In higher education, we often tell students that if they’re not uncomfortable, they’re not truly experiencing college to its fullest. Sometimes I think we as higher education professionals could benefit from our own advice.
This past summer, I was presented with an opportunity that I wasn’t exactly looking for. I had spent nearly ten years at an institution that was also my Alma mater. Throughout my tenure, I had worked my way up the ranks from civil service to administrator. I was quite comfortable in my position at my institution. I knew the ins and outs of campus (including the politics), had developed collaborative relationships with many colleagues and departments, was involved on multiple committees, and for the most part, was pretty firmly planted in that position. My institution had been undergoing quite a bit of change, but despite a few annoyances, I wasn’t aggressively seeking out new opportunities.
In June, I was contacted about a position at another institution that this individual felt I might be a good fit for. I hesitated to apply for a number of reasons. The commute was slightly farther, the institution was very different than mine, pieces of the position I had little to no experience in, etc., etc., etc. But honestly, the biggest deterrent was my own fear. Did I really want to start over on a campus where no one knew me? How would I learn to navigate the campus—both physically and politically? I had become quite confident in my knowledge base of students and families in transition, so did I really want to walk away from that and start from scratch on a new skill set?
Despite these reservations, I did opt to apply for the position, and within a week had an on-campus interview, which resulted in an offer that same week. I was given overnight to respond to the offer. I’m not sure I have ever been that hesitant to make a decision in my entire career, yet fortunately, the short time-frame forced me to go with my gut, not over-think this. From the moment I stepped foot on this new campus for the interview, I saw myself fitting in nicely. I felt that without question this institution shared the same philosophy of student-centered’ness that I live by. I accepted the offer and within two weeks began my new journey.
After the excitement of accepting this new opportunity started to wane, a second wave of fear gripped me. What had I gotten myself into? Was I really ready to take on this new challenge? Was this the right choice for me? Had I made a mistake in accepting this new position? As I sat back and really started to analyze my concerns, I realized the only thing I had to fear was myself. I could do this, as long as I didn’t let my own insecurities sabotage me. Fortunately, I met that fear head on and haven’t looked back with an ounce of regret since.
So what have I learned over the past five months? I’m not sure I can put into words just how challenging, yet rewarding, this new experience has been. Obviously, I’m developing skills in areas that I’ve never had before. But what I’ve taken away from this experience goes much deeper than a new skill set.The fact that I was selected for this position, despite having zero experience in some facets of this position, speaks volumes to the confidence this institution has in my ability to take on new challenges. This, in turn, has given me the courage to try other things I might not normally try.
Because I’m in a completely new environment, where I know absolutely no one, I have to get out there and meet new people, instead of remaining holed up in my office. After leaving my prior institution, I realized that in my position, I had become too comfortable and ultimately complacent. In this complacency, I began to not voice my opinion on many matters. This institution hired me to assist them in their transition from a small college to a major University, so my opinions are not just valued, they are actively sought out. This, in turn, has allowed me to find my voice again. It is so rewarding to be able to make suggestions leading to change on this campus–changes that will continue to help progress this institution to its fullest potential. Finally, in addition to the above mentioned gifts, probably what I value the most about this change is the opportunity to now work with a completely different kind of student and institution than what I’m used to. This has challenged me to think about things from a new perspective, which in turn has reignited my creative spark.
Am I getting comfortable? Somewhat. But I’ve learned to embrace the uncomfortable’ness of this new chapter in my life. So step outside of your comfort zone as a professional. Take on new challenges whenever you can. A change truly can do you good!
Angie Royal Director of Office of Student Life & Leadership Lindenwood University Follow Angie on Twitter @LUSLL_Angie