If you’re not a regular reader of Joshua Kim’s blog on technology and learning, you’re really missing out on some quality content.
Every once in a while I’ll email Josh and let him know that he has once again inspired me to write something over here on my blog.
His response to my last post on Uber drivers and FutureLearn or EdX got me thinking about how it’s probably a good time to revisit the “what I do” or rather the “how I do” question that seems par for the course for most consultants:
“The sort of thing that I wish you would write about more is more about you. I mean, I’m fascinated by how someone builds the sort of career you have built. So I wish you wrote more about how you live in this world of ideas and schools – and how you can do this while paying the rent.”
I’ve written quite a bit about ‘my job‘ in previous posts. However, I suppose I haven’t shared very much about my move from the U.S. to the UK and back to the U.S.
In 2014, my consultancy was thriving. I was booking speaking gigs on a weekly basis, writing for Inside Higher Ed, and taking on other assorted writing projects. The digital engagement ‘machine’ that I had built from scratch was paying the bills.
I think it was in April when my girlfriend (now my wife) got a life-changing job offer. Her company asked her to move to London to manage communications for the CEO. It was an epic opportunity.
However, what that move meant was that I would have to effectively abandon the source of almost all of my income and move to a country where I had almost no contacts. It was an anxious time.
Starting from scratch as a freelancer in an entirely new geography was fairly intimidating. To be honest, my wife’s salary is what allowed me to rebuild my business from the ground up in the UK. There’s literally no way that I could have done what I did without her support.
So how did I build up a list of contacts and clients in a space where I was relatively unknown? I ended up using LinkedIn and Twitter as the building blocks of my business for networking, promotion, curation and brand building (the same stuff I share with students/staff on a regular basis but with myself as tactician).
It’s no accident that I now have more than 16,000 connections on LinkedIn. I connected with as many UK university employees as possible. LinkedIn’s algorithm worked perfectly as a mechanism for getting my content out in front of people who might bring me in for a paid speaking gig. Just like in the U.S., one engagement led to another and social media was the conduit for getting the word out.
And, culturally speaking, I think the way that I use Twitter on a daily basis resonated with my new followers from the UK (I had a few before the move, but not very many). Twitter in the UK, at least within higher education, reminded me of the communities that were slightly more active in the U.S. from a couple of years ago. And, I must add that the welcome that I received from most people within UK higher education was just awesome.
But the hardest part about moving to the UK (beyond the professional development budgets that were quite a bit less than in the U.S.) was the fact that I had to learn an entirely new system of higher education. It’s a huge asset these days to knows the ins and outs within HE in the U.S. as well as the UK. Back then, I would come home back to our ‘flat’ and be mentally exhausted…it was like being in graduate school all over again.
Fast forward to 2017 when our son was born and the conversation about moving back to the U.S. started happening. Most of our family members were far, far away from us. Life in the UK was terrific (the first couple of years were definitely challenging for me as I’d never lived outside of the U.S. before) and we had built up a terrific social circle. However, friends aren’t the same as grandparents.
Plus, taxes for consultants are a massive burden for Americans. We have to pay the U.S. government regardless of where we’re living…and the Queen wants her cut too. Family and finance due to our tax situation brought us back across the pond.
My consultancy