14 Career Resolutions for 2014

NY_Resolutions1By Maya Sarno, TJA Member-At-Large and Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs at the College of Saint Elizabeth

To all Jersey Alliance blog readers, happy new semester! For most Higher Ed professionals and graduate students, January marks not only the start of a new year, but the beginning of a fresh semester on campus. This is a great time to regroup, refocus, and make some New Year’s resolutions as they relate to our work in Student Affairs.

I often find that one of the best ways to stick to a goal, is to make it public. For me, putting it in writing and telling others about a resolution adds a certain sense of accountability, so what better platform to broadcast some resolutions than through the blogosphere? For anyone else out there who may be thinking of setting new goals as we get ready to kick off the spring semester, here are 14 professional goals that I’ve set for myself in 2014.

  1. Reconnect with a mentor. Higher Ed is a great field for people with wanderlust. We earn degrees from undergraduate and then graduate programs; we embark on that first “real” job, and we might work on various campuses throughout our Higher Ed careers. Remember the former colleagues and mentors who contributed to your professional development, and keep in touch.
  2. Actually “do lunch” with a colleague. How many times do you come in contact with that great colleague who works across campus and say, “We’ve got to get together over lunch sometime”? I say this in earnest, but too often don’t have the follow-through to make it happen. Not only can “doing lunch” be a nice chance to socialize, but it can also be a networking opportunity and a morale-booster for both parties.
  3. Take a break for lunch. Between projects, class preparation, and meetings with students/committees/task forces, it’s all-too-easy to have (or even skip) lunch at our desks. Yet, making time to leave the office for lunch is a necessary form of self-care that can be rejuvenating and put us in a better frame of mind to tackle our afternoon tasks.
  4. Be mindful of boundaries. We all know the importance of the work-life balance. This might mean setting limits about how often you check your work email from home, or how often you log into Facebook in the office. Establishing parameters will allow you to be fully present both at work and at home.
  5. Move around. Take the stairs; leave your car in its parking spot and walk across campus; or just stand up at your desk and have a good stretch. Even the least bit of physical activity helps keep the mind alert.
  6. Read professional literature. Whether it be a scholarly journal, the “Inside Higher Ed” email, or another Higher Ed resource, reading is a great form of professional development that is readily affordable and accessible. (And yes, reading this blog counts!)
  7. Update that resume. And while you’re at it, keep current with your LinkedIn account. You never know when you might need to have one or the other viewed by a prospective employer.
  8. Take on a new challenge. Join a committee, offer to spearhead a new project, or maybe even enroll in a class on your campus. Succeeding at new and different things can boost confidence, spark creativity, and contribute to your skill set.
  9. Listen more. I confess, I am probably a better talker than I am a good listener. Though my colleagues often comment that they think I’m a great listener, I know my listening skills can be improved. When the quality of listening was discussed in the leadership course I taught in the fall semester, one of my students made the observation that the letters in “listen” can be rearranged into “silent.” Good point.
  10. Gripe less. I usually am pretty good at keeping unfavorable comments in check, yet it is frequently tempting to give into negative chatter. My constant reminder to myself is that while the occasional “venting” may feel, the potential drawbacks definitely outweigh any temporary catharsis.
  11. Network. Reach out to colleagues across campus, at other institutions, and in fields outside Higher Ed. Everyone knows that it never hurts to be well-connected.
  12. Stay organized. For me, this means keeping my At-A-Glance planner and my Google calendar in sync. I’m an old fashioned pen-and-paper kind of gal, so my online calendar isn’t always as accurate as my spiral-bound planner. Keeping organized isn’t only useful for me, but it is also helpful to colleagues who are regular users of the Google calendar feature.
  13. “Try to make someone’s day better.” (I have to give credit where credit is due. My 11 year-old came up with this one as I was having trouble thinking of a 13th item for this list. Don’t you love how the best ideas can be so obvious to kids, and so elusive for grown-ups?) This could mean spending some extra time with a student who needs to talk; offering to help a stressed-out coworker with a task; or keeping a dish of candy (or maybe cough drops at this time of year) available for anyone who might need a pick-me-up. Practice random acts of kindness and the positive vibes could be contagious.
  14. Practice what you preach. For me, this means following through on all the items on this list. I plan to print this blog and refer back to it throughout the spring semester. (Feel free to check in with me at some later point and see how I’m doing with my list. There’s that public declaration to help keep me accountable!)

