Saturday, November 5, 2011

Anti-Social or Professional Boundaries?

When you first join Residential Life, you are immediately surrounded by like-minded people who do not look at you with pity when you explain that you live with 300-500 college students. As a new hall director, having that instant connection helps with the transition into the “fish bowl” that is our profession, and provides a sympathetic sounding board when your staff tries to staple their door tags to their residents’ door. They are supportive, understanding, and likely to have sage advice, especially for the newbies. However, some hall directors, once they are comfortable with the new job and new school, choose to branch out to other people for friendship.

Residential Life has the tendency to make bonding with your peers and your staff a job requirement. If you fail to accept every Happy Hour, Gingerbread House building, or movie night invitation, you are labeled “anti-social” or “not a team player”. So, what happens when you no longer want to spend every lunch, dinner, and free evening with your co-workers?

For my first year, I spent a lot of my social time with other hall directors. Tuesday was movie night in my co-RHD’s apartment, “Thirsty Thursday” was a standing date with my mentor RHD, and Sundays were pasta night with my RA staff. If I was not with my co-workers, we were on Facebook chat or texting constantly. There was no separation or professional division; my supervisor touted me as his “model hall director” who really “got” the spirit of community building. Despite my department’s dedication to work/life balance, I was rewarded for spreading myself too thin.

What made me stop? My live-in partner and I became more serious, and I realized what was available outside of Residential Life. We began making friends with people outside the “fish bowl” and spent a few nights a week off-campus. The change in attitude from my supervisor and my peers was almost immediate. It was shocking how quickly I went from being the “model hall director” to a negative influence on my staff. I stopped attending the group lunches and the pasta nights, because I had a life outside of Residential Life. Even the professional staff I was closest too started to call me “anti-social” and “uninteresting”.

The moral of the story: as a hall director, you need to have separation between your work life and your life-life. There is no Residential Life honor or space on the resume for Professional Burnout. You can be Super RHD by attending every RA program and making every Friday night movie-a-thon; however, you will not be able to sustain it for long. Life gets in the way: your partner wants to see you, your family needs your attention, your pet fish needs to be fed. There is always something that will suffer if you spend all your time focusing on the RAs, the residents, and the job. Make time for yourself and do not let any supervisor or co-worker label you as a bad professional for taking a break from the barrage of social commitments that Residential Life brings. It’s not worth it.

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