“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up;
do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.”
Okay, true confessions . . .
If you read my most recent post–“What Would You Do For $10 Million?”–you are aware that a salary increase of $15,000/yr above the salary I made at the job I held at the time in Florida (Sept. 2008) was the biggest lure that convinced me to go Houston. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you the rest of the story. Yes, it was the biggest lure (indeed, if the salary had not been so much higher, I would not have gone to Houston), but it wasn’t the only reason I decided to go.
Most of us are familiar with Romans 8:28, but I want to put it into context with the verses surrounding it. Let’s read Romans 8:26-30: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
In early 2007, I began sensing a growing dissatisfaction with the path my life had taken. I had been working since July 2004 in a Christian setting after years of working in mostly secular environments. While I very much enjoyed being and working around others who shared my faith, and I loved the work I did which was helping adult students of all ages (from early 20’s to 70’s, in some cases) complete their college education, there was another side to me that I had left behind years before that I started to yearn for–a creative side.
I had been working in colleges and universities going back to the days when I was completing my bachelor’s degree. In fact, during the two years I was attending Iowa State University to complete my bachelor’s degree–1983-85–I was the editorial secretary for a journal that was housed there for those two years. My bachelor’s degree is in art and design, and I have always loved the “creative” process to including writing but I felt I was a mediocre writer at best (although I could whip out a memo or letter from scratch in no time as a secretary and always felt at home putting words on paper to express my ideas). My boss at the time even allowed me to put my “art and design” skills to work by creating one of the covers for the journal.
I was an adult student when I went back to college to finish my bachelor’s degree and I worked as a secretary before going back. At the time it was my desire to finish my bachelor’s degree in art and design so that I could go into a profession (a fairly new one at the time) called “Art Therapy,” but I also knew that would require me to go on and get a master’s degree. It was my desire to use my talents in “art and design” to help people that drew me to that particular profession. I did take 18 hours (six courses) of psychology as an undergraduate to prepare me for graduate work in art therapy; however, by the time I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I did not have the money to pay the out-of-state tuition at a university in Illinois that had an excellent art therapy graduate program. I had already accumulated a small debt in student loans finishing my bachelor’s degree, and did not want to add any more to that debt, especially with the high cost of out-of-state tuition. So, upon graduation, I went back to work as a secretary–first as the assistant editor for a regional fishing magazine that went down the tubes when the owner suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 41, and then as an administrative secretary for two curriculum directors in a K-12 system.
During the time I worked for the curriculum directors– 2 1/2 years–my passion for writing was whetted by the work that I did for them and I seriously started thinking about going back to Iowa State to work on a master’s degree in either creative writing or journalism. I knew if I could get a graduate assistantship it would pay a big part of the tuition so I wouldn’t have to take out any more student loans. In the fall of 1988 while I was working for the two curriculum directors (both women encouraged me to go back to college and get a master’s degree) I applied to be considered for a graduate assistantship but an entire year passed before I got a phone call at work (Nov. 1989) that would change my life’s direction. A man who was the Assistant Vice Provost at the time called to see if I was interested in interviewing for a graduate assistantship as the graduate student they had previously hired wasn’t working out. Well, I was elated (to say the least) and said, “Yes!” It was the first time I had to interview before a search committee but everything went very well and I was awarded the graduate assistantship to begin in January 1990.
Well, I quickly renewed my application to the graduate program in journalism (I had originally applied the year before) and was accepted, resigned my position effective January 12, 1990, as administrative secretary to the two curriculum directors, moved back to Ames and started work in the graduate assistantship that very next week. I quickly discovered in the journalism program that since my bachelor’s degree was in art and design (and not journalism) there was only one track I could take at the graduate level–research–and after my first semester I knew that “research” was not the direction I wanted to take (I could not see myself counting commas and semicolons for the rest of my working life). I worked around several other graduate assistants who were all in a graduate program called “higher education,” and during this first semester they convinced me to look into it, so I did. My graduate assistantship as “Graduate Student Orientation Coordinator” fit perfectly in the higher education program, so at the end of my first semester, I switched from journalism to higher education.
I loved working with graduate students, administrators, and others all across campus to create graduate student orientations/workshops and could envision myself doing this kind of work for the rest of my career (e.g., working on college campuses in some capacity). It was exciting to work with such a wide variety of people and put together the orientations/workshops that also put my creative skills to use. And, with some very frugal budgeting, the salary from my assistantship as well as the tuition stipend allowed me to pay all of my living expenses at the time along with the part of the tuition that wasn’t covered by the stipend. I had absolutely no student loan debt at the time I graduated with my master’s degree from Iowa State (August 1991).
