No One Wins the Busy Game

naspa groups & divisions small colleges and universities division

Carrie Petr, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Doane University

October 18, 2016

Its mid-term season on campus, and the planners are being brandished like weapons, and students are engaging in the Busy Game: “I’m so BUSY,” they lament, each one more over-committed and stressed than the last.  Depending on the situation, we may find ourselves commiserating, sympathizing, or helping find solutions for our students whose daily life has become full with the critical tasks of college life.  It is true; they are busy.  Some of the busy-ness is from the necessary responsibilities they have undertaken, some of it is from time management skills not-yet-honed, some of it is from FOMO-driven yearning to do Everything.

In our Small College and University environments, I think we maybe see this more than our large-school counterparts.  It’s that old saw about “wearing many hats.”  Students wear lots of hats, just like we SA pros do. Our students are stretched because there are fewer of them, and they have a tendency to do so many things.  On my campus, it is not uncommon for a student to be an RA and a varsity athlete and a President of a club. And in the choir. The list goes on and on.

As a student affairs professional for more than 20 years, I see myself in these students.  I, too, clutch my planner and to-do list, rushing from this to that meeting, sacrificing sleep and social time to better my campus, and make good decisions.  Why? Because I love my job.  I truly, madly, love what I get to do every day, and marvel at the fact that they pay me to have this much fun.  But like anything that you love, you can overindulge.  Achievement is addictive; there is a kind of endorphin rush that comes from doing great work, and endorphins are addictive, and then I chase that rush with taking on more and more.

All things in moderation, we say to our students, but I’m not moderate about my job.  I work a lot.  I used to claim that I did it because it had to do it to get things done…. and that is true, but not totally true.  We work in a field that never sleeps; student affairs is always happening, and yes, as an SSAO I have many things to do. But I love the high of achieving things for a campus I love.

About two years ago, there was a rash of articles in major news outlets about the “addiction to being busy.” The New York Times covered it, Psychology Today did a couple of pieces, there were TED Talks, and Brene Brown explained to us all about being “mindful.”  And yet, here I am in my office, with beloved students clutching over-full planners while I try to figure out what magic I can use to make dinner for my family in time to get to my evening meetings.

So I guess things haven’t much changed.  It makes sense in a field like ours.  Student affairs rewards the over-involved student with leadership positions and accolades…. and then we recruit them into our field and they grow up to be Us.  For some SA pros, the addiction to being busy causes us to achieve and be promoted through our field. But when we work with our students…. when they come in with their planners…. lamenting their busyness….do we break that cycle then?

Role modeling good choices about this addiction is hard for me, but I’ve resolved to do so. How? By taking my own sage advice.  Here is what I tell my students:

  1. Delegation is the key to good management. Empowering my staff (and students) is exciting for them, and for me.  Giving people new opportunities means that my time is used mentoring my talented colleagues, and allows me to focus on a few priorities rather than being spread too thin.  I cannot do it all, and trying to do it all isn’t good for anyone, including me.
  2. Take time to rest. Remember that recharging my own batteries, mentally, gives me a change to rest and be my best self. And see my family.
  3. Practice doing nothing.  Just a little bit each day, until it becomes natural.
  4. Enjoy the ride. I tell this to students all the time.  You only get one chance at today, and I love this job and remember to relish every moment.

Such good advice I give…. if only I can follow it! You know what is crazy? I almost never skip the gym; I rarely eat junk food.  But I will be self-destructive about how I use my time every day.  However, I am good at resolutions.  I make a commitment, and it gets done.  This may be one of the hardest commitments I’ve ever made, but it is a change worth making.  For me, the unknown is the hardest part of that.  I’ve always been busy.  And I’ve always been busy with on-campus issues. I try to imagine what it would look like without my Busy Addiction, and it sounds…nice.

Anybody want to be my accountability buddy?

Carrie Lovelace Petr, Ph.D. is Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska.  She serves as the SCU liaison for region IV-W and she swears that she does, in fact, have hobbies.

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