I quit my job.
My career actually and I won’t be returning.
I’ve been trying to find the best way to talk about it. I have pages of words detailing every aspect of the jobs I’ve held throughout my Higher Education career. A career I never really planned to work in but fell so passionately for. A career that I’m very grateful for, but a career that has absolutely exhausted me.
I want to talk about WHY I quit my job and what I DID in my job. A lot of people do not know and understand the full extent of work that Residential Life Professionals do. The things that they deal with and the responsibilities they hold. Some people think we’re “glorified babysitters” and that’s downright offensive. A lot of people don’t know that we serve on a crisis rotation. They don’t know that we respond to countless medical transports, possible suicide attempts, critical health situations, detail and report a student’s account of surviving sexual assault. All while also running buildings filled with hundreds of students who are far from home.
We also take the blame for everything. I’ve worked at three institutions now and every parent has always found reason to blame me for their child’s inability to be a better roommate or communicate. They’ve blamed me for decisions that came from the University’s President’s office that affected their child. We’re the office that parent’s get the feelings off their chest with.
Now this sounds like I’m just focusing on the bad but there was a lot of good in my role. But I want to save that for another time. It’s important to know what it took to get to this point.
Did it take a student once calling me a “Bitch” as he verbally harassed staff and his roommates for another night in a row?
Or was it because of COVID? A pandemic that affected the very nature of our jobs and put a strain on many professionals?
Or was it when we brought up the harsh working conditions during COVID? We were already short staffed and missing many full time level professionals. So, we wanted help from the leadership above us. In response someone asked us to track and write down everything that we were doing. Needing to see where the institution’s fiscal budget was going. I found it hurtful and disrespectful, but I did it anyway right? I tracked in detail how one night on call, I got into my car and went to the residence hall down the street to respond to issues between 1:00am to 3:00am. I went back and forth about seven times that night. Every time I got back into my bed the phone would ring again and again.
Did I mention that I can barely hear a standard telephone ringtone without thinking about the crisis that awaits me on the other end?
It’s impossible to sum up how much Res Life Professionals do without it being almost the length of a novel. I’ve barely even scratched the surface in the things I’ve shared.
The truth is that I grew tired of working in a field where as the number of on campus students grew, the workload continued to increase, as staffing continued to decrease. On top of that the pay never increased with it. I’ve worked in Res Life for about six years and in those years, I’ve seen the change within college students and their parents. I’ve witnessed the increase in duty calls, mental health incidents and a shift within the students and their refusal to manage conflicts and demand instant gratification instead.
No one works in Higher Education for the money. It was never about that for me. I went into this field for the students. I went into this field because I was once a Resident Assistant then a Community Advisor and it was so fulfilling to work alongside peers and support those younger. I went into this field to support these students along their collegiate journey and to create a living experience that was as wonderful as mine.
And you know what? I did that. If I calculate the capacity of every building that I’ve supervised and the years; I’ve created a safe and experiential living experience for over 3,000 students who directly lived in my assigned hall. And I was damn good at it.
Even though I’m telling you about the exhaustion that came with the weight that my job carried; I loved my job at the same time. I loved working alongside my student staff and the residents. I loved seeing them engage in the building programs, supporting them through their first campus job and helping them manage a difficult conflict. I loved encouraging them to find their voice and to help the residents enjoy their freshman experience.
My Breaking Point To Quit
What drove me to quitting my job was sheer exhaustion from the last six years. I started a new job in July of 2021 and while I loved it; I began to realize how tired I constantly was. Was that always there? I began to grow tired of parents speaking down at me over the phone. I grew tired of the privilege in the voices of the students. I grew tired of seeing a system reward the students with wealth and VIP status with special treatment due to their worth to the university. Something that I’ve witnessed at every institution I worked at. I also grew tired of being on duty. At my previous institution we were short staffed for two of the three years that I was there. Our rotation was consistently small. I found myself holding a duty phone at my new job and I suddenly didn’t want to anymore.
The phone was so heavy in my hand.
I grew tired of crying at my desk and in between meetings. I wasn’t myself anymore and my friends could see it. I realized slowly that I became a shell of myself.
Something that I once dearly loved was killing me.
I was burnt out.