How about you? What resolutions have you set for yourself that will contribute to your work in 2014? Leave a reply and let’s get the new year off to a positive start. I wish you a very Happy New Year and an excellent spring semester!

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Great Expectations

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“I just want to make it to graduation.”

Who comes to mind when you read these words?  A graduating senior trying to push through the remaining weeks of their final semester?  An over-stressed colleague who has had a bear of a year?

Personally, I’ve been thinking these words almost every day.  I’m not graduating, and I haven’t had a rough year.  But as I write this blog, I am 32 weeks pregnant.  (In other words, I’m in my 8th month.)  Commencement at the College of Saint Elizabeth is scheduled for May 18th, 9 days before my due date.  And I’m worried I’m not going to make it this year.

Graduation is an “all hands on deck” event at CSE, and everyone plays a part.  Whether distributing programs, ushering guests, or wearing a florescent vest and directing traffic, I love it.  It’s an awesome event for our college community in which everyone is involved, and we get to share in our students’ joy and excitement on this very special day.  It’s both exhausting and exhilarating, and my concern this year is that I won’t be able to be there if my baby arrives early or if I’m not in the condition to participate.

But this is crazy talk, right?  I mean, I’m having a BABY!  Shouldn’t the anticipation of childbirth outweigh whatever obligation or sense of tradition I feel for an event at work?  Obviously, my health and the baby’s health will take priority, and I’ll heed my doctor’s advice when assessing whether or not I can actually take part in this year’s Commencement.  Still, there’s this little-kid voice in my head that’s whining, “But I really wanna go!”

This is just one of the many (oh so many) pre-baby anxieties I’ve been experiencing.  I feel conflicted because I want to be present to support my students, and I want to pitch in with my colleagues to be part of this annual event that is such an awesome way to end the academic year.  And yet, I know that my baby’s arrival is just the first of many things I won’t be able to control in my future as a parent.

Conflicted as I may feel, though, I smile as I type these words, because it’s all good, it’s all awesomely, amazingly good!  I have a great job on a campus I love, and my husband and I are about to have a baby just in time for summer.  But what happens when maternity leave is done and I return to the start of the academic year, with a new and major priority in my life?

Being a working parent in higher ed isn’t going to be easy.  As any reader of this blog knows, evening and weekend events are a given, and our office hours aren’t always the most conventional.  I’ve already had some practice with the work/family balancing act because I am the proud stepmom of an amazing 10 year-old boy, but I anticipate things will get more complicated with the happy addition of an infant to our family.  Am I going to cry when I drop the baby off at daycare?  How often will I need to leave work in order to pick up the baby because he or she is sick?  Will I miss out on too many moments during the baby’s waking hours when I’ll be working evening events with students?

Along with all the joyful anticipation of my baby’s arrival, these questions have got me thinking about the interplay of my work life and family life in the months and years to come, and I decided to ask three trusted colleagues within The Jersey Alliance to share their experiences of being a Student Affairs parent.  I posed a few questions to Michael, Michelle, and Kelly, three other TJA executive board members. 

I urged them to not feel obligated to answer every question, but in typical Student Affairs style, they went above and beyond.  They were generous enough to reply to each of my questions with honest and helpful insight, and I hope that capturing them in this blog will provide support to other Student Affairs professionals who are expectant/current/future parents.

To put their parenting and professional insights into some context, I’d like to introduce Michael, Michelle, and Kelly.  Michael Miragliotta is the Assistant Director of Marketing, Assessment, and University Relations at Rutgers (also TJA Secretary), and he and his husband are anxiously awaiting the homecoming of three children they are adopting.  Michelle Brisson, Director of Student Activities at Drew University and Past President of The Jersey Alliance, is the proud mother of an almost 2 year-old daughter.  Kelly Hennessy-Himmelheber, TJA Vice President and Director of Residence Education at The College of New Jersey, is the seemingly tireless mother of three boys under the age of 7.

Many thanks to my three incredible colleagues for their honesty and willingness to be quoted in this blog!  Their responses were so heartfelt, it wouldn’t seem right to take tiny snippets out of context.  Therefore, I’m quoting them directly and omitting very little.  I took the liberty of italicizing some main points, but the words are their own.  Sure, it makes for a longer blog, but their wisdom is too valuable to cut short!

