In Order to Grow You've Gotta GO!


My mother recently retired from the United States Postal Service after 33 years in Atlanta, Georgia. She was a single parent much of her adult life, raising two children, and we have the good ole USPS to thank for keeping food on the table and clothes on our backs. When I think about my mom, I see her as a pioneer. She grew up in rural Georgia in the early 1960s and 70s. She attended segregated schools (yes, they still existed) and experienced the emotional trauma of integration. With nearly perfect grades as a senior in high school, her counselors advised her that college was not for her, despite her stellar academic achievements. Unfortunately, she did not have anyone to tell her otherwise as her parents did not attend college.


So, she left Hart County, Georgia, traveled to Atlanta, and the rest is history. She spent her entire life in Georgia and she provided a stable life for her children without attending college. Now in her retirement years, she is taking classes to earn her CNA degree and is open to traveling and seeing what the world has to offer.


Why am I telling you this? Well, the world is changing. People are different, and the stories of folks remaining at a job for 30+ years is becoming something for the history books (although this is a wonderful accomplishment). When my mother sent me to college, I had originally planned to become a high school band director and I wanted to move back to Georgia to live closer to her. One event led to another, and I am now living in my 5th state after I left home in 2002. 


This was not the original plan. Even after I moved to Texas, I was going to stay and earn tenure as a faculty member. There was no vision at that time for administration. After becoming a faculty senate president and witnessing the various levels of community college administration, I wanted more. Specifically, I wanted to have a broader impact on students outside of those I taught from August to June of each year.


I was in a large college system in Houston and progressed through the academic ranks, achieving a dean's position. I thought, "this was it."  I was on my way to earning a Vice President's position and would remain in that college system for my career. Trust me, I tried to stay, but I hit the infamous "Glass Ceiling," while my other more seasoned colleagues were promoted. I applied for Vice President positions and was often told that I was too young. I even had one person tell me "you need to bake in the oven a little longer."


After a couple of crushing defeats, recruiters telling me I was not qualified, or those infamous emails saying the position was filled, I decided to expand my portfolio and move to a separate college further away, but still in Texas. The entire time, though, I never lost that itch to become a VP.


Here is where the support of family comes. At the time we had two children (Lyric and Izzy) and my husband was working in the university sector of higher ed. Once I came to terms that I would not get any higher than a dean in Texas, we pulled out a map and circled the places we were NOT willing to travel to. States like Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi were immediately identified as places we would never, under any circumstances move to (use your imagination). This left a wide range of options available to us. And again, the rest is history.


In today's time, it is difficult to move up the ladder and stay in one place. Remember, in order to grow you've gotta go. We stayed in Florida for 8 years, Texas for 6 years, and New York for 3 years. One day we will make our way back to family in Georgia, but honestly, we enjoy traveling and the adventures that lie ahead in each state we have visited. Our children have seen more than what we saw at this stage in our lives. All I knew was Stone Mountain, Georgia, and the occasional vacations we were able to afford as a child. But our kids have seen different people, places, and cultures in a matter of almost 15 years. While there are some obvious disadvantages to this, Isiah and I have focused on keeping a close eye on the kiddies to ensure their positive well-being.


In addition to the children, our various moves have been difficult on our extended families. When the news broke of the opportunity to relocate to Texas, my mother was naturally worried to have her youngest daughter and her only grandchild at the time move halfway across the country. My husband's family was also initially worried about him going from Florida to Texas as they were when we went from Texas to New York and now New York to Washington state.


It is not easy. We do not have easy access to a babysitter. Our families are not down the street and around the corner (that is actually a good thing). But that forces us to rely on each other. Our bond as a family, is tighter than ever before. As partners in marriage and as professionals, we have learned to sacrifice and make it happen along the journey. There have been good times as well as bad, but we have learned to stay true to ourselves during this process.


You may be questioning whether to make the big move. Will your spouse be supportive? How will your kids respond? And then there is the family to consider. These are extremely personal choices and no one can make them for you but you. We chose early on to not live with regrets and to not let others define our careers or lives. When Isiah and I earned our doctoral degrees, we made a commitment to each other, to our children, and to making this world a better place. The only way we have been able to get close to our goals is to move around. 


We met some truly incredible people along the way. I've made friendships that will last a lifetime. I admire strong women like Jenn and Denise from my first neighborhood in Saddlebrook Ranch and couples like the Fountains (Steve and Demetria). Women like Debbie (aka, Debster) and Fig that made sure we had what we needed at Lone Star College - University Park. Colleagues that are now friends: Brian, Dr. B., Tony, Uche, Sarah, Anastasia, Amy, Bridget, Linda, John, Kim, Lindsay, Chris, and Julie. Then there is Janice who taught me the importance of beauty to enhance your features and not to create a different person. It is because of Janice that I will NOT leave the house without  foundation on!


