Monday night I attended the opening banquet for TACUSPA (Texas Association for College and University Student Personnel Administrators). As always I saw friends, former students who are now professional colleagues, and a few people I’ve known many, in some cases, many, many years. TACUSPA was my first professional home and therefore the place I have gone for learning, support, and friendship for all of my professional life. While I attend fewer educational sessions than I used to, I still learn new things or am reminded of lessons I’m supposed to already know. Here are three from just the banquet.
Opening keynote speaker, Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, who has just moved to Loyola of Chicago, did a presentation on the neurological basis of the experience of and need for stopping to breathe, be aware, and reflect. She reminded us of the physical causes of empathy and of the fact that our work, including our ability to understand changing student needs, is something that creates the conditions for burnout. She shared Gilbert’s (2009) Self-Compassion prescription reminding us that the compassionate self is one that is content, safe, connected, kind, calming, caring. And that we need to direct all of those toward ourselves as much as to the people we work with and the students we serve.
It was an interesting way of looking at this idea, but what stood out for me was that I know all of this. I teach it, though differently. I’ve even written a book about it. And I have barely remembered to practice what I preach the last two months as I’ve taken on my new very challenging responsibilities at the College of Nursing. I did leave the office and walk on campus last week after a challenging phone call. And I did leave the office in good time last week to go take a dance class. Both of those are ways to take a moment and breathe, but I also need to remember my breath practice more regularly. Something I already know, but I needed the reminder.
I had a quick conversation and a hug with someone who has recently left campus work for a position in a system office. System offices feel very different than do most campus offices. I once told someone going to work in the system that it felt like a bank. Having never actually worked in a system office or a bank, I don’t know how true that is. I have however, spent time in both and they are much quieter than even many campus vice president offices.
When I asked about her change, she said it was taking a little getting used to. They work at a much more deliberate pace with many fewer meetings. She said she was told, ‘people on campus stack too much’, going on to say that they wanted time to reflect, think, work on projects. The idea that we ‘stack’ things struck me. Part of it is because I’m new and last week I invited faculty members to come share thoughts about a new process we are using which added eighteen appointments to the end of the week. But last week was so booked, that the administrative staff member who works with me just took over managing my time. And I needed the help or I would have been running behind all week long. Things were definitely stacked.
I don’t have an immediate solution, but I have let her know and she helps me honor one habit of mine – I always have lunch. If I don’t I run down hard mid-day. Sometimes it’s lunch at my desk. Sometimes, it’s a lunch meeting. But I always make sure I get food mid-day and I push people to do the same. (I don’t force it, different people have different needs, but in this way I always model taking care of myself.) And as often as I can, I get out and get lunch so I at least leave the office once during the day, even if it’s just to bring food back. Movement and fresh air help me. They help most of us.
Are you stacking too much into a day? What can you find to do about it. If the first option, fewer meetings, isn’t possible right now, what other options do you have? And a reminder to all of us – we can always find time to breathe deeply and slowly, to let our nervous system get a break or two throughout the day.
Last but certainly not least, at the banquet we had yet another reminder to pay attention to the important parts of life. We ended the banquet by honoring Adam Peck with a posthumous Caswell Award for Distinguished Service. Adam served as TACUSPA president and mentor to many of the people in attendance that night, as well as other leadership and service roles during his time in Texas. If you didn’t know Adam, below is a link to his obituary, but his true memorial was the story after story posted on his Facebook page, evidence of work well done and a life well lived even as it was cut short so unexpectedly.https://www.facebook.com/dradampeck
I remember Adam for his thoughtfulness – one of the first people to call when I started my consulting business and say, ‘come do something for us.’ He was also an early purchaser of my first book and one of the first to write a review on Amazon. After I spoke at Stephen F. Austin, he said, ‘that topic should be your next book’ which was an early vote of confidence for an idea long in the making.
Learning from and with others. It’s what the entire profession of higher education is built upon, but you don’t have to be on campus or even part of higher ed to teach, learn, and grow with the people around you. I’m always grateful that TACUSPA has been that place to me for many, many years.