On Career Transitions and Remembering What You Learned

Got on my bike today for the first time in a couple of years.

Riding my bike is a concession to the chemo-caused neuropathy in my feet. I’ve faced a significant flare-up over the last couple of months which has forced me to stop running, at least for now. I attempted to run a St. Patrick’s Day-themed 6K last month that caused so much pain I almost scrubbed the race.

I can’t run, so I’ll ride. It’s a concession, but I love to get on my bike and have missed not making more time for it.

Transitioning to a new sport fits well with my word of the year: transformation.

As it happens, my career is undergoing a bit of a transformation as well. Monday morning, April 10, I return to the world of marketing and public relations when I join the communications team at Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

I’m looking forward to getting back in the saddle, so to speak, of full-time communications work. It was an opportunity I leapt at when it came, but making a career change is never easy.

When I arrived at the Knox County Health Department two-and-a-half years ago, I was looking for a refuge from the 24/7 cancer world. I loved the work I left, so much so that I returned to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network as a volunteer six months later. But at the time I needed a break and the health department was just the break I needed. In the short time I was there, I grew a lot, and I learned a great deal about public health, community assessment and planning, leadership, collaboration and so much more.

Most importantly, I am proud to have been the leader of an amazing team of people. While most of the 19 employees in my charge were wary and a bit afraid of the many changes I made in my early days, I am grateful that they trusted me and realized that I had their backs. Every day.

Some of my folks were terribly sad after I announced I was leaving. There were a couple instances of tears, even some anger. Mostly, though, there was understanding and encouragement. As my buddy John in building operations said, “I’ll miss you, but you gotta take the BBD (Bigger, Better Deal).”

During my last week, the most incredible thing happened. Notes appeared on my desk. Almost every day. Or they were hand delivered. Beautiful and heartfelt notes of thanksgiving for being a boss who truly supported his people. A former team member thanked me for encouraging her to seek another opportunity in the organization, where she is flourishing and loving her job.

I don’t share to brag. There are probably as many people who didn’t write notes who think I’m a complete asshole. The notes showed me, though, that we never know the impact we’re having on others unless they tell us. From my perspective, I was simply doing the best job I could. From their perspective, I was someone who listened. My employees felt they were heard.

That’s a big deal to me. Everyone deserves to be heard. I hope I remember that in this next chapter of my career, and in every aspect of my life.


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