The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Kristi Hipp.
When I got the e-mail from Stacy saying that she wanted me to write for this blog series, I was excited and immediately anxious. “I don't have anything that important to say,” was my next thought. (Yes, I could have easily written this post about my Imposter Syndrome. It's a doozy.) I texted a good friend of mine and asked what I would write about and she responded, “Your cats? In a residence hall?” I laughed and (somewhat) ashamedly admitted, “My first thought was that the biggest things in my life right now are my cats, my job, and my weight loss.”
I paged through previous blog posts, hoping for inspiration, but none of them spoke to me. I rambled out a post for a while but it just wasn't what I wanted and I ended up deleting all of it. I decided I'd come back to the project later and try again.
This morning, as I was sitting in an RA interview, I got another email from Stacy and felt my anxiety roar to life. TODAY IS THE DEADLINE!!! Well, I thought, at least now I have plans for my Friday night other than hanging out with my cats. (That's a normal Friday night for a 26-year-old, right? Writing a blog post and snuggling your cats?)
I came home, ate dinner, caught up with a coworker and close friend, and then got out my laptop to think about what to write. I was staring at a blank Word document when one of the answers from an RA candidate's interview drifted through my brain: “Starting is the hardest part.” So, I decided to just start typing, and what happened was the above overview. I realized somewhere along the line that I was being too specific, and that my story is made up of a lot of different things. So, I'll try to do this without being too rambly and while trying to connect these ideas and making this coherent. So, first up:
Unexpected Job Upheavals. When I started at Maryville in July of 2015, our office consisted of 14 RAs and 4 professional staff members. In August of 2016, we opened a new hall, which meant growing our RA staff to 20. In October, our Operations Specialist left to pursue an awesome new opportunity and I took over the lion's share of her responsibilities. Then, in mid-December, just as we were closing the halls, our Director (who I had also worked with in Colorado) unexpectedly left. So, we were now down from a staff of four to a staff of two. It's been just over a month and a half now, and while it's been incredibly challenging to be balancing life as a Hall Coordinator, an Operations Specialist, and a human being, it's also been incredibly rewarding. I feel more knowledgeable about our department and my university than I ever had. I leave at the end of most days feeling like I've really accomplished something, and am being challenged at work—and for someone whose top strengths include both Input and Achiever, that's incredibly important for me. I'm incredibly thankful that we got a temporary staff member this week, and I'm definitely ready to be back at four professionals; I'm also thankful for the challenge and the ways in which it has grown me as a professional. However, part of the reason it's so easy for me to focus so much time on work is that I am:
#foreversingle. At 26, I have never been in a relationship or indeed been on more than one date with the same person. A lot of people love to ask me why, and the honest answer is that I don't really know. It just has never happened. However, I do think it's important that we acknowledge the fact that at least in my experience, single people are often taken advantage of because we don't have anyone to go home to. My now-supervisor told me recently, “I have a kid so I have to take breaks sometimes. But I don't want you to feel like you have to have a kid to take a break. I need you to rest, and I need you to realize that this place doesn't own you. The work will still be here.” It wasn't something I had really thought about before, but it was so gratifying to realize that while I sometimes joke about being married to my career, I don't have to live that way. So, I think it's important at this point to talk about:
Work-Life Balance, Self-Care, and Mental Health. Especially in our current situation of being short-staffed, there is quite literally always work to be done. It has become more and more important for me to leave work at work and to take time for myself to be a human rather than a ResLife professional staff member. As someone who lives with an anxiety disorder, this is often difficult for me; I worry that I'll forget something important, or that I've missed a deadline, or that a crisis will pop up that I'll miss because I was indulging in self-care. But, as one of my closest colleagues and friends says, “Self-Care is a divine responsibility. You can't pour from an empty glass.” We so often get caught up in our olympics of who's the busiest that we don't realize we're wearing ourselves out in the process. I've learned that instead of a perfect product every time, I can settle for something that's really, really good—and sometimes I can go back and make it perfect later. I've learned that spending half an hour at the gym makes me feel better than sitting in my office getting more and more anxious over my pile of unfinished work for the same thirty minutes. This is especially true because about a year ago, I started a weight-loss journey. I've always been pretty significantly overweight, and it has impacted my life in really complex and interesting ways. This has become a major part of my self-care; I feel so much better when I am eating good food and moving my body in ways that make sense for me. It's also created some cognitive dissonance, though, because I believe firmly in being body-positive. For me, this whole journey is really about feeling great, and I happen to feel better, as I said, when I'm eating good, whole foods and moving at least a little bit on a regular basis. For me, weight loss is the side effect of these things. If I kept following my food plan, and exercised regularly, and never lost another pound, I'd be okay with that, because I feel better and am living my life the way I want to. I do think it's important to note, though, that my weight loss journey has impacted my work life in really interesting ways. I'm very public and open about my journey, and coworkers and friends often reach out to talk about my journey, ask questions, and provide encouragement. For some this could potentially be a negative thing, I am fortunate to be in a very positive environment and receive some of the greatest encouragement and support from my colleagues. It's been a source of connection, networking, and commiseration. One specific colleague loves to ask every week what my total weight lost is equivalent to (one week, it was a kayak. Another week, it was a newborn Jersey Cow. This week it was 13,000 dimes...which isn't quite as cool, but is a ridiculous amount of dimes.)
I shared all of this because I think too often we focus on who we are at work. I firmly believe that who we are as people—what we're passionate about, what we're afraid of, what we love, and what we dislike—impacts our work and we shouldn't be afraid to talk about those things. Each of these experiences and topics have had profound impacts on how I show up in the workplace, and I wanted to touch at least a little on each of these topics. We talk often about the holistic development of our students, but then somehow assume that that magically disappears when we become professionals. I would encourage you to find a support system in your workplace that will allow you to be wholly, unapologetically, and truly yourself—your whole self. When I stopped trying to separate my personality from my profession I became a more authentic and real professional, and my work has flourished as a result. It's scary and it's a leap of faith, but for me, it has been so incredibly worth it, and I will never go back.
Kristi Hipp is a Residence Hall Coordinator at Maryville University in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her main hobby is training her two cats, Sirius and Sloan, to perform various tricks (so far they've mastered "high five" and they're working on sitting on command.) As a Southern California native, she is constantly on the hunt for the best authentic Mexican food in Saint Louis. She is also a proud alumna of both Sonoma State University and Indiana State University.
The Women in Housing series is sponsored by Adirondack Solutions.