How to Communicate That You’ve Changed Your Mind

Posted by on Jan 16, 2012 in General, Interpersonal Communication | 5 comments

(Two quick notes: First, college students, did you know that Zinch has partnered with HerCampus to create the “More Than a Test Score” $1,000 scholarship? Send in an essay about your dream!

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Okay, now on to my mini-intro–and, yes, this post is a day early since I’ll be away the next couple days…

With the housing changes that I wrote about in this post, I’ve been thinking about what it means when we feel uncomfortable and may need to make a change. Often, we’re afraid to talk about it, much less take action. In phase 2 of your first year of college–a new term–the honeymoon of your major, and even the college, itself, may begin to end and you might think, “Hmm… something isn’t feeling right.” So, here we go… I’m ready to talk. Along the way, you’ll learn a little bit more about how I changed my mind and fell into teaching! It’s a long and windy story, but stay with it, if you can…).
 

Last year, I wrote this post that discussed my father dying when I tried to go back to college. I mentioned that it took me six years to return, which I didn’t exactly plan. There was a huge gap in that post that I didn’t discuss about my six-year hiatus.

I’m going to do a little gap-filling…

Is she telling her grandmother
that she’s changed her mind?

I initially started college to go into journalism. I’ve always loved, loved, loved (just a little bit, can you tell?) writing, and I landed quite a few freelance gigs that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Then, my father unexpectedly died. My parents were already divorced, so without strong family support (emotionally or financially), I decided that my best course of action was to put a solid roof over my head. I was only 21 at the time. I could have continued my education, but having my own place to live seemed like a greater necessity.

So I used what little money my father left me (I’m an only child) as a down payment for a small condo. Then, I had to figure out how to pay the mortgage.

I saw a job ad: “Fast typist, flexible hours.”

One of the greatest things my mother did for me was teach me how to type when I was around 9 or 10. She said, “If you can type, you’ll always find work.” She was taking a secretarial course; I was a pesky kid. With my fingers plunking, my mouth was closed.

By high school, I typed 110 words per minute. My mother was right: I applied for that job and was hired immediately.

Talk about falling into a career:  There I was, suddenly typing medical notes for a surgeon’s office. Six years later, I didn’t have a degree, but I did have my own medical transcription service. I enjoyed secure, stable clientele, and I was making good money.

I didn’t really think about whether or not I liked the work. I was, by all accounts, doing well. I sold my condo and bought a small house at age 24. My parents never owned a home in their 15 years of marriage, so to them, and to my grandparents, I was living the high life.

But then, an opportunity changed everything: My local community college had an emergency evening opening for a medical transcription instructor. I had already been teaching some continuing ed classes on running a successful transcription business, so they tapped me. I didn’t need a degree to teach because these were not transfer programs. I needed experience and energy.

Check and check.

The minute I started teaching, I knew that something in my life had been missing.

It was called career satisfaction.

I absolutely loved the energy of a college campus. I adored my students: Women who were striving to learn a trade that would enable them to support themselves well. I also relished the opportunity to publicly speak all the time (I had been a long-time Toastmaster).

After a year or so, the division chair said, “Your evaluations are fantastic. The students just love you.”

I responded like a panting dog, “I love them! I want to do this full-time! What do I need to do?”

Then, she dropped the bomb: “Well, to teach on tenure-track, you need at least a Master’s degree.”

Crap. I didn’t even have an Associate’s degree at that point.

I found out what I had to do from others who knew more (the same advice I’m going to give you in a minute) and I did it. I kept my transcription business going. I kept teaching those classes at night. I went back to school… and took as many credits as I could stand (we’re talking 15-20).

My family was not supportive of my decision, even though I was funding the education, just like I had before my dad passed.

I remember my grandmother saying, “Why do you need to change? You already have a good job.

I guess I didn’t “need” to change… but I needed to change.

I am a complete and total extrovert, but I was sitting in my little condo 8-10 hours a day transcribing.

