This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website: www.aucd.org/ecp

01 February, 2013

Of Opportunities, Risks, and Feelings


In life, we are presented with many opportunities, even if we are not always aware of them as such. Sometimes, opportunities are short-term activities or projects that lead us for a little while in one direction. Other times, these opportunities are long-term commitments and determine where we go and end up in life. Sometimes, opportunities present themselves when we are waiting for them, and other times, they are serendipitous and appear out of the blue. Depending on where we are in our career and life trajectory, opportunities can be true choices (do I take this opportunity or not) or the only lifeline to hold onto (I need a job, and this is the opportunity I have; therefore, I will take it). When we are desperate for change, we may jump on any opportunity that comes along.  I have learned along the way to trust my instincts and not to take an opportunity if it doesn’t feel “right.” I once passed up a seemingly good opportunity.  This didn’t necessarily look like the best rational decision. I had to ask myself: “Why didn’t you take this job offer when you don’t have a stable job?” My decision did not earn approval of colleagues and mentors who said, “This was the third job opportunity you didn’t take.” Friends would ask, “Didn’t you want to work in that city?” However, I am still glad I trusted my instincts. There seems to be an “inner radar”, something inside of us that makes us react in such a way that we “feel” if something is right or not, will work out or not. If you have a feeling about something, my advice is to explore this feeling and make the decision that feels right to you. I have rarely been wrong about decisions I’ve made based on my feelings, but I have been wrong about some decisions that I’ve made that were based on sound rationale alone.

The greatest opportunity with the highest risk I have taken in my life was to come from Germany to the United States to go to graduate school for a Masters program in Human Development. I didn’t really know what to expect and little did I know that I would end up getting my PhD, getting married here and establishing my family life and career in the United States. I had lived in the U.S. before for a year as a nanny, but coming back to go to grad school and living and learning on my own when I came back was very different. The beginning was hard. Reading scholarly articles in a different language and getting used to a different academic setting in a different culture was not easy. I had so much to learn about the disabilities field in the U.S., the different service system, the different health care system, etc., that it seemed overwhelming at times. But I also met wonderful friends and colleagues and started my career at the Center for Disabilities Studies (CDS) at the University of Delaware. I never once regretted having made the decision. It had felt right when I decided to go to the U.S., and it still felt right when I struggled through (and also very much enjoyed) my first year as a graduate student. This decision, made in large part on a feeling, was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it exposed me to many more opportunities than I would ever have imagined in my wildest dreams.

While I was still working on my dissertation and needed a part-time job, I was presented with three opportunities. One was to help with a national training effort for professionals in the disabilities field, the other one was doing some data analysis, and the third one was to work on a survey measuring the health status of adults and children with disabilities in Delaware. Which one was the right one for me? All three were great opportunities, so I weighed the pros and cons. I was hesitant about taking the job doing the surveys, but it still felt right. I picked that one.  This job later allowed me to write a successful grant that secured my fulltime position at CDS.

While I was finishing my dissertation, I researched jobs and applied to positions in academia that I thought of as good opportunities for me. I had always thought I would work as a professor at a University. I was invited to interview for a few of those positions.  It became clear early on that some of those positions were not right for me. But there were other interviews that went well, and the positions were offered to me. There was one position in particular where everything seemed to be falling into place. The job seemed good; the potential colleagues seemed nice; the location was okay; the offered compensation was very reasonable; and my husband was on board with the move. However, something didn’t feel right. I didn’t take that job. Would it have worked out? Could I have had a great career there and could I have been happy there? I will never know. However, I never regretted not having taken that position.

A year and a half ago, while in the midst of working on various federal and state grants with my wonderful colleagues at CDS, still very much establishing my career as the Health Unit Director at the UCEDD, I received the weekly AUCD Announcements email. I skimmed through the content and as always, took a quick peek at the job postings, not because I was looking for a job but because I was curious about what positions were open at the moment in the field. There was a posting for the Associate Director at another UCEDD. I clicked on it because it said Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Since my interests are in health disparities people with disabilities experience and health care transition of youth with disabilities, I felt it was worth a look. As I read through the job description, it felt like someone had written a job specifically for me. I went home from work that night and showed the job posting to my husband without saying a word. After he read through it he stated precisely what I felt: “This position was written for you. You cannot not apply for this.” I agreed, and I applied. It was not ideal timing. I hadn’t planned on getting a new job. I was pregnant with my second child. I went on a job interview eight weeks after giving birth. But the position felt right. The interview felt right. The people felt right. The city even felt right. I took the job, and it has been good for me. It was incredibly hard leaving CDS and my colleagues and mentors. I was very sad leaving them, my friends, Delaware and the East Coast. Yet, it felt right and still does.

What’s the point of me sharing all of these pieces of my life with you? Make use of the opportunities that present themselves to you. Also, learn to listen to and trust your inner voice. Say “yes” if it feels right, even if it seems risky or is difficult. Think it through and explore your feelings if your inner voice says “no.” You may not always have the luxury to say no to an opportunity, but if you realize something is not right for you, seek out other opportunities until something feels right. I believe that we do a much better job at work and in life if things feel right and we are happy with the decisions we have made. 

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