lives to be occupied by tasks, responsibilities, and to-do lists (usually work-related, but for me, also related to volunteering that is suspiciously like work) is not unique to Student Affairs, but, I would argue, is an insidious part of the culture of our field. It’s fueled by perfectionism, workaholism, and environments of shame. With a calendar that looked like a game of Tetris, I embarked on each semester with an increasing sense of urgency and anxiety, with the belief that to she who works the most hours go the spoils.

For about 7 years I kept up this deleterious dance, and I did it more or less successfully. It’s unsurprising that I found success by making myself continually busy in environments that tend to glorify the overworked, overtired, and overscheduled. Every time I started to get weary, I reminded myself that I had a reputation for excellence to uphold. I was Ashley F**king Robinson (an actual nickname that others used for me). I was the smartest, most accomplished, and goddamnit, the busiest. If I didn’t work the most hours, sit on the most committees, and volunteer the most, I wouldn’t get ahead. I wouldn’t be successful.

What a load of bullshit that was. I wasn’t the only person around me who felt that way or was behaving that way; most people were. I saw role models and supervisors glorifying busyness, so I, too, laid myself down for sacrifice at the altar of Student Affairs. It was a vicious cycle of loose boundaries, overwork, and complaining. And then, after a gradual wearing down over the course of years, I decided that it was time to show Busyness the damn door. I was getting burned out, only a few years out of grad school, and I knew that if I wanted to have a long, rewarding career of educating college students, I needed to do it differently.

I stopped checking email at night and on weekends, unless I was actually working. I put my phone on “Do Not Disturb” when I was sleeping. I scheduled my days for 8 hours and hardly ever stayed late. I didn’t eat lunch at my desk. I flexed time when I spent extra hours at night or on the weekends.  I started going to the gym regularly for the first time ever. I started getting up and walking around every 45 minutes. I paid attention to my mental and physical health and nutrition. I kept track of my sleep and always aimed for 8 hours in bed. I stepped away from any extra work obligations that were not clearly benefitting me and the mission of my department as it related to my scope of influence (committees, I’m looking at you). I refused to let myself feel guilty when I left the office when other people were still there or didn’t volunteer for something extra after hours. I let things slide a little bit here and there in favor of more important priorities.

When I did this, bad things did not start happening. In fact, good things started happening. I am less stressed and more organized than I used to be. I spend more time on things that I am passionate about. I lost weight and got healthier. I advanced my career with a new job. I fell in love. I’m not saying that if you stop answering your email at night, you’re automatically going to lose 20lbs, get a new job, and find love…but what I am saying is that when I carved out and fiercely protected my free time, I allowed myself to expend energy on previously neglected areas like reflection and personal fulfillment outside of work.

Although much of this journey has been personal and individual, I also see immense organizational value when individuals break up with busyness, especially those who are supervisors and leaders. Over the past year, I communicated openly and widely about my quest for balance and wellness. I told supervisors, peers, and students that this was a core value of mine and encouraged and supported the same type of behavior in others. I reflected on the ways I had felt guilty or not enough in the past and tried to break down those forces for others as I combatted them for myself. And this, I think is the path to fix our busyness problem.

We, as the field of student affairs, need to look Busyness in the face and name it for what it is: a toxic work culture that devalues our holistic selves and replaces good management and efficiency with anxiety and wasted time. Stop scheduling things for after hours that don’t have to be after hours. Encourage your staff to be productive without spending extra time in the office. Be clear and consistent in your expectations for how supervisees spend their time, and when extra time is spent, ensure that they are able to balance that out. Challenge if extra time needs to be spent or if there are ways to work smarter, further ahead, and more creatively. Stop acting like the world is going to come to a screeching halt if you don’t send emails at 11pm. Challenge how we schedule student staff and how we structure our schedules during both the busy times and low times. Eat lunch. Ask for help. Go home. Don’t be a martyr.

It’s time to break up with Busyness for good.

Our Common Purpose is Inclusion. Change the Location of NASPA 2016.


The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but in times of challenge and controversy. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 2016 NASPA conference has been planned to be held in Indianapolis, IN in March of next year.

Today, the Governor of Indiana signed a bill into law known as the  that would allow businesses to challenge local laws that forbid discriminating against customers based on sexual orientation in court. It codifies the ability of businesses to defend discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

And we are going to go there. For our conference. Where we will be going to businesses. Businesses that feel that they now have a justifiable legal basis on which to openly discriminate against someone based on religious objections to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In a state that has openly institutionalized discrimination and oppression.

