By Ryan Manning — Let’s pretend you’re on a ski trip. And you’ve never been skiing before. You’re on the ski lift, probably pretty nervous. You’re literally about to just hurl yourself down the side of a mountain, who told you this was going to be fun again? You’re standing at the top, looking down and wondering if maybe you should pretend to have a sudden stomach ache to get out of this without embarrassing yourself.
Eventually, you realize you can’t turn back, so you just take a deep breath, maybe close your eyes (please, don’t close your eyes while skiing), and just push yourself down. Having little to no control over what’s happening on the way down, that trip is filled with a lot of screaming, flailing, and a general assuredness that this will leave you in a hospital. Before you know it, you level out at the bottom, and realize you’re still in one piece. Well, that wasn’t so bad, you might even do it again sometime. But right now it’s time to hang out in the lodge.
This post has nothing to do with skiing, I mean, come on, it’s April, there’s no snow (not even in Milwaukee). But that image is the best way that I can think to describe the month of April for the everyday Student Affairs professional. March is fun, many of us attend some national conferences, while those of us who stay behind enjoy the relative quiet of a half-full office. Then comes Spring Break, a welcome break from students and a glimpse into what life will be like in just a few short weeks.
Those few short weeks are known as April (and early May). April is almost definitely (with the exception of August) the busiest month of the year. A former colleague of mine used to call April “Chicken Dinner Month,” because you will almost definitely attend at least 3 or 4 banquets or award ceremonies (most of which you’ve had to write a number of nominations for) where you will undoubtedly dine on some delicious newly-conceived take on university catering chicken breast in cream sauce. Aside from the banquets, you are going through selection for professional staff, bringing candidates to campus, going to more dinners, and attending a lot of interviews. Not to mention that post-Spring Break spike in behavior issues as students begin to act out more, thinking they are immune because they plan on moving off-campus for the next year. Add to that preparing for May closing, compiling end-of-the-year reports, and wrapping up projects for various committees, sub-committees, working groups, etc, and you’ll begin to see why April is more of a sprint than a marathon.
Putting similes aside for a moment, there really is just a lot that happens in April, and so far, I’ve seen a few different ways of handling it. One such approach is what I like to call the “buckle-down.” Colleagues develop a sort of tunnel vision, begin taking lunch in their offices, and can often be heard saying, “Sorry, can’t talk right now, have to get back to work” between rushed breaths as they speed past you. The buckle-down works well enough, but in my opinion, it’s a hard zone to get out of, and eventually just leads to being too tired to have fun.
After the buckle-down comes what can best be described as the “Chicken Little” approach. Based on the beloved children’s story, the Chicken Little method mostly involves working at highly frantic pace, as though the sky were falling. To me, the Chicken Little does a little bit more harm than good, as things get slapped together haphazardly and often new issues come up that just lead to one being more frazzled.
My favorite approach is the “April Showers Bring May Flowers” method. This method is based mostly on the concept of the carrot on the stick, with the carrot being the oh-so-close summer. With thoughts of 2 months of a significantly lighter meeting schedule, a practically empty gym, and the chance to work on a variety of special projects, one has the motivation to trudge through the month of April, making sure that everything is perfectly in place to manage everything as efficiently as possible, so that when the school year ends, one must only tie up some loose ends and then break out the beach chair and lemonade. My song of choice during this time is “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips.
No matter what approach you take, April showers do bring May flowers. It’s inevitable. So strap on those skis, take a deep breath, and get to the bottom of that mountain.