Me: What was your biggest worry about being a working mom/dad in student affairs?

Michael: My biggest worry is that my expectations of parenting are too academic.  Through working in this field I have read and studied conflict management and problem solving, and I have been expecting to apply them to parenting.  I think that a lot of parenting is figuring out what works for the children you have.  While I feel prepared to parent, I am also nervous that parenting is a lot like work.  I will need to be flexible, think on my feet, and roll with whatever is given to me from my children.

Michelle: I worried that I would not be able to balance my time and attention to the students, whom I love supporting and being around; with the demands of being a new parent.  At the same time, I worried about needing my partner to take on a lot of single parenting duties with my work schedule.

Kelly:  I actually think that the perks outweigh my struggles.  The flexibility, the ability to bring my kids and family to events, the exposure to diversity, college, and academic events, AMAZING babysitters, amazingly supportive supervisors, positive people, educational climate, fun activities for the kids, exposure to service… my list could go on and on and on.  In general, I just worry as a parent… did I read enough to them tonight?  Am I teaching them to be kind?  Did I brush the little guy’s teeth tonight?  Am I challenging them enough?  Am I pushing them too hard?  Am I exposing them to enough things?  Am I sheltering them enough?  I am not sure that worries are directly related to being a SA parent, but just a parent in general.

 

Me: What advice would you give to expectant student affairs parents?

Michael: Be open with your employer.  My staff, my co-workers, and my supervisors have been so supportive of the entire adoption process.  The accolades and resources they have provided me are amazing.  I am so lucky to have a support group of people willing to offer ideas, advice, and grounded stories about the joys and trials of being a parent.  I know there will be a lot of programs and activities that my children will be welcome to attend.

Michelle:  Have conversations with students, staff and supervisors, before maternity leave or before the baby/children arrive on your expectations of how things will be different for you. This is something you need to decide personally. Letting people know that it’s still important to you – and that you will be around for programs, but you may not be available for every weekend or late night program. Finding solutions like asking for help from colleagues and employing graduate students or undergraduate team leaders is also helpful to ensure the work is still being done.

Kelly: Most important, take advantage of all that your college and university has to offer.  Do Relay for Life with your kids.  Bring your kids to talent shows, athletic events, college community days, ALL cultural shows, introduce them to everyone, and talk with them about all the learning that you get to do/see on a daily basis.  My advice is to integrate your family into your “college experience”.  Working in Student Affairs is an amazing job which I love, where we get to work with amazing people and help develop students to be their best selves.  Create life work integration.  My 2nd piece of advice is NOT TO MISS IMPORTANT moments in your kid’s lives for work.  Family comes first.  Don’t think that you are the only person that can do your job… if an important family event comes up, work hard to make it there.

 

Me: What are the greatest challenges and/or benefits of being a mom/dad working in student affairs?

Michael: I think a challenge I will have is the readjustment of my priorities.  Right now my priorities are my husband and my work.  Adding three children will shift my priorities to primarily these children.  I need to work on what that means as a professional and as a husband.  My life will change in about a month, and as much as I feel prepared, I know that unexpected things will happen.  I need to be ready for anything and willing to be flexible.

The best part of being an expectant parent in student affairs has been the overwhelming support.  I have had offers to help paint, shop, throw showers, babysit, and so much more from co-workers and students alike.  The community created in this field is wonderful.  Past co-workers and students have reached out to congratulate and offer support.  Nothing compares to being so supported in all avenues of your life when wonderful life events occur.

Michelle: I love how my daughter has become a part of my work life.  It’s so awesome to see the students smile when I bring Penny to events!  They love having her around and really give her the sweetest attention. She is truly an honorary member of my office and the community.  I also love seeing Penny interact with all of the students and my colleagues.  She truly enjoys being social on campus as well.

I didn’t realize how much being a working Mom is like being a real life super hero! It’s incredible when you see how much you add into your day and how much you accomplish.  At times I don’t know how things get done – but they usually do!  It’s also good to remind yourself that a real life super hero is still a human. Sometimes you’ll feel unsuccessful, and behind the eight ball, but it’s imperative to remind yourself that you’re human!