We are an association that professes our commitment to inclusion. We have a GLBT Knowledge Community. We have gender neutral bathrooms at our conferences. And now we have a huge national conference in a state which has just become much more hostile toward people who carry marginalized sexual orientation and gender identities.

Moving the conference with just less than a year to go would require a lot of time, energy, frustration, and financial loss. It would be a phenomenal pain. It would be very problematic. Not nearly as problematic as the discrimination and institutionalized oppression that we will implicitly support by bringing our business to Indiana. Not nearly as painful as the impact of oppression in the everyday lives of people with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities.

And now, we as the members of the association, must call on NASPA Leadership to change the location of the 2016 conference. We call on them to be true to our guiding principle of Inclusion and choose the often inconvenient path of Integrity.

Fellow members, please join me in encouraging our association to take action on this matter and to stand in solidarity with all those who have been and will be negatively affected by this oppressive and unethical legislation. We have an obligation to demand this of those who lead us. NASPA, as an educational association, has an obligation to demand better from the governing systems of our country.

You can make your voice heard in this petition to NASPA President Kevin Kruger, NASPA Board Chair-Elect Frank Lamas, and NASPA 2016 Conference Chair Frank E. Ross. 

On NASPA, Yik Yak, and Perhaps What Really Matters

imageI’m in the airport on my way home from the annual NASPA Conference. And I’m thinking about the great NASPA Yik Yak fiasco of 2015. If you haven’t caught up yet, there’s a lot of brouhaha about a variety of yaks that have been made by conference attendees over the past couple of days. It made it into The Chronicle, in fact. I find this whole situation to be fascinating. The presence of the offending yaks. The responses. It’s all very interesting.

Let’s start with the very beginning: the types of things people are saying on Yik Yak. There are yaks about the other SA pros that people find hot. There are yaks about getting drunk. There are yaks about being hung over. There are yaks about hooking up and getting laid. There are yaks complaining a bit about sessions or the conference in general.

It’s sort of like Yik Yak on every other day. It’s an anonymous, written manifestation of the reality of social interactions, behavior, conversations, and personal thought in the microcosm of the immediate geographic community.

Don’t get me wrong; do I think it’s the epitome of professionalism to be focusing on getting laid, getting wasted, and dropping snarky or hurtful remarks about others while at a conference? Nope. But I invite you to consider with me the ways in which some of our natural or first responses to this behavior are tinged with hypocrisy, naïveté, and some unrealistic expectations for ourselves as profession.

Response 1: Yik Yak is the enemy. How dare you use Yik Yak (thereby compromising the good fight)? Yik Yak is definitely not the enemy. Yik Yak is just a platform. It’s a forum. The real enemies are hate, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, bullying, harassment, and the inhumanity and harm that come from fear, anger, and misunderstanding. If Yik Yak is a “problem” on your campus, I promise you that the problem is not the app. The problem is the culture and our society at large. Don’t fight the symptom, fight the cause. Mocking and shaming SA Pros for being on Yik Yak is not productive. In fact, it’s sort of ageist, because younger professionals are much more likely to be using emerging social media technologies. I understand that some responses that fall under this category are attempting to call out specific types of behavior on Yik Yak, but generalizing and shaming use of the app overall is not helpful.

Response 2: Shame on you. You should know better. Implicit in the act of shaming someone for behavior that is regarded as unprofessional, unethical, or otherwise inappropriate is an unwillingness to understand, engage with, and call in our colleagues. When our students act in a way that we find unacceptable, we have educational and meaningful conversations with them to discuss the impact of their behavior, understand where they are coming from, and make plans to help them act in ways that are more appropriate in the future. But when our colleagues foul up? So much for compassion. The student affairs sword of judgment is swift and sharp. We need to be willing to challenge and support each other. Development does not end after graduation. Making mistakes does not end after graduation. Young professionals are still developing and learning ways of being in the world and acting professionally. If you bear witness to a colleague behaving in a way that is detrimental to their career, to our profession, or to the well-being of students, please summon the courage to hold that person accountable in a caring and compassionate way. Maybe they don’t really know better. Be a role model. Let them know (but try to do it without condescension).

Response 3: Student Affairs is better than this. I really don’t even know where to begin with this one. This response feels most defensive and most likely to be hypocritical. Last time I checked, Student Affairs professionals are humans. Humans who get drunk and get it on. I’ve only been in the profession for a handful of years, but I’ve always found it to be an incredibly…progressive…space. A space in which people regularly get very drunk at conferences. A space in which professionals are definitely sexually and romantically involved with each other. I’ve been watching professionals get drunk at conferences since I was an undergrad. These things are not secrets! Also not a secret is the fact that individuals and the field are still on a path to more socially just practice, and that not everyone is “there” (wherever exactly “there” is) yet. So yeah, people are going to make comments that are not cool, that are micro aggressions, and that are harmful, and we need to call them in and invite dialogue to move everyone forward.

