Words as Themes: Where do I go from here?

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My Word

For the past two years our office has engaged in an activity in which we establish a “word” whose definition outlines a theme that we want for our professional and, in some cases, our personal lives. This activity is one of my favorites because it does not involve other persons. It is a thought exercise that forces me to look within myself and reflect not only on who I am, but who I want to be. These types of exercises are my favorite. Personally, I think these activities can build a stronger team than any human knot, hula hoop, or rope team building activity. This year, I want to showcase some of the thoughts that I have had over the past several weeks as I attempt to determine what my Word will be for this year. The future is meaningless without the past so how about a review?

2016-2017

Word: Heuristic

I chose this particular word because at the time it was representative of my supervision style. Also, it was a word I have had never encountered until I looked for it and looked cool. Throughout my liberal arts education I was taught too never accept the answer or solution given to me at face value. I was to analyze it and consider the meaning behind it and the consequences of accepting the action. In many cases I was presented with complex problems with no clear solution and forced to defend and critically analyze the solution I came to. This rigorous education created a supervisory style that asks for others to give me their answer.

Heuristic

Image that reads: Heuristic to me means that I am not always capable,and in some cases, am unwilling to give you the answers you seek. Why? Sometimes you need to find the answers on your own. Plan, try, fail, try again. Twitter symbol @ShaneYoung15 

 

2017-2018

Word: Logos

I chose this word in response to what I perceived to be an influx in emotion based decision-making in my professional life. It was not something that made sense to me and still confuses me to this day. This word was chosen to further define who I am as a professional. I am logical. I focus on facts and reason in my decision-making and make the decision that makes the most sense.

Logos

Cartoon image of the author with a half full progress bar titled “Thinking” and a thought bubble reading: Logos: Convince b use of logic or reason’ use of critical thinking to reach a conclusion or solution

2018-2019

Word: ???

I do not have a word yet. I am still trying to figure it out, but here are some thoughts.

Exodus: My current position considers itself a “three and up” curriculum where at the end of my time here I ought to have enough experience to move up the food chain (most assistant director positions are now requiring 4-5 years of experience, but that’s a whole different story). My time is ending and I must make my exit. My life is a series of exits, but how does one leave a place? Because my watch is ending do I have more hills to die on? How does one set up a supervisory area for the unknown next person? Should the theme of my final year be the fact that it is my final year? Perhaps even my final year in student affairs?

Reality: One of my major struggles with other persons within my own work is that we often have very different experiences and expectations of the same scenario. In many respects I think that leaders often have idealistic notions of reality that they espouse without the consideration of the actual state of things. I see the world through mild pessimism and severe realism. I think and speak with candor in order to make my bleak reality make a little more sense.

Conflict: Internal reflection brings a lot of conflict to the surface. As someone who is often lost in their own thoughts I am often internally conflicted about my place in the world and struggling to acknowledge and accept the changes that are occurring within my life. In addition, and you may have caught this impression from my last post, I believe that conflict is a part of life both professionally and personally. As I exit my time in my current role and react to a harsh reality there is bound to be conflict. I want to be prepared and I want to prepare others for this eventuality.

These are just a couple of possibilities. What are your thoughts? Do these fit? What other theme might represent me?

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Sensible Suggestions: Politics in the Workplace

Image result for i hate politics meme

Above: An meme of rap artist Xzibit stating “Yo Dawg!  I heard you hate political memes so here’s a political meme about politic so you can comment on how you hate political memes”

I have recently began reviewing my notes from some of my former graduate courses and I came across a casually typed statement that inspired me. In my notes I wrote “we are an organization of people and that is political.” For context the “we” is referring to colleges and universities and their composite parts. I know why this statement struck me then and still does now. When talking to colleagues or graduate assistants I often hear them bemoan the fact that there are often political systems that exist in their work environments. “I hate drama! Why can’t we just do our jobs and help students?” is one phrase that I have heard on more than one occasion. The struggle of power and influence exists in every aspect of our lives. Although most will espouse a distaste for engaging in “politics” persons will always work to ensure what they perceive to be a desirable outcome. It bears repeating that we are political because we are an organization of people.

