Riding the Storm Out: Dealing with Job Transitions
I was driving down the interstate the other day when I heard “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” a 1973 song performed by REO Speedwagon. I have heard this song hundreds of times, but this particular time it stuck with me for several days.
If you read the Free Dictionary definition by Farlex, “riding the storm out” means to weather the storm, to continue to exist and not be harmed during very difficult periods. In the Bible, Acts 27:44, Paul is on a ship—when the ship begins to sink, everyone on the ship somehow survives. The key meaning for “riding the storm out” as it relates to our profession is the fact that things happen to us all of the time and we have to survive difficult times of transition. Have you ever looked back on your career and remembered these times? More importantly, have you learned anything from these times?
The simple fact is in our profession you have no say over every element in your life and career. Many times, events or activities will be completely out of your control. Whether you are active or passive, you may be a victim of a situational time-and-place scenario. I have seen things happen to my peers and me. In the majority of cases, events have placed us in a situation of transition where we have to ride the storm out and move on. Most of us perform very well and meet goals and objectives, and yet changes occur that are out of our control. The good news with bad outcomes is we learn to cope and adjust to transitions and try to understand them. In some ways we become hardened over time and understand it is the nature of the nonprofit profession.
Some examples that I have personally experienced or seen include:
- Someone who hired me got into a power struggle with another individual for a leadership position. The person who did not hire me won the position and it affected my tenure rightly or wrongly. It is titled “guilt by association.”
- A vice president of development hired a public relations director. The vice president of development was fired. The public relations director started employment on the same day the new vice president of university relations began his tenure. The relationship did not begin or end well for the public relations director the former vice president hired. The reason for the quick vice president hiring, which did not include a search, was due to the fact that the title of the position changed, but the responsibilities remained the same. I am still confused by the bait and switch.
- A vice president for development hired me and suffered a nervous breakdown one month into my tenure. The president asked me to deal with this issue. This scenario shortened my tenure. The president had no moral compass.
- I witnessed a vice president work for five presidents in his eight years on the job. The president who hired him left after the vice president had only worked at the job for eight months. Needless to say, the stress level and change level was high for that poor individual.
- As a consultant, I interfaced with a vice president who was doing a great job and directed a number of capital campaigns. He was at an institution for a number of years. One day he got a random call from a board member that asked, “You are still there?” Five days later he was called into a meeting with the president, human resources director and a witness, who terminated him basically because the new female president wanted a woman in his place.
- I worked at an institution that was having financial difficulties and directed a program that won an award in the improvement category from a national organization. I had not been there a long time when one day the president called me into his office and said he was eliminating my entire staff, including me, basically because he “felt like it.” What a wake-up call. I had an interesting time riding that storm out in a town with limited, similar job opportunities.
Life and careers in our profession are like weather systems. Everything is dynamic, never static. Never take anything for granted and always be prepared. If you choose this profession, you will spend some time riding the storm out. How long you choose to ride it out will depend on you. If there is any good news from this experience, the older you get, the better able you are to deal with it emotionally. Make sure you educate your family on being prepared to deal with job transitions. Unfortunately, it is the nature of this business.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.