I've met amazing community activists dedicated to defeating the stereotype and giving the underrepresented a voice. Fearless Queens such as Gwen, Lisa, Ocesa, Evelyn, Helen, Nati, Twiggy, Adrianne, Juhanna and countless others that are rolling up their sleeves to get the work done. Finally, other presidents that served as a personal inspiration for me as I moved around in this journey. Merrill, Ty, Orinthia, Casey, Shah, Annette, Aneesa, and so many others that have formed a support network like none other. I would not have this amazing network if I stayed still, in one place.


Don't get lost in the sauce at your job because everybody is replaceable. Let me say that again. EVERYBODY is replaceable. No matter how good you are, people will move on when you are gone. With this in mind, take a leap of faith, and say yes only if it is right for you. You will not regret it, just make sure you live close to a major airport and a Macy's (you never know when you will need a crispy new suit).


For my mother and my ancestors who came before me and could not leave their homes or receive an education, I am doing this for them and standing on their shoulders. 


What will you decide?


Let me know your thoughts below!



Write a comment

Comments: 17
  • #1

    Brenda Barros-Rivera (Saturday, 29 June 2019 08:21)

    I’m actually deciding this right now as I am applying for faculty positions. This was really good food for thought. Thanks!

  • #2

    Daniel Villanueva (Saturday, 29 June 2019 08:22)

    Loved the message! You’re so very right, you’ve got to go to grow.

  • #3

    Yarneccia D. Dyson (Saturday, 29 June 2019 08:57)

    Dr. Willis, I am so inspired by you!! This message is spot on and has been food to my soul this morning. It has helped me keep some things in perspective while also reiterating that I cannot and WILL not settle!!! Many blessings to you and your family!!

  • #4

    Ocesa (Saturday, 29 June 2019 10:13)

    We love and miss you here in Syracuse! I admire you and know that you will absolutely lead your college to greatness!

  • #5

    Larry Johnson (Saturday, 29 June 2019 11:05)

    Very true statements! There is much to say about a leader who is willing to make the daring moves so as to be in a role to advance the lives of community college students. I congratulate you! Your energy, drive, professionalism, and intellect has afforded you an dynamic opportunity. Many blessings!

  • #6

    Tawana Burke (Saturday, 29 June 2019 13:44)

    Dr. Willis,
    First I want to say Congratulations! As a mom of 3 I am constantly wondering how my kids respond, which has resulted in me staying within my comfort zone. You are truly an inspiration. Thank you for being so transparent! Wishing you and your family all the best!

  • #7

    Shawnda Floyd (Saturday, 29 June 2019 16:17)

    Thank you for sharing your story! So needed. Inspiring.

  • #8

    Janet Flores (Sunday, 30 June 2019 12:55)

    Our lives crossed paths in Texas and New York, and I am witness to the following: You may change places, but the confidence you move with upon this Earth remains constant. Keep your chin high, and your approach graceful, as you continue to model a way for many! Cheering for you wherever you may be.

  • #9

    Candice (Sunday, 30 June 2019 22:19)

    I love it! This is a good message for new administrators too, especially for women and women of color. Thank you for sharing it.

  • #10

    Pamela (Monday, 01 July 2019 07:02)

    What a moving message. Thank you for taking the time to inspire others to get out of the comfort zone in order to grow. This is so true in life.

  • #11

    Sally Sherer (Monday, 01 July 2019 10:53)

    Great message but what about those of us who cannot go? I have absolutely hit the glass ceiling at my institution but cannot move for a variety of family reasons. It is so frustrating. What do you recommend?

  • #12

    Dr. Warren E. Haynes (Monday, 01 July 2019 13:53)

    I have been called a gypsy by those who should have been supportive and in my corner, had folks tell those connected to me that I needed settle down (i.e. At one position/institution and retire there), or that I move around too much!!! What I have realized is that in spite of the naysayers, you have to be bold, courageous and somewhat fearless as you pursue your destiny, dreams and goals. We live in a global economy ... the old model of career advancement is starkly different from that of our ancestors and elders.

    This piece is spot on,

  • #13

    Paul Calhoun (Tuesday, 02 July 2019 07:03)

    Thank you, Doc!

    You are a blessing to fellow nomads! Your words are truly inspirational. Your message is filled with contagious optimism.

  • #14

    Jerica N. (Thursday, 04 July 2019 21:44)

    Great message, Daria! You’re such a great inspiration!

  • #15

    Isaac Collins (Friday, 05 July 2019 10:12)

    My goodness, my goodness! You are speaking to the little boy in my that's comfortable with the basic needs being met, but what about the man who is curious and wants more than just an office, decent salary and a title???? Great word Sister! God bless you and your husband. "The journey is apart of the destination "

  • #16

    Abbey Baird (Wednesday, 10 July 2019 09:22)

    Daria - I loved this. We left New York for opportunities and lived in three different states before returning to New York. My kids were each born in a different state. Moving has been challenging but it has also been exciting. Best of luck in your new adventure.

  • #17

    Karen (Wednesday, 15 May 2024 11:13)

    Daria, Great post! I love your advice to live close to a major airport and a Macy's. I agree with both! Now I know I am not the only one that Macy's has helped dress to the nines on the fly. :-)