A Dose of My Own Medicine
In my profession, I have the awesome privilege of working with young professionals as they transition from their graduate education to their first professional position. At this time of year, without fail, as the projects and papers pile on and graduation looms weeks ahead, I have come to expect a text message or email message: “Dr. Jackson, do you have a few minutes when we could talk? I have some concerns”. I was always far ahead of them and expecting them to come. And without fail, they would show up for our meeting with faces full of anxiety and stress. I always greeted them with the biggest smile and a warm hug (for those who were open to that). For some, the flood gates opened immediately. For others, we played the “ring around the conflict” small talk game until they could get there. However we got there, the problem was the same, “What am I going to do with my life after graduation?!” Some had spent weeks applying to pursue further education while others had started the job search. Regardless of the route, the fear was the same.
Am I good enough?
Have I done enough?
Can I compete?
Is my network strong enough?
Do I need to know more people?
Will they like me?
Will they accept me?
Do I belong in this field?
Transition has a way of rocking you to your core. As I am navigating my current professional detour, I find myself sitting in the seat of so many of my students. Here in the middle of my career I am asking the same questions. As I listened to them and shared the same advice with each of them, I assumed this was just a new professional thing. This phase is for those just starting out. I had no idea I would be taking a similar path at this point in my career path. Well, I’m here to tell you the emotions are the same and the questions ring loudly in my mind. So maybe it is time for me to take a dose of my own medicine.
Here is the advice I always give my students:
1. Invest well where you are- The key to success for tomorrow is always serving well today. As we discussed in “The Myth of Balanced Time”, sometimes we get so focused on tomorrow, we miss the opportunities of today. I have learned, in transitions, what you do today will always determine what doors open for you tomorrow. The simple things like coming to work on time, showing care, concern, and passion in your current role, keeping a teachable spirit and giving your best at every project and assignment set you up to transition well. Not only will you receive glowing references, but you will learn transferable skills that will help you succeed in your next assignment. In undergrad, I worked several jobs. I was a Student Assistant in the Registrar’s Office, a Resident Assistant in University Housing, a Child Care assistant in the Campus Day Care, and a summer assistant for the Office of Institutional Effectiveness. (Your girl had to work!). I answered phones, filed paperwork, planned and facilitated programs, and completed every special project assigned to me. I did not think any of these roles were significant or that they would have any bearing on my future. Man, was I wrong! Upon graduation, I went from student assistant to Assistant Registrar- I started supervising the people who formerly supervised me. Not only that, but twenty years later, that experience has become my profession. Do not despise small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). Every step of your journey is significant.
2. Sow seed, Sow widely- In the beginning of this current transition, I was overwhelmed by all of the possibilities. Should I stay in my profession? Is it time to transition into something else? Should I take a leap of faith and strike out on my own? So many choices! My good friend, Carrie Zimmerman, told me, “Patrice, just say yes. Say yes to everything until you know more”. That advice freed me. I was trying to make a decision before there was a decision to be made. I would always tell my students, apply everywhere. If you fail to apply, you already have your ‘No’. However, by submitting the application, you have opened the door to another possibility. Now believe me, I know, the application process is not fun. You have to write letters and customize resumes and then take all of that information and plug it into an application! (Please don’t get me started on that.). It’s a grueling process, but it is necessary. Think about each application as a seed sown into good soil. The more seed you sow, the more likely you are to have an abundant harvest. So, apply! Throw your name into the hat. Sow the seed. Do not decide before there is a decision to be made. One word of caution- do not accept the invitation to interview in person unless you are pretty serious about possibly taking the position. Searches cost money and time. Respect the process enough to pass if you know for sure your answer will be “No, Thank you”.
3. While you wait, Control what you can control- So we have invested well in our current position, sown good seed, and now we wait. Y’all! This is the hard part. We put so much work into those applications and then you do not hear anything for weeks, sometimes months. The questions of “Am I good enough?” begin to swirl, and they will take over if you allow it. Stop. Refocus. What can you control? Once you have invested well in your current (or last) position and submitted the applications, you are not in control of them anymore. The process will move forward and there are many factors you cannot control at this point. What can you control? What can you do in your waiting that will serve you well in your next? Keep serving well where you are. Take on a new project. Spend time on self-care or focus on family. Get some reading or spiritual growth in. As I am applying and seeking, I started this blog to occupy my time during the waiting. Encouraging is something I have always enjoyed, so instead of focusing on “Will they like me?” or “Am I enough?”, I’ve decided to focus on sharing what I have learned so far. This work fills my hands and my heart until I know more about my next work assignment. What do you have that will fill your heart and your hands while you wait?
4. Decisions, decisions- If you know anything about agriculture, the harvest season is the most joyous season, but it also takes the most work. It’s one thing to plant a seed and keep it watered, but it cost a lot of sweat and focus to pick the fruit at the right time. (I’m a country girl, Friends. I can’t help it). If you invest well where you are, sow good seed, and endure the waiting, the phone will begin to ring, the email invitations will come, and soon the offers will pour in. You’ve arrived. Now the hard part...Decisions! I have noticed through my conversations with my students this is often the most difficult part of the process. Should I take the job close to my family or should I take this opportunity to take an adventure away? Will there be an opportunity for my spouse? Which position will serve me best for my future? What factors are most important- salary, work culture, position title, etc? How do I know if I am making the right decision? Friend, you don’t. You don’t know which decision is ‘right’, but there is a way to determine which decision is best. Take a moment to write down your priorities. What are the factors in your life that need to be satisfied above all else? Here are some examples:
Family needs (spouse, children, etc),
Proximity to extended family,
Income needs (monthly budget, cost of living in a certain area, eliminating debt, saving for the future, investments, etc),
Time commitment, and
Other benefits (Opportunity to further education, new experience/training, etc).
Rank each job opportunity according to each life category listed above. Let’s call this ranking an assessment of ‘Fit’. Does this opportunity fit your life circumstances at this time? Use this ranking to guide your decision. I am a believer in prayer and being led spiritually. Which means my decisions do not always fall into a nice logical box as I described above. However, the Holy Spirit will often use these logical processes to guide me in the direction I should go. At the end of the day, know that you are not looking for perfection. Look for a good fit. Do not be overwhelmed by the harvest. Consider fit, pray, and take the leap!
So often we are great at giving advice to others, but we struggle to take the advice for ourselves. As I navigate this transition, I am taking a dose of my own medicine. I encourage you to consider these steps in your next transition as well: Invest well where you are, sow good seed, Control what you can control, and consider best fit in your decisions. Here’s the good news, you will land on your feet...most of the time. Even if you land on your face, just get up. Every decision prepares you for the next one. We learn most from those situations that feel like they were the wrong decision. Lean into it. Learn what you need to learn and be ready move when the time comes.
Friends, thank you for taking this journey with me. Writing these blogs requires a great deal of vulnerability from me. I am an open book in sharing normally, but I have never shared this intimately on this scale. I almost waited until my next job assignment was secure before starting this blog. I was more comfortable sharing this gift after it had a pretty bow on it. However, I decided to go for it now, because sometimes you need to hear from someone who is in the midst of the challenge. It’s awesome to hear from people who made it through, but sometimes you need to know there is someone else holding on just like you. Someone who is right there with you. It’s important to me that you all know every year is not “The year of Patrice”, but either way my faith is not shaken, and my resolve is clear. All is well.
Questions to Consider:
In what ways can you invest well where you are today?
What factors can you control?
What do you have today that fills your hands and your heart?