The first of our Defectors contributor posts comes from beth triplett, owner and lead of Leadership Dots. Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.
I wanted to put off writing this until the last possible minute – not because of procrastination, but because I felt like if I waited one more day or week I would have learned so much more. Such is the journey as a “defector” – every day there is a new technology or business practice or idea or something that I want to absorb.
But for right now, as of today, I am an independent consultant who helps new supervisors gain the confidence and skills to be awesome in their new roles. I help individuals and groups (like work study supervisors who have never supervised before) figure out how to rock the new responsibilities they have been given. I did not set out to do this. I did not plan to do this. The work found me…
…but first I was forced out of a vice president for enrollment job that I held for 8 years. I did not see it coming as I had record classes (and admissions is definitely a numbers game), but in January 2016, my boss called me in and said that she “wanted to go in a different direction.” Little did I know what a gift that would be for me to do the same.
I spent the winter in a combination of shock/mourning/exploration. My natural instinct was to find another VP for enrollment job – something I am very confident I could have done – but that involved moving, which I did not particularly want to do. With every day that I was not in the high-pressure rat race of admissions, I wanted to go back less and less. So I looked for “what else” I could do to keep the lights on and my heart happy.
I spent the spring in an interview process for the CEO job at a local non-profit. I found out in May that I was the runner-up. So more reflection and clouds. When August 1 came, I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to be on a campus for the opening of the school year, and made an appointment with the accountant that day to establish myself as an LLC.
Once I committed to the choice of going it alone, I thought I would certainly become an enrollment consultant. I had been a vice president in that area for 23 years. I had sustained success in recruitment and financial aid at four small private institutions, and they are the ones struggling mightily in today’s climate. I had used an enrollment consultant and thought I could be a great one. So I spent a lot of time and effort getting a website with that focus, doing marketing mailings and heading down that path.
Before business really got started, I did other things to pay the bills. I taught classes at another area college. I wrote a federal grant. I was the project manager for a national child welfare conference. I did individual coaching about supervision. I did training for groups about supervision. I continued to write my daily leadership lesson (www.leadershipdots.com).
But it wasn’t until I got a giant new bookcase and I sorted all of my books into piles on the basement floor that I had a revelation. I had about one shelf about enrollment and higher education. I had four about leadership, another four about business management and another two about human resources. Enrollment was not my first love; developing young admissions staff was. I liked working with the people – enrollment was just the vehicle; just as working with young student life staff had been the purpose and working through student services was the vehicle, and developing student leaders was the goal I accomplished through the vehicle of activities. It took me 16 months, but the lightbulb went on. This is what I think I am meant to be doing! This is how I can contribute to the world – and love it – and keep food on the table. Yeah!
Working from home / being self-employed is an awesome gig if you can get it. I relish getting up without an alarm. I adore working from my porch or backyard or looking out a giant window. I have the cutest golden retrievers and it is glorious being able to take them for a walk in the middle of the day or have them curl up at my feet when I’m “in the zone.” I’m not one of those who want to work around the globe; being at home is fantastic.
AND working from home / working independently is a lot of work. You are not only doing the work but you have to work at least as hard at getting the work. It’s no fun at all. Entrepreneur Christie Mims said that “if you aren’t as interested in the business side of the business” as the work itself, you shouldn’t go solo. She is right. It is just me. For marketing, sales, accounting, IT, legal, purchasing, travel arrangements, administrative assistance and housekeeping – just look in the mirror.
I desperately miss colleagues with whom I can “think things through” or share ideas. I miss supervision and watching those young staff members of mine flourish. I miss having a wizard administrative assistant who could turn my pencil drawing into a chart or my notes into a presentation. I am truly worried about not knowing if I am going to have health insurance next month.
But for now, I am doing what I feel like I am supposed to be doing. Would I ever go back? I think not. Definitely not to a VP for Enrollment job where it’s all about what-have-you-done-for-me-lately and where the pressure on the department is disproportionate to the ability the area has to impact change. If the right job came along – within higher education or a nonprofit – that allowed me to develop young staff and impact lives that way – well, maybe. It would have to find me though as I don’t foresee seeking out anything else anytime soon.
My bottom line advice: save money. Save as much as you can. The options that open up to you when you are not bound so tightly to a paycheck are immense. If you have a bit of a back up, you can buy yourself flexibility to find what makes your heart sing – whether inside higher education or beyond.
One other observation: I started my career in student activities then became dean of students. When I chaired a retention task force that resulted in reorganization and was offered my first vp for enrollment job, I considered that my first “defection”. It took a lot of soul searching for me to leave the daily student contact and move to the “administration building” where I wore a suit every day. Some people thought that I had crossed over to the “dark side” by leaving student affairs and going to a role where I embraced numbers and talked about the impact students had on revenue. While many of my positions allowed me to combine supervision of both student affairs and enrollment, the change in focus and tangible outcomes of the enrollment world were monumental. Higher education is a $475-billion industry. Maybe you can get a taste of what defection is like by moving to another area in the behemoth instead of (or before) departing all together.
dr. beth triplett is currently the chief connector at leadership dots where she helps those new to supervision gain the confidence and skills necessary to become a STAR supervisor. She previously was vice president for enrollment management and held similar vice president positions for 23 years. Now she laughs when she reads her Argyle Sweater page-a-day calendar, when she sees her dogs try to catch a fly, and when people ask her if the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.
The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!