Over the last several months, I have had the pleasure of helping others build capacity to be present in and lead lives, that they are proud of. I have supported them in their efforts toward building capacity for self-improvement, healing, wellness, hope, and balance among other things. In doing so, I have likewise worked to improve alongside them. My vision board for this year served as a challenge to self and spoke of balance, professional increase, and improved spiritual discipline. While each of these priorities continue to be a work in progress, in recent months, the area of professional increase has taken an overwhelming lead.
In February, I applied for several positions across the country. I applied for jobs that were similar to roles I had served in before, but with a heightened level of responsibility, collaboration, and engagement in higher education. At the forefront of those applications and interviews were the following roles: Director of Career and Education, Director of Project Achieve, Director of Distance Education, and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs.
While the titles and departments and responsibilities of each of these roles range across a variety of community, public, private, and technical colleges, what they have in common are increased levels of engagement with students, faculty, and staff, working alongside executive leadership to impact change, enhance community experiences, problem solve, and lead a team of my own. These are all components of higher education and student affairs that I have missed over the last two years–not because they’re non-existent in my current work, but because of my figurative and physical distance to them. However, these are the pieces that lead my search for a new opportunity and in searching for those pieces professionally, I found personal pieces of myself too.
As a mother of three, each of my children’s births coincide with my professional elevation and evolution. In 2008, when I gave birth to my first son, Ma’Kye, I was simultaneously matriculating as a low-income, single mom, first-year, first-generation college student and learning what it meant to be a professional altogether. Fast forward to 2020, when I gave birth to my second son, Myles, I was two years post doctoral matriculation, and had recently exited from a deanship. I was married, a professor, salaried university employee, and stepping into my first-ever remote work role in digital education. Now, two months post delivery of my third child and only daughter, Delaney, I find myself in transition again. This time, with an increased level of clarity regarding what it is I want personally and professionally and unwilling to accept anything that doesn’t align with the two.
After several interviews, the job offers started rolling in. I received job offers for every role I interviewed for this spring. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and likewise overwhelmed with disappointment. It seemed that in order to accept these opportunities, I had to give up something I so desperately wanted to keep. Still, the offers were competitive and an affirmation of who I was professionally, but even more so an affirmation of who God is substantially. With each offer, I was reminded of my current service to higher ed as a Digital Learning Operations Specialist. I serve in a professional space I only thought existed in my dreams. Following a tumultuous experience years prior, my expectations were diminished. The balance, flexibility, culture, and compensation I longed for as a single mama, 13.5 years ago, are now my professional reality. I didn’t want to step away from that if it meant I had to give it up entirely. The fit was a personal and professional dream come true.
While I applied, interviewed for, and considered these offers, I was expecting to give birth in the coming weeks and was not willing to give up the things that mattered most to me as a working mom: balance, flexibility, competitive compensation and benefits. As women we are sometimes forced into roles and companies that do not consider us in our entirety. As women of color, we’re often underpaid as our employers do not consider the value of our lived experiences. As first-generation professionals, our job offers may account for education, but do not account for our familial need, as we’re often responsible for our immediate and extended families’ financial needs. I wasn’t willing to accept an offer that didn’t account for all of me.
So, of the top 4 offers: Director of Career and Education, Director of Project Achieve, Director of Distance Education, and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs. I agreed to be the next Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at New River Community and Technical College in Beckley, West Virginia. Even with some reservations about its location, the connections I made while interviewing felt real. The fit felt right. After driving 8 hours, at 38 weeks pregnant, a day long interview, and a weekend surrounded by the freshest of air, beautiful mountains, and wildlife, I felt purposed to be there. I was proud. I felt seen. I felt valued. I felt like my prayers had been answered and I prepared to welcome a child and a new job simultaneously.
At 38 weeks pregnant, I interviewed for the Vice President of Academic and Student affairs opening at New River Community and Technical College. I arrived a day before to familiarize myself with the campus. We came across this backdrop and before exiting the building, I told my husband, “Honey, take a picture of me. I am going to post this when I get the job.” Sometimes you have to speak and declare it for yourself. I do. I did. It worked! Faith is such a powerful tool!
Then, it happened. I gave birth and as it has two times prior, everything changed. In giving birth to my daughter in April, I reconsidered all things. My life, my priorities, my wants, needs, and relationships. From the moment I held her, I felt more compelled than I ever had before, to be the greatest version of myself. Her beautiful, almond shaped, eyes pierced the depths of my being and I felt pressured to humble myself and surrender. I felt the need to be still.
In the stillness I found peace. In the stillness I could hear myself clearly and while I still struggle to explain why I ultimately made the decision I made regarding this job search altogether, I understand it wholeheartedly. This process taught me so much about negotiations, myself, other key things to look for when searching for a job and so much more. Following several conversations with a few of the people closest to me, It became clear to me that part of my desire to transition to West Virginia was ego. I could not initially identify or name that because a much larger part of me was still in shock that I had been selected and so excited to step into the role, even though I knew the timing wasn’t ideal. My daughter’s birth reminded me of how important family is and how fast time passes. While I wanted to professionally return to a high level role, I personally wanted to commit my time to her, her brothers, and my husband. Delaney’s birth reminded me of how much I owe it to myself to function within the capacity I have versus stretching beyond it. I teach my clients that to do so, is a disservice to self.
