On Gratitude, Agility and Career Transitions

When I was a teenager, I thought I had it all figured out: My life and career would be a logical series of steps and accomplishments. I’d go to college, earn an officer’s commission in the U.S. Navy, see the world. Then, I’d probably go to law school and enjoy another set of logical steps of accomplishments toward “success” in the civilian world. 

Reality, of course, is different. 

Life—and careers—are often full of twists and turns, punctuated by triumphs and failures. Some of those ups and downs are big and public, most are small and private. It’s a journey that I’ve found to be best accomplished by a sense of agility, by being nimble and trying to make a positive difference in whatever opportunity arises. 

In those early years, I never would have predicted that in the next two decades I would have:

  • Spent my most rewarding tour of duty in the Navy as a reservist called back to active duty in the landlocked country of Afghanistan,
  • Earned a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. in organizational science (I was a political science and communication studies double major as an undergraduate), or
  • Served for five years as a member of the faculty of the Haile/US Bank College of Business at Northern Kentucky University (NKU). 

And it’s on this last point—my role as an assistant professor in the Department of Management at NKU—that I’d like to focus. Although I haven’t been on campus since the spring semester ended a few months ago, this week is technically my last one at NKU. I’m moving on to a tremendously exciting opportunity as a member of the faculty of the Monte Ahuja College of Business at Cleveland State University.

As I look back at the various roles I’ve held and organizations within which I’ve served, I’m reminded of how each experience taught me something new, making me simultaneously more confident and more humble than before. I’m also reminded of how so much of these experiences is shaped by special people and numerous small interactions that together have made me a better person. 

Regarding NKU, then, I’d like to do something I haven’t done before, or at least in this way. I’d like to express my gratitude to those people—fellow professors, staff members, administrators, students, and other members of the campus community—who, more than anything, infused me with additional passion for higher education. 

NKU is full of smart, hard-working and caring people. People who:

  • Debate at length different ways to improve student learning,
  • Teach with passion and celebrate when students succeed,
  • Support each other’s efforts to innovate or try new things, 
  • Get to know each other personally and professionally, and
  • Engage the community throughout Northern Kentucky and the greater Cincinnati area through research and learning through service.

I’m particularly grateful for all of the members of the Department of Management, the Executive Leadership and Organizational Change program and the Haile/US Bank College of Business at large for their personal and collective support of me, my development and my work. 

Their support to me was unwavering, despite the odd challenges that I posed. For example, during my entire time at NKU, I lived 250 miles away. My department leaders understood this and helped when possible to make my teaching schedule work well given my situation. And when I told them that I’d have to leave for one year to serve in Afghanistan, their response was nothing short of total support and gratitude for my military service. 

Thank you, NKU. 

As I make this transition, I think an underlying lesson that I’ve learned is that gratitude and agility go hand-in-hand. To be agile as leaders or in our careers, we have to lean on those around us. We have to build and maintain relationships. We must be open and humble to learn from others. 

And to keep all of that going for the long term, we must be grateful for the people we have the privilege to work alongside during this journey of life. All of you amazing NKU people will forever be my colleagues and friends. 

Now as for my colleagues at Cleveland State University, I can hardly wait to learn from you and figure out ways to contribute positively through what we do together. 

In the words of one of my former bosses, John Bland at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, for whom I’m also grateful: Onward!

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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. More at www.benbaran.com and www.agilityconsulting.com.