This season of The Defectors is sponsored by The Defector Academy Suite, a series of coaching activities designed to help you discern your path. If you’re even thinking about a life beyond campus, explore the trio of options available to you to work through these thoughts and ideas with me as your co-pilot!
Today’s Defector Woman at Work is Laura Laboissonniere Sabia, known best as “Labs” when we first met in grad school. Since that time, she’s looked beyond a career in student support and Greek life to support patrons of her multiple Pure Barre locations. As a business owner, she’s found new ways to apply the skills she garnered from her time in higher education – all while pursuing a different calling. Be pleased to meet her!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Laura, what drew you to student affairs and higher education in the first place?
Having a really great campus experience and wanting to provide similar support to students. I had a great experience in Greek life and with University Experience classes and enjoyed the mentorship role to advise students to make the best decisions for their future goals.
And what led to you exploring the world outside those types of roles?
Lack of available positions in the region I was searching.
So, in a number of ways, you very much created your own! In what ways has that fulfilled you uniquely, unlike the work you were doing?
I love owning my own business(es)! Having the freedom to control the outcome and make decisions without consulting anyone. My hard work is rewarding as I control the outcomes and results.
Between these conversations and the ones I’ve had previously for the series, I know big moves like this can come with anxiety, big questions, and imposter syndrome. Did that factor into your decision – and how did you manage it?
I had no choice. I sold everything that didn’t fit into my car and the only option I had was to make it work because I took a big risk and moved to a town where I knew no one.
That’s huge. Who supported you through that big change, especially given the struggle it can be to deviate from a path you were on?
This was a tough one and I didn’t have a lot of support. Practically everyone told me “you are crazy”, “you worked so hard for this degree”, “what if it doesn’t work out” and the list goes on. My closest friends knew that I was driven and could do it but I had to cut a lot of the ‘naysayers” out of my life. However, no one really knew the challenges I was facing as none of my friends owned businesses and didn’t understand the demands of starting a new company from scratch. Having to say no to things like girls’ weekends because they weren’t an option financially wasn’t something people who worked 9-5 could understand.
I feel this one so hard. Particularly when your pivot means working for yourself, it really does feel like our existing circles aren’t equipped for the changes it requires. Socially, it’s incredibly difficult.
But I do also want to highlight (a) that you did it! and (b) that you had a lot of what you needed from the work you’d been doing. What pieces from the last chapter did you pull into this one?
This is something that I didn’t realize for a long time but in student affairs we learn a lot about managing people. Their values, cultures and how to understand them. This translates so much into building a company culture that people want to work for. It’s all about your team and fit. If you don’t explain the culture and expectations to someone ahead of time, it will never work out. This background really helped me to put my “vision” together for the goals of my company and how to hire the best team to execute that vision.
Anything you wish you’d known before making the jump?
Being the owner and “boss” means that you are also HR. I wish I didn’t have to learn HR things the hard way through bad experiences with bad hires.
Great note! And again, all too real. To wrap us up: you’ve taken a path that’s so different from the one you were traveling previously, in many ways among the most dramatic Defector experiences I’ve profiled. Given that, I’ll pose a question to you that I get a lot: would you ever go back? And what would it take?
I would go back in a part-time capacity if the school and position was the right fit but I wouldn’t give up the career that I have built for myself. In my industry of health and wellness, I truly get the experience of helping people and mentorship with my staff.
It was a pleasure to catch up with Laura, and I constantly look forward to seeing where else she’s using her entrepreneurial spirit and care for the people around her. Make sure to check in on her via LinkedIn!
Laura Laboissinniere Sabia is the owner of Pure Barre Westport and Pure Barre Fairfield, located in Westport, CT and Fairfield, CT respectively. Her founder’s journey has made her a fixture in the Connecticut entrepreneurial ecosystem, and garnered her a Fairfield County 40 Under 40 honor in 2018.
Takeaways from Laura’s Journey
- Curiosity can play a role in our decisions to defect. When Laura saw that few positions of interest were available in her area, she thought “what else could I be doing?”
- Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart! As you consider a “free agent” journey for your defectorship, keep that in mind: it requires a lot of focus, energy, and time…considerably more than most 9-5 roles.
- Any kind of work we choose to pursue has people challenges. When looking for new options, seek out places that are a fit for your transferable skills as well as your needs and wishes for workplace values.
- The Defector journey doesn’t make sense to everyone. It can be incredibly difficult to navigate a change when everyone around you makes you feel as though it’s the wrong choice. But there is support to be found, seek out people who encourage your exploration – in your day-to-day circles, or online!