After graduating from college, I thought I had it all figured out. I would take the LSAT, apply to law school, go to law school, be a lawyer. Boom. Done.
Well, after an internship at the State Attorney’s Office and another under a lawyer at a small firm (where, FYI, I only lasted a few days because I knew I had made a major mistake), I nixed that path. In thinking about a future legal career, I had toyed with the idea of something that combined my interests in education and law, therefore figured a possible next step would be pursuing something in education. So, I did what many undecided twenty-somethings do: applied to grad school!
I entered Penn GSE in 2005, armed with zero knowledge about what I would do with a degree in Education, Culture, and Society, and enjoyed every minute of it. However, my time there came with a hefty price-tag; in addition to waiting tables and bartending in the summer to pay for it, I needed an on-campus job. I qualified for work study, and in searching for a role that worked with my class schedule, stumbled upon one at Penn Law in the admissions office. The role was sort of a catch-all. I would file files, file more files, help plan events, help answer applicant inquiries over the phone, and also read files, which sounded interesting to me considering I had been a law school applicant myself not even a year earlier. I applied, and I am pretty sure I got that job because of that tiny sliver of experience (or that no one else wanted to be locked away in a room full of filing cabinets all day).
Fast-forward six or so months later, and I had grown to love working in admissions—not something I had expected studying educational anthropology! And though I was not 100% sure because it had only been a part-time role, I had an inkling—and a little bit of faith—that I found a longer-term career path that I could enjoy.
As the end of my program neared, I decided to forgo research roles and apply for positions in admissions instead. I then somehow interviewed (yes, I truly believe you can win over your future colleagues via the interview especially when your resume is, err, “lacking”…) my way into a graduate admissions assistant role at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, and the rest—JHU-SAIS, a doctorate in higher education from GWU, a role in undergraduate admissions at Princeton, and another role admissions at Penn at Wharton—is higher education history.
I knew after eight or so years working in higher education that what I loved about it was the ever-changing nature of the role, that there was always something to learn, and most of all, I enjoyed working 1:1 with students, whether as an advisor, problem solver, or helping them navigate the admissions process. I found meaning working with students to navigate often confusing processes and procedures, and I happened to be good at it, too. The work tapped my natural strengths and skillsets. Specifically, I had a knack for helping people come up with academic plans and unpacking the admissions process for them (and, perhaps, sharing a few insider tips along the way). What I also loved was the applicant’s stories, particularly, the stories revealed in personal statements. Almost every applicant was colorful and unique, and it was fun and insightful getting to know people on paper and then meeting them in real life, or attending their graduation at the end of two years, knowing a little bit about their personal story and how they had gotten to that point.
I knew what I did not like about working in higher ed, too. I did not like office hierarchies, bureaucratic red tape, resistance to change, ageism, sexism, and I hated going to an office every day and being forced to pretend to work even if I had no work. I knew I needed a change.
Once I knew what I liked and disliked and what I was good at and what I found meaning in, it was not hard to identify a next logical step toward what would become my passion: guiding applicants through the college and graduate school admissions process independently, which meant starting my own company.
I founded BMC in 2012 but paid the bills by freelancing for other admissions counseling firms, both online and in person in NYC. I had faith that my business would grow over time if I worked at it slowly and never lost sight of that despite how much I wanted to just focus on my own thing. Getting to the point of being able to do that was not easy or quick, but I got there, and know that I was able to because I followed my curiosity and what I was good at. As Adam Grant says, “Instead of following your passion, follow your curiosity into the job where you think you’ll learn the most, and build passion over time.”
Developing my passion required and was a result of effort. It was a strategic decision I made by way of the jobs I applied to, accepted offers from, and stayed in even when the going got tough. I grew my passion by doing a few things:
I paid close to attention to what I liked and what I didn’t like, as well as those small signs and strokes of luck that I experienced along the way (a random work-study job, a connection on LinkedIn, etc.).
I paid close attention to what drove me to the work, which was not the work itself, but the impact I had on the lives of others through the work. This kept me going even when I knew I had to even though I wanted nothing other than to quit.
I paid close attention to the light at the end of the tunnel, too, even if the light was not there and I imagined it. I knew I was not going to have to work in higher education forever, but that to successfully position myself as a counselor independently, I needed the knowledge and experience those roles would afford. I could have taken short cuts, and I often wonder why I didn’t, but I am so so glad I stayed the course, because today, my experience is what makes me such a successful and sought after counselor.
Today, I have extended my passion and purpose to my work through Strategy Girl. Again, not something I could or would have predicted over 15 years ago when I was gearing up to graduate college. But when you work to uncover and develop both purpose and passion, and then undertake the work needed for them to coexist, the options for applying them in the real world are endless.
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