Robyn Sanderson

Associate Vice President for Student Development at Anderson University

At Women and Work we are honored to feature Robyn Sanderson as our Work Done Well feature. Robyn, please share a little bit about yourself and the work that God has called you to.

When I was growing up I thought I would be a teacher like my own mother. Once I went to college I realized that I did not want to pursue teaching so I changed my major to business/marketing with the intention of going into a lucrative sales position. After graduating with a business degree I realized that I was extremely uncomfortable during the sales interviews and I had a bit of an internal crisis. I began to wonder if I made a mistake by getting a business degree and I ended up accepting a job as an admissions counselor for my undergraduate alma mater. I accepted the position reluctantly but then I found that I loved working with potential college students. I enjoyed getting to know them and I found great joy in helping them process their educational plans. I found that I enjoyed helping the students, even if that meant connecting them to another institution that was a better fit with their career goals. I remember driving home from work one day and I was talking with the Lord. I remember saying—God, I love working with these students and I really enjoy seeing them grow, but after 8 months they move on to be college students and I wish I could see how they turn out. I truly felt the Lord shine down on me and I felt his words in my heart. I heard him say—Robyn, you love working with these students, you want to nurture them and challenge them to grow…you can get a master’s degree in student affairs and serve students. I truly had never even considered getting a master’s degree, nor had I ever thought about a career in higher education. I had accepted the job in admissions so that I was gainfully employed upon graduation, but the Lord had far greater plans for me. That first job in admissions was my first role in a currently 20+ year vocation within higher education.

How did you come to recognize the gifts God has given you and learn to leverage those gifts for the kingdom of God and for His glory?

I have been blessed by people that poured into me and have challenged me to grow. I feel blessed that I’ve worked with colleagues and supervisors that have given me feedback over the years regarding some of my gifts. In addition to feedback from others, I think it is important to spend time in reflection as we grow as individuals and grow in our careers. I think it is important for us to also encourage others in their spiritual gifts by pointing out the talents that we see within them. I think God is the one that has leveraged the use of my talents for His glory; He has put me in places and spaces that have allowed me to use my talents to help others and serve Him. It has been important that I listen to His calling for me and that when I feel the Holy Spirit nudge me then I know that I must do what is asked of me. There are times when I have been apprehensive of what the Holy Spirit has told me to do and I’ve had to pray for God’s confidence to pour over me and for peace to fill me as I walked on a path that I may not have picked for myself.

As a leader in your workplace, how do you build up and lead those who work for you?

I try to emulate what I want from my own leaders. I tend to be an empathic individual and I tend to pick up on nonverbal cues from others due to my counseling coursework. I tend to care deeply for those that I lead and I try to lead in a way that makes them feel valued and heard. I think it is important for team members to know that they are heard and that their work is seen and valued. I strive to be transparent with them and to be honest, even if that means having challenging conversations in ways that encourage growth. I have found a lot of value in reading and implementing strategies for showing appreciation. I would recommend The Five Languages of Appreciation at Work by Gary Chapman and Paul White. Chapman and White provide an opportunity for the reader to discover how colleagues like to receive appreciation and they caution you from assuming everyone likes the same kind of appreciation that you do. My nature is one in which I have always liked to show appreciation to my colleagues and family members, but this book challenged me to think about how the receiver would most like to be appreciated so that it is actually meaningful.

How do you keep yourself encouraged that the work you’re doing is valuable and worthwhile and are there any Scriptures God has given you to keep you present in the work to which He has called you?

We live in a fallen world and it can be discouraging for sure. There are times, especially when my children were small that I really struggled to feel like I was serving my kids, husband, and institution well. I could become easily overwhelmed and would often feel that I was letting everyone down. I was striving for perfection and that was not at all what God was asking of me. I began to realize that a lot of my internal struggles were attacks from Satan. God designed me to be a wife, mother, and for a vocation in higher education, and Satan sought to undermine all of the good things that I was doing. I had to remember to put on the armor of God and fight the attacks spiritually. When times get tough, I often remember that God prepared me. He brought me to this situation at this time and He has equipped me. Then I cry out in prayer asking the Lord to pour out His strength, confidence, and peace over me. One of the Bible studies that helped me during this season of spiritual attack was Priscilla Shirer’s The Armor of God.

What are some challenges you have experienced and how have you seen God at work around you despite them? How has God used the relationships that you have developed in challenging times for His glory and your good?

In 2013, after the birth of my second child, our family faced several tragedies back to back. It was almost surreal the amount of challenges that our family faced in about 8 months. We lost two family members, one of our family members was missing for six months before being found deceased, our three month old baby was admitted to ICU, I had to save our son from drowning, my husband and in-laws were trapped in a burning car and almost died, among other things. It truly felt unreal. It was one of the most difficult times of my life. Our church and friends were shocked when we repeatedly came to them time after time with intense prayer requests. While this time was painful, emotional, and physically draining, it was a time of spiritual refinement for me and my husband like no other time. We had to rely on the Lord and we were strengthened in our marriage. We became better parents, more Christ-centered parents, for our children. God used that time to grow our faith. At the end of that terrible time frame God called us to sell our home and move our family. Our faith was stronger because of what we had gone through and God provided for us in ways that we would have never imagined for ourselves when He called for us to move to another state.

What is one last piece of advice you would give to a younger woman who is wanting to advance her career in higher education?

It is okay to have high expectations for yourself, but it is just as important to have grace for yourself. I’d also strongly encourage you, especially if you tend to be an overachiever, to take time to read Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver. God has equipped you with unique talents and gifts. He has called you to serve in specific ways, listen to His call. Do not try to do everything and do not try to please everyone, you will drive yourself crazy if you strive to be Martha. Take time at the feet of God and listen to where He has called you to serve at home, at work, in your family, at church, in your community….listen and obey. In her book, Joanna Weaver shares the following quote which really made an impact on me:  “When we put work before worship, we put the cart before the horse. The cart is important; so is the horse. But the horse must come first, or we end up pulling the cart ourselves. Frustrated and weary, we can nearly break under the pressure of service, for there is always something that needs to be done. When we first spend time in his presence—when we take time to hear his voice—God provides the horsepower we need to pull the heaviest load. He saddles up Grace and invites us to take a ride.”

I’d encourage you to learn this lesson as soon as possible. Take time to pray that God will give you a Mary heart and help quell the Martha thoughts that creep into your mind.

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