From Swimming to Teaching to Banking: Jeff Collier on Transitions

Well-Trained Mind AcademyGeneral Education

Transitions can be very hard. We hear that a lot when we talk about writing, growing up, our careers, and life overall. Human Resources Training Manager Jeff Collier talked with students in our Class Cohort program about transitions and change and how they can help one get to a place that is both comfortable and excited for the next challenge, or should we say, transition. 

Jeff started his talk by saying, “When I was in high school I was really convinced there’d be a clear path for my future, and what actually happened was far from what I envisioned.” He went on to tell students, “My life has been full of transition and wonder and surprise. There were moments where the future was unclear, and in the moment it felt very disorienting. In a way I felt like I was lost. However, some of the people and connections I made during my transitions helped me immensely to get to where I am today.” 

Swimming was the main storyline that ran through Jeff’s youth. In his senior year of high school, Jeff signed to swim at the College of William & Mary. He told our students, “I knew what I was going to do next. I felt as if swimming was my whole life, and then, well, the next step was for me to continue swimming, and to do it in college.” He then took a minute to point out the goggle mark on his nose that is still visible to this day, years into adulthood.

Committing to William & Mary

Jeff talked about the great experience of swimming at W&M. “We all had so much fun together,” he told us. “It was just such a close community, and it was a place where I felt included. I had a mission, and I had a purpose.” Four years went by quickly, and Jeff told students he could remember the last collegiate swimming event he ever had: “I’ve done swimming since I was 7. So here I am at 21 years old, and I’m nearing the end of my college experience, and I finished my last swim ever, competitively. Now there is nothing after this last swim. This is it. When I get out of the water, there’s no more meets, there’s no more practice, there’s no more team. It’s over, and I am done. And this is the first time in my life where I don’t have a path.”

Jeff tried to readjust his focus and put his attention into his studies, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was still mourning the end of his swimming career. The transition to the next phase of his life took longer than he would have liked. After just making it to graduation, Jeff wasn’t sure what to do next. The financial crisis that hit the United States in 2008 led to a devastating job market. Jeff waited on tables in his college town while figuring out his next move. 

Not sure what he really wanted to do, and knowing he could do a lot more with his studies the second time around, Jeff went back to school at William and Mary for his Masters in Education. Not only was he learning how to be an elementary school teacher, his excitement about being  back in school reignited his curiosity and passion. He told us, “At this time in my life, I wanted to be in school, and that was a big beautiful thing for me.” This is when Jeff said he realized he was a life-long learner, and he was grateful for this second chance at higher education. 

Teacher of the Year

Immediately after finishing his graduate degree, Jeff taught kindergarten in Newport News, Virginia. He started to feel purpose again, post-swimming. He had fun with his students, and loved to get them excited about learning. He had a great time in the classroom, and was even awarded Teacher of the Year. 

Another transition came when a friend called Jeff and asked him, “Do you want to teach adults?” He didn’t know how that would go, but he was open and ready for a change, so he decided to go for it. That’s how Jeff ended up where he is today, working in Human Resources at C&F Bank. He started off at the bank by teaching adults how to be bankers. As time went on, his career transitioned again into teaching adults how to find their own spark and curiosity via his role as a Human Resources Training Manager. 

Like Dean Carrie Cooper told students previously, Jeff said to take the opportunities that are given to you, even if they seem scary. Networking is important, too. Nurture the connections you make with your classmates, teachers, coaches, and advisors.  And finally, he said for introverts not to give up. One of the most important people Jeff works with is an introvert, but her impact at his company is enormous. When she enters a room, she’s the quietest, but her knowledge is so deep and she is so wise that she is magnetic. 

Jeff then talked with our students about what someone does in a Human Resources role. There are aspects of talent recruitment, skill development, and emotional management. In the spirit of his HR role, Jeff then finished up his talk with advice to our students about making their way forward in college and their careers. He suggested students attend career fairs where they are able to speak with individuals from all different industries. He told students to interact with the people at the fairs – ask them questions about the jobs they are offering. He said “Put yourself around people that are from different walks of life and in different professions – this will help expose you to myriad perspectives. You never know which one is going to click for you.”

Jeff’s talk was a nice reminder to students that the path to success is defined by our own markers. His enthusiasm for his career came after many ups and downs. Students left the talk feeling positive about their future after high school, and feeling confident they will be able to navigate the winding road sure to follow.

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