Life Goes On…Learning from Disappointment

Of the many things a tested leader must gain along the journey, it is learning to live with disappointment.  Often, the times we have stumbled are the most valuable life lessons.

In early 2003, I decided to apply for a presidency.  I felt ready to ascend to the helm of an institution and I saw myself as a good fit, as posted by the position description.  I did my homework, valiantly wrote and re-wrote the application, pressed the send button and waited.  And waited…and waited… The first lesson learned was a search has a life of its own and patience is a virtue.  Finally, after several weeks, I was selected to come to the “first round” of interviews.

While preparing for the big day I researched the institution (more) thoroughly, practiced answering mock questions with a friend/coach, rehearsed even the most absurd topics and bought a new outfit.  On a cold and snowy day, I arrived at a hotel where the search committee was waiting.  While nervous (of course) I did the thing I usually do on these occasions – I visualized myself as being the triumphant candidate.  The interview was grueling but less so than my anticipation.

And once again I waited.

I was invited as one of the select few to come on campus for a full day of interviews.  Faculty, staff, students, community members –  all had the opportunity to put me under the microscope, stump me with the most perplexing questions and give the proverbial thumbs up or down on my candidacy.  To my amazement, I passed this next test and was now one of three!

But wait!  There was still one more round of the process – the Chancellor and the Board.  Several weeks passed and I was invited to the inner sanctum of the system office where once again a full day of interviews were slated.

At this point I knew through confidential sources I was the candidate of choice from the college.  Their review of my candidacy had confirmed my credentials, credibility and “fit.” With this confidently in hand, I believed in myself.  Girded with that endorsement, I was sure I had the job in hand.

What I had not prepared for was a Board and Chancellor that had other plans.  That my skills, abilities and knowledge were not what they were looking for nor was I their candidate of choice.  At the end of the arduous day, I was informed I would not be recommended to the Board for appointment.

I was devastated.  I thought my professional life was over.  And I certainly thought I would never seek the office of president again.

After doing a bit of sulking, licking my wounds and surviving what I perceived to be a lethal blow, I began reflecting on the experience.  The fact that the college really wanted me was heartening.  I knew I had “connected” in a way that resonated with them.  I had done well in a series of challenging, exposing and often very personal interviews.  I had let myself be known to strangers like no other time in my life.  In a strange way, it gave me confidence I hadn’t known prior to the experience.

What were the self-reflection steps I took to gain insight into myself?  First, I had to be willing to learn about myself.  That is not always an easy step.  I live by Socrate’s mantra “The unexamined life is not worth living” and reflecting on experiences is a great teacher.  I sought advice from my mentor.  I value her insight and candor and she both reassured me and challenged me with acquiring new skills to be better prepared next time.  I learned more about “fit” than I had before – that it is defined differently depending on the audience and it continuously changes.  I learned that political knowledge of a college and a system is just as important as knowing the programs and organizational chart.

But above all, it taught me that sometimes you may go through what seems like a career-threatening blow, only to live another day!  Amazing!  I went on to continue in my Vice President role.   Then some years hence, with more experience behind me and ready to apply again, I came to Glendale Community College.

From the dust of despair, comes serendipity and the job of a lifetime.

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