Taking the leap: Switching careers mid-pandemic

| Administrative & Academic Cluster Supervisor

As someone who typically frowns upon being told they’re part of a “movement” or statistic, it took me a moment to realize that my acceptance of a position at Washington University mid-pandemic meant that yes — I was a part of “The Great Resignation.”

Me being hired at WashU was actually indicative of more than a change in employment or my participation in a global shift (to me); being hired at WashU meant that I was leaving an entire career. I’d leapt out of the safety nest of gainful employment into the Great Unknown of “New.” 

It was the most frightening jump of my life.

The pandemic seemed to push fear through all of our veins, and I found myself increasingly afraid I was wasting 40 hours a week being miserable.

In my early twenties, a meeting with a doctor in a small practice led me to a career in healthcare administration that spanned over twenty years. It wasn’t what I went to college for, but everything I’d learned in school helped me to excel in the field. From patient care to marketing, conference planning, research, contract negotiations, working with underserved schools, and billing and coding, by the time I had left my most recent position, there wasn’t a back-office administrative task I hadn’t been involved with at one point or another. 

Healthcare was my home…or was it?

It’s amazing how much someone will lie to themselves in the interest of staying in their comfort zone.

When the pandemic hit, communication was increasingly confusing; demands came down to us without support (everyone was still trying to figure out exactly what kind of support we needed) or additional pay. Tempers became shorter, and before I knew it, I found myself in the middle of a heavy burnout without any signs of hope. 

This was all I knew — the risks of starting over outweighed the benefits, didn’t it? I spoke with a friend who worked at WashU that knew of an opening as an Academic & Administrative Coordinator. What could I possibly know of academics?

I took the plunge and applied, and it was in my first interview that I learned one of the greatest phrases of my career: “transferable skills.” Those two words have changed my life. Transferable skills means that you take everything that makes you great at whatever your current job is, and you learn how to translate it through the lens of the job you want. Was I skilled at billing and coding? Great! Coding carries similar concepts in relation to course data entry. Was I skilled at patient communication and medical compliance? Great! Those are similar concepts to faculty, staff, and student communication, and FERPA. Everything you do can be filtered through and applied to wherever it is that you want to be employed, if you have the baseline skills. 

The supervisor who interviewed me was as interested in my potential as I was in the position, and I’m fortunate enough to say that I was hired. My first six months were a whirlwind of training, with no shortage of laughter and tears. I was terrified every day that I’d made a huge mistake and was on the cusp of termination. Every time I had the courage to admit to my boss that I was afraid, he would remind me of the positive changes he’d seen in my performance as I continued trying to learn everything I could. Leaving everything I’d ever known, career-wise, showed me that I could do the “hard” things, and I began to find myself less afraid. 

I’d ask questions in meetings. I stopped getting lost on campus. I learned that my “outsider” perspective on certain things gave me a fresh outlook on concepts that needed a different approach. I finally began to put names and faces together, and faculty and students began to swing by my office to engage in conversation. In my position, I had immeasurable support and encouragement from my direct supervisor, faculty, and fellow staff members; this environment helped me break through all of my lingering fears and to flourish in my tasks and in my relationships. 

After a year in my position as an Academic & Administrative Coordinator, I was promoted to being a Supervisor in the Arts & Sciences Cluster. When I look back at my career in healthcare and I celebrate my accomplishments and the journey as a whole, I’m grateful for the relationships I’ve cultivated and the progress I’ve made. However, I’m even more grateful for and proud of taking the chance to try something completely different. I’ve found a new fulfillment and a joy in working for Washington University that had faded away from my previous career. The pandemic forced me to take another look — it pushed me to the edge of the mountain. Washington University gave me the parachute I needed to take a leap into enjoying my job again, and the faculty, staff, and students have given me the landing ground I need to get up and try it again, every single day. 

Being miserable or burned out on the job carries over into every facet of your life. Although it’s frightening, it is well worth the adventure to take the leap into something new that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Finding your “transferable skills” could be the very key that unlocks your new adventure and changes your life!

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