GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Building Momentum: An Introvert’s Story

In Information Minoration on 2012/03/14 at 08:00

Heather Alderfer, writing from New Haven, Connecticut in the US. 

My word of the year was going to be “joy” but after a month of reflection, what I really want to focus on is building momentum. How do I build momentum while not changing my job, my location, or returning to school?

I’ve been very fortunate to have several mentors over the years who have provided me with much-needed advice, support, and experienced thoughtfulness. What I’ve been lacking, however, is peer coworkers: colleagues around my age and position. Working in a large, decentralized university, it can be hard to find those coworkers without making an effort. The UVenus networking challenge was a great way to focus on making an effort to connect with colleagues and begin building a peer group. It gave me momentum to make connections I had thought about, but never acted upon.

I began by emailing everyone I’d ever had a casual conversation with. At a retirement party, a former colleague mentioned a coworker of hers who had similar academic interests. A student affairs colleague I worked with invited someone she worked with…and soon the email list was growing.

Each time we met, a different group of people came. Some weeks it was only three or four of us, sometimes double that. Each woman had a different story of how she came to be working at Yale, and each knew something about the university that I had not known before our gathering.

We had few ground rules: what we spoke about would remain confidential within the group, and that the conversation be a safe space. I know it will take time to develop relationships further, and to begin to unravel some of the challenges facing us in the workplace. But the networking challenge made me put forth the effort at reaching out to my colleagues, in a way my somewhat shy personality may not have.

Career advice often starts with networking. It is a simple concept, but more difficult to put into practice. Most of my coworkers live in different towns, some have children while others do not, and outside of work we have many varied interests. But networking gives me the feeling of momentum, of moving forward and creating new relationships which may serve me at some point in the future, but which will have a positive impact.

Research culled from work diaries shows the greatest frustration comes from feeling stalled. I know I’ve felt stalled at times in the bureaucracy of the institution, and it is for that (albeit selfish) reason I felt compelled to network. Having someone you have shared a meal with, or shared an anecdote from your personal life on the other end of the phone when you are feeling stalled hopefully means there is a greater chance you can move forward.

How do you build momentum in your job?

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed. 


  1. Building momentum is tough for me as I work full time and have elder-care responsibilities at home. It’s always a nice shot-in-the-arm to attend an energetic conference or seminar where you can meet other professionals with whom you can share.

    Sometimes when I leave a conference so full of excitement, I find that the energy quickly fades as I go back to my regular life of housework and elder-care. Add that to a teaching workload of 7 courses per week and see how far the energy goes. It’s challenging to build the momentum… and then to sustain it.

    I’d be interested in others’ ideas also.


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