In the last year, I have taken on an increasing number of official and unofficial mentees, ranging from professionals who are on an upward trajectory, to baby boomer women wanting to seize their moment before it passes them, and single mothers wondering if they should go back to school. What is different now is that I give more advice on risk-taking. My life is almost defined by the risks that I have taken, so I can speak to the value of taking both small and bold risks. I have learned as much from my failures as I have from my successes, in both the personal and professional realms. My integrity, ethics, authenticity, sense of purpose for my life, hard work, and my support network have guided the risks I have taken and made them each very meaningful.
Many of us in higher education, and probably most of us in the community college sector, choose to be in our fields because we seek to have an impact, to help improve the lives of others, to change the world even if in a minute way. Few professions allow that opportunity and many of us women are drawn to that. Talking to women within and outside of higher education who feel stuck and want to make progress in their careers or find meaning in their lives, I encourage them to take bigger and educated risks.
A year and a half ago, my family and I took a big leap of faith announcing to my then-employer that I would be leaving my job at the end of the academic year. The timing was perfect for my family to embark on an adventure. I was an Interim President. My husband was due to complete his degree and had not yet fallen hard for any job. With my partner’s support, I took a big leap of faith that soon turned scary. I realized that it was not job hunting season yet. We have two kids and a mortgage. My husband is a full-time student. There are no jobs posted. What was I thinking?
After a few months, the presidential search season started. I was a finalist in several searches and ultimately Cumberland County College and I found the right fit in each other. A few things distinguish this college from others, but above all, its potential to grow, to be even greater than it already is, and the potential for me to work with other leaders in the community to help move the needle on socioeconomic mobility within the County were very appealing.
Growing up and working in Boston, in many ways, being student-focused, entrepreneurial, a visionary and innovator are part of my DNA. Complementing my strengths with those of my colleagues and partners here makes us formidable forces to help advance an area of southern New Jersey that mirrors many other parts of rural America, where populations are becoming increasingly diverse, dying old fashioned manufacturing is giving way to other middle-skills jobs, and municipalities are working to prevent or reverse a brain drain. Taking a big risk turned into a professionally meaningful and fulfilling experience in a place of great natural beauty and diversity. Rural living is beautiful, and my family and I have embraced it fully.
To my sisters out there, I say lay the groundwork, then take a risk. Do as much homework as possible, play out the different scenarios, weigh the pros and cons, assess the costs—financial, emotional, and otherwise—and create your support system for when you falter, when you’re discouraged, or if you fail. Above all, do it with integrity. You may fail, but without having tried, your life becomes a series of “should haves and could haves.” Lead your life with your head held high and be bold.