I hope that does not terrify you. As a student of political science, I am energized by the prospect of watching power and influence in action. I view being able to competently engage in this as pivotal to my profession. In this and future blog posts on this topic I hope to offer even a small amount of usable advice to help you avoid or respond to the situations that I have found myself in throughout my career.

Control the narrative

One of the keys to ensuring that you have an upper hand in disputes in the workplace is to ensure that you control the narrative. I am not referring to having reporters on your payroll, but if you can do that . . .  it may be worth it. What I am referring to is ensuring that you limit the situations in which your supervisor or someone above the chair receives information (or a complaint) that takes them by surprise. Worse yet is when that person asks you to respond and you have no information on the situation because you didn’t document it with as much detail as the other party. these situations occur in my professional life and the one thing that I have taken away is that I HATE being surprised by these things. Over time I have developed a series of protective behaviors which include:

  1. Verbally request what it said in writing at the time it is said
    1. If that request is not granted within 48 hours – request it via writing
  2. Write up a small summary of the interaction for your own notes
  3. Send an email summary of the conversation to the person you had the conversation with.
  4. Send your supervisor an update including the information that was agreed on as a rudimentary update
    1. You can CC the individual you had a conversation for extra security

How many of you are wondering if this is really necessary? I bet that some of you may haven even thought “Wow, this is petty.’” I challenge your disbelief and your dismissal of these actions because these guidelines are responses to actual incidents in my professional life. I have been involved in disputes with students, parents, supervisees, Deans of Students, and other professionals who have years of experience on me. I have lost out on hundreds of dollars because I didn’t have written documentation of an agreement between myself and an employer.  I will not let this happen again.

Please note that these guidelines do not immediately absolve a professional from all their disputes against other political actors. For instance, I have had supervisors confront me asking about a situation that was reported to them (usually by their own supervisor). It is a relief to indicate that they received a status update via email on xx-xx-xxxx date. I prefer this to panicking and attempting to remember that you stopped by their office two weeks ago sometime after lunch while wearing purple and any other clues to help jog their memory as well as your own.

That’s all folks… for now!

After some thought (and due to time crunches) I think I am going to start this as a series of posts with chunks of information rather than a large one with all the information. I will probably collect some better examples if I write sporadically as well! Thanks for stopping by and reading about controlling the narrative. Check back sometime in the future for more sensible solutions to politics in the workplace!

Considering “Why”

July is a time of preparation and training. Training new professionals in new work environments and taking [bitter] returning professionals along for the ride. Preparations for student staff to arrive back on campus for training and/or for help in preparing for month of August and everything that it requires. There is so much going on and so little time, it seems. Where did the end of May and all of June go? Oh, yeah, I took a two-week vacation. Having a significant amount of work to do and preparations to make and trainings to sit through has not prevented my mind from wandering and it has been pondering what could be considered an important question. Why am I in student affairs and who am I as a professional?

A part of this has stemmed from recent professional staff training where entire blocks of the training schedule are dedicated to team builders, socials, or training sessions where less than 5% of the information is new. As a residence life staff are notorious for being the positive, ice breakers every second there is a pause, and wanting to work with people because they’re so extroverted type. That, in my experience, has been true over 70% of the time. Alas, I am not. I am a realist. Icebreakers are abominations. After two bouts of small-talk I need a nap. I’ve been thinking. Is this for me?

I have already considered whether I am jumping to conclusions based on what is a minute amount of annoyances, but I have over two years of professional experience within the same job and no matter how many supervisors I have had (4-5) and staff’s I have supervised (3rd completely different one starting soon) my perspective on these activities or on my style have not altered very much. Why did I want to be a student affairs professional? Do I still have that same drive now? As I was contemplating this I texted a dear friend asking a simple question: Do you think I make a good student affairs professional? Earmuffs, kids, but she said “Absolfuckinglootly no doubt!!”

When further pressed, she expanded her statement to “I think you are because you have drive to make student and staff experiences different. You try and make a clear path for systems and structures. You are a strong mentor and leader. Your supervision skills have developed providing purpose and guidance. Through your work without full acknowledgement of students you make a large impact on their navigation through the system.” Thanks Edna Murrieta!

 

Existential crisis avert . . . let’s be honest; it was only delayed.

A Year in Brief Review

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Wins and Losses of 2017-2018

Wins

  • I met and worked with some phenomenal graduate assistants whom, although had no idea what they were getting themselves into, have given me one of the best years of supervision I have ever had.
  • I was chosen to lead the student staff recruitment and selection committee. At the beginning I was given a lot of freedom to build a process that resembled what I might have wanted as an applicant.
  • At the end of the year during an abruptly planned appreciation event the week before finals I was forced to realize that members of my staff actually liked me. Throughout the year I had deluded myself that my staff either hated me or had no thoughts about me, but the kind things they said and wrote to me as well as the conversations during final one on ones helped me see I did something. I had an impact. Still unclear if it is a good one.
  • I have managed to add Desire 2 Learn and Jotform to my repertoire of technology that I know how to use based off integrating them into my job’s processes. It was one victory this year in my endeavor to make things simple and efficient.
  • I am able to write this post, meaning I may have more time to blog in the future! Or not. We will see.

Losses

  • Volunteered (under duress, I assure you) to move from a supervision area where I was happy, had the small campus feel, and was going to be filled with staff members I had selected to another side of campus with none of those factors (well, the happiness came later re: see wins).
  • Once the process I built became internal and there were no more candidates to interview it became riddled with political battlefields.
  • I still refuse to come to terms with one of my greatest weaknesses and continue to fight it without assistance.
  • Holistically, I have been unable to steer as much positive change as I would have liked. There is still so much that can be better but for each one there is three barriers, whether a person or a mindset.

 

This is just a snippet of the year. Not everything has made it and there may be major things that I have overlooked or forgotten. This is just what is running through my mind recently as well as the desire to post on this website I bought. After all, letting my money go to waste is not Sensibly Shane.

Conference Contemplations [GLACUHO]

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Conference

I recently had the pleasure of attending my first GLACUHO (Great Lakes Association of College and University Housing Officers) annual conference. I attended with seven other representatives from Southern Illinois University Carbondale over the course of three days, two of them filled with awesome presentations. As I have not been to a conference in a little while, my readers may have forgotten that I offer small summaries of information I gained at conferences through my blog series titled “Conference Contemplations.” We have been in hiatus for a little while because conferences are expensive. Feel free to skip around and read what interests you almost like a small online conference.

Job Searching: Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?
Presenters: Kristen Brewer & Aaron Copley-Spivey
This session started a little bit late due to a business meeting that ran over, but it meant that the content was made more concise. We started out the session with a series of prompts that forced the audience to reflect. My notes were a little bit jumbled and written in a lost form of scribbles so please bear with my translations. The prompts were directed at our current position and included the following:

-What are 3 frustrations you have with your current position?
-What are 5 enjoyments you have with your current position?
-Is your current environment negative or abusive?
-Have you attempted every action to make your position workable?
-Do you have more to give in this position or at this institution?
-Strategize your 5-10 year plan; where do you want to be?

Working with Wiki: Maximizing Information Sharing and Collaboration in Housing and Residence Life
Presenter(s): Eric Musselman
I have an entire section of my website dedicated to technology. I must attend anything relating to technology at any conference. This session was ultimately about trust because Wiki is just a tool that the presenter has used at their institution to collaborate with each member of their team and across the board. Wiki allows everyone to see and have access to all of the things that is happening in the department, which makes it very easy for a team to work together on a document, task, or project without being constrained to ownership and sharing difficulties that OneDrive or Google Drive can produce. Yes, there is a feature that makes it so that information that is not yet announced or contains information that should not be shared can be accessed only by certain users, but Wiki puts transparency on the forefront of thought and makes departments confront whether they to be or seem transparent.

Specific ways Wiki has been used include:
-curating large projects such as move in year to year for updates
-Emergency or department procedures, when they were last updated, and who is responsible for updating them
-facilities information such as furniture and room dimensions, colors, and ordering information
-Embedded forms
-meeting agendas and one-on-one tracking viewable only be those two persons
-task delegation and tracking

There is a lot more available as well, but I have a lot of other great content to write about too!

Creating Your Professional Brand
Presenter(s): Tiffany Gonzales & Justin Schuch
I operate this website and have a lot of work to do so I felt this was also a mandatory session for me. This session came with a handout (I love handouts)! The handout demonstrates most of the content of this session so let me tell you a little about what is on there.

One of the most important things in building a brand, however, is you. Who are you and what do you represent? What do you value? Do you have goals? How does your brand align with them? Where are your strengths? Areas of improvement? In order to create a brand one must know thyself!

“Create Your Brand Card” A nifty acronym to help you build a brand.
-Consistency: Create a coherent brand voice and tone in all verbal an visual communication across media platforms.
-Authenticity: Emphasize a true attribute.
-Relevance: Base the branding on an insight into you and your potential clients.
-Differentiation: Create a unique visual and verbal presence.

Ditch the Draft: Creating Student Centered Selection Processes
Presenter(s): Shandee Ewert & Marci Walton

This was the session I was most looking forward to attending as I am the chair of our recruitment and selection committee this for this year. I left the session with a lot of notes and ideas based on the points the presenters made, but also the comments from those in the audience. I am looking forward to attempting to implement some of this information into our ongoing selection process. One common item between the processes at the presenters’ institution is that there is one for new hires and one for returning staff. My current institution only recently began to use a process to determine if staff were going to be offered a contract for the next academic year.

The presenters talked about group discernment as a method for decision making. In group discernment there are 5 tenets:
-Ready to move
-Open to Sharing
-Compromise
-Quest for Union
-Collective Decision Making
Fairly simply to understand these five pillars combine in order to promote the best decision for the entire whole rather than the individual interests or interests of those we represent (i.e. specific buildings/areas).

If you aren’t going to score it then don’t ask for it.

This is the one statement that stood out to me throughout the presentation. Often times we collect applications an ask for information that is ultimately never used and this is disrespectful to the time and effort student applicants put into the process. If you have questions in your application, how do you score them? What does this score me? In addition to scores for the rubric, both presenters utilize a bias reduction training for their student staff, who often assist in conducting the many interviews for new staff. There was a lot said during this session and I am hopeful to have the opportunity to use even a fraction of it.

Can we Protest: How your right to demonstrate intersects with your expectation as a professional
Presenter(s): Alison Sinadinos
Political activism has been a part of my life since the early 2010s. I recall being in Washington D.C.  during the Occupy movement and talking with several of the protesters who had set up homes in the area. Furthermore, since entering the profession there have been many movements, especially by students protesting white nationalists, police brutality, and even an institution. This session is important because we are political persons interested in exercising our freedom of speech, but may pause due to employment concerns.

The presenter convened a panel of professionals to discuss this matter, but a large portion of the discussion focused on student staff members rather than ourselves as professionals. In many cases (and at many institutions) the right of a student staff member to exercise their free speech was supported. There were occasional limitations, such as ensuring that a person did not flaunt or use their position within Housing when engaging in protests. There was some discussion, using a case at Miami University of Ohio where a departmental policy did not allow graduate students to engage in protests. After some legal conversations it was clarified that graduate students did have the right to engage in protests.

I Want to Be In the Room Where It Happens: Building Political Capital as a Young Professional
Presenter(s): Stacy Oliver-Sikorsky & Rexann Wharton
I was really looking forward to this session due to my training as a political scientist at Hiram College. This session included what I think is really important information for graduate students and entry level professionals regarding transitions (#schlossberg). Students and graduate students are often able to sit on committees, boards, and given seats at the table that are exclusively for them. They are recruited and in some cases groomed to be on these committees and given the opportunity to influence decisions. Entry level professionals (and in some cases  graduate assistants) must demonstrate that they are really good at their job before they will be given these same opportunities. It can take years.

Some methods of gaining capital:
-Excel at your job
-Don’t expect extra in your first year
-Learn how opportunities are awarded
-Ask for supervisory assistance/permission before signing up for additional work
-Build external relationships

Rumor Has It: Myths and More from the Mid-Level
Presenter(s): Shandee Ewert & Marci Walton
Myths of the Mid-Level include:

  • You will have more time
    • Entry level after hours work is more visible than mid-level
  • Significantly More Decision Making Power
    • Politics are more intense
    • You spend more time preparing your boss to make decisions
  • More Disposable Income
    • Live-on may have more take-home cash at end of day
    • Consider rent, utilities, internet, groceries/meals
  • You no Longer need Professional Development
    • Relationship building is new pro devo
    • No one tells you when you need to learn
  • Supervision will be Easier
    • Varying levels of buy in/experience in supervisees
    • Longer duration of relationship
  • You will receive extensive training
    • Nope, nope, nope
    • Practice on providing options to supervisees
      • There was an earlier mid-level roundtable that came up with the phrase “solution based bitching” for additional reference
  • You will have colleagues in similar positions to you
    • Not everyone levels like you, so don’t burn bridges
  • Your Contributions will be Visible and Recognized
    • You will be the villain more often
    • You are the gatekeeper and often have to say no
  • You no Longer Understand Student Needs
    • You now have a larger perspective to account for
    • Build trust; help them learn that there are things they do not know
  • Good Entry-Level = Good Mid-Level
    • Necessary skills to develop are administrative skills, campus politic navigation, supervision, relationship building, and facilitation/articulation of your ideas/vision

Professional disAbility: A round table on working/ living in Reslife with health issues & disabilities
Presenter(s): Michelle Cecil
I joined this roundtable as an advocate and it was one of my most candid sessions of GLACUHO. The attendees demonstrated vulnerability and talked about their experiences thus far. One of the first important takeaways of this session is the exhaustion they feel when they not only need to muster the courage to disclose but to educate about their health issue or disability simultaneously. This conversation does not just occur with the professionals’ supervisor though. It sometimes occurs with student supervisees as well.

Privacy also emerged as an important concern because a persons basic instinct has not necessarily been to preserve others persons privacy. When student staff or even supervisors ask why a person is gone all the time or “are you really that sick?” It can become frustrating for those who need to utilize that time. Student affairs is not a field that has shown it is able to let those with time off be off, but this can prove more inconvenient and inappropriate for those living with health issues and disabilities. One of the last items we discussed that is tied to using time off is the potential need for medical specialists. An appointment with a specialist needs to be made two to three months in advance and requires insurance. If a professional has to relocate to another staff, there is  chance they will not have insurance until they arrive on campus. What if it is a person’s dream job but the nearest specialist is two hours away? The #sasearch becomes more complicated and becomes a matter of a persons health.

La la la! Let’s talk about music

Image result for lucio overwatch gif

Overwatch character Lucio DJing on a hologram

 

This week I wanted to chat with you all about music as it is one of the things that I cannot work/live without. I always have Spotify playing some obscure new artists or random German industrial (just ask my staff – they think it’s weird). Music is important to me as it has been one of the things that helped me throughout my life. The right song has the potential to make my day better or motivate me to take on new challenges. I wanted to take a little bit of time to chat about music.

Music is capable of many medical feats; Collingwood (2016) concisely lists that music has contributed to the relief of depression in elderly persons, reduce the likelihood of burnout in nursing students, and general reduction of stress and proliferation of positive sensations. If music can influence your health can it also help in other areas? According to research conducted by Teresa Lesiuk the answer is yes. Lesiuk’s (2005) study noted that the mood and quality of work was lowest with the group that did not have music. It may come as a surprise, but the group in Lesiuk’s (2005) study that had access to no music also spent the most time on task; they worked more and achieved a poorer result.

Not all music is created equal though. Music with lyrics can, in some cases, produce less productivity (Shih, Huang, & Chiang, 2012). According to an old instructor listening to music without lyrics could motivate the brain, but those with lyrics would prove more distracting due to the brain automatically focusing on recognizing and understanding the words. I partially believe this logic… although I currently listening to vocal trance music to write this post. Sorry professor!

What does this all mean? 

Why did I bother writing this post, especially since there is no music attached to it? Well, I want there to be people who read this post and then go and build a “tomorrow’s my deadline playlist” (for future projects, of course). While you are writing that end of semester report, know that it is okay to use the below playlist of epic music to increase your productivity. Playing music in your office is not unprofessional or unwelcoming. In my own many cases, it has helped students realized there was a person in the mysteriously ajar office. In one case, several students and I jammed to an artist I had just discovered.

Music is inextricably tied to ever changing concepts such as work environment or professionalism. There are work environments that have not updated their expectations for a changing world that is more critical of why they must adapt to companies instead of companies adapting to the talent they have recruited. Too often organizations tacitly or actively believe that persons must adapt to the organizational standards rather. You must dress this way, you must act this way, you must never appear to be unprofessional by the standards in this 59-page document you signed that showed that you read the rules and regulations. The enforcement of policies is not consistent and in some cases, presents itself on discriminatory lines.

What does this all mean? It means that I support altering work environments. I support those who can wear jeans and still retain the powers of doing their job. I support music because the evidence shows that it works to make not just employees, but people, better.

To Employers

I have been a part of work environments that actively discourage music, singing, and demand you only work on those tasks to which you are assigned. They were soul-crushingly boring and my work suffered because I was unable to focus on such a tedious task for too long. I would arrive at 8:00 and leave by 5:00 only to feel miserable about my day. Eventually I began to become less and less engaged with my work and more engaged with doing homework, writing papers, and other academic work instead of the task at hand.

I do not want to be that person again. I do not want to waste my time as a professional or the time of my organization and for me to do this I need work environments to change with the times. I am not suggesting every organization mimic Google or other multi-billion dollar companies. It can be as simple as allowing Pandora, Spotify, or other music streaming to be installed on office computers. Are you truly dedicated to retaining your employees as well as maximizing their potential? Take an extra step and offer premium accounts because the worst possibility is that an ad for your competitor plays.

Take a chance. Listen to the anti-procrastination playlist I was introduced to a long time ago by a friend.

Anti-Procrastination Playlist: https://8tracks.com/kimtsan/the-ultimate-anti-procrastination-mix

Works Cited

Collingwood, J. (2016). The Power of Music To Reduce Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-power-of-music-to-reduce-stress/

Lesiuk, T. (2005). The effect of music listening on work performance. Psychology of Music, 33(2), 173-191. Retrieved on October 23, 2017, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0305735605050650

Shih, Y., Huang, R., & Chiang, H. (2012). Background music: Effects on attention performance. Work, 42(4), 573-578. doi:10.3233/WOR-2012-1410

Shane is back… back again.

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Image result for the king has returned meme

Greetings world!  I am back and at least 47% more motivated than before! A lot has changed over the past several months and I want to provide some updates for you.

Work Related Updates

I am working in a different part of campus this year due to some staffing issues. At first, I was absolutely dreading the change because it was change. It turns out that I may harbor positive feelings towards it. I supervise three graduate assistants as opposed to my two from last year and I must say that I am impressed with the work that they have completed and I am looking forward to what they can do in the future. I have said more nice things about them to them than I have given positive feedback in at least 1,200 years.

Life Related Updates

As a part of my “terms of surrender” for moving to another area of campus I negotiated for a much larger and more comfy couch. It has increased my happiness significantly as my previous couch was seriously suspect. I have recently been going to the gym a lot more because I found a partner that constantly bugs me about it enough to force me to go. The worst part? I sort of like it. I listen to audio books to make the grind bearable and so far, it has worked.

Where do I go from here? 

Well, I sort of want to watch the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but that is not important right now. What do I want to do? I want to tell stories about the things I am doing, have done, or plan to do. I want to find more technology to share with the world. I want to brighten your day with my sarcasm or just a fun story about that one time I thought a student was calling me “Fatman.” I want to tell you about why I like chai tea lattes and not americanos. Let’s be honest – I don’t have a plan, but I planned to not have a plan so I get to be my INTP/INTJ self regardless!

 

I Took a Vacation and I Liked It

vacation stamp bitmoji

During my institution’s “spring break” we are still expected to be in the office working, preferably from 8:00-4:30. I decided that this was not the life for me  in mid-February and I promptly took the entire week off because I HAVE vacation time and I SHOULD use every single day I am contractually granted.

Again, for those in the back: I promptly took the entire week off because I HAVE vacation time and I SHOULD use every single day I am contractually granted.

I have written about Burnout before and like I have said before it is a “scary” word in student affairs. “Don’t get burnt out” and “Be sure to self-care” are phrases uttered in some fashion constantly by supervisors everywhere (myself included). What happens after we give our warnings? We wait until the symptoms of burnout present themselves again before offering the same eerie warning. When do we, as supervisors or as professionals, actively work with our peers and supervisees to assist in the creation of these habits before they are necessary?

I will be the first to admit that I absolutely hate the idea of using my vacation days. I continue to pretend that I will save them all of for this giant, great adventure during the summer. What else could be a factor here? Conditional response to limited breaks due to years of compulsory and then a couple of years of higher education: check. Structural (field-wide) discouragement of separating yourself from work during any time other than a break: check. Residence Life being a functional area where entry-level staff are expected to be present nearly 24/7: check. I am conditioned to think saving my days and using them during the summer is the most “appropriate” way to use my time off. The most appropriate time for me to use my time away is when I need or want it.

(Alt Text: Courtney Cambell @courtneyekeeler :  am I alone in being desensitized to the buzzphrase of “self-care” in SA? Since when is actually taking my lunch hour “self-care”?)

 I saw the preceding Tweet the other day… My favorite line from it is “Since when is actually taking my lunch hour ‘self-care’?” I immediately saved it so that I could come back and share it with fellow professionals because I think it may strike a chord with many. For me, many of my lunch breaks last less than 30 and too often are less than 15 minutes in duration. Self-care in student affairs has become the utilization of normal pieces of employment instead of work. This behavior becomes normalized early on in a professional’s career, which probably contributes to high burnout rates. We have become so desensitized that a job where you can have a full hour lunch and regularly leave at the end of the day is like winning the World Cup.

I took a vacation and I liked it. I think I’ll take another one. I will take my full hour of lunch or respite even if most of it is a stroll around the campus munching on a sandwich. These are relatively small things, but if many new professionals rebel against infringement of these small things we may see the day when working through lunch four days of the week is no longer an expectation.

Knee-deep in Keys

Last semester with the retirement of a highly powerful mage that worked in my office I was bestowed the responsibility of key and FOB master (Fobs are Near Field Communication devices that we use instead of small chips in ID cards). Being entrusted with these newly assigned tasks was unexpected and it was welcome even though this meant that my own level of accountability needed to increase as well. For anyone who has ever worked in Residence Life the sheer number of keys can be absolutely overwhelming because you need several keys for each room in addition to any office keys. Furthermore anyone who has had access to or responsibility for a “master” key is aware of the significant financial and employment risks if that key is missing after your name is the last one to use it. Keys force a person to become more organized because they are equivalent to a person’s safety within their residence hall.

This post is not meant to simply say “I AM THE KEY MASTER, MWAHAHAHA!” but I have recently come back into power over keys and FOBs. However, this time I have been a little more reflective and trying to wonder why I like this so much (other than the obvious answer of “You’re weird”).

Reason 1: Detective Work

Weird things happen in communities of humans. When I see a random key or FOB on my desk I already have a smile on my face because I now have a mystery to solve! I really enjoy the process of determining whose key/FOB that I have with little to no information. Oftentimes my co-workers will hear me exclaim “Well that’s interesting” after making a discovery that gets me closer to the truth. Work days can become rather dull and I like these small adventures.

Reason 2: Creating Procedures

In just a couple of days I have completed 95% of a written procedure guide for student and professional staff because I had seen weaknesses in our system and wanted to correct them. I was given unbridled (more or less) creativity to do whatever I needed to make the system more manageable, traceable, and easy to understand/teach. Our office workers were integral to this process because I sought their feedback to ensure that we were creating procedures that were easy not only for professional/office staff, but for students as well.

Reason 3: Forced Organization

From chaos I created order. While doing minimal detective work and create procedures I felt that I was using magic to clear up a mess from a dramatic sequence in a film. As I mentioned earlier, keys are a high accountability subject and they need to be in their proper place. This forces me to be organized because there is little room for the phrase “I’ll figure it out later.”

I know that I have an adventure tomorrow as I still have a mystery or two to solve.

Contemplating Challenge

I do not think that it is any secret that I am oriented more towards challenge than support. Sanford (1962) made it particularly clear that you need a dash of both rather than a stiff dose of one or the other, but over the past several years of supervision experience I have learned that I am prone to offering challenge from the start.

Throwback: In July as a part of training the full-time professional staff was asked to carefully consider one word that represents themselves personally and professionally. I originally disdained this activity because there were so many words that I felt applicable. I actually spent hours searching through the depths of online thesauruses and dictionaries before I finally settled on one word: heuristic.

Heuristic to me means that I am not always capable, and in some cases,am unwilling to give you the answers you seek. Why? Sometimes you need to find the answers on your own Plan, try, fail, try again. @ShaneYoung15

My one word for the 2016-2017 year.

Throwback continued: I come from a liberal arts college where critical thinking permeated every single part of my studies. I was constantly challenged to look at my assumptions, look for hidden meanings, and connect to contemporary happenings in an effort to better understand why they were occurring at that specific moment. I was not often given a direct answer, but pushed to find my own. Even when I thought I had answered the battle was only half won; I still needed to defend my assertion.

My entire academic experience was built on challenge and resisting support (I am sure my old supervisors have some potentially funny stories of me refusing help). My graduate assistantship experiences have also helped solidify my gravitation towards challenge.

Fun fact: I once received anonymous feedback that “Shane doesn’t directly answer your question. He asks a lot of questions that make you realize that you already knew the answer. It would have been faster if he just answered the question.”

Yes, it would have saved both of us quite a significant chunk of time, but I do not think that it would have been beneficial in the long run to simply answer the question. I still believe in the importance of helping students realize that they have a lot of the answers they seek.

Then it all changed when the fire nation attacked…. (Avatar: The Last Airbender reference, sorry). It was a very different experience while in the midst of student staff training at an institution that I had spent only a month at. My staff, especially the new resident assistants, needed me to help facilitate their learning and to help them understand the pieces of crucial training: they needed support. Incidentally several of my staff members may have disliked me at the beginning of the fall because instead of directly answering the question, I asked what they thought was the answer and asked questions instead of simply answering the question.

I was not being the supervisor that they needed. They were surrounded by returning staff members whose main preoccupation was asking why things were different from last year (a post on change is in the works for the future). They experience long days filled with information. They were not even sure what was the most relevant information that they received from those days. I would not call my first several support conversations “successful” but they were not failures engulfed in flames. I steadily began to develop skills in offering support, mainly because, with time, I learned to support only pieces that needed support. Instead of trying to re-teach the entire day of training, I began to listen more attentively and ask questions to clarify what the crux of the question was.

This has taken many forms. I still regularly allow a moment of silence before asking “So, what is it that you are asking?” I do this mostly for those who unwittingly unleash a monsoon of information, to provide background but easily lose themselves in the narrative. I repeat questions back using alternative language that makes more sense to me, to see if we are on the same page. And then I answer the question when I have the answer. If I do not have an answer, I find it and ensure those asking the question do too.

Whenever you find yourself contemplating challenge it is important to remember that no matter what you are better at giving, you must develop the necessary skills in the other. There will come a time where a student who has received a lot of support will need challenge. Likewise, there will come a time where those constantly challenged will need a little help.