I recently experienced a major life change – I moved from a position at a public land-grant institution in a college town to an educational non-profit in Washington, D.C. I also went from working primarily with graduate international students, to working with undergraduate Saudi Arabian students. Of course, there have also been the personal life changes, with establishing new friendships, reconnecting with family, and returning to a city that has not been my home for many years.
This change has been exciting and overwhelming at times, as anyone that has made a job change and/or personal move knows. My work and social environments have changed although I still work directly with students, and my equilibrium has certainly been off at times through this adjustment process.
Spheres of influence
One thing that has helped me is to identify how I continue to influence others, and what I can contribute in my new position. I still have a sphere of influence even if the center has moved, and part of these changes professionally and personally has been discovering what that looks like now.
I like the image of a sphere of influence instead of a circle, because spheres are dimensional, have volume, and allow us to look at relationships from more than one angle. Regardless of where we fall on an organizational chart or what we do on our days off, we have these spheres at work and in our personal lives.
Identifying your sphere
The great thing is that I don’t think there is one right way to capture this information. One way to drill down what makes up your sphere of influence is to start making a list of people you know well, noting where they tend to focus their time and energy, and their areas of expertise.
Another approach would be to draw a diagram with your name in the middle and start listing names around yours. Then, you can identify the first 2-3 individuals that you want to connect with out of those that have experience or work in an area that is related to the topic at hand.
I have witnessed the expansion and deepening of my own network the longer I’ve been working and living – and I don’t just mean in the number of Facebook friends. When I started grad school, I could probably count on one hand the number of people I knew in my field(s). However, over time I have continued to build a sphere of influence that is comprised of individuals working in everything from residence life to study abroad to graphic design. I can find ways that our work overlaps to infuse international student perspectives and enrich a global education for all –my biggest area of interest, influence, and expertise.
Once you have identified your sphere of influence, the real work begins. Some questions to consider:
What is the desired change – big or small?
Is this within my sphere of control, influence, or neither to change this?
What is the possible impact on our communities? Why does this matter?
Is this worth my time? What is the cost-benefit analysis?
What is my overall goal, and timeline? In other words – is this a change that is achievable within a specific amount of time, or is it one where you are moving the chain forward?
See if you can articulate in 1-2 sentences why a change is needed. Think of it as your elevator pitch. If you are not able to identify the heart of why something needs to change, it might be time to refocus or return to the drawing board.
Data points are critical components to identifying what matters and pinpointing the pieces that need to change. Sometimes when that snowball of change gets going, we feel like everything needs to change.
Bring in reinforcements. Use that circle of influence! The reason it is called a circle of influence is because it overlaps with other individuals and what they control or influence.
Minimize focus on your sphere of concern. I find it so easy to worry about things that I lack control or influence over – things like the national debt, global poverty, and conflicts in the Middle East…even the weather. However, the things that I have within my scope – finding smarter ways to advise my students, improving our emergency management processes – that is where I need to focus my attention because these are the areas where can I have real influence.
Regardless of where we are now to what we might be doing in five years, we have control or influence over things that do matter. Finding that sweet spot with needed change, is where we can find our focus.