Change Your Attitude or Change Your Circumstances

By Mairead Kiernan

We survived August! Arguably one of the most stressful months for those of us in Student Affairs, it’s nice to see August in the rearview mirror. While it’s great to finally be in September, this is also prime burn out time for new professionals (and sometimes not-so-new). For some, it’s trying to get into the swing of a “normal” schedule. For others, this is when the first pangs of homesickness will hit. This could also be when those who aren’t so new realize that maybe this is a searching year, and the stress of an impending job search starts to weigh on them. Whatever it is that makes September a challenge, it’s important to be mindful of how your personal struggle is impacting those around you.

We’ve all been there: in a funk that we’re not really sure how we got into and we certainly don’t know how to get out of it. In my whopping two years as a new professional, I’ve seen it happen two years in a row now. Peers who hit September and the rest of us are like, “Really? You’re not happy it’s here too?” It’s hard to work with these people, regardless of what their reason is for being unhappy.

As Student Affairs professionals, I think it’s inherently in our nature to want to help these people. “What can I do to help?” “Talk to me. Let’s figure this out.” “Come on! Come participate in [insert activity here] to take your mind off of it!” I’m a people person and extrovert to a fault, but for me it’s really draining to constantly try to support someone who’s resistant to it. This year, I’ve decided that I cannot be that person and (this is where my title comes from) that it’s up to the person to either change their attitude or change their circumstances.

Nothing in our field is 100% static. The vast majority of us work with students every single day. If ever there was a population that could change on a dime, it would be students. Now I know that may sound naïve, but if I’m really frustrated with my student staff, I can go see my complex council students—a very different population. This year I’m advising a student group in order to see a new population. It might be uncomfortable for us to branch out, but it’s not impossible.

Sometimes changing our circumstances might mean having friends outside of work. For those of us in Housing, this is easier said than done. We work with the same people we live with who are the same people we go to class with…you get it. But if it’s my peers who are irritating me, I’ll hang out with someone from class or find something to do that doesn’t involve them. It doesn’t mean I like them any less, it just means I need some “me” time.

Finally, while it might sound drastic, there are ALWAYS job openings in this field. If an institution isn’t working for you, while it might look bad to “one-and-done” them, if it’s in your best interest, go ahead and leave. There also comes a point where you’ve maybe been around too long and it’s time for a change. Make sure you’re aware of this in yourself so that you’re not becoming jaded and negatively influencing those around you.

I’ll close with this: I’m young and new to this field as far as being a professional is concerned. Maybe it’s big picture for me to say that you can just find new students to work with or find new friends or take a new job. But there is one thing you can do—in fact, it’s something that ONLY you can do—change your attitude. If you know you’re someone who needs lots of personal time by yourself, let your peers know. If you need to take a monthly road trip to get away, gas up the car and put the pedal to the metal. DO NOT sit around and feel sorry for yourself because while we work in the field of feelings, people are not going to sit around forever and try to help you fix something only you can control.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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