We absolutely cannot act like our whole field is constantly attaining some level of ethical and professional perfection. We are educators, not saints. The reason that we have standards and competencies is because we need to work to meet them, not because becoming a student affairs professional comes with automatic immunity from making mistakes or acting human. It’s unfair and unreasonable to set up shaming systems that promote double standards of behavior. We talk constantly about living authentically. Authentic living includes mistakes. It also includes examining where judgmental reactions come from. Are we afraid that if people get turnt at conferences, we won’t be taken seriously as a field? Are we worried that such baseness will mar our prestige? Are we worried that this is making us look bad with our academic colleagues who are reading about us in The Chronicle? Because I promise you, they are turning up, too.

Of course, we need to promote and foster boundaries regarding ethical and professional behavior in all aspects of our supervision, mentoring, and role modeling. The behavior of student affairs professionals at conferences and in Yik Yak and other forums indicates something about the culture of our field, of our institutions, and of our association.

I’m willing to bet that the sources of these offending yaks were new professionals. And I feel fairly confident in saying that this is a symptom indicating that there are gaps that exist in either how we are socializing new professionals into the field or in how we enact vs. espouse our values. I think that it’s a little bit of both, to be honest. Responses to issues like this go beyond public shaming. Certainly, given the anonymity involved here, it is impossible to target specific individuals with caring and compassionate professional interventions. But perhaps that is for the best, because that challenges us to consider the way we hold ourselves at all times, with all colleagues, around social expectations, role modeling, and fostering reasonable and authentic standards of ethical behavior.

There’s More to Life Than Work (I Think)

You should work to live, not live to work.

I have, in very recent history, openly scoffed at this adage. I have thought to myself, “My work is not just work…it is life. My work is meaningful and important, so I don’t need to worry about keeping my work time under control. Everything just blends together and it’s okay!”

I’m pretty sure I was wrong.

These days, I’m starting to reconsider my stance on what a good life looks like. I’m on something of a journey of self-discovery (that sounds much better than “existential crisis,” doesn’t it?) As I try to determine the next steps in my career, I am reexamining my work-related values. As I previously alluded to, those values used to be something along the lines of: “Be everything to everyone all the time, and be the best at it.”

There are many contributing factors that led to my work ethic, including perfectionism, gendered achievement expectations (I can’t just be successful, I also have to be selfless), and endless positive reinforcement for my burgeoning workaholism. I believe that these factors are tied into the culture of student affairs and in larger part, to societal factors that conflate being busy or stressed with vocational success.

Here are some of my thoughts about redefining “success” and valuing a holistic life:

Free time is where creativity and potential exist. 

All work and no play make Ashley a dull person. Seriously. Not just for the obvious reason that free time is enjoyable, but because when your mind is allowed to have space to breathe without constant attentiveness to already-determined tasks, you have the chance to dream, imagine, and think deeply about a whole variety of things.

“I don’t have anything else to do” is a crappy reason to work more. 

How many times have you said some variety of this? “I’m not doing anything else…so I might as well just go to the office on the weekend/check my email/work on a work-related project after hours.” Maybe you don’t have anything else to do because all you ever do is work. Have you thought of that?

Know when you’re at your peak performance. Don’t go beyond that. 

Listen to your body. Pay attention to how clear your mind is. Know what it feels like to be productive, energized, and “in the zone.” And if you’re not there, take breaks, take care of yourself, take a walk. We are not robots or machines. We are humans.

Being healthy and well is more important. 

I frequently tell my students that they do not get a new body to trade in upon completion of college, and this admonition goes for all of us. We don’t get to trade in our abused, uncared for bodies and minds. These are the ones we have. What better use of our time is there than to make sure that we are in good condition? I will admit that there are many times that I have said “I don’t feel well, but I don’t have time to go to the doctor; I don’t have time to be sick.” Illness doesn’t, it turns out, just go away if you ignore it. And once you are really sick and have to take days out at inopportune times, your workload and stress level is not going to get any better. Prevention and maintenance matter.

Volunteering might be working dressed up in a disguise.

