On Nov. 29, 2011, I walked out of the stable, comfortable job I had held for more than seven years and toward an uncertain future that would become whatever I made of it.
While I loved Tufts and the work I did there, I reached a point where I needed a “what’s next.” For a variety of reasons, the best option available was to create it. So I started my own consulting business, Crosstown Digital Communications.
I wish the song “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons had been out when I made this change, because it sums up my perspective at the time perfectly:
So this is what you meant when you said that you were spent
And now it’s time to build from the bottom of the pit
Right to the top, don’t hold back
Packing my bags and giving the academy a rain check
I don’t ever want to let you down, I don’t ever want to leave this town
‘Cause after all, This city never sleeps at night
It’s time to begin, isn’t it?
I get a little bit bigger, but then I’ll admit I’m just the same as I was
Now don’t you understand that I’m never changing who I am
Truth be told, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I had a bunch of solid leads and a couple of initial projects — plus, I was still part-time at Tufts through mid-January — but despite this cushion, I still felt overwhelmed. Did little ol’ risk-averse, change-fearing me really just throw away all of my security and take this huge leap? What on Earth was I thinking?
December was not easy, I admit. I was learning a whole new way of working, and I came down with a cold that I would fight on and off until the spring. I was dispirited, at times. But I kept plugging ahead, closing out the year with a restorative week in England visiting family for Christmas.
When I came back, 2012 was a blank slate, and I finally began getting my bearings in the strange new world in which I had planted myself. So, what follows is the breakdown of the year in which I would turn my life upside-down — and perhaps right-side-up again
- I visited 16 states – New Hampshire, Nevada, New Mexico (twice), Texas (twice), New York (four times), California, Maine, New Jersey, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Illinois, Arkansas, Ohio, Wisconsin and Rhode Island — plus the District of Columbia.
- I spent 68 days away from home – that’s 18.6% of the year on the road. Only 13.2% of that time (nine out of 68 days) was personal/vacation travel – the rest was for professional reasons.
- A few of the vacation days were spent with Rick in Las Vegas, as part of a contest he won via Twitter from Old Spice. A unique experience, to be sure, and probably the nicest hotel accommodations we will ever have.
- I attended SXSW Interactive for the first time since 2006. The conference changed a lot in six years, and while its was both over- and underwhelming at times, I had a blast and am glad I got to give SXSW one last hurrah.
- To date, Crosstown has worked with 11 colleges and universities on projects including social media strategy, online news assessment and strategy, editorial consulting, copywriting, and group presentations/workshops. I’m so proud of the work I got to do and in awe of how much I had the chance to learn.
- Meet Content continued to grow. We launched a newsletter, began hosting webinars (both free and paid), hung out at Confab, spoke at a few conferences, announced Confab Higher Ed (coming in November 2013!), and churned out some content I’m really proud of.
- I spoke at 12 conferences: PRSACHE, NCSRMR, EduWeb, HighEdWeb, PSUWEB, NERCOMP, SUNYCUAD, UTexas System Seminar, edSocialMedia Summit, Content Strategy Summit, Gilbane Boston and TEDxSomerville. That doesn’t include talks developed and delivered for clients. So, yeah. Lots of public speaking. I still love it.
- That’s right – I gave a TED talk. While I emerged from the experience somewhat disillusioned with the TED mystique, I am still very proud of the talk I delivered — while in the throes of a relapse of my never-ending cold, no less.
- I developed and delivered workshops for the first time. I created four workshops for one client, delivered over the course of two days, and I gave another workshop at HighEdWeb. It was a uniquely challenging experience, and one I would love to repeat in the future.
- I wrote a book chapter! mStoner’s “Social Works” comes out later this year, but being asked to write a chapter for it was definitely a highlight of 2012.
- Um, I GOT PREGNANT. Woohoo! Baby’s due April 2 — we’ve got a blog and everything. Interestingly, I found out I was pregnant at a HighEdWeb regional conference, and I’ll be attending another regional two weeks before my due date. Such is my life.
- And, in the end, I came back to higher ed. In mid-October, I began a job as director of online content at Suffolk University. Lots of challenges and lots of opportunity. It’s great to be back at an institution, especially one going through such a transformation. Good stuff lies ahead.
Sure, the year was filled with leads that didn’t work out, proposals (for both projects and speaking) that didn’t get accepted, and jobs I applied for but did not get. But it was also filled with more than I ever hoped or expected to learn — about my field, my industry, and myself.
I have a deeper understanding of my experience at Tufts, and working with a range of different types of schools has given me a broader perspective of higher education. These realizations, I believe, are serving me well at Suffolk and will continue to serve me well as my career progresses. And it was an education I could have only received by jerking myself away from my stable, reliable job and into something untested and new.
Coming Home Again
I realize that I am fortunate. My first year of consulting was successful, not just in terms of experiences and takeaways but also financially. I did not go back to work at a university because my business was failing — in fact, it was just the opposite. I went back because what I learned the most in my year of consulting was not so much about communications, but about organizations, leadership and strategy. And in order to go where I wanted to go in my career, I needed to be back at an institution, to apply those lessons and keep learning new ones. I wanted to belong to an institution again so I could feel tethered to a mission and do it justice by effecting change from within.
And, truth be told, as much as I suffer from chronic wanderlust and love traveling, I realized that spending 18.6% of the year away from home was not sustainable — not right now, anyway. I remember deplaning at Logan after returning from HighEdWeb and realize that, for the first time in a long while, I did not know when I would be back. It was an odd feeling.
Pretty Good Year
I look back through my Google Calendar for the past year, and I feel tired — it’s hard to believe I crammed that much into 366 (thanks, leap year!) days. But I did it. And it’s not just the volume of destinations or workload, but the context in which they transpired.
I started Crosstown having no idea what the hell I was doing, and to be fair, I don’t set Crosstown aside thinking that I’ve become some sort of expert consultant and business owner. Far from it. But I figured it out as I went along. I tried new things, I did old things better, and I did things that scared the shit out of me. I made a few mistakes, and I notched a few wins. I learned. I grew. I changed. But I kept moving forward — and ultimately, I succeeded.
In short, what 2012 taught me is that I can do anything. So bring it, 2013. I’m ready for you.