Reflections on August in Student Affairs and the “August Challenge”
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had a post that has made it live. There were a few I thought about posting, but on second thought realized that I probably shouldn’t post. It was a good “thought-check” process for me to ensure that I was 100% OK with what I post on this blog.
This post started out in July when I began to think about the craziness that is August in Student Affairs. Those of us in the field fully understand what I mean when I use the phrase “Organized(ish) Chaos” as our campuses begin to come alive with RAs, Orientation Staff, Athletes, and other early arrival groups, training programs, orientation, and then move-in, only to be followed by a “hit the ground running” mentality as we resume normal operations and services.
Disclaimer: I have never been one who hides my emotions well. People know when I’m in a good mood and when I’m in a bad mood. For the most part, I’m OK with this, as I view it as being real. No one can (and no one SHOULD) be forced to completely hide their emotions and feelings. With that said, there are certainly times, places, and ways to properly express emotions. For me, my colleagues, friends, and students know that when I stop talking or “seem quiet” that it means chances are more than good that something is bothering me and/or I’m having an “off day.” I fully own this and try to put the disclaimer out there so people are aware of this. To some it might be off-putting, but I feel being honest is a good thing, even when it comes to saying “Today’s not a good day for me.”
Starting in July, I began to get nervous about August. It’s a busy time, and I have some perfectionist tendencies that exhibit themselves as stress when things don’t go according to plan in August, as this is my busiest time of year in my role at Siena. I decided that I was going to make an “August Challenge” in which I challenged myself not to freak-out, complain, or become overtly negative if/when things didn’t go according to plan. My reasons for this were multiple and briefly outlined below:
- The work needs to be done regardless of things going according to plan – Why complain? What purpose does it serve to advance the plan/project? Letting go of my need for a flawless August was a huge first step for me. I learned to roll with the punches and take changes as they came. Sure, some were not at all fun, but I tried to maintain an even keel, especially in front of my colleagues and students (even though I know some of my colleagues knew I was irked on the inside, I tried not to let it show or negatively impact our attitudes).
- Having (more) faith in my colleagues – I work with amazing people. I’ve always had a tendency to do tasks myself, in turn adding a layer of stress over projects that I knew my colleagues could handle, but was afraid to let go of. This year, I let go of several key pieces of RA training, and not only did I feel better, but my colleagues developed new and original ideas for several initiatives, including our service trips, behind closed doors, Mentor RA training, and Round Robin presentations. Everyone wins, as I was able to delegate a few things and give my colleagues new experiences and they were able to demonstrate a level of creativity and innovation that impressed not only me, but our RAs and other staff as well.
- Keeping a Positive Attitude – Although at times hard to do with the stress of August, it is amazing how much better I felt by maintaining the mantra “Today is going to be a good day” and “We’ve got this” to get me through. Did I, at times, lose this attitude? Yes, but it was controlled and far less frequent than in the past. I hate “inspirational” quotes, but the old quote that “Attitude is contagious” appears to be true, as my colleagues and staff seemed much more energized and less negative than previous years.
And finally, the most important thing that I recognized is that August has a tendency to become a game of one-upmanship for Student Affairs Professionals. Some of my friends in the field, including me in previous years, use Social Media to vent, which is fine when done appropriately. August has a tendency to induce a different phenomena where we all try to one-up each other with stories of craziness, debauchery, and horror stories that we have encountered. Part of this includes talking about how “busy” we are. This manifests itself as the innocuous tweet such as “Going to bed after a 14 hour day” or the more blatant “Damn, it’s only August 15th? #15daysstraightwork.” I’m baffled as to why this happens, mainly because in student affairs, we are ALL busy in August, and should be supporting each other, rather than trying to one-up each other with stories of how “busy” we are.
There is an article making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter in the Harvard Business Review titled “Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are” and I recommend everyone take a look at it. I won’t attempt to paraphrase it here, but will say that it has some great points for all of us to consider as we head into another academic year!
As always, comments and/or discussion are encouraged on the blog or through Twitter @adamcasler . Thanks for reading!