We’ve all had transitions in our lives. Some are easier than others. Like many of you, I’ve had a few significant transitions, and at first I was hard pressed to select just one for this particular post. Adapting to a life without my best friend who passed unexpectedly? Making the move from four-year institutions to community colleges? Leaving for Abu Dhabi? Coming home from Abu Dhabi after fifteen months?
I chose to go with my most recent professional transition, saying “yes” to a lateral move at my college.
For 15 years I served as the Dean of Students at Orange Coast College (OCC). A job I love. I love the whole idea of why that position even exists. I love student conduct, and I’m a geek about threat assessment. And my office was embedded with the Associated Students. I was lead for Student Services assessment (yes, more geekishness).
Our new VPSS vacated the Dean of Enrollment Services position, and after a failed search, asked me for the second time if I’d like a new professional experience.
On one hand, the request to slide on over to a different Dean position was a gift on a silver platter. Where and when else would I have the opportunity to dive into Enrollment Services, with only a cursory knowledge of the areas under that purview? On the other hand, I would be walking away from a job, that I was so in sync with.
After a lot of thoughtful discussions with friends and mentors I said yes to the new experience. And yes to helping out my college. This is not a move I regret. But oh, was the transition challenging for me. Not externally. Nope. Everyone, and I mean everyone, welcomed and embraced me, and still today they continue to patiently teach me. The only one who put pressure on me, was me.
Transitional issues for me:
- I walked away from a job that I knew inside and out. A job in which I was the expert. Other Deans of Students would call me for advice. I was an invited and sometimes paid consultant on threat assessment and on student learning outcomes in Student Services, for goodness’ sake.
- I walked into a job in which I knew so little. We’re talking financial aid (an ever moving target and amazingly complex area), admissions and records, Veterans Services, California Ed Code, international students and F1 visas, international student recruitment, throwing a party of 8000 people (Commencement) …you get the idea.
- I came to realize I don’t like being ignorant.
- I don’t like not having answers for people who need answers.
- I absolutely had to become comfortable with feeling ignorant.
- I had to muster up patience and recognize that it takes time to learn these new areas. (And remind myself that I was NOT an immediate expert in my Dean of Students job.)
I also had to figure out my purpose in this new role. Because I assure you, I was feeling rudderless and mastless. (Humor me, we are “Coast” and the Pirates here at OCC.)
Somewhere, a few months in to the permanent move to Dean of Enrollment Services, I had a small epiphany. I realized that my new purpose was to focus on my (fabulous!) managers, and their staffs. Not on being an expert in the foreign language of financial aid or every nuance of Ed Code. I can use my mentoring skills with my managers, my problem solving skills to troubleshoot and break down barriers for the staffs, and my still-new experience to make changes in forms, processes, procedures and policies that will better benefit students.
Over the past few years I have learned to take leaps of faith and say yes to unexpected opportunities. And while some rare moments have made me feel like running and hiding, I have not regretted saying yes, no matter how risky or uncomfortable it felt in the beginning.
Many people ask “do you like this job better?” I cannot say yes. Because it’s like comparing mangoes and potatoes. Both are edible. Both have a plural of “oes”. But let’s stop there. They are vastly different experiences. And impossible to compare. Both have their own challenges, and extraordinary joys.
And with one experience comes others. At the end of September I am off on my first international recruitment trip. Like me, you might need to look up where the country of Brunei is located on the map.
September is the month of transitions, especially on the college campus. Follow #SATransitions to read as the community reflects upon transition and change, personally and professionally. Have ideas about a future series for the Student Affairs Collective? Contact Nathan Victoria on Twitter at @NathanVictoria or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.