Unfortunately, at that time the economy had tanked somewhat and there were a number of hiring freezes in higher education across the country so I found it difficult to find a job. I visited a friend in Colorado after I graduated in August 1991 and worked for a temporary agency there during the fall but ended up going back to Iowa at the end of November as the hiring freeze had not yet lifted. I found a temporary job at Iowa State as a secretary and shortly after was hired for a permanent secretarial position; however, I also noticed an ad in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” for a one-year doctoral fellowship in Higher Education at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and decided to apply for it. They only awarded two doctoral fellowships per academic year and I never really thought I had a chance in a million of receiving one of them, but long story short, I was one of the finalists and ended up being awarded one of the fellowships for the academic year 1992-93 that started on July 1st. I resigned my secretarial position at Iowa State in June 1992 and headed for Fort Lauderdale. I was able to complete all of my coursework and research projects towards a doctorate in adult education with the exception of the dissertation within that year. Finances along with some other circumstances prevented me from completing the degree within the seven-year time limit deadline.
So that’s the background on how I got into higher education in the first place, and that is where I have worked for the previous two decades until I lost my job in Houston in April 2009 which has left me unemployed right up through today. Throughout those years my very favorite part of each position I’ve held has been working directly with students (primarily adult students) of all ages and from all backgrounds at the undergraduate and graduate levels on-campus and online (which also honed my technology skills).
Now let’s go back to my growing discontent that hit in early 2007. Because my career aspirations in higher education did not include any desire for an upper level administrative position, I found myself really restless by remaining at the lower levels because of the lack of challenge. Also, because I have been a Christian since a very young age–which has markedly affected my worldview over my lifetime even during my prodigal years–I felt that my faith had grown stagnant along with my sense of purpose in the work I’d been doing even though I loved working with the students.
In early 2007, I started praying for God to change my life and to get me out of the field of higher education if that is what He wanted me to do. I knew He’d have to open the door as after spending two decades in higher education, I knew how hard it would be to find a job in another field, especially at my age. The division I worked in at the time had grown impressively since 2004 when I started working there, and we grew from four staff members to eleven and from approximate 80-100 adult students to close to 750 over the course of three years. However, at the end of 2007 the administration at the university informed us that our division was being dismantled in January 2008. This came as a huge shock and blow to those of us who worked in that division.
At that point, I knew that God was at work in my circumstances regarding my prayer that started a year earlier. I was ready for a change, but I had no clue as to the direction I should take and I was fearful of leaving that job; however, the dismantling of my division ended that fear. While I was one of the fortunate staff members who didn’t lose my job and I wasn’t demoted in title or pay, everything changed, and my whole reason for being at that university suddenly ended as there was no longer a separate division known as adult and continuing education. So, I started looking at job openings and I did have an interview for an assistant dean position at another college nearby that didn’t pan out.
In May 2008 I noticed the ad for the director position in Houston that I was eventually offered and ended up accepting. While, in fact, the salary was the biggest reason that convinced me to go (if it had been less even by a few thousand dollars I would not have accepted it), the other reason I wanted to go was because of the environment. You see, it was a very creative higher education environment, unlike any other I had worked in during my two decades in higher education. Those old passions that had died years earlier suddenly came to life again. I figured that once I got settled into the job, I’d take some photography and web design classes, maybe even a class in creative writing (after all, the tuition was paid for by the employer after the first six months of employment), although at this point in time I had fallen in love with the creative side of technology. I’m not sure even to this day that I would have taken that job if it had been just another job in yet another college or university like my previous years of experiences. However, when I was offered the salary at the highest starting level for the position without any negotiation on my part, that–as well as the type of very creative environment it was in–clinched the deal. And so I went.
God has His reasons for everything that happens to us–the good, the bad, and, yes, even the really, really ugly stuff. He really does causes ALL things to work together for good to those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). In the past four years since arriving in Houston and, subsequently, being fired almost seven months later, I’ve been through the really, really ugly stuff, but from the midst of the ugly stuff, God has changed me from the inside out. My faith that was faltering is now vibrant, and I can’t imagine living life on the fringes anymore. While it’s been 3 1/2 years since I was fired from that job, in the past year and a half my passion for writing has exploded on the pages of this blog. In fact, I can’t stop . . . everyday something new crosses my path, and the world has opened up to me in a way that never would have happened if all of that “ugly stuff” hadn’t been a part of my life. And yes, I’m still unemployed by society’s standards, but we who truly believe in God through Jesus Christ “live (and walk) by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Society’s labels don’t matter.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). “He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will . . . for those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom. 8:26-30).
“Predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son . . . .” For the Christian, that’s what this life is all about. And it’s in the “ugly stuff” that life sends our way that we come face-to-face and experience this truth, if we let it . . .
. . . because it’s not about us, it’s about Him . . . .
“And the God of all grace,
who called you to His eternal glory in Christ,
after you have suffered a little while,
will Himself restore you
and make you strong,
firm and steadfast.
To Him be the power for ever and ever.
1 Peter 5:10-11
YouTube Video: “Beginnings” by Chicago (1969):
Photo credit here