I’m just saying…I’m a master of this one. If you work in student affairs, there’s a good chance that almost everything you do is for other people. There’s also a good chance that your selflessness, positive attitude, and event planning skills make you a great volunteer. Be careful how many things you sign up for (on and off campus). Though every opportunity is likely a wonderful cause, you can only be spread so thin. Before you take the next volunteer opportunity, ask yourself these questions: Will doing this provide personal/professional benefits to me as well as to others? Am I actually going to enjoy doing this or see it as a burden or stress? Are there other people who are equally qualified and able to do this?

I know that I am more than my job and that my life is more than my job. It’s time to start acting that way and passing along a new work ethic. One that values dedication, hard work, self-care, kindness, intentionality, and living well.

The Real Life of Student Affairs Professionals

October is upon us. That means it’s Careers in Student Affairs Month! The annual occasion when we turn our attention to doing our darndest to indoctrinate bright-eyed student leaders into the cult of Student Affairs. Or perhaps more accurately put, a time when we reflect on our own career paths, our professional aspirations and goals, and the future of our profession.

Earlier today, I was thinking about my own career thus far, and considering how drastically I have changed as a professional, even since I began my current job just over two years ago. I decided relatively early in my college career (as a sophomore) that I was going to pursue a career in student affairs. So I wouldn’t say that I just “happened on to” the field, but rather spent 3 years of college researching, attending conferences, trying to gain experiences, and starting to shape my student affairs career. I was sold on student affairs at age 19.

My experience since my student leader days has been rewarding, challenging, and enlightening. But there have been a whole slew of experiences that I could have never anticipated, understood, or prepared for. Perhaps this is true of all careers, but I really had no idea what I was signing up for when I embarked on this path. I have embraced it and generally thrived. But I sometimes worry that we portray our field as a rainbows and sunshine kind of situation, without having frank discussions about how emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding this work is.

In my opinion, the demands of student affairs life don’t make this career not worth it. The difference I feel I’m making, the ability to have life-changing moments with students, the ability to be part of a higher education institution, to be a change agent, to work in an environment where I can be myself, where social justice is valued, and where I generally have a ton of fun at work all easily outweigh the negatives. However, we need to talk openly about the negatives and accept them in order to improve our own experiences as educational professionals and to set up future professionals for success in this field.

If we sugar coat the realities of dealing with human emotion, negotiating institutional politics, addressing trauma, or working long hours, we discount our own ability to deal with and overcome these vocational struggles. We also set up future professionals to feel like absolute shit when they run head first into those professional challenges. I think that we (especially new professionals and graduate students) have a big complex in our field about admitting that not everything is rainbows and sunshine. Maybe we feel like we were tricked a little bit. Maybe we thought that working in student affairs was just going to be an extension of our student leadership glory days. Maybe we didn’t anticipate that the work-life balance struggle is so very real. But most of us feel deeply passionate, inspired, and energized by our work. I do not hesitate for a moment in saying that embarking on a career in student affairs has absolutely changed my life.

Which is why I am going to do my best this month to post some very real reflections on the nature of student affairs work in recognition of Careers in Student Affairs Month. I hope that through honest reflections of the lessons I have learned as a new professional, I can inspire others to consider a career in student affairs, armed with a full knowledge of what that career means.

The Hypocrisy of ResLife: RA Training

I recently surfaced from the Student Affairs gauntlet known as ResLife Training and Residence Hall Opening. It’s the time of year when I say goodbye to absolutely everything else in my life except for work. I worked 7 days a week for three weeks, typically logging 12-14 hour days. This level of work is actually an improvement over past years, when I was less efficient, less experienced, and spent more time in the office.

To non-Reslifers, this may be a surprise. To any sane person who wishes to have a life outside of work, this may seem odd. It won’t seem odd to my fellow live-in residence hall staff.

It should be odd, though. At what point in the history of ResLife did we decide that this marathon model of staff training and hall opening was okay? This is certainly not unique to one institution. It’s very common that a couple of weeks of very intensive student staff training (which is exhausting for everyone involved) is immediately followed by freshman move in day and upperclass move in days. This is just how the end of August is when you work in ResLife. August is where balance and wellness go to die.

I believe that we need to critically question the efficacy of this model of staff training. We are, after all, educators. We promote the holistic development of mind and body in college students. We talk about wellness, balance, and ideal learning environments. And we train RAs as if we are running student affairs boot camp. It just doesn’t add up.

How do we examine our practices within the context of the values and priorities that we aim to espouse throughout the year? How do we challenge our own selves as professional staff to stand firm in work-life balance and pursuit of wellness? How do we advocate for balance and wellness?

This is a call to all of my colleagues who think we can do better than we are doing. It’s a call to those who think that they are doing it better. We owe it to ourselves and our students to think about this. So tell me your thoughts: How do we shift the paradigm of ResLife training?