Growing up in a little suburb outside the city of Louisville in Valley Station, Kentucky in the 1980’s and 90’s was probably the ideal situation a kid could have. It was your typical working class area of town and it seemed to me that there were a lot other kids around the same age as me.
We did what all kids did then. We played outside and spent a lot of times riding bikes and getting in to this or that. Both of my parents worked very hard and didn’t miss a day of work, unless something really bad was wrong with them or my brothers and I. Which was never.
Outside of spending time with the kids in the neighborhood, taking the occasional vacation, usually camping somewhere, and visiting our family that all pretty much lived in the city. We lived a pretty sheltered life.
I just think that is how life was. Then if you fast forward to when I graduated high school and I didn’t have a clue of what I wanted to do. I ended up in two-year degree program in electronics.
After I finished that degree, I started working in a maintenance shop. Once again, in this position we were pretty isolated in our dealings with other people. We had to support the facility and the managers of the place where I worked, but we didn’t have a whole lot of interactions with them unless we had to.
From that position, my next position was with a company where I was part of a union. I worked there for a few years. Again this position was very insular. Myself and the other three hundred or so union employees were really focused on the work we did and doing life.
From there, I made a brief stop back to a previous company as a manager where I was leading a team of people to get things done.
But it wasnt until I landed at a university working in admissions until I really started getting a different perspective on life and the life that I had lived compared to others.
First of all, who in the world, would have thought I would have landed in a position where I would be responsible for recruiting students to attend a university? Not me. And my guess is not anybody else I know. I was a C student coming out of high school. I received a two-year degree in electronics, and for the most part my job was working on things to fix them. Usually with a small team.
So here I am in college admissions and it is now my job to work with people, lots of different people. Throughout my education I had been surrounded by diversity and people who were different from me. But I had never been responsible for working with them and supporting them in a way that I was now required to do in working in admissions.
It was now my job to call students who I knew very little about. Early on in my career in admissions, I was responsible to call the parents and guardians of these prospective students and tell them how they should be approaching higher education. It was now my job to speak with employers about their employees professional development and ongoing education. It was now my job to ensure the university that I was working for continued to thrive, because it had enough tuition dollars coming in to support the institution and its initiatives.
Up until this point in my career, everything was just a job. I had a task to perform. I fixed things and prevented downtime. Sure it was an important task, it required me to work with others. But at the end of the day we all wanted the same thing. I didn’t technically have to get those people to support what I was doing and influence them to see my way of thinking.
In college admissions I had to learn skills and techniques to persuade and influence other people. I had to create urgency with the words I used when speaking over the phone. I had to set down with parents who were divorced and tell them why they need to come together to support their children’s education. I had to speak with adults who were going back to college and help them develop a plan so they could see how they could afford their education financially as well as fit it in their already busy schedule.
I had to do all of this with a heart of encouragement and teaching, and at the same time create urgency to get them to act now. The skills that were required in college admissions were different from the ones I had been using up until this point in my life.
The biggest thing that I learned was just dealing with the public and dealing with people and their personal lives. As I shared, I grew up pretty sheltered. My mom and dad were still together. All of my aunts and uncles were still married. Most of my close friends parents were still together. I don’t remember having any friends that were ward of the states, or their grandparents were raising them.
Working in college admissions, I was being exposed to all of this. I learned that for the most part, my life situation wasn’t as typical as I thought it was. In many cases, it was really rare, and becoming increasingly more rare.
Here I am some fifteen years removed from starting my job in college admissions and I am thankful that I had the career that I had, because it taught me things that I would have never learned otherwise. Most importantly it taught me perspective that I didn’t have.
Sure, I learned a lot of skills that have served me well in all facets of my life. I learned business, sales, leadership, persuasion, how to coach people, how to manage conflict, etc. But learning perspective was probably one of the most important things.
And most of us never get that perspective, because we grow up in situations where we are sheltered. We go to school and we hang out with people who are just like us. We then take jobs and careers, and we work with people just like us, at least spend most of our time with people like us.
While working in college admissions and higher education I was forced to work with lots of people and lots of situations that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. And for that I am thankful, because the skills I have now you can never take away from me. These skills are very very valuable to the marketplace, because most businesses don’t require the diverse skills that are required in college admissions and they definitely don’t require you to get in to the personal lives of your customers the way college admissions makes you.
What I learned was most important, but equally important are the opportunities that I have had to grow my career, and the additional opportunities that have spun off from higher education because of the skills I have acquired and learned.
What are your thoughts? What was your most impactful job? If you are in college admissions, do you agree? Or have anything to add to my thoughts?
To your success and your future.
Picture this: It is a sunny 75 degree day. Almost no humidity. And you are sitting at the edge of a huge field. At the place you are sitting you can see the outline of this very thick forested area of trees. You are admiring the view, taking in the fresh air, and enjoying the fact that you are out there on this beautiful day.
About that time someone approached you and says at the other end of the heavy forested area is one million dollars. You can have that one million dollars if you can make it to the other side of the forested area.
At the time, you are thinking, this sounds too good to be true. “What is the catch?”, you ask.
The person replies and says, “I know for a fact there have been many people who have tried to go through that area to get to the one million dollars. Some have made it, and some have not. All I know is that while going through that forest you will encounter a lot of obstacles. I hear it is hilly in there. I have heard that there are large pits that you can fall into. And there is a large body of water that requires a lot of resilience and patience to get across.”
Nobody has died attempting to go through there. But a lot of people quit after a few of the challenges pop up. Eventually the people who give up just say “What is the point?. I didn’t have the million dollars before hand, and it isn’t worth the risk to get it now. I will just figure out another way.” And they quit.
If you are in higher education, this is the reality of what you are selling every single day. You are selling to people who there is one million dollars on the other side of the forest just waiting for them to pick up. However, if it was as easy to just pick up the one million dollars and walk away. Everybody would.
But this is not the case. They will encounter lots of obstacles along the way. Their patience will be challenged. Their resilience will be challenged. The process of getting through college is like trying to cross through an unknown area. You don’t know what supplies you need. You don’t know how long it will take, and you don’t know what elements you will face until you do.
And since most people have never faced these elements and these conditions, while also trying to manage and accomplish a very large task while doing so. They are not equipped to over come the obstacles because they don’t know how to.
If you are in higher education it is your job to help equip the prospective students you see with the right tools to help them accomplish this great endeavor. They must know that it wont be easy for them. They must have an understanding of the sacrifices that will have to make. And they must have a back up plan when things don’t go as planned. And lastly, they must have someone in their life pushing and telling them they can do it. It cannot be done alone.
Whan all of these things are considered and planned for accordingly, and you have the right person in your corner coaching you along the way. Anything can be accomplished.
Remember that today as you are sitting with a prospective student. They just want the one million dollars. They see a beautiful forest that they have to cross through. But they don’t understand what is in that beautiful forest. Help them see what it is they will have to go through and help them plan accordingly. You owe it to them.
To your success and your future.