Walking up one flight of stairs, I entered my office and sat down. I could literally hear my heart beating, but work needed to be done. I had no time to think about that. Whew! I was worn out. Yet, I had run three miles a few hours ago for an early morning workout. Shaking my head to calm my nerves, I reviewed my planner for the second time (because, well, planning is what I do), made a mental note to personally recognize a staff member for stepping up in a big way the previous day, and checked numbers for the day (while cross-referencing data points via two systems). If you’ve never been between systems, you’ve won in life. As usual, I had arrived early to preserve the tranquility of the office before the halls were filled with admission counselors, current students, and prospective families.
I opened my email to start the day, but I couldn’t stop noticing my breathing. Swallow. There’s work to do. My chest was slightly tight. There’s work to do. I felt extremely alert. There’s work to do. I swallowed, envisioned good thoughts, and began the tasks for the day. As quickly as the moment had come, it was gone in a few minutes. Organize, power through, and think positive thoughts. Today WILL be a great day!
But, there had been a trigger to that quick, yet alarming feeling. I had received news that would alternate my environment, and cause disruption in the cadence of the office. It wasn’t based on my work performance, as that would have been in my control. It was exactly what it was: change. I welcome change. I embrace it. It’s challenging. It ignites creativity. It motivates one to bring forth an “Aha” moment! But our office had been experiencing change in an unproductive manner. Change is good; however, recurrent change is exhausting. If I was feeling it, there was no doubt others were feeling it, too.
It was fall semester, which meant applications needed to be processed, early files needed to be reviewed, and Open House was occurring relatively soon. It was pretty much the land of the usual in admissions. But the chaaaange! It was one more thing our office would endure. We didn’t have the bandwidth to absorb it. Yet, it still needed to get done.
After years as an enrollment leader, I had experienced a mild anxiety attack that was triggered by work-related stress. And, if I was honest with myself, it was occurring more than it should have been. While on the road, work hours had increased trying to stay ahead and manage the office from afar. I was so busy that in fact, thoughts were often compromised. I don’t have time to address how I “feel.”
As leaders, we’re called to move forward while keeping institutional goals at the forefront, incorporate change, which falls from the top along the way, motivate buy-in among the team, and keep smiling! Office morale remains a concern as it affects productivity. Julius said it best in one of my favorite movies, Remember the Titans-- “Attitude reflects leadership, Captain!” Yet, we fail to talk about an important topic: selfcare. Thinking about selfcare amid chaos “feels” like an irresponsible choice. Choosing to neglect oneself pours into neglecting those we serve. The goal is to serve well. We forget others are watching. Instead, sometimes we over-emphasize numbers, numbers, numbers.
As our brains shift into “go” mode, let’s not forget to live in the moments we can control. I couldn’t control the change. Instead, I could change my approach.
The image we project sets the tone as well as expectation within the environment. During this time of year, I challenge you to ask, “What tone am I setting?” Hopefully, it’s positive one! If so, it’s also important to dig further, and inquire if the pace is realistic. Go, go, go, smile, go, go, go, smile! My brain was flustered. My body was tired. I was in a zone during my early morning workout. I was in control. I was walking into chaos going up the stairs. The control factor was shifting. My brain and body went into flight mode. I began to think too much about the “what ifs.” Organize, power through, and think positive thoughts. While my intentions were well-meaning, my outcome was unrealistic. I was focused on controlling the change, rather than my approach to it.
Fall brings about Daylight Savings Time. As we adjust the clocks, don’t be afraid to do exactly what it says: fall back! Of course, this doesn’t mean be irresponsible. It simply means to lighten up. So fall back! (Let’s be reasonable here. I still want you to have a job!) The office needs you. There are ways we can overcome the fear of the unknown.
I challenge you to…
Focus on your inner well-being. Take time to breathe. Listen to your body’s signals. We can only “go” for so long before we need to regroup. Block meetings for yourself to play catch up mid-day instead of drifting from meeting to meeting. Ask a colleague to conduct a walk-and-talk during a scheduled meeting to get in more daily steps.
Ask for help. Delegation lightens the load and inspires staff, especially new associates seeking professional development.
Listen. No explanation needed.
Learn something new! Being at the administrative level often drives us away from the day-to-day grind. Be open to learning a process to fully understand how the office is functioning. You’ll be surprised how staff will appreciate this.
Build time for play. Because who doesn’t like a good belly laugh?!
Accept the change. Don’t accept your need to control it.
Communicate with other colleagues in your shoes. The best thing about this job is that we’re all in it for students. Cross-sharing information is common. While we’re competing institutionally, we work together collectively to get students through the admissions process. We’re all in the same boat, and sometimes, we just need to vent. This is ok! Make the call.
Keep living like a champion and not just a conqueror. The battles define a conqueror. You’re more than that. A champion functions as if winning is a lifestyle.
The next time your mind wants to over-react to change, and you begin to feel a little panicky, just FALL BACK. Let it run its course.
Daylight Savings Time in the fall is the perfect life metaphor. When we fall back, we gain momentum. Cheers to an exciting academic year!
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