I was driving to work this morning when something felt different. I had the 17-minute drive to figure it out and as I walked into my office, I put my finger on it: this is my first August not on a college campus in 11 years. No students to lead countless icebreakers with, no training materials to diligently prepare, no welcome events to coordinate.
I watch the tweets fly by, the frantic facebook posts, the thoughtful blogs about making the most of this year. In my turn of career to working with fraternity and sorority association clients, I found my busy season to actually be the summer that is quickly coming to an end. Lots of travel, curriculum writing, meeting preparation. It was at odds with my previous experience. And it didn’t feel good or bad. It just is.
But I look back at my Augusts fondly, missing the frenzy, the smell of Texas Marker ink throughout residence hall lounges, the parent phone calls of which materials to purchase to hang things on the walls, the RA anxieties, the gloriously long and fulfilling days. Don’t worry – I’ll get my fill of welcoming and closing at three major conferences this year where I have a responsibility of some form or another. I’ll trade thousands of phone calls over the academic months to 30,000 airline miles by the end of the year. There are trade-offs with career changes and while I have not found myself missing carrying a duty phone for one second, it doesn’t make me look back on those August days any less fondly. It was my higher ed new year.
So it’s my hope that in the flurry of preparing your halls, decorating student unions, training your student staff, working many, many nights and many, many weekends, that you’ll be able to look back at these moments not with frustration but with fondness.
While nearly half-way there, I have a few pieces of advice I’ve utilized in my Augusts past:
1. Take a day for you. Before it gets crazy. I am a full believer in the spa day, but it can look like whatever you want it to be for you. I would take a day off during the week prior to RAs arriving to enjoy a quiet morning by myself, go to my favorite spa, get a massage, spend time with friends, and recharge a bit. The beauty of the academic cycle is that it is cyclical! You know what’s coming. Be smarter than the stress.
2. You have all year to bond. Yes, you and your student staff will be so excited to see each other. But to meet students’ needs and do your best work recognize when it is important and helpful to be present and when it may be a disservice to you and your staff to stay up late. Yes, they may bond without you and that is completely okay. I’m notorious for my perpetual FMS syndrome (‘Fraid of Missin’ Somethin’) but no one said you have to be on 24/7. Take the breaks where they come and set an example of healthy balance between training/prep and all that is happening outside of the campus bubble.
3. Stock up on your favorites. Following my spa day, I would make a trip to Whole Foods, Target, and the like and pick up a few of my favorite things. The point is to not martyr yourself because no one is interested in the negativity that brings. If everyone is stressed, be the person who has got it together. For me, that included picking up fresh flowers for my apartment, my favorite snacks (and some adult beverage snacks – nothing wrong with a glass of Malbec after a long day), a new book or magazine, movie I’ve been wanting to watch, new sweats to change into after a long day, fancy bottled water (it’s a thing for me), and a stack of new stationary to write letters to friends….which leads me to:
4. Stay connected. Your friends, your circles outside of this world in August are still moving. Reach out to your student affairs friends on other campuses, send a letter to a friend, call a family member. Those around you remind you of what really matters so when something didn’t go well and you’re feeling hot and bothered, you have perspective, which is a critical point to maintaining sanity.
5. Preparation is your best friend. It took my first summer training as a hall director to figure it out, but the old adage of if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail is very true. I hated how I felt in the frenzy and it occurred to me that I only needed to experience it once this way. While much feels stressful, much remains within your control. I enjoyed a folder and basket system where I had my supplies and materials laid out and ready to go for each day. I utilized the mad curriculum skills that got me to my current job by writing out my own curriculum for the portions of training with my realm of control down to every last notecard and color of marker needed. And it felt good to just pick up and go each day so my energy could be fully present with people and not lost in the planning.
So to all my campus friends and colleagues, Happy August!
With that, my Monday playlist – five songs added to the Workout Favs playlist for starting off your week:
And a little Monday inspiration: