"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Nancy Walsh, Director of Admissions Operations,Office of Undergraduate Admissions, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Suffering from the work "Mondays?" -- or mid-life career crisis, burn-out -- whatever your favorite term is to describe being in a rut! My career in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Illinois cruised right along and before I knew it, I had 20 years under my belt. TWENTY years! Wow, and for the most part, I have enjoyed it, which must have made the time fly right by. But, then something happened; all of a sudden, it seemed that I was in a funk. Do I really enjoy what I am doing? Am I just following the motions? Considering that I still have more than several years of work in front of me, I knew that I needed to take action to de-funk myself. Here are some ideas to turn the ‘Mondays’ into Fridays (or, at least, Thursdays).
Ever heard of this one?? Yes, I know professional development is not a new concept. Professional development is basically drilled in our brains as soon as we take a registrar or admissions job. Over the years, I have dabbled in professional development opportunities, but I have typically shied away from any involvement that seemed like too much of a time commitment as my job responsibilities tend to occupy the majority of my workday. I’ve decided to try to pursue more professional development opportunities to help give me a change of pace.
To this end, I presented at a Holistic Application Review workshop at the 2017 AACRAO conference, which was a great opportunity (and actually came about from one of my Connect articles!). I continue to look for new opportunities in professional organizations related to my admissions career. Locally, I am now a member of my university’s Council of Academic Professionals where I represent several hundred other professional staff members from my district. This is a three-year commitment, which seemed a little terrifying at first, but so far, this has also been a great experience as this enables me to meet other staff across our university, and it was something that I had contemplating doing for many years.
If you’ve also been a bit hesitant of becoming active in professional organizations or joining campus groups (even after years of employment), go for it! It may just give you a good boost of energy to get you through a rough day or in the more extreme, force you to make a commitment that you will feel proud achieving.
We are never too old to learn new techniques to advance our careers, are we? Well, I will admit that I was starting to think that way. Do I really need to continue to learn more about my profession or try to enhance my supervisory skills since I will be entering my sunset days in the near future? Absolutely, I need to! My office started a book club several months ago. The club, though, was aimed at articles and books related to our profession, not the classics or John Grisham thrillers. My initial response was to pass…..but, in wanting to embrace new tricks, I joined instead! I have now read several books and articles and had great discussions with work colleagues, all who are younger than me. Not only have I learned some new concepts to help me in my career, but I also got to know members of our recruitment staff better. I am already looking forward to our next meeting in a few weeks.
In addition, this has prompted me to pick up books on my own to sharpen my skills, especially when it comes to supervision. This is probably the area that I find myself struggling the most in as I have worked with many of my staff for 10+ years, which can be good and bad. But, after supervising for most of my professional career, I had resigned myself to the (false) fact that there wasn’t anything new I could learn to make myself a better supervisor. When I was first hired as a supervisor, I ordered books on how to be an effective manager. I was so eager and excited. Some days, I yearn for those days again, but I can still have them. I am now finding myself in that section of the library (both physically and online) more, and trying to remind myself that being a better supervisor isn’t just a way to perk myself up, but it will also hopefully, motivate those around me as well.
Brush Off the Resume
If you haven’t looked at your resume in years, I would encourage you to do so. Even if you aren’t interested in applying for a new job, updating your resume can give you an instant burst of pride! Look at everything you’ve accomplished in your professional career. And, once you have that first step done, it can’t hurt to see what other opportunities are out there which could become a sure-fire jolt to your professional career.
Many reading probably think this should be my #1 piece of advice, and maybe it is for some of you, but I bet it’s not for all of you. Some of you may think I am crazy for working within one unit my whole professional career, while others can probably relate. Five years turns into 10 and then before you know it, you are 20+ years in. Familiarity and comfort kick in. I don’t see myself making any radical changes at this point in my life, but I am always keeping my eyes open for new opportunities on campus or in surrounding colleges or universities. A part of me thinks that a new job is just what I need to jumpstart my climb out of the rut, but another side of me marvels at the idea of spending my whole career in one unit and hoping that I leave a legacy of hard work and commitment. Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, I would still strongly encourage updating your resume at the least. You never know where that may lead you, but always remember that every green grass lot usually has a few yellow spots! So, just be cautious that a new job may not the absolute cure in a burn-out situation.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
Again, not a new concept here, but this is one that I’ve really concentrated on during this funk. There were a few recent months in which I was quite down at work – I didn’t see an end in sight and many things were SO irritating to me. But, nothing had really changed workwise. I came to realize that it was my attitude. If I didn’t do anything to improve it, I would continue to be grumpy for the unforeseeable future. I have tried to employ several techniques in my goal of not worrying and being happy. And, for someone known as #negativenancy (even before my current rut), this area probably proved to be the most challenging for me.
Find other colleagues who are feeling the same way about their careers. I have identified a comrade in our data unit who has about the same number of work years at the university as I do. I am appreciative to have someone who shares many of my frustrations, while at the same time, trying to stay positive and continuing to be an impactful worker. We try to meet about once a month to vent together, but I always know that she is just an instant message away if I need some uplifting thoughts before our next meeting.
Savor your work and personal time! When it’s work time, I am head down, using my time as efficiently as possible. But it appears after following this principle for 20+ years, my mind and body need breaks. I am trying my best to avoid working through the lunch hour and even forcing myself to LEAVE the building at least once a week over lunch. In my case, I attend a church service which also allows me a nice walk through our main quad. I am able to actually see students during this walk and feel the ‘vibe’ of campus, which helps remind me of the contributions I’ve made to the student population. I am also in a fortunate position that Illinois has a pretty generous vacation allotment. I vowed several years ago to not lose vacation days, but I have not done a great job of spreading them out over the year so I usually need to use quite a few vacation days over the summer, which is not the best time to be out of the office. I am trying to do a better job of ‘allowing’ myself to take days here and there throughout the year instead of stock-piling them for next summer, which then leads to more stress. Who would have thought using vacation days could be stressful? Probably many of you do!
And, as I’m sure most of you are aware, the supervisor’s attitude rubs off on those around him or her. When I was deep in my rut, I was told by a staff member that she didn’t want to approach me to ask a question. I’ve always had an open-door policy, so this really opened my eyes. I definitely did not want to be leaving that type of impression on my staff members. So, I am focusing on being more approachable and positive, greeting staff, asking them questions about their work & families and thanking them for jobs well done. These were all things that I used to do on a daily basis, but somehow got lost during my funk.
In closing, I am not completely over this hump, but incorporating the techniques above has made a vast improvement in my attitude. I still have bad days as everyone does, and I try to remember “rise above the storm and you will find the sunshine” (Mario Fernandez). One last tip – get a daily inspirational calendar!
I would love to hear tips from others who have found themselves in similar situations – email@example.com.