It doesn’t matter if you have been in the field for one month or 35 years. The discussion on work/life balance is one that comes up often in the work environment and during the conference season. This discussion is different at each institution; however, the work of residence life is one that is never ending and without fail one that is not routine. With the summer upon us take this time to get ahead and start to create a plan to develop a better work/life balance. If you struggle like I have, you need to create what you define as healthy because the most important part of this discussion is that work/life balance is how you define it. Finding work/life balance is not a cookie cutter experience. It is more like a Chipotle, you build it and each year you can make changes because you have grown or your goals and responsibilities are different. The three strategies discussed here are just a few that I have developed and/or researched and have found to be important as one begins to create what work/life balance looks like as a Residence Life professional.
- Find your Third Place
The third place is the location outside of your first place, your home, and the second place, your workplace. In order to identify your third place, you should keep the following characteristics in mind:
- Free or inexpensive
- Food and drink, while not essential, are important
- Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
- Involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there
- Welcoming and comfortable
- Neutral ground
- Accessible and accommodating
- Feel like home away from home
In every location I have lived, my third place has changed. It has been a movie theater, nail salon, and YMCA. Each of those places met each of the characteristics. The most important aspect of these locations was that I was not the RD of this or the AD of that, I was just me and could do that in a safe way. I was able to interact with people from work in those locations, but I was very clear that when I come to these locations I am not talking about work of any sort or period of time. By doing so, people respected my third place and asked me about how it was creating that balance and they began to find theirs as well.
2. Take your Vacation
It may be hard to understand why your supervisor is consistently telling you to use your vacation days, but you are no use to anyone if you do not take a day off and enjoy the surroundings that you live in. Because everyone’s financial situation is different, taking a vacation does not always mean getting on a plane, train or automobile, it could mean having a stay-cation and enjoying time at home. However, for others like myself a vacation is something that needs to be out of the four walls of my apartment. So, even taking a ride to the nearest city or attraction at your institution can allow you some time to focus on you and have some relaxation. It could mean going to the local food truck festival or even taking a couple of friends to a long trip to camp in the woods. No matter what you plan just make sure it is on your terms and it is something that allows you to have joy.
3. Develop a group of friends/ support systems outside of the field
Having a group of friends or a support system within your office is great; however, to create work/life balance you need to develop a group outside of the field. Whenever I am with my residence life/housing friends we talk about work for hours. Sometimes that is fine; however, I notice that it causes me to still have my work hat on and causes me more stress because I am not enjoying the times with friends. Instead, I am thinking of what I might be doing tomorrow to deal with the situation at work. So, developing a group of friends not associated with my work has allowed me to not be seen as who I am during the work day but the person I am outside of the field of work I am in. It brings calm which is important and allows my mind to take a break from work and anything happening in that space.
Well, those are my three strategies—take to our social media accounts and tell the commission how you create work/life balance.
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Catherine Kellman is an Assistant Director for the Office of Residence Life at Syracuse University. She has worked in the field of residence life and housing for the last ten years. She is a member of the Commission for Housing and Residence Life where she is one of the Vice-Chairs for the Commission. Catherine is very involved with the ACPA and regional residence life and housing associations. She is also the chair for the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for Northeast Association of College and University Housing Officers.