We can use adversities to open doors to opportunities, provided we have the right attitude when dealing with them. It’s easy to sulk and complain about how life is unfair when we’re going through hard times, but we can learn about ourselves, our resiliency, and capabilities if we just change our mindset and recognize these adversities may just be opportunities in disguise. As I look back at the major difficulties in my career, I realize these were the times when I experienced significant growth.
Some of my biggest professional growth and opportunities happened as a result of challenges I was presented with. These challenges became my catalysts to think hard about my future and what sacrifices I needed to make as well as skills I needed to develop to get to where I wanted to go. As I will share below, these three challenges gave me a “kick in the butt” to change direction and in turn led to opportunities I could not have even imagined.
My first significant adversity happened about a year into my first job, I had to deal with daily frustrations at work because of conflicts I had with a co-worker. For every web project I worked on, my co-worker took it upon himself to change my work before it went into production. We were peers so I did not understand why he seemed to have the authority to make the final decision and why he changed my work without asking my permission. I was inexperienced dealing with work conflict at that point in my career so I went home angry and frustrated. There was a couple of times when I was so frustrated I punched walls in my apartment and my work situation started to affect my relationship with my then girlfriend. After months of frustrations, I made the decision to leave my job as I didn’t think my relationship and health weren’t worth sacrificing. However, I knew I needed to build my web and database programming skills before I could leave. For about six months, I spent many hours almost every night, going until 3 am, learning how to develop and design web applications. I bought at least 50 books on Active Server Pages, Visual Basic, and Access database from a local Borders bookstore and went through almost every exercise in these books. This was a time when there was no remote access so I had to drive to work every night to use my computer. Interesting enough, when I was ready to start looking for work, my co-worker decided to leave and I remained with my job. The six months of intensive learning provided me with skills that led me to building more complex applications at work and led to consulting jobs as well.
My second major period of growth happened several years ago, our department had a major re-organization and my web development team was dismantled to fit the new structure. I was “asked” to switch position from a manager of the team to a new role of web architect. I had a close relationship with my team and considered them my family. This was one of the few times in my life when I felt depressed. It even came to a point when I couldn’t concentrate and almost hit a pedestrian while driving to work. I did not enjoy my new position because I no longer met with customers and I had no interaction with my old teammates. I wasn’t also learning new technologies that were becoming popular at that time like ASP.Net and SQL Server. After long conversations with my wife and with her approval, I made the hard decision to move to a new organization accepting a pay cut. I made the move because the new organization had the reputation of providing abundant training opportunities and I wanted to prepare myself for the future by getting formal trainings and experience working with ASP.Net and SQL Server. I went to several trainings and I was given opportunities to develop more sophisticated applications. However, after about nine months, my former department had another major re-organization and they had created a new unit that needed a manager. I was offered the manager position managing my previous teammates as well as new employees. The formal trainings and experience I gained in that short nine months proved to be beneficial in my new position.
The most significant challenge and growth I experienced started about three years ago. Our organization had a major project converting a legacy system. This project required most of my staff’s participation. It was a critical system so it had to succeed even if it meant stopping all other projects, which we did. It was the right thing to do. Unfortunately for me, I was not part of this major project and I did not have the resources to work on other projects. It was a frustrating few months because as much as I wanted to contribute to our organization, it became impossible. It was an order not to work on other projects and I was told not to meet with my staff. I looked for tasks to work on, but after a while, I even ran out of things to do. I started questioning my value and whether I had a future in the organization.With the prospect of an uncertain future, I began to spend my thinking and working towards my goal towards a senior management position in student affairs. My plan was to use my IT background and student affairs experience to work towards a senior student affairs administrator position like Dean of Student Affairs Technology. Typically, senior student affairs positions require advanced degrees, but as unconventional as my background may be, I was and still am convinced there’s a need for a technology strategist at the senior student affairs level. I hope my combined experience/interest in student affairs and IT knowledge will lead me to a senior management position somewhere in the future.
With the available time I had and driven in part by concern of not having a place in my current organization, I committed to spending as much as I can to learn about student affairs and IT management. I began to learn about student affairs and higher education history, contemporary issues, and the skills/knowledge taught in grad schools, by whatever means available to me. It was during this time when I dedicated myself to reading many student affairs textbooks and becoming involved with NASPA to network with other student affairs professionals. I also became more involved on campus as a NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP) mentor and a planning member for a professional development program for new student affairs professionals. In addition to learning more about student affairs, I also spent a lot of time learning about IT leadership and management.
I also became more active on social media (twitter), specifically on #sachat and #satech which are virtual communities of student affairs professionals and graduate students. I began to write more on my blog about student affairs, technology, and leadership. Because of my active participation on twitter and my blog posts, I was contacted by a fellow student affairs IT director for a university in Texas to serve as an external review team leader to do a program evaluation of their IT department.
After the major project was successfully completed, fortunately, my worries about my future within my organization disappeared as my responsibilities increased, my leadership role in my organization became more significant, and the units I oversee also expanded with more staff reporting to me.
The last three years have been a period of significant growth for me. It has been a time of opportunities I could not have even imagined. As I look back at the career challenges I faced, I am now grateful for them. Without these adversities, I probably would not have had the motivations to make some hard choices and to commit my time towards preparing myself for the future.