Still, I battled my desire to be a VP. Would this opportunity return again? Can I really be a Vice President later? Maybe this is the only time I’ll get an offer of the sort. Perhaps this is a fluke? The imposter syndrome is real. I begin to think about the posts I see on LinkedIn. All of the BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS of who is doing what and where. The excitement that comes with a corner office, administrative assistant and executive leadership. Then I begin to think about what mattered NOW: What did I need? What did I want? What’s best for my children and my family? What are the pros and cons particular to my circumstances? I had to come to terms with the nuances that surrounded this professional desire and its misalignment with my personal needs. It was then that I did the only thing I felt I had left to do, pray.
The decision to step into this role or not, was not the hard part. It was convincing myself that if I didn’t do it now, I would have the opportunity to do it later, and when I realized I need not convince myself, but to trust that what God has for me, is indeed for me, it all became so much easier. The professional in me wanted to make good on the commitment I had made to New River and its leadership, but I knew the decision not to, was the right one. With that realization, I rescinded my acceptance of the offer and elected to remain in my current role.
I think God will sometimes present us with the things we ask for so that we can experience just how much they are not what we need in that moment, all so that we might better appreciate what we already have and learn to grow within what He’s already provided for us.
I wish I could say with 100% certainty that I have unyielding confidence in my decision. I don’t. But I do have unyielding confidence in God. I trust the path that he has me on. I am not sharing this narrative because I have it all figured out. I am sharing because I think these are the professional narratives we don’t read or hear enough about. Career advice is sensationalized across social media platforms and it is easy to compare apples to oranges and develop ill-informed ideas about what we should be doing, and how and where we should be doing it. We are taught to look for, expect, and go after the next big thing, but the truth is, success is not linear and we ought to value ourselves and purposeful work more than we do salary and social media recognition. I was reminded of this when I came across a post on LinkedIn a few days ago. It read:
“A father told his daughter, “Congrats on your graduation. I brought you a car a while back. I want you to have it now. Before I give it to you, take it to a car dealer in the city and sell it. See how much they offer.”
The girl came back to her father and said, “They offered me $10,000 because it looks very old.” The Father said, “Okay, now take it to the pawn shop.” The girl returns to her father and says, “The pawn shop offered me $1,000 because it’s a very old car and it needs a lot of work.”
The father told her to join a passionate car club with experts and show them the car. The girl drove to the car club. She returned to her father after a few hours and told him, “Some people in the club offered me $100,000 because it’s a rare car that’s in very good condition.”
Then the father said, “I wanted to let you know that you are not worth anything if you are not in the right place. If you are not appreciated, do not be angry. That just means you’re in the wrong place. Do not stay in a place where no one sees your value.”
Upon reading this I thought about my current role and team. I thought about the professional fit that I have found and the balance it has offered me. I am valued. The department is valued. I value the work and those that I work with. I am able to show up for myself and my children. I am able to rest. I am able to actively participate in the personal and professional things I love. I am present in my own life. Furthermore, I recognized that there are opportunities within this role for increased responsibility and engagement. I likewise considered possibilities that aligned personally and the invaluable perks that came along with those possibilities. I don’t know that I would have ever stumbled upon this realization had I not given myself permission to be still. Had I not put my ego to the side and allowed my priorities to guide me. I don’ t know if I would have ever found peace in this process had I not leaned into the discomfort and trusted the people that I rely on for advising. I don’t know if I would feel secure enough to share this experience had I not been prayerful, extending grace to self, still, and leading from a space of abundance.
This work inspires me to help others achieve their best possible self and in doing so, I am daily challenged to be mine. Self-optimization requires that we be authentic and willing to counter fear with some level of faith. I recognize that is not always an easy thing to do, but with the right village, it is possible.
Speaking of villages, it is by divine design that my village has been incredibly kind and positive throughout this entire process. I am so thankful to God for all the good he’s blessed me with. I am so grateful to my husband for his faith and flexibility, my children for inspiring me to think and live beyond my wildest dreams, Bishop Bryant for his covering and counsel, my mentors, Dr. Jaci Lindburg and Ricky Smith for their guidance and support, my references, Dr. Linda Perkins, Dr. Simone Hicks, and Paola Ruiz Beas, for their commitment to my job search, and my family for their words of affirmation and undying belief in me. My sister told me that before I was anyone’s VP, I have always been the family’s MVP. Her words gave me the strength I needed to choose well. Lastly, but certainly not least, to Dr. Copenhaver, President of New River Community and Technical College, for her warmth, her understanding, and her encouragement. I am prayerful that I’ll have an opportunity to work alongside her some day. I am forever indebted to each of them and send insurmountable gratitude to them all for their prayers, love, and support.
It is all well.
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This Post Has 2 Comments
This was right on time. To hear your journey and accomplishments, motivates me in more ways than one. Trying to balance being a single mother of 5, my career, and life changes. I find it hard to prioritize what needs to come first. But your self improvement work books have helped me on the journey of doing and wanting better for myself and children. Thank you so much 😊
Trista, thank you so much! I am always so proud of you. You never let anything stop you from moving forward, in all ways. Wishing you continued progress in all things! Can’t wait to see what you conquer next, my friend ❤️.