Kelly:  I always want to provide the best for my family, students, staff, co-workers, and college which is exhausting and can pull you in many directions.  Be patient, don’t expect perfection, and ENJOY the MOMENTS (don’t get so caught up in doing everything that you are not enjoying ANYTHING).  Yes, days when you have 5 back-to-back important meetings, paper due, and you have 3 children that fall like dominoes with a stomach bug… you push through.  Gretchen Rubin writes in The Happiness Project “The days are long, the years are short”.  Enjoy your family time because they grow too fast.  Enjoy the students because they graduate tooooo quickly!

 

I am so grateful to Michael, Michelle, and Kelly for sharing their thoughts for this blog.  It’s consoling to know that some of my incredible colleagues have gone through or are currently experiencing the same concerns.  And despite the anxieties, they manage to do their work well, while devoting themselves to their families.

The need for work/life balance applies to all professions.  It’s not unique to the field of higher education, but many of us in Student Affairs can appreciate the particular challenges as well as the benefits that come with our professions.  SA Parents (a blog of which Kelly Hennessy-Himmelheber is an “SA Mama”) is an excellent new resource for any higher ed professional who wants to read more about integrating life and Student Affairs work.

What experiences or expectations do you have in regard to being a parent who works in higher ed? 

 

Maya Sarno

Member At-Large (and feeling larger and larger by the day)

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Becoming a Leader

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One thing I love about working in the field of Student Affairs is that I get to wear a lot of different hats.  Many of us in this field run programs, advise students, serve on committees, and willingly take on the “other duties as assigned.”  This semester, I had the great opportunity of teaching an introductory Leadership class, “Becoming a Leader.”  Along with the typical tasks of creating lesson plans and grading homework, I often found myself reflecting on whether I’m really walking the walk of the material I teach.

We work hard to help our students realize and develop their leadership skills, but how often do we reflect on our own ongoing development in the area of leadership?  My class textbook is John C. Maxwell’s The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.  Some examples of Maxwell’s leadership qualities are Charisma, Discernment, Generosity, Problem Solving, and Vision.  Overall, I agree with Maxwell’s ideas about leadership, but there is one sticking point that didn’t sit well with me.

In Maxwell’s chapter on Focus, he offers recommendations about how to focus our time and energy.  He suggests we focus “70 percent on strengths, 25 percent on new things, and 5 percent on areas of weakness.”  Hmm.  Really?  Just 5 percent on areas of weakness?  Maxwell’s logic is to minimize areas of weakness through delegating, and thereby sticking to things we do best.  To me, this seems like a cop out.  Do we settle with accepting that we’re great at X, but not so talented at Y, and therefore we just won’t bother trying to improve Y, and give the Y projects to someone else?

Through many professional activities – including serving on the board of The Jersey Alliance – I am becoming better at identifying my own leadership strengths and weaknesses. I think many Student Affairs professionals would agree that we want to model leadership for our students, but I wonder who would settle at only focusing 5 percent on our own areas of weakness.  Most professionals I know are driven to improve their skills, even when improvement requires a little more time and a lot more effort.

So as many of us complete the first half of our academic calendars and get ready to take a breather over the winter break, I challenge you to ask yourself: what are some areas of your professional development that need improvement, and what steps are you taking to grow?  When considering the skills that we’re not so great at, let’s not simply delegate when we enter the New Year and start the spring semester.  Let’s work at honing our trouble areas and making them sharper in 2013.  After all, no leader is ever fully developed.  Isn’t each one of us still becoming a leader?

Enjoy the holiday season and a well-deserved winter recess!

Maya Sarno

Member At-Large

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RETHINK: preparation

I have been in a professional full time position for four+ years now. My perspective and comprehensive understanding of things like student development theory, assessment, cultural pluralism and higher education has not only helped me do my job but helped me build a niche. I  thank the IUP faculty and my mentors for preparing me to enter this field. This post is not about IUP or Rutgers or any other graduate program in particular. The problem I am identifying with graduate preparation programs is a result of a bigger issue related to innovation and change in general. So here it goes…

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In the last 4+ years I have spent as a professional I have been expected to be a “micro-entrepreneur” each and every semester. My first job was part of a two person office, creating from scratch, a brand new summer orientation program. I have had to create new training programs, unified departmental initiatives, new recognition programs, a new professional development committee, and the list goes on and on and on. I am not alone, if your in higher ed and reading this, you too can list pages of new programs and initiatives you have had to build from scratch. We as Student Affairs educators are “micro-entrepreneurs” working in higher education.

If you’re not creating new things, you’re not doing it right.

