For those of us in higher education, we have either passed or are approaching the end of the school year. My university holds convocation in May, but in solidarity with my brethren who are still running towards the end zone, it’s time to talk about burnout. We all experience it from time to time, and it’s a completely normal part of work and life. One of the things I have liked most about my career in education is that the schedule takes these natural cycles of work and rest into account, but when you’re in the last few weeks or days of a term that can sometimes seem interminable, those breaks never seem to come soon enough.
Students and success coaches alike can come down with severe cases of burnout, especially during the Spring when the long summer break is nearly in view, and I’ve found that the prescription is not so different for both patients. First, it can help to understand that there is something greater than yourself for which to keep focused. For me, it’s my responsibility to my students.
When I feel like I just can’t get through the two weeks or even a few days left, I remind myself that if I let down my enthusiasm, my students will also. I remind myself that at every single meeting with a student I might say something that could really help him or her pull through this last bit of hard work. Incentive might come in the form of another person- “my mom is counting on me” – or in the form of the end goal itself: that bright, shiny college degree and the opportunities it will bring.
When, however, the symptoms of burnout are too great for measured introspection, there is always the two Ts: teamwork and treats. It’s the same idea that helps people lose weight by finding a workout buddy or rewarding themselves with that delicious smoothie if they run at least 3 miles. If I know a student is particularly burned out and needs to complete a paper, I might let her work on it during our time together. Another student and I might spend our 30 minute session studying for an exam. I’ve actually learned a great deal this way about certain subjects that I would never have known! I ask my students questions on the subject they are studying, and because it’s new and interesting to me, it can become new and interesting to them once again. And when we hit a goal, sometimes it’s just the right time to celebrate with a big bowl of popcorn or a trip to the coffee shop.
Finally, while it’s important to keep an eye on that light at the end of the tunnel, it’s equally important to focus on the day to day. To make a plan for Monday’s work and, once done, not worry about Tuesday’s work until Tuesday. In this way we march forward through that seemingly endless tunnel, step by step, until we suddenly find ourselves bathed in light. Time to take a break.
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.