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! Don’t want in, but still love the series? Consider donating to keep it going!

wooden post fence, surrounded by flowering trees, with "The Defectors: Women at Work" overlaid in white text

Today marks the end of the 2019 edition of The Defectors blog series. After four “seasons” of collecting and sharing the stories who have made their departure from campus-based student affairs work, I never tire of reading or hearing about these journeys. There’s something new to be learned from each contributor’s experience. Here, I want to share some takeaways from the series as a whole—grounded in the framework of the Defector Academy program that is sponsoring this year’s series.

Defining Your Values

So many of this year’s journeys were guided by first taking time to identify what the participants valued. Valerie chose to embark upon this clarity exercise with the help of a therapist, while Liana did so with the help of an online seminar. The precise method doesn’t make a huge difference, so long as you use this opportunity to be honest about who you are, what matters to you, and how you intend to search for it in your work.

Liza said it best during our conversation:

[o]ne of my biggest reasons for defecting is realizing that I had a lot to offer, that my training and my academic background and my passion and skill set for being a strategic partner could be done on a much bigger scale […]

Taking the time to really pin down what matters to you before you embark on the transition, will ground you even as you find yourself surrounded by options. And you will be surrounded by options.

Identifying Your Strengths and Mapping Their Utility

I often field the question, “what can I do with the skills and experiences I’ve had?” I’m not being flippant when I say “nearly anything you want!” in response. We have consultants and instructors among this year’s participants, yes, but we also have a PureBarre studio owner and a dating coach and image consultant. If you’re open-minded to letting what you enjoy and are curious about, converge with what you’re skilled at and can competently do, your scope has the capacity to be wide. And it should be!

Assemble Your Crew

Changing career paths can be an isolating proposition, particularly when our work makes up so much of our identity. Whether the departure is a planned one, or one that suddenly becomes necessary, it is undoubtedly easier to embark upon with the help of friends, acquaintances, and folx in your networks. Laura D. was unequivocal in noting how Fortify Associates might not have existed without the help of colleagues and connections:

[After] meeting with some of my wonderful friends and people in my network who are a little bit more business savvy and a little bit more marketing savvy , and a little bit more…not higher education savvy, we came to the conclusion that starting my own business […] would be a great thing. And they helped me formulate a business plan and a marketing plan and a name.

The whole reason this series exists is because I fundamentally believe that setting out on a new path doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. Moreover, if others have traveled it before you, it shouldn’t be a solitary experience. I encourage those who are curious after reading this year’s series (or prior editions) to reach out to the authors. They’re here for you…and so am I!

Put It to Paper

While we didn’t talk about it much in my time with this season’s interviewees, I do want to touch on the fact that when your career trajectory changes, the way you talk about your work will have to change too. Val alluded to this in our conversation:

I think I remember asking a few people from the technology side of house, I said, “Okay, here’s my like five page student affairs resume. What do I need in order to make myself a competitive candidate?” But not showing that really detail-oriented [version]…they just need to see specific things in this world. Versus, like student affairs world. So it was really good questions like that, I think, that really helped me too.

Every field or industry has its own special lexicon; showing fluency in it is a sign of belonging, and a sign that matters when people are evaluating your ability to succeed on their turf. Student affairs and higher education, as we know, is no exception. In crafting a cover letter and resume that effectively position us for the roles we want, we have to do this in the target language. Like living in a new country whose native tongue is not our own, we’ll only go so far before we realize we’ll do better learning that new language. Folx who took the time to understand the differences, have done better in making a switch.

And yet, so many of the core concepts are ultimately the same. I really appreciated this observation from Laura S.:

[I]n 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.

So don’t let this part intimidate you out of considering your utility in your next chapter. You’ve got it.


With all of that said, a few final asks:

  • First and foremost, if you’ve found this series at all valuable, consider donating a few dollars to keep it running. Assembling the series – the time taken to interview subjects, ensuring that videos are properly captioned and transcripts are available for users in need of accessible alternative, and compensation of the participants – takes time and energy. It’d be a pleasure to have your support!
  • I care deeply about helping people through these steps to author their next chapter. If you’re finding yourself pondering some of these questions, explore the options for the Defector Academy Suite of programs. It’d be a pleasure to work with you.
  • Know someone for whom the program would be a fit? Please feel free to send them along!

Thanks so much for following along this year! Stay tuned for more details as the offerings and new dispatches continue!