Which brings me to my call to action….

slide.002 We need entrepreneurship courses in Student Affairs graduate programs. Student Affairs educators cannot rely on just hoping that people entering this field are self starters. We need to teach core entrepreneurship principles like the art of the pitch, fundraising your ideas, marketing a concept and creativity. These skills are imperative to our success as educators.

As always, I love a good lively discussion so I look forward to hearing from readers about why this would or would not work.

Courtney O’Connell

President, The Jersey Alliance

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A Sigh of Relief, A Need for Recovery

 

In the weeks following a natural disaster, the dust settles (literally and figuratively).   New Jerseyans are heralding the “return to normalcy” that we have all been waiting for, as we sat on the edge of our living room couches during the worst hurricane that the state has ever seen.  Most of us are breathing a sigh of relief.

Now, the real work begins.  As a student affairs professional steeped in the tenets of service learning, my eyes have been opened to so many issues facing my students.  Now is the time to reflect on what it means to be involved in service learning and community service activities.  Should we send busloads of students to Far Rockaway to gut houses in unsafe conditions?  Is it responsible to hold donation drives and collect thousands of items, only to discover that shelters and churches are overflowing with donated goods?  How can we respond to the student organizations who have e-mailed us with dreams of hosting benefit concerts and comedy shows? 

 After weeks of thoughtful conversations with colleagues and friends, I have developed some helpful hints for partaking in the disaster response process within student affairs.

 Educate yourself on the response process.  There are varying stages to disaster response.  In fact, disaster relief often occurs immediately following a disaster.  Much of this work is addressed by first responders and emergency personnel, not necessarily student volunteers without equipment or training.  Recovery is a longer process, focusing on rebuilding physical and emotional structures in the community.  Our students will be needed for help in six months, two years, and 10 years – we will still be rebuilding the culture of our great state.

 Identify “authentic needs”.  After collecting hundreds of donations, my colleagues and I realized that many of our local community partners are no longer in need of certain items.  Try not to assume that the Red Cross will take all of your used towels and jeans.  Make a phone call to local community organizations and have those conversations, learning about what is really needed.

 Remember the cause. While many of our New Jersey towns have been devastated by the hurricane, home builds and beach clean ups are not the only volunteer opportunities out there.  Many families who have been affected by the hurricane were already in need, living in either impoverished or unsafe conditions.  Reach out to any charity or cause that you can: donating a frozen turkey to a family has the same impact as rebuilding the Seaside Heights boardwalk.

Student affairs colleagues, New Jerseyans, friends: I encourage you to make the effort to engage in the recovery process, especially by reflecting and having conversations around this topic.  We’re all in this together. Feel free to respond here or on Twitter @kristaknj.

Krista Kohlmann

Programs Chair

The Jersey Alliance

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Tis the Season to Write Recommendation Letters

It is that time of year again.  The weather is getting cold, stores are overwhelming us with holiday items, and students are applying to graduate schools and internships.  It is recommendation letter season.  I was recently asked to serve as a recommender for two students.  One is apply to graduate school while the other is applying for Teach for America.  Of course, my goal is to help these students land the positions they want, but I cannot help my anxiety of wanting to write the best letter I can.  I began searching with my trusted friend, Google, to see if I could improve my letters for the benefit of my students.

 

Here are two great resources I found to write better letters:

http://www.writeexpress.com/recommendation-letters.html

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/writing-a-reference-letter-with-examples/

 

Some themes that I always adhere to when writing recommendation letters were echoed in the abovementioned links.  My letters are structured so that it is clear how well I know the student, what their strengths are, and why I think this program or job is where they belong.  Reading these ideas on these websites calmed my fears.  My letters would not be the reason why these students were removed from the “yes” pile and moved to the trash can. 

 

My final thoughts on writing recommendation letters relates to how I communicate with my students.  I always ask for a detailed description of the job, school, program he or she is applying to.  I ask for a resume, personal statement, or other accompanying documents she or he is submitting so that I may discuss this student in the light that they are portraying themselves.  Finally, I ask for ample time to craft these letters with all of the materials necessary.  If letters need to be mailed, I ask for addressed envelopes with stamps attached.  I also ensure that I build writing, proofreading, and editing into my calendar so that the deadline is met with a high quality recommendation.  I hope this helps during the greatest season of the year, recommendation season!

