It’s 2016 and all social media channels are filled with posts about New Year’s Resolutions. Many of them pertain to healthy habits, physical fitness, attitude towards life, or perhaps even personal finance. Indeed, I made a few of these for myself (goodbye gummy bears, we had a good run).
However, one thing was noticeably absent. What I didn’t see was the abundance of professional goals that people have set for themselves in the New Year. There were a few here and there to resolve to spend more time with students or writing for professional publications. However, in higher education, I saw fewer professional resolutions than I was anticipating.
I think there are three reasons for this. First, because we work on an academic calendar, this feels like we are not at a new beginning, but rather halfway through a cycle. It would seem strange to switch the course and make new goals now. It is much easier to say “that is a great idea for next year.” Hello…it is a new year. It may not be a new beginning, but it can certainly be a time that we refocus our goals and modify our objectives.
Secondly, when setting goals, we tend to think of our jobs in a vacuum, not necessarily in terms of the larger trajectory of our careers. When creating New Year’s resolutions, we are thinking about the next 365 days. Unless we are anticipating a major transition during this time such as a job change or going back to school, we set short-term professional goals to develop habits that help us manage the day-to-day. These can be great, but at the same time, they may require us to invest excess energy on things that won’t have the greatest return.
Lastly, we feel that in order to achieve work-life “balance” (a concept that honestly rubs me the wrong way), we need to really start focusing in on the “self” and work on enhancing our life outside of work. Wrong. While it may be true that there are areas in our individual lives to which we need to give priority (going to the gym, eating well, spending more time with loved ones, etc.), we still need to remember that the work is not going to go away. Actually, as you move up in the field, it is only going to increase. We spend half of our waking lives with work-related activities. For me, work is the part of my life I need to focus on most because it inhabits the majority of my time. If I truly want to enhance my life, I need to be able to create goals in my work life that allow for greater efficiency, achievement and productivity, so that I can continue to achieve the things that need to get done and create time for things beyond the scope of my professional life.
With all of that in mind, here are my 2016 Resolutions both for myself, and for us as a profession:
Focus on Intentional Branding. We have heard the messaging on the importance of networking and getting positive name recognition. However, 2016 needs be the year of demonstrating substance and value within our work. Focusing on what is being put on social media, engaging in critical conversations about our profession, and working to become bridge-builders will build a better brand. Don’t be white noise that is just retweeting what the last person said. Contribute, engage, and create.
Inbox Zero. I know…we work in an email-happy profession. It is maddening. It can be a full-time job just to answer email, let alone all the other work we have to accomplish. However, if your professional reputation becomes one that email goes unanswered, that people have to pester you for a response, or that you haven’t read emails to prepare for your next meeting, think of what this is doing to your local professional reputation. It doesn’t matter the quality of name recognition if you don’t follow up on your administrative tasks. Personal brand is good, but professional reputation is better. Don’t let a lack of email follow-through destroy that.
Inclusively engage in justice.
This could be a completely separate blog post. 2015 reached an apex for issues of injustice, both domestically and internationally. We are impacted by the world around us that can be personally painful or cause pain to others.That’s real and that pain needs to be honored and addressed. At the same time, we are educators and we need to allow space for dialogue, learning and growth in helping all of our students work through and cope with these injustices.We need to lead by helping our students develop critical consciousness about their identities and how they show up in this world.This can trigger us in unintended ways. That’s okay.But sometimes, it can be easy to lead through our own pain and unintentionally disrupt the learning process for students, especially those coming from places of privilege. Let’s find a way to work with students, including those that are having difficulty understanding issues of injustice, at their own level and help them get to where we hope they go (this is everyone’s responsibility, not just that of subordinated identities). Can/should we be activists? Absolutely. But we need to know the time to be an activist and the time to be an educator, and recognize that they are not always one and the same.
Be a supervisee/supervisor that is an activator.
Don’t go rogue, but stop waiting for others to tell you what you should or be doing or what they need from you. Take the initiative and positively contribute to the enhancement of your department and institution. Learning how to anticipate the needs for those at ranks above and below you will ultimately make your initiatives more strategic, which in turn allow your job to be more effective in the long run, creates a stronger team with greater success, and enhances time and opportunity for other work to get done.
Approach work with positivity.
Being on call for the second week in a row sucks. Dealing with unreasonable student conflicts is the worst. Balancing your budget GL reports can be boring. But we all signed up for this job for some reason, right? Work shouldn’t always be enjoyable. That’s why they call it work. But it shouldn’t be completely miserable either. In moments of misery, ask yourself, “is the work really miserable, or is my approach what is making me miserable?” If it is the former, perhaps you are in a position that isn’t the right fit. If it’s the latter, change the approach to remember why you signed up for this job and find a way to do it with joy.
To all my colleagues and friends in higher education, I wish you a happy New Year. May your professional goals be just as rich as your personal resolutions. What are your hopes for 2016? Let me know @TM_Porter