At the end of the semester, there are deadlines - hard ones. Whether it be grading, closing residence halls, submitting reports or applying for grants - it’s time to close out the first half of the academic year. The pace of daily life is oddly faster than usual, but with holes in the day where meetings, classes and commitments had once been held. It’s part of the reason that I believe this is a time of the academic calendar that is largely unsettling - because the pace has quickened, but the hand holds are missing.
Early in my career I made a decision to be the ‘last person out’ of my office. This was rooted largely in the fact that while I had a relatively reasonable 3 hour journey home for the holidays, I was in no rush to sit in traffic. If something in my life has not changed over time - my hatred of traffic is one of them. I will literally do anything to avoid traffic. But I digress. In that first year, it was me and two administrative assistants in a residence life office that typically held two of my Residence Director colleagues, our Area Director supervisor and nearly 60 Resident Assistants and Grad Assistants. The Office was located in Warren Towers at Boston University, and is known for its size, its foreboding architecture and its two escalators that seem to be continuously in a state of disrepair.
My office was located in the back of the building and had a large window that Iooked out over the Mass Turnpike. I could see the holiday traffic, and felt vindicated in delaying my departure. In front of the window was a pair of butcher block chairs. I never sat in the chairs other than to meet with students one on one. Rather, I would sit behind my desk performing my work and making phone calls (remember those?). But on this particular day, I sat down and looked out the window. I considered what I had accomplished in my first semester in Student Affairs, and made some loose goals for myself, but mostly I just stared out the window.
There is something significant about sitting still. There is a value in it. But we rarely do it. It may be because we are afraid of the stillness - that it will be an indicator of lack of value or importance. I challenge you to sit in the stillness as you look out a window and consider your work and where it may have made a difference in the lives of your students, your colleagues, and the profession. One thing. We can all find one thing.
Each year, no matter the position I was in, the campus I was on, or what my office window may have looked out on, I closed the semester looking out the window. Alone in the stillness. In the case of a campus where I had a very small and highly unsatisfying window, I found a better one - in a game room lounge down the hall. It was huge and looked out on a quad that only a day prior was trafficked by students dragging their suitcases to meet their rides and head to their winter break destinations. The stillness was healing - especially as that semester was so difficult. We had sexual assault in one of my buildings brutal in its details causing fear and anger; racial tensions within the town surrounding the University targeting our Black students at the local mall and in off campus housing units, and an incident that required me to fire several of my work study students who had basically engaged in mail fraud due to their access to the contents of the mail room. It was a tough semester, and I questioned if this was the work I wanted to be in.
But there I sat in stillness. I went back to the opening of the academic year, and identified moments where I did good work. And while they were more difficult to unearth due to the noise and severity of the difficulties that I had managed - they were there. I breathed with intention and cried a little as I acknowledged my work and my worth are real and valuable.
Find that window. And sit in stillness.
Dr. Laura De Veau is Principal & Founder of Fortify Associates, LLC. Fortify Associates, LLC is unique in the higher education, not-for-profit, and public service market. They provide comprehensive workshops, program reviews and project management services with a combination of in-person and virtual delivery. Fortify Associates is committed to creating experiences that are unique to the needs and culture of each of their clients. Fortify Associates wants to elevate your organization and help you optimize your workplace. As a Predictive Index partner, Fortify can leverage the power of PI with the knowledge and talent of the Fortify team to create a truly unique set of offerings. Contact Dr. De Veau
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Yes to all of this. It's been a heck of a year. I have the benefit of being surrounded on two sides by beautiful windows. The sound of construction during the day breaks the stillness,. But as the day wears on and the sun begins to fade, I do indeed get to sit in silence and it renews my soul.