 

-Michael J. Miragliotta

Rutgers University

TJA Secretary

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Being It All: Reflections from a Student Affairs’ Parent

 

By Tina Tormey, Assistant Director of the Sophomore Year Experience at The College of New Jersey

Just about a year ago, I returned to work after taking 10 weeks maternity leave with my first child. I knew juggling parenthood with a live-in mid-manager position would be challenging (especially since my partner works evenings in an ER with a highly inflexible schedule), but I hadn’t fully conceptualized what the experience would be like. Since then, I’ve been reflecting and hibernating as I figure out what it means to juggle parenting with career. 

My type-A, super gold, organized self who typically has a plan A, B and C felt fully prepared, but a little trepidacious, when my first post-baby August training arrived. We were down 30% of our live-in professional staff, but my late night schedule miraculously worked around my partner’s nights off, except for a couple days that had totally baby-friendly evening events.

And then my kid got sick. A fever that nearly resulted in a 2am trip to the ER when it crested 105.3 and a level of misery that we later learned was the result of coxsackie disease (a painful, highly contagious virus that just required a steady dose of Advil or Tylenol and a level of patience I found myself lacking).

I found myself feeling resentful. My plan was messed up. I wasn’t sure if I was resentful of my sick child or a job that required so many evening commitments or my inability to juggle it all. I felt like I was failing my family, my job and myself.

And, then, in the midst of cuddling a miserable kid, I picked up the July/August issue of Atlantic Monthly which had a cover story called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” (link) As a girl, I didn’t daydream of frilly weddings and a future as a princess but I envisioned a future where I’d be a super fabulous redheaded version of Carrie Bradshaw living in an amazing loft in Manhattan but coming home to a doting husband and kids (2, of course) every evening. I pictured this perfectly schedule 9-5 work day with out of work hours totally committed to my family. A fabulous life. So that article spoke to me. It was about me.

 

Essentially, the author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, said it’s not possible to have a family and still maintain the same career trajectory of our male counterparts—at least not with the way the modern workplace functions. She challenges us to create family-friendly work places that re-evaluate the need to be physically present in the office, values family commitments, re-imagines the traditional career arc, is open to creative solutions to the work-life balance problem and enlists men in developing solutions.

 

It was such a freeing thought. Until I read that article, I was internalizing my failure to DO it all (or at least do it the way the pre-momma me would have done) as my personal inability to keep it together. I was thinking that I was failing because I wasn’t trying hard enough, I wasn’t committed enough or wasn’t organized enough. But that wasn’t it at all. The reason why this didn’t all FEEL right is because I WAS getting pulled into different directions. And it was impossible to be all to everyone. But the overachiever, goal-oriented person in me is still struggling to figure out where my place is as a working mom. And although I write about my experiences as a mother, I recognize that there are many dads in the field of student affairs who take on a very active caretaking role and who feel similarly.

 

I still find myself questioning what is on my personal and professional bucket lists. Moreso, I wonder whether those two buckets can merge into one or whether it’s just oil and water: separate and with one always on top. Or I wonder if now that I chose to be a working mom, I’m even supposed to have a bucket list. 

 

I’m still contemplating and testing the waters, but here’s what I’ve determined so far:

 

1. Balance doesn’t exist in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have both a rewarding career and an amazing family/personal life. Our access and reliance on technology in this high-touch, high tech world means that we need to be conscientious about creating that balance for ourselves, since it doesn’t come naturally. For me, it means that on the nights or weekends that my partner has off, I do my best to avoid work commitments. During my son’s dinner/bathtime routine, I create a work-free zone. More recently, I’ve tried to create a tech-free zone as well by leaving my iPhone in my work bag (unless, of course, I need it to film a super adorable kid). I also am starting to recognize that balance may not be a daily thing but a weekly or monthly thing thanks to Kelly’s blog post. So, for example, work monopolizes my life in August–nights and weekends included. But this year, my September and October has included two long weekends traveling to see friends and family, apple picking, pumpkin picking and a couple afternoons off to sneak away to a matinee with my partner.

