I’ve learned that sometimes what seems right -- in terms of life goals and aspirations -- isn’t.
Shortly after I finished my PhD in Organizational Communication, I was recruited by a Midwestern college with a solid reputation. I was very excited that someone/anyone wanted me, even though I couldn’t imagine living among cornfields and dilapidated barns with no city life. (I had grown up in Washington, D.C., with all its culture and diversity.) Nonetheless, I was thrilled with the opportunity and prepared for the interview and site visit as if this were my destiny, the perfect job for me. I researched the university and the department. I practiced as many tough behavioral questions as I could think of with a friend. I chose my wardrobe carefully—not too flashy—classic blazer with gold buttons, white crisp shirt, and black skirt. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted the job.
For a day and a half, I interviewed with everyone in the department, toured the campus and presented my research at a faculty meeting. As I was preparing to leave the meeting, one older professor took my hand and wouldn’t let go. She looked at me from head to toe and back up again, and then uttered, “Hmmm…you look expensive to me.” I laughed and said, “Thank you!” Naively, I took it as a compliment, but it wasn’t. She was telling me that I didn’t fit in with the department’s low-key, don’t-rock-the-boat culture.
A few days later, the chair of the department called to tell me that the faculty had chosen someone else. I was stunned. I thought I had done a great job with the interview. I thought they liked me. Apparently, they did like me—liked me enough to know that someone like me would probably last only a year or two and then I’d be gone, lured away by bright lights and the big city. Crafting his words carefully, the chair described me as someone who was more than the department could handle.
In my heart of hearts I knew there was a compliment somewhere in that description, but all I felt at the moment was rejection. I was devastated. Years later, I know the faculty made the right decision for themselves—and for me. I didn’t fit in at a quiet Midwestern university.
A month after my painful rejection the dean from another university called and said he wanted to interview me. Still smarting from the experience with the Midwestern university, my opening salvo was: “Let me save you some time—if what you are looking for is someone who won’t rock the boat and who will just be a wall flower, then I’m not your ideal candidate!” There was a long silence on the other end of the phone and then a slight chortle. I could feel the smile in the dean’s voice when he said, “Oh, I think you’re going to fit in just perfectly here!” I got the job and I’ve never looked back.
So the question is—does your life fit you? Does your life match the dreams and ambitions you have for yourself or have you altered yourself to fit the dimensions of your life? What have you given up to make it work?
This October 25 & 26, you have the opportunity to try on some new ideas that may fit you better than what you have come to accept in your life. For two days – here, on www.womensconference.org -- you can watch the live webcast of The Women’s Conference 2010. Gather together at the office or at home with colleagues or friends and family to see and hear the most amazing speakers encourage you to become an Architect of Change in your own life and in your community. They will expand your thinking and challenge you to find the fit that engages your greatness.
I too will be taking it all in, trying on new concepts to see if I have outgrown any ideas I have about my own life. I’ll be looking for and listening to ideas and goals that fit me better now. (This may be one of the few times when going up a size is actually a good thing.)
Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications studies at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University.