Getting Your Heart and Head in the Game by Craig Allen

Craig Allen

Craig Allen is the Director of Housing & Residence Life at Texas Christian University.  He received his MA in Higher Education/Student Personnel at the University of Arizona and his BS in Marketing at the State University of New York at Oswego.  Craig began as director at TCU in August 2005, and he loves being a Horned Frog!  Craig worked at Seton Hall University from 1995 – 2005, serving as Director of Housing and Residence Life there from June 1998 to August 2005.  He has written articles for NASPA Netresults, the MACUHO Newsletter and ResLife.Net on crisis management/fire safety and he contributed to a chapter in Campus Crisis Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Planning, Prevention and Recovery by Zdziarski, Dunkel, Rollo and Associates, 2007.

Craig is a graduate of the Leadership Fort Worth program, Class of 2010 and he serves as a Trustee for the Keller Independent School District Board, and he is currently in his second term.  Craig is married to Shannon Rossman Allen and he has three children.  Craig enjoys traveling, golfing and time just floating in his pool.  He took up running for the first time two years ago, and while it is not his most favorite thing, he has completed the 2012 and 2013 Cowtown 10K and the 2012 Dallas Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon.  None of his times set any records!

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My focus for your fitness is how to keep building on the Student Affairs love in your life and how to get yourself focused on what I believe should matter in your career:  strengthening your heart and mind in order to become a more fit person.

Affairs of the heart

I had a couple experiences recently that reminded me of just how fortunate I am to have the career I have. First of all I was bringing my six year old to his Lego camp one morning and he said to me “Dad, your work is cool! Are you going to work here forever?” I smiled about that comment all morning and probably well into the afternoon.  He really doesn’t understand what I do, but he knows that being on campus is fun – and he’s right. The other instance happened when I was talking with two undergrads about their parents.  It’s hard for me to admit it, but I am their parent’s age. As we talked I shared that information and they seemed genuinely surprised.  “But you seem much younger” they said.  “It must be that working with college students keeps you younger,” one of them concluded.  Now I know when people are just being nice, and it’s not like they had much to gain in buttering me up, so I have to think they may be right.

So here are a few ideas on cultivating the love.

  1.  Find your calling.  “You’ve achieved success in your field when you don’t know whether what you’re doing is work or play.” – Warren Beatty. What makes you tick?  Think about this and then devote yourself to it.  If you love advising, then be a rock star advisor and make a name for yourself.  If student conduct is your thing, then go for it.  If student housing is your cup of tea, immerse yourself in it.  When we love what we do and have passion for our work it makes us feel better and it makes us stronger professionals.  And when we feel better, we do better and when we do better we love it even more!  And any six year old well tell you – a college campus is cool!
  2. Positive attitude makes a world of difference. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle. Think about the Appreciative inquiry model, appreciative advising, Strengths Quest, etc.  There is a growing body of knowledge that says when we are positive we are better at what we do.  And it just plain feels better. I know that everyone cannot just make “positivity” one of their top 5 strengths, but you can appreciate your strengths and embrace what is good in your work setting.
  3. Create meaningful relationships.  We all know we have boundaries with students and appropriate guidelines with colleagues but this should not prevent you from developing good relationships in your work setting.  Relationships are the foundation of communities and societies.  If relationships erode it will not matter how big your office is, what your salary is, the great programs you have developed or the policies you have crafted. So take time and cultivate relationships that will enhance your passion for your work.

Getting your head in the game

Being mentally fit is important.  I’ve recently heard ads on the radio about a web-based program designed to help people improve mental focus, memory and creativity.  It is important to exercise your brain, but when we think about our Student Affairs fitness is this an item you work on?

Let me suggest a few ideas to get your mind wrapped around this topic.

  1. Innovate. Ask yourself – “what if….?”If we are to stay fit in our jobs we need to always be on the lookout for new ideas, maybe even the next big idea!  And it might be a small thing at first.  I suggest you take some time each week to close your door and just think.  Consider new ways to solve an ongoing issue.  Brainstorm things you would do radically different if you could. Then let some of those ideas just linger for a few days, a week or more.  If you come back to it sometime later and it still gets you excited maybe you then share it, or explore it deeper.  The point is we have to take time to exercise and practice creative and innovative thinking.
  2. Mistakes happen.  As long as you are willing to own them and learn from them your learning fitness gets stronger.  Playing it safe and worrying about covering yourself does not lead to growth, nor is it a fun way to work. Muscle growth occurs when we work our muscles hard and then give them time to recover.  I think you can use this analogy for taking some chances, stretching and pushing yourself in your work – so long as you recognize when you need to correct what you are doing, take time to recover and take responsibility for your mistakes.
  3. Work ethic.  Yup you need one to be really fit.  This doesn’t mean work-a-holic, it means being committed to your career, being willing to do what is asked of you, anticipating what will be asked, and understanding that some days will wear you out.  I know student affairs people, you are scratching your head right now saying “but Craig, what about my wellness, what about my balance?”  Well this is a whole other column my friends and I’m writing it now and hope to publish it for you soon.  But rest assured that there is no such thing as balance.  What you seek is a blend.  And work is part of the blend, and so are play, and family, and all the other parts of your life.  The key thing to know though is that hard work won’t hurt you! It will make you stronger and improve your fitness.  And when you are more fit, your blend will get better, and a good blend beats a mythical balance every day of the week!

So this might not be what you expected to read on Student Affairs Fit.  No secret for dropping weight or eating better.  No inspiring story about my half marathon after just four months of training (though this is true).  Not even tips on how to be a good parent, CHO, local school board trustee and golfer.  Nope, Craig Allen is telling you to seek some fitness in your work.  Let your career nurture your heart and soul.  Let your work stimulate your mind and stretch your thinking. We spend a significant amount of time in a career and seeking fitness in our lives – but to NOT seek some fitness in our work is a big swing and miss.  So join the movement and get your heart and head in the game and you will be on your way to being SAFit!

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