Several years ago, my beloved boss abruptly took another job out of state. This departure, which transpired over the course of just a few weeks, meant saying goodbye to a man who allowed me to find my voice as a communications professional — and empowered me to make my voice heard.
It was a time of change that turned me inside out. I was angry, lonely, sometimes even a little bit desperate. But more than anything, I was afraid.
I work in school public relations, and if there’s one thing that my school PR family understands, it’s the nuance of the relationship between a communications director and a superintendent. And just how much (of everything else) depends on it.
Although I already had a solid working relationship with the man assigned to take over the position — and have thoroughly adored working for him in the six years since — the fear of the unknown paralyzed me. I was afraid of whether my newly discovered and increasingly confident professional voice would matter to my next boss. I was afraid of how the working dynamic would undoubtedly change. I feared I wouldn’t find the same level of chemistry and friendship with someone new.
I was afraid of the unknown.
But in my months-long process of fretting, I stumbled on this quote:
Become a student of change. It is the only thing that will remain constant.
-Anthony J. D’Angelo
We all know that change is constant, and hard. But this idea of becoming a student of change made me pause. To be a student of something means to sit with it and get to know it. To understand the ins and outs. And to embrace that fear cannot exist in a place of understanding. Becoming a student of change would allow me to take charge — to learn and grow, instead of being hostage to a force outside my control. Time (mercifully) passed, and things got easier as I took inventory and worked harder.
Fast forward to today, and I’m preparing for a yet-to-be-hired new superintendent. I won’t say I’m always comfortable with the unknown. But I can say that approaching this change as a change student opens up a space where I can operate without fear. (I should note that the fact we have every reason to believe the next superintendent here will be a great leader makes it far easier to do this.) With applications rolling in and my current superintendent on contract until the end of June, this road isn’t especially short. But here are five questions I am working on right now, as student of change:
- What specific skills or knowledge can I learn from this transitional process that will be valuable to me in the future?
- What activities or skills can I personally call on to steady my fretting?
- What specific skills or knowledge will I provide to make my new boss successful?
- What steps can I take to help my new boss learn about me, even before he or she takes the reins in July?
- What ideas will I take to my new boss — innovations or projects that I’ve been thinking about but haven’t moved on yet — at this time next year?
These questions have already begun to provide great insight and calm as I size up the next six months. If nothing else, they are specific, constructive thinking things that I can choose to use when those fretting-about-the-unknown moments come to visit.
How do you stay focused, intentional and constructive during times of transition and change?