Some student affairs professionals might never have imagined taking a step towards developing their own business, but that is exactly where I am now. I’m not talking about a “side hustle” here; I am talking no more student affairs status. I must admit that I never thought I would leave the world of student affairs to pursue the life of an entrepreneur, but I do believe that being a student affairs professional gave me all the skills needed to being a successful business leader.
My student affairs epiphany began after interning for the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute (UIFI). There, I met amazing professionals to whom I asked that doomed question; “How do I do what you all do?” and, of course, they let me know about student affairs and how I might be able to “drink the Kool-Aid.” At the time, I was already applying to graduate schools for psychology, and it was late in the graduate application process so I had to make a decision: a) continue on the path of being a psychologist or b) derail that train for student affairs, forcing me to take a year off and develop a new plan for grad school. If it isn’t obvious already, I chose option “b”.
Having interacted with many student affairs professionals, I still find my path to have been quite unique. My goal in student affairs was to become a Greek life advisor, and I wanted this wholeheartedly. Having completed my undergrad at a large urban school in Miami, FL (FIU – Go Panthers!), I knew I wanted a very different experience for grad school, and I got what I wanted in every way. I moved to rural southern Georgia and attended an institution half the size of FIU in a place called Statesboro. Here I was the graduate assistant of leadership programs. It was in the Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement that I found my calling, not only in student affairs, but in leadership and developing student leaders.
Along my student affairs journey, I also had a wonderful experience as a NODA intern in Philadelphia and fell in love with orientation. Helping students get acclimated to their new environment was fun and a breath of fresh air. Ultimately, I returned to Statesboro, finished my M.Ed. and went off to The Placement Exchange to find a job. I applied for almost anything within Greek life, orientation, leadership programs, judicial affairs and tried with all my might to stay away from housing.
Then, a few months later I was driving across the country to California to start my new position in….HOUSING! Yup, though I had never had any semblance of experience in residential life, the perfect department found me and recruited me 3000 miles away from home. My experience was phenomenal. I was able to learn from amazing peer professionals, supervisors and students. It was during this experience when I took the words of Ken Coleman, author of One Question, to heart when he said that we must always be looking for our sweet spot. According to Coleman, our sweet spot is the intersection of your passion and your strengths. Once you have found your sweet spot, you must stay there until the right time happens. Coleman is adamant that the notion of being in “The right place at the right time” is false, instead the right place should be in your sweet spot and the right time will happen on its own. This is the reason I founded Link Leadership Consulting, which aligned my passion for developing others and my strength within leadership. Now all that was needed was to wait for the right time.
As I asked a mentor for advice, he gave me a heaping dose of it and said, “The right time is now.” Those words could not have been any truer. I started immediately, opening a bank account, becoming incorporated and then finding clientele base. The work was rigorous. Following my 9-to-5 hours (as if residence life is ever 9-to-5), I set off in the evenings to meet with my clients. My weekends turned into two more weekdays, and I often found it difficult to sleep through the night with a multitude of information running through my thoughts. Finally, my position’s contract ended and I was ambitious enough to think that the entrepreneur life could replace my student affairs life.
The truth is that it is difficult to be an entrepreneur. It often takes years for you to see any money from your business, and I have risked everything to advance Link Leadership Consulting. But it was what I learned from student affairs that helped me every day. It is the trainings that I led with my resident assistants that I use to assist current clients and the leadership model I learned as a grad is what guides my business practices. The understanding spirit of seeing a new student orient themselves to their environment is the same spirit in every coaching meeting, and the confidence I gained in my fraternity that helps me inspire others to be better.
Now, I have four employees, one of which was a former student affairs colleague of mine. So, if you have ever thought about working for yourself and never thought you could make it, I offer this one piece of advice. Find your sweet spot because the time is now.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Tony Doody on Unconventional Leadership