Finding balance

There is a reason why flight attendants tell you to put on your oxygen mask before you help those around you. As a leader, our job is to make sure that those around us have the resources they need to do their jobs well. Doing so often leaves us little time to take care of our own needs.

Finding balance with your personal and professional life is a challenge. Finding that balance after spending more than a year dealing with a global pandemic, escalating racial tensions and economic uncertainties can be completely overwhelming.

I often talk about the innovation, resilience and resolve of community college leaders as they have navigated the needs of students, faculty, staff and communities for the past 18 months. Indeed, so many amazing programs and services have been reimagined and implemented to ensure that students are able to continue their educational journeys in a safe and accessible manner. I tout them often and will continue to spotlight the work you do at the national level. You deserve nothing less.

I also must acknowledge that there is a cost to these sustained herculean efforts. I have heard from many community college leaders that the past 18 months have left them mentally and physically exhausted, lonely and disengaged from colleagues. I think we all can relate to video meeting fatigue and feeling that we have completely lost any boundaries between work and personal life.

This article comes from the new issue of the Community College Journal, informing members of the American Association of Community Colleges since 1930.

It is critical that leaders acknowledge the need to find the balance that works for them. It stands to reason that if you are refreshed and energetic then the work you do will have those same qualities. Even prior to the pandemic, work-life balance was a topic of conversation amongst business and educational leaders, and it is more important now as we look to reopen and reengage in person.

Like many of you, I worked from home for the last year and spent countless hours in front of the computer. Doing small things each day has helped me to recharge during the pandemic. Whether it is exercise, meditation, cooking or reading, find what works for you and commit to taking the needed time every day to accomplish it.

Give yourself a break — literally and figuratively. So much of our time as leaders is spent dealing with issues that were not on our to-do list. Taking small breaks helps you refocus your mind and redirect your energy as needed. Figuratively speaking, it is important to realize that not everything you do will result in perfection, and it is okay. Sometimes our biggest critics are in our own head. Recognize that perfection is not always possible and striving for continuous improvement is a better goal. Giving yourself space to rethink, regroup and retry may even result in better solutions.

Bigger breaks are also warranted. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was able to provide a couple of days off for the AACC team. Now, I encourage them to take vacation time and unplug from the office. It is important that our teams can find balance and avoid burnout. But, like many of you, I don’t always take my own advice. Taking time off sometimes seems impossible given the amount of work that needs to be done. Even when taking some time off, being constantly connected electronically sometimes does not allow you to truly relax.

Thankfully, we will soon be back to some semblance of normal, but the last 18 months have been taxing. Give yourself permission to prioritize self-care. It sounds silly, but as leaders we are often so focused on the needs of others that we forget to put on our own oxygen masks. It not only helps you; it helps your team to do the same. The reward will be a happier, healthier and more positive team that can continue the critical work of providing world-class educational opportunities.

About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.