I took a leap of faith last October as a midlife career changer. Leaving a prestigious Fortune 125 publishing company (Bloomberg) for a different kind of giant (a huge public university) meant stepping out of my comfort zone. Years of publishing meant I had built up a significant knowledge base and was the ‘go-to’ person who trained a cadre of Quality Assurance contractors.
Moving from go-to person to ‘fish out of water’ takes gumption. During my ‘settling in’ period, I felt like I was dropped into a maelstrom and would be swept away by the current as I studied regulations, institutional policy, applied myself by reviewing ‘cases,’ and approved, denied, or followed up on various requests. After three months, I had yet to perform my main function: in-person student advising.
Finally, my director checked in with me and asked if I was ready. I indicated that there were still several areas where I needed training, but was finding it difficult to schedule time with hardworking staff. She agreed and indicated that perhaps she would need to conduct the training herself.
Fast forward and two hours later, I was informed that the next day I would start my core duties (without further training). Yikes, I thought. Am I ready for this? I was assured that a senior colleague would oversee my work and answer any questions/step in as needed.
After a so-so night of sleep (I dreamt of overcrowded DC metro platforms but woke up with a sigh of relief that I was no longer living that life!), I drove into work, eager to begin, but nervous that I would fail.
To each student, I explained that I was a new adviser and that my colleague might step in to assist. My first case was a simple one and I was able to answer without assistance. This first success built up my confidence a little bit. The next case was complicated — I was stumped about how to explain a complex timeline for a high stakes issue (employment). I tried to research the issue, but realized that the reference materials (used for student workshops!) were completely confusing. Finally, I swallowed my pride and asked for help.
Catch Me Now, I’m Falling!
Asking for help can be difficult when you are used to being the ‘go-to’ person. Not only do you feel like you are exposing your deficiencies, but at the same time you may feel like you are imposing yourself by taking a colleague away from his or her work.
Fortunately for me, my colleague was willing to help and so I listened to him as he took over the reins and tried to absorb the information for the next time. I had a steady pace of easy then difficult advising situations, but realized that even more senior colleagues frequently seek our director’s counsel and less senior colleagues seek advice from other advisers.
Teamwork is mission critical and a must to be successful in this field. I am truly blessed to have competent colleagues who are willing to train me. After years of being the ‘go to’ person and mentor, now I am the mentee. I strive to build up my knowledge base in this new field so that I can make the jump from mentee back to mentor. My initial discomfort has been replaced with a commitment to soak up as much information as possible so that I can better serve my customer base (students).
I haven’t had a chance yet to thank my director for pushing me out of the nest. Today has been a defining moment and has taught me that I need to just go ahead and jump. If I make mistakes along the way (hopefully I will not, but everyone is human, so hopefully not too many), I will view those errors as teachable moments and remember to share them some day when I mentor others. When faced with the opportunity to learn a new job, task, or deal with a difficult life situation, I highly recommend that one just Carpe Diem and Jump! Below I share some tips for seizing the day.
5 ‘Carpe Diem’ Tips
- Acknowledge your fear. It’s ok to feel discomfort – this is normal when you feel like you are about to jump off of the proverbial cliff!
- Set yourself up for success. Build on small successes (or failures) and make a pact with yourself that with each success or failure, you will grow your knowledge base.
- With failures, take note of the deficiency and take corrective action. This could be as simple as remembering what to do next time, or researching and documenting regulations and procedures.
- Celebrate your success. Let your inner voice sing your praises and build yourself up for even greater accomplishments.
- Recognize those who help you along the way. Thank your mentor(s) profusely and sincerely.