Today’s Defector is searching for a new next place, after seizing an unexpected opportunity by working in a position of change. The experience, working on a political campaign, provided new challenges and a wholly new environment. I am so thankful to Erika for reaching out with her story, and admire the freedom with which she is pursuing her next steps. Read on to learn about her experience as a “reluctant Defector,” and what it’s taught her about herself and her larger goals.
Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.
I’m unemployed for the first time in 20 years. This job loss was an abrupt, and slightly messy affair- the result of the shifts in upper management when a new Vice President or Dean comes on board. Oddly enough I find myself at a hard-fought peace with it.
This was THE job I’d been angling toward for the past 3 years. It met all of my perceived professional needs and played to all of my perceived professional strengths. It was my preferred institution type, in the geographic area I wanted and most importantly had THE title. It was my next step up and I gave it my all. I upended my husband’s and my life and moved us to a different state. We bought a house because I was in for the long haul. I made sure my business cards, nametag, and email signature featured this snazzy new title as prominently as was prudent. I worked long and hard for this role and was rightfully proud. After a full year that culminated in praise and promises of promotion, my professional potential dried up within a couple of weeks of the arrival of the new manager.
The warning signs during my short tenure were there- newer president on chilly terms with the current management, a completely new and inexperienced team who were squeezed in with a disgruntled staffer who had clearly been there too long. Optimist that I am, I embraced these challenges as opportunities to prove myself.
I proved myself alright. I was an excellent relationship-builder, had a good reputation across campus, and went the extra mile to give struggling staffers a chance. It’s that last part that always gets one into trouble. You see, the higher up you go the more exposed you are to the whims of the next administration. The relationships of the past don’t mean as much, and any inadequacies in your team are your fault. One year in, and I was out (along with two others).
My unceremonious and unexpected ouster meant that I missed the usual higher-ed hiring season. I was stuck with plenty of time on my hands before an opportunity in my now very narrow field might present itself. On a whim and with a little luck, I was able to land a temporary job working on a political campaign. To participate in such fulfilling, meaningful work, without the burdens of being the boss helped ease the pain of my lay-off and gave me new perspective.
There are many lessons I can take from my campaign experience and current unemployment situation. The biggest benefit of my situation has been the freedom to try other things and time away from the stresses of student affairs. I’ve learned the skills from a career in higher education are beyond transferable. The office politics, schedules and stresses that we endure on our campuses prepared me well for work in real politics. The laws and policies we navigate are the same at any secondary or prep school, and the communication skills we must have to build partnerships with the diverse agendas of students, faculty, parents and service staff make us an asset to any office.
IF I remain in college student affairs (it’s very freeing to not feel I that I MUST return) it will be as a wiser, and more self-assured woman. No more will I ignore my instincts in the name of positivity. I also refuse to accept the model of ‘do more with less” and I object to student affairs’ lower status in the ivory tower. That is no way to treat an entire field of dedicated educators. My presence in higher-ed will also be as someone far more interested in fulfilling work than finding the right title for the resume.