 

2. Higher education and, in particular, student affairs, needs to make huge advances in rethinking effective work strategies. One of Slaughter’s criticisms were inflexible work environments that require long hours at the office. She says employers need to recognize the value and need to allow employees to work at home or off site. In higher ed, we pride ourselves on flexible work environments. I certainly felt that earlier in my career. Rough duty night? Come in late the next morning. Lots of evening programs one week? Take off early on Friday. I no longer feel I have those opportunities. A solid 3.5 days of my work week are in meetings. And as we work to create more collaborative work environments, that meeting schedule gets more intense. The field needs to rely more on working meetings not simply update or planning meetings. We need to consider non-meeting opportunities to the group work that we value for it’s ability to provide enriching experiences for students. I cannot be an effective employee if I spend my day in meetings and spend my night doing the work that was created in those meetings, yet on some weeks, that is my life. I’m still figuring out how to best follow my own advice on this one. Some practices I currently employ: trying to provide staff with discussion/brainstorming items in advance so those that need time to reflect and research can be ready to discuss ideas immediately and I also initiated a 15 minute Monday morning check in meeting where staff are encouraged to let others know what they’re working on this week, reminds the group of information they need from others to complete those tasks and inform us of important events and share deadlines that impact the group. It’s a standing meeting. And it never lasts more than 20 minutes but it saves several e-mails and phone calls.

 

3. Have a personal mission statement. Follow it. On days or weeks when there is too much to fit into the hours you have, having this mission statement will help you cull through and remove the low-priority items from an overwhelming task list. You will find that there are things we regularly add to our task list that don’t really need to get done. Or they can be delegated to staff who are itching to have opportunities that will help them prepare for and better understand your position.

 

4. Employ good time management practices. Stay on top of technology that can help you be more efficient, but know when the old-fashioned way works best. I use Twitter to curate news (general and higher ed) that I want or need to stay up on the profession and identify new trends. I am still a fan of keeping my to do list in a notebook (the act of writing it down helps me remember and being able to quickly color code my list with things complete and things in progress helps me get a better sense of what really needs to get done), but I love shared online schedules. I’m still figuring out the right balance of phone versus e-mail communication–many times, a phone call will take much less time, but phone call or in person interruptions can be a disruption to someone else’s productivity, so I try to tread carefully and plan those interruptions early in the day or right before or after lunch. These tends to be times my colleagues are getting reorganized and settled.

 

5. Find your time. I am too tired and unfocused to do more than basic data processing or a review and update of my task list after 8pm but I LOVE the solitude of getting some work done in my pajamas with a hot cup of coffee at 5am. Yes, I said 5am. This is MY time, reserved to catch up on work, pursue personal research interests, read or simply catch up on the latest episode of Parenthood or Grey’s Anatomy. When do you think I wrote this post?

6. Find your family time. As I wrote earlier, evenings are totally committed to my nighttime routine with my son. I leave work on time and I don’t think about work as we play, have dinner, do bathtime (my FAVORITE) and read books before bed. Afterwards, I might cruise Pinterest looking for craft ideas for us to do on the weekend. Or I’ll troll Amazon indulging in my love of children’s books (book buying seems to be the one way I spoil my kid!). I also recognize that my work and family life are not totally separate. So when it’s appropriate, Charlie is joining me for some of those evening or weekend commitments. He’s facilitated me meeting students who live in our complex (we now have a neighbor who is trying to learn a few children’s songs to add to his repertoire when he plays guitar outside our apartment). He joined me in making sure our Behind Closed Doors training experience moved along in August. Since some of my staff have used him as a marketing ploy for their Halloween program (“Charlie would love to see Halloween decorations on all of your doors this year…”), he will co-judge a door decorating community development experience with me. And he loved attending his first baseball game during a professional staff social this summer. As a result, I have the benefit of having a kid who has naturally learned to be flexible, social and friendly. As difficult as it is to balance both work and parenting and as much as I think there’s work we need to do to create more family-friendly work practices, this ability to let work and family merge at times is clearly a benefit to working in student affairs versus some other fields that lack that flexibility.

 

Most importantly, I try to find balance in my expectations.  And I find that I am using Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker’s response as a mantra of sorts:

For much of my life I believed that “having it all” was the goal. But I guess now, I’ve come to realize that so much of what brings me joy, satisfaction and peace with the life I live is my unbridled desire to ”be it all” — to offer up my biggest, fullest, greatest self in each and every situation that comes my way. 

 

What advice do you have for working parents feeling pulled in two (or more!) different directions? What can student affairs do to create workplaces that lend to being family friendly and encouraging all staff to create balance?

 

Atlantic Monthly Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

Forbes Link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2012/07/18/what-is-having-it-all-after-all-4-outstanding-women-respond/

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