I then started to realize how many months of the year went to my job’s busiest seasons. A large chunk of July, the entire month of August, some of September and many parts of December and January and all of April and May.
I was living in one of the greatest cities on earth, in a beautiful rent free apartment and I was depressed. I felt nothing. I woke up, went to work, and put on a good performance daily. I completed my work and still managed to work through a severely high amount of student conduct cases and conflict situations. But when I would go home, I had no energy.
I had nothing left to give myself and my body ached for rest.
The Decision To Quit My Job
I decided to go back to therapy and the minute that my therapist asked me what was going on, I broke down into a fit of tears. Gasping for air, I tried to speak clearly but she only said, “Just let It out.” And so, I did. I cried and let out my true feelings.
For Thanksgiving Break, I returned home and while sitting with my sister, I began to cry, and I said it out loud, “I really hate my job.” My sister sat there for a moment then simply said, “Just quit.” What she said made no sense in my mind, so I said, “I can’t quit my job.” She said, “Why not? You’re not happy and this is the time in your life when you can do this. Just quit your job, you can move in here and we’ll figure it out.”
We sat there and talked about it for hours, planning and talking things through. I was on board but then I wasn’t.
In my field, we often guilt ourselves into staying because we don’t want to leave mid-semester, or leave our co-workers behind with more work and what about the students?! I kept thinking about all these other people instead of myself.
I realized, I had been doing that for years.
When you’re working in a job that services people, especially for so long, you have to be careful. Eventually, you might realize that you haven’t been serving yourself in the process and the job never kept you in mind either.
I went back to New York City later that week and continued to mull over my decision. I sat for breakfast one day and looked up to see a moving truck marked with moving information for cities in South Florida. And suddenly I was packing. But I was still unsure. Could I really quit my job?
I loved so many aspects of my job, I had so many things I still wanted to do in this new place. I had ideas mapped out for the Fall 2023 school year. And I also had one of the most amazing apartments, was I being ungrateful? But I was miserable, and I hadn’t even decorated my apartment, and I’d been there six months already.
The free apartment began to have no meaning and no benefit at all. It was a requirement of the role and a “bonus” as Higher Education tries to spin it, but that didn’t matter to me anymore. My plan was to never be in Higher Education for life, but I did stop thinking about myself and the after for years.
The Ugly Truth
My work with students, my work in rebranding an entire freshman hall and building a phenomenally good community speaks for itself. I’m not afraid of hard work but I realized that for how hard I was working within the field, the money didn’t match up with what I was required to put out. And I also couldn’t go on living and feeling that way anymore.
For all the hard work that Housing Professionals do, the pay is far from what they deserve. The ugly truth is that there are currently thousands of professionals leaving Higher Education because they are also burnt out and tired.
- Tired of being underpaid
- Tired from the harsh working conditions from how their institutions responded to COVID
- Tired of working on multiple weekends and not being compensated for the never-ending list of extra work
But even in saying all these things about the field, the other truth is that colleges need us. Our roles are essential and very crucial in supporting college students. But the issues within Higher Education are equally more crucial. Those of us in it understand that it is a job that requires you to be “on” a lot of the time. You’re required to live where you work to help those in your community.
It’s a job that can be really fulfilling but as the generation of parents and students continue to change, so does the job. As institutions continue to increase their student population in desire for more revenue, the workload continues to grow. And as other professionals continue to leave, their workload is being thrown on other individuals who won’t be fairly compensated for taking on more than they have to.
Even with the good and the joy that my career brought me at times, it made me realize that, for me, working in residential life and housing is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. At least not the lifestyle that I desire to live moving forward.
I was working more than I was living, but now I want to reclaim all the time that I lost to my job.
So before you get the urge to ask me what’s next, don’t. Because for the first time in my life, I don’t exactly know what’s next. I have some ideas but I’m embracing the unknown and the fact that life is not linear.
I’m also choosing to celebrate that I decided to choose myself over my students, my co-workers, and my job. I’m celebrating that I’m taking care of myself, my mental health and putting myself above anything else right now.
I’m accepting that “Sometimes you have to make a decision that will hurt your heart but will heal your soul.”
I’m ready to spend more time living.
With love and formerly known as,
Residence Hall Director/Area Coordinator Ruth A.