Navigating Student Affairs Burnout

April is a tough month for a lot of people working in student affairs. Depending on your office you’re preparing for residence hall check-outs, spring fling programming, seniors panicking about their job search, or an endless train of awards banquets. Consequently, it’s not uncommon that April also becomes burn-out season for us too. I’ll be the first to admit that I identified a little too well with some of the burn-out tweets shared in today’s Student Affairs Chat.

@OberBecca: Sounds like me last week. oops. RT @JoeGinese: Q2: Tears on demand. Nonstop coffee drinking. Randomly passing out on couches. Stress eating

No matter how many extra shots of espresso I added to my Starbucks, I felt like I just couldn’t keep up. I curled up on the couch in our office for 15 minutes during Family Day Saturday. I’d ignored all of the other signs up until that point, but I couldn’t ignore that one – I was burnt out*. Maybe your busy season isn’t April, but most of us have pushed ourselves a little farther than we should have for sorority recruitment, orientation, advising, registration…or something.

(*Disclaimer– Slow down before you burn out. Counting espresso shots, tears, and hours in the office are not measures of success.)

That said, I was thinking a lot about why my work matters. If I’m going to be this emotionally and physically invested in something, I want to be sure that it’s worth it. Most of the time it is. We have file folders and bulletin boards full of thank you notes from students thanking us and reminding us that they value our work. This external validation is nice, but it can be hard to grasp when you’re in the thick of April.

And honestly, it’s not about the validation– from students or colleagues. I need to value my work and to see that it has value. So that’s exactly what I sat down and wrote yesterday morning during my Morning Pages.

At the end of the day – I want to feel like I have made a difference and that my work will have a ripple effect. When has my work felt like it mattered?

My pen kept flowing for a while after I asked myself that question. There are a lot of bright moments from my two years at UNCP and even more if I go further back in my work. Story after story, moment after moment I remembered individual conversations and interactions that mattered. I want to bottle up the energy of the retreat high that happens in these conversations, collect all of the bright moments like fireflies in a mason jar and bring them out on the days that need a little extra light and inspiration.

That’s probably the end of the warm-fuzzy section. A collection of memories and thank you cards is a good start, but I worry about the stickiness and long-term impact of my work. In any given week I spend a lot of time on leadership programs and late night events– and so do students.

Today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it -- author unknown

I want to be sure that this time matters. My gut tells me I need to be better about assessment. I sent out a survey this afternoon to check in with programming board members to see what they’ve learned this year. It’s a small step, but it builds on the mid-year survey I conducted with them. I’m hoping to see some growth and change over the time lapse. Sometimes stories are enough, but I want data to back it up too.

How do you know your work makes a difference? 

Becca Obergefell
Check out Becca's blog:

Student Affairs - the First Years

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