One of my all-time favorite movies is Bull Durham. I would argue that it is a great movie for university administrators. While most people remember the film for Crash’s romance with community college instructor Annie (which offers the takeaway lesson that all professional athletes just need to find a sexy faculty member), academic administrators can appreciate the challenges the team and its leaders face over the course of the season. There are any number of leadership moments: settling arguments among players, inspiring the team, having to let players go, dealing with burnout (no video, but they stage a “rainout” with sprinklers to get a day off), and coping with burgeoning crises.** The movie also highlights the shifting tempo of the baseball season, which reminds me of the rhythm of university life, where stresses wax and wane over the academic year.
I was reminded of these shifts just recently by my boss. I was extremely irritated by one of my staff members, who failed to follow through on an assigned task. My boss calmed me down and counseled, “Don’t say anything right now. Wait until the semester has ended and you have a little time to decide what you want to say. At this point in the semester, everyone is fried, and people don’t always present their best selves. Let’s just keep plugging away and get through to the end of classes.”
This was great advice, especially for me this year. The stresses of being an administrator in a new position on a new campus cannot be underestimated. I feel a little like I have been paddling against the current in a series of flash floods. Little mistakes–my own and others’–can become one irritation too many, and I find myself struggling to keep
from biting someone’s head off a happy face. As I mentioned earlier, people are constantly taking my emotional temperature and checking in to see “how its going.” Not being positive can have an effect on everyone. If I am not having a good day and I project my frustration about my department, the faculty, staff, and students assume that everything is terrible and the department is going to hell in a hand basket. I cannot imagine what would happen if I one day said, “Yes, today it feels like hell in a hand basket is our destination… if we are lucky!” But even I know that the issues and problems that are bothering me are a passing irritation, and I will feel differently about them soon.
The funny thing about the semester structure is that, although feelings of frustration and being overwhelmed are to be expected at this time of year, as my boss said, somehow we all forget that this is the case. Perhaps we academic administrators should write ourselves a little note regarding end-of-semester stress and put it on our calendars about one month before the semester ends:
Don’t forget that you are entering the end-of-semester period of burnout and frustration. Do nothing rash, take a break when you need one, and save the “big talks” for the beginning of next semester. And plan a party so everyone can have time to blow off a little steam. It will all seem better, come January.
So, as the stressors add up and my energy wanes, I try to remember that I am actually having a good time in my new job. As Crash Davis tells his team in Bull Durham, “So relax! Let’s have some fun out here! This game’s fun, OK? Fun, goddammit.”
So, let’s keep our cool and have some fun, goddammit! And remember, the end of semester is only a few weeks away.
** Oh, go ahead. Take the time to watch the videos. They will make you smile and remember not to take it all so seriously.