In U.S. football, when the two teams are lined up before a play, a penalty is called if a defender improperly enters the neutral zone prior to the start of play. This can cause an offensive player to jump or false start before the play. The neutral zone is defined as the length of the football, 11 inches, from end to end. The only player allowed in the neutral zone is the offensive player snapping the ball. This penalty is called a neutral zone infraction.
For geeks like me, neutral zones are the buffers and borders of spacefaring civilizations requiring treaties and agreements; think Klingons and Romulans. Bigger than a football, these un-owned, unnamed, impartial spaces are meant to keep the peace.
We keep neutral zones around us, these somewhat safe places, to protect ourselves. Maybe we need to poke a few holes in them instead, make a few infractions. Let the air in. Or let it out.
You don’t last as long as I have in student affairs or any profession without recovery skills, so this article on resilience captured my attention. It featured a new British study where 75% of respondents identified “managing difficult people or office politics at work” as the most substantial impact to overall career stress.
The original study sought to gather stories of successful women as inspiration for women striving to advance in leadership. It found 90% of men and women surveyed credited resilience as important to their success, but only 6% found help in building this skill in their workplace. This may be a reminder that relationship skills and organization politics are smart topics for that next professional development meeting.
One final thought. What if you are the “difficult person” being managed?
At the end of last year, I was not selected for a promotion that I fiercely wanted and had stringently prepared. It was a position I had strived for in the past, only to be discouraged from applying due to lack of a terminal degree. This “job” was not the driving force behind completing my Ph.D., but the degree was one of a series of steps that I took to prepare for a “next step” in my career. Side note, being rejected from a dream job five days before holiday vacation is not ideal for one’s self-esteem and seasonal jocularity. I recommend against it all costs.
This year began with a new boss (not getting the “job” meant working for the person who did) and the adjustments that come with a change in leadership. It also began with a new opportunity.
A position with an education non-profit came on the horizon and a new job search began. For those of us who lament the prodigious time required for campus employment, this process reached new heights. Non-profits include a scaffolding of decision makers. Whether in discussion with a screening committee, organization leaders, elected board, and the membership; each audience sought a different answer and a different set of skills. The job posted in January and concluded with a hire announcement in late September (more on this later). A colleague termed it as the job search that rivaled a pregnancy.
Meanwhile, real life work this year included financial shortfalls, intense budget negotiations, staff reorganization to address financial shortfalls, a staff member on family leave, and a staff member following a partner to new employment. Even knowing in advance, it is difficult to prepare for the transition of a dedicated colleague. Rewriting position descriptions, preparing a search committee, waiting on HR approvals, the calendar was inching along. And all of this while attending to the needs of smart and amazing students (who sometimes have tragic days) and doing my best to be a good leader and mentor for the amazing student staff and graduate assistants that I am lucky to employ. The wiser than her years, Stacy Oliver-Sikorski, recently opined “There are really awful days amidst the really great days, and we need to be more honest with ourselves and others about that.”
Facing those “awful” days and separating work from family needs was complicated this year. I am enormously grateful for a loving and supportive partner who keeps me grounded. I am happy and proud to be mom to an amazing teen and tween who are high achieving and in search of their strengths. They are my most important work every day.
I will be embarking on a new adventure in the not so distant future. Despite every obstacle, 2014 will be remembered on the happy scale as the year that I resolved to get my dream job. And succeeded.
Anyone who has built a career in student affairs understands the power of resiliency. This article shared by my fellow seasoned professional Deb Schmidt-Rogers reminds us that the ability to bounce back is essential, particularly as we consider our work. How is your ability to grow through failure? How do you respond when things go wrong? Here are a few of my favorite articles on the topic.