I am now a nine-time 1/2 marathoner (waddling, but still), but I was following my family’s pattern of morbid obesity and inactivity.

I am currently in a career that I realize is every bit of my authentic self. And Oprah Winfrey (still love her!) says, “When you find your authentic self, the doors open.”

That’s what happened to me… Ever since I made the decision to go back to college and become a professor, the path has been paved with more and more opportunity and intense gratification. Just look at my bio and you’ll see how lucky I have been. Not every moment has been easy, but even the hard parts have been fulfilling.

So why am I telling you all of this?

I just contributed to a piece written by those fabulous MyFootpath folks about what to do if you’re a “major hater”–as in, you dislike your major immensely… not that you extensively hate the whole world. Then, I unexpectedly had to go to Urgent Care this weekend (I’m fine…), and another sign about this topic presented itself.


The lovely receptionist and I started chatting (I was the only one there… can you believe? For a Saturday morning?). She’s 21 and about to attend one of our local colleges. I asked about her major and she paused, then said (I’m paraphrasing here…):

“Well, I thought I wanted to be a nurse, but then I realized I’m not the greatest at book learning. Then I thought I might want to go into banking, but that wasn’t right for me either. Then I thought about going into medical assisting, but after finding out more about the medical field by working here, I changed my mind.”

“So what did you land on as a major?” I asked, intrigued and full of admiration for her honesty.

“I have always been into graphic technology and I’m very good at working with computers and designing things. I would love to design video games and I’d even love to write.”

“Well,” I said, smiling. “Both of those things can happen.”

I know they can. I, too, defected from a career that wasn’t right for me.

I didn’t have a chance to ask this young woman how she communicated those changes to others in her life. Other patients began filtering in because it was a Saturday in an Urgent Care, after all.

In my teaching, I try to help my students find out what’s really involved in their potential careers: For their first informative speech, instead of researching a general topic, students dive into career exploration: What does a day truly look like? What salary can they expect? What soft skills should they acquire?

I have been amazed by how many students give this speech and then reveal that after doing some research, they’ve changed their minds or decided to go in an entirely different direction.

So what’s the communication lesson here?

When my grandmother asked me why I needed to rock the boat when I was already in a “fine job,” I didn’t know what to say. I knew that my grandfather sacrificed a successful music career and ended his working years as proprietor of a washing machine service. I didn’t think my grandmother would resonate with me suddenly realizing that I wasn’t fulfilled.

If your family or friends likewise offer a bold or subtle opinion about your impending change, try to stick to facts, preferably, after you have some. Like I said in the MyFootpath piece, you have to do some investigation. Here’s how those conversations can go down:

Professors/Those in the Field: 
Talk to a professor who is in the field you’re thinking of leaving, as well as a prof in the field you’re thinking of joining.

For the first prof, discuss your specific concerns. Say, “I have been rethinking this major/career path because I’m concerned that __________.” This is the time to get out all of your rational and irrational thoughts. Get the facts!

For the next prof, discuss what you think are the facts. Say, “I’m thinking of changing course and I want to make sure I have the right information about this major/career before I make a final decision.”

Also, you could ask each prof, “Could you refer me to someone currently working in this field so I can learn more?” Even a phone conversation could give you tremendous insight.

Your college probably has a career center, and that’s another wonderful place to gather facts. In fact, if you are attending a university, you could certainly check into the career center at a community college… and vice versa. One of the things I loved about being a student is that it gives you such a beautiful excuse to do investigation. People hear, “I’m a student…” and they are often primed (and honored!) to share information.

Academic Advisers: 
Of course, you’ll want to talk to your academic adviser and say, “How will making this change affect the credits I’ve currently taken? How will my overall course plan be affected?

Your adviser for the new program can help, too. Ask, “Does this program allow elective credits so I can transfer some of my existing classes? How many credits are required for a minor in my former major area? Are there any possibilities for substitutions?” You never know until you ask, right?

Then, Your Family, Friends, or Anyone Else Who Cares About You
Now, let’s talk get back to the most challenging part of communicating your change:  Talking to those close to you.

Always start with hard facts first. Logic tends to resonate with people far more easily than emotions, which can be so fickle. Tell your family or friends what you’ve already learned. Here is what I would have said to my grandmother if I knew then what I know now:

“Grandma, I really appreciate how concerned you are about me and I know that my job looks like it’s a great fit for me. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t until I was able to try something else. I’ve done quite a bit of research and here’s what I found out: I do need to go back to school to become a professor, and it is expensive. But, I can pay for my undergraduate degree while I’m earning money through transcription and teaching.

Then, if I do well in school, I can apply for a graduate assistantship, which will cover the cost of my Master’s tuition and I’ll make a small stipend. Granted, I’ll have to work pretty hard since I have my mortgage and bills… I’ll keep transcribing for my clients, keep teaching my night classes, and then I’ll have to work at the university for the assistantship, but I am determined to try and do it.

The worst that will happen is that I’ll decide to teach transcription at the college level, but at least I’ll have the credentials for that with an advanced degree.”

(Then, it’s okay to insert some emotion before you close…)

“I feel pretty scared that I’m changing my mind this way, especially since I was so sure about my path. But I hope you’ll support me as I continue to figure things out. I’m glad to answer any of your questions or concerns about what I’m doing. If I don’t know the answers, then I’ll realize I have more to find out, too.”  

Defensiveness is a quick and easy go-to place for any of us. However, the more humility and realness we can show, the harder it is for someone to criticize.

As you know, I decided that I didn’t even want to teach transcription long-term. My years in Toastmasters, the fact that I happily worked to rise up the ranks of the organization and I rarely missed meetings, told me that public speaking and communication was where I needed to be.

Interesting how some changes pan out, isn’t it?

And I guess I’ve come full-circle to some degree:  Here I am, writing about my passion point–communication, students, college–now in my ninth month of blogging with over 13,000 visitors (abundant thanks to you!!!!).

I just landed a publisher (which I’ll discuss in a future post) and am hard at work finishing “Say This, NOT That to Your Professor:  42 Talking Tips for College Success” for release this graduation season.

My career path was supposed to begin in writing, but then I was diverted… two times over.

I guess that other part of my authentic self is finding its way back. 

Students, are you struggling with any “major change”? What conversations would help you figure out your next move? Colleagues in education and out, what happened when you had to make some major changes in your education or career? I’d love to hear those stories, and even compile them for a future blog post!

5 Comments

  1. It was a long one, Ellen -> but worth the read. Probably could have broken it up into bite sized chunks because the content was outstanding. I hope the length doesn't dissuade people from making it through it all.

    Loved the advice, and I liked reading about your own personal adventures that got you to the point of being a Chatty Professor.

    I've Stumbled this and highly recommend to students.

  2. Great story of making IT happen for yourself. I've been blessed to have two careers that were fulfilling. The first petered out but the current one is just beginning and the journey is fun, exciting, anxiety-producing, and oh-so-rewarding (not yet financially).

    Thanks for sharing. We all can do it…we just need to be willing to put in the effort and maybe have a little luck, too!

  3. Thank you, Brian, and I appreciate the advice. I need to work on brevity, for sure! I'm still finding myself as a blogger and I always appreciate advice that will strengthen me. I also thank you for sharing this piece. I'm sorry for the delayed response. We've had some big snow here for Seattle, so more kid-at-home time than usual :-) . Be well! Ellen

  4. Bruce,

    Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful comment. I was doing a little reading on your blog when working on my recent project and saw your amazing "other life" bio So very inspiring, and I believe we ride that momentum for our next steps.

    I agree with you about the effort, and I bet we both have luck in store.

    I look forward to catching up with you in early February when my book deadline is (hopefully!) met.

    Many thanks,
    Ellen

  5. It’s an amazing post in support of all the web people; they will get
    benefit from it I am sure.

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