My plan was to finish up an article I started about the “buying signals” that undecided students put out around this time each year. Then, while waiting on my flight home last night from Boston, I read a thank you email from an admissions counselor, and I haven’t been able to get her words out of my mind. So, I’ve decided that it’s time to tell you how I got here…how I became (among other things) the guy that sends you this newsletter every single Tuesday.
I’m sharing my story with you now because the conversation I had with that admissions counselor at last week’s Indiana NACAC affiliate conference resulted in a “BIG aha moment” for her (her words not mine), much like a similar conversation did for me back in 1993. My hope is this article will do the same for somebody else who really needs it right now…maybe you.
When I graduated from high school in 1994, the plan was to attend University and become a teacher. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it was because my mom was a teacher, and my grandfather was a teacher. Or, maybe it was also because my outlook on life (specifically my mindset) changed in 1993 after a conversation I had with one of my high school teachers, Mr. Boichuk. Looking back over the years, it’s become clear to me that the conversation he and I had was a big aha moment that helped shape who I’ve become, what I’ve accomplished, and what I will accomplish over the rest of my professional career.
During my junior year of high school in 1993 I was really struggling to understand why I didn’t excel at certain things and why I hadn’t gained acceptance from certain peers. I was mentally beating myself up pretty badly. It all came to a head one day during a conversation with Mr. Boichuk, my history teacher. The gist of what he told me at the end of our conversation is as follows – You’re not going to be great at everything; Stop feeling sorry for yourself; Stop worrying about what you can’t do, and stop listening to people who tell you that you can’t do something; Focus on what you’re good at and figure out what you need to do to achieve what you want; You control your effort and your attitude…start believing it! I still remember that conversation like it was yesterday.
From that day forward it was a complete shift in mindset for me. I started believing in myself more. I stopped listening to people who told me I couldn’t do something, and I started really focusing more on what my strengths were, while also accepting my limitations. In short, I started to become self aware.
If you’re unhappy right now, or you want to move up the Higher Ed ladder like so many admissions professionals tell me they do, you may need to do the same. You may need to do a personal deep dive and become more self aware. That’s what I told the admissions counselor during our conversation in the conference hotel lobby last week after she shared with me that she felt she got passed over last fall for a promotion. In listening to her it quickly became clear that she was focused more on the past instead of looking in the mirror and considering that she might not be ready/have the skill set needed yet. Outside of being one of the more veteran counselors, I asked her to think about things she had done to prepare and position herself as someone who was ready for that opportunity.
When you truly become self aware, you’re able to more effectively manage your behaviors and emotions. The more you can do that, the easier it is to make real improvements that result in growth.
For me, the first big challenge came in 2004. I had played high school basketball but was always the last player to come off the bench and get into a game. After stumbling upon an opportunity to coach a high school all-star team at a summer event between my freshman and sophomore year of university, I decided that coaching was something I wanted to pursue further. I finished university and eventually made my way to Minnesota. After coaching at the high school level for five years (and working at that high school during the day), I felt I was ready to make the jump to the college level. Every single person outside of my immediate family and closest friends told me it would never happen because I didn’t play in college, let alone much in high school. Being self aware helped me to realize that even though I didn’t have the typical resume of most college coaches, what I did have and what I was really, really good at was being a genuine, caring person who could build relationships and connect on a personal level with both young people and adults. That ability coupled with my work ethic led me to develop thousands of relationships with all kinds of different people in basketball circles from the NBA down to the youth levels. The end result was an 8-year college coaching career that included helping recruit a young man who would eventually be named National Player of the Year; another who would become a school’s all-time assists leader; and I was a part of a Division II school’s win over a Top 25 Division I program.
Fast forward to 2014 and another opportunity presented itself simply because of a relationship I had built – Construct, manage and lead the college admissions division of Tudor Collegiate Strategies. It was a big challenge, but the opportunity to build something from the ground up and help people grow (like I had done in coaching) drew me in. For the first two years I was constantly told during my travels from vendors and others in the space that my chances of gaining any real traction were low. Some even went so far as to tell me that I was going to lose because I hadn’t worked directly in a college admissions office. But I knew deep down that I had a plan built on a tireless work ethic, patience, empathy, and the understanding of how to build and grow real relationships. Plus, I had gained a lot of knowledge from my time as a high school college and career advisor, and as a college coach I had worked closely with admissions offices at multiple schools.
Beyond that, I knew that there would be failures along the way, and I was okay with that fact. I was going to learn and grow from every single mistake.
The results continue to speak for themselves. Our company continues to grow at an incredible rate, and last year we helped multiple schools achieve record freshmen enrollment. Clients are seeing growth both as institutions and as individual admissions professionals.
I take great pride in what we’ve built to this point, but my fuel and the biggest thing that keeps me pushing forward and motivated every single day, is knowing that tomorrow I may have another opportunity to help someone else grow or maybe even help them have their big “aha” moment.
The feeling I got when I read that thank you email from that admissions counselor is hard to describe…it was just so exhilarating. It’s the same feeling I had in 2016 when an admissions counselor I didn’t know asked me to be his mentor after I finished leading a workshop, and it’s the same feeling I get every single time somebody thanks me for an article I wrote or tells me that they tried a strategy I recommended and it worked.
Again, the biggest reason I’m sharing my story today is to remind you about the importance AND the power of self awareness. We all have strengths and weaknesses. You need to be okay with yours, whatever they are. When you’re honest with yourself, who you are and where you are in life, and you’re willing to put in the work to get to where you want to be, you’re on the path to becoming the best you.
Please use this article as a reminder or as motivation to change. And if you’re already in a great place in life but you have a colleague or friend that isn’t, I encourage you to forward this on to them. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I really appreciate it!
If you’re interested in receiving my weekly admissions email newsletter where this article first appeared, all you have to do is send me a quick email that says “sign me up for your newsletter.” I’d love to have you join this growing community!
P.S. I thought you might enjoy this picture I took yesterday at sunrise during my flight to Boston.