“Now” and “Not Now”

NACADA Past President Jennifer Bloom frequently begins her presentations with a quote from B. Joseph White, President Emeritus of the University of Illinois: “Education is the most powerful means of increasing individual opportunity and creating more prosperous, fairer, and more just societies. So to have the privilege of participating in that mission is as much as anybody could hope for in life.”

I couldn’t agree more. I feel immensely fortunate that my life’s path brought me to a career in the education community, and that along the way I have had opportunities to experience so many facets of education.  But my path has been a winding one, and the end could not have been predicted from the beginning.

Leigh teaches preschoolAt the beginning, I said “Not now” to a career outside the home and chose to spend the first decade of my adult life as a stay-at-home Mom, focusing on getting my own children started off on their educational journeys.  When I decided the time had come to say “Now” to beginning my next career, I drew on that experience to guide the littlest learners from other families in our community to build the foundations of their education. The wee ones were great fun and tremendously inspirational, but after several years with four-years olds, I realized that working with them was just a bit too exhausting to do for my full life’s work!  So, I returned to university to further my own education and prepare to work with adult learners.

1998-83a Leigh at BCCCWhile working on my first Master’s, I applied for a position teaching introductory social science courses to soldiers and their family members at a community college extension campus on the nearby military base.  The first response was, “Thank you for applying, but…” Not now! I was, however, offered a position working in the campus office, which I accepted – and a few months later, Not now turned into Now!  What a tremendous privilege it was to facilitate learning for these adult students who, because of their life experiences, had such a clear understanding of the value of higher ed and such a strong focus on bettering their lives.  As the years passed, I completed a second graduate program with an emphasis on diversity issues and added a Cultural Awareness class to my course offerings. With the tremendous range of diversity the military students brought to their studies, I surely learned as much or more from them as they did from me!

Much as I enjoyed the remarkable opportunities for interaction the small classroom venue afforded, I found I liked the one-on-one advising/mentoring experiences even more.  So, when the opening arose for a full-time advisor in a university setting, I immediately applied.  The first response to my application was, “Thank you for applying, but…” Not now!  Four months later, however, when I least expected it, “out of the blue” I received a call asking, “Can you come in and talk with us” – and Not now turned into Now!  Working with traditional-aged college students brought a whole new set of experiences and learning opportunities, challenges and fun times!

After five years with undeclared traditional students, when I saw the new position for Coordinator of Educational Programming for NACADA advertised, I immediately knew this would be a perfect avenue to bring the range of experiences I’d had to developing materials to help others who loved education as I did better assist their students.  This time, the answer was, “Yes, now”! And these past nine years at the NACADA “mother ship” have indeed proven to be rewarding beyond what I could ever have hoped for when starting my career.

There are so many things I have loved about all the areas I have been privileged to work with through my years at the NACADA EO – advising awards, publications, webinars, committees – as my position has transitioned from Coordinator to Assistant Director for Strategic Initiatives, but one of my favorite areas has been highlighted over the past couple of weeks as I have worked with the Emerging Leaders Program Advisory Board in the selection of the ELP Class for 2014-2016.

Carol-Leigh-CeciliaWorking with NACADA Emerging Leaders and their Mentors is one of the most energizing experiences of my career.  Just as I rejoiced in facilitating learning for my military students who so deeply appreciated the opportunities being given them to build a brighter future for themselves and their families, so I am thrilled to have opportunity to coordinate learning opportunities for these highly-motivated professionals who seek to give to their field of endeavor by honing their skills to become leaders of their professional association.  And what an amazing privilege and delight it is to be able to watch the “emerging” emerge and move into leadership roles, building a brighter future for advising professionals everywhere!

So, one of the most fun weeks of the year is when I get to send out the emails and letters to the newly chosen class that say, “You have been selected for the incoming class – your time is now!”  It seems appropriate that it comes in mid-April, just as Spring is arriving and the new buds are beginning to open all around us.  The excitement of the newly-selected ELPers, who realize they are about to begin new relationships and experiences that will encourage them to bud out and eventually bloom in new ways, is as rejuvenating as the daffodils showing up all around town.

But, of course, the flip side is that, because it is a highly competitive program, for every “Yes, now!” letter, there are several “Not now” letters that must be sent.  Having experienced the disappointment of receiving the “thank you…we appreciate your interest… it was a very difficult decision… not selected at this time” response to my efforts, I fully empathize with the let-down of each applicant’s hopes.  My heart aches with each one.  But the good news with this program is that Not now really does mean just that – not “no,” but just “not this time.”  A number of our Emerging Leaders have applied two, three, and even four times before getting to the “Yes, your time is now!”  I am so grateful that I work for an association that cares so much for each and every one of these that I am afforded the time to respond at length to each one who asks, “how can I strengthen my application to apply again next year?” – and that our application reviewers are willing to take the time to include detailed notes with their reviews so that I have that critical feedback to share with the applicants.

I believe in the concept of “to everything there is a season.”  There are times in our lives when we can determine for ourselves when to say “Now” or “Not now.”  Other times, we must work on while we wait and hope for forces outside ourselves to shift from Not now to Now.  But if a path is really the right one for us, and we persist in our efforts, our time will come!

 

Reiter, A. F. (2005).  Meet Joe White: New UI president talks about leadership, goals and responsibility.” llinois Alumni Magazine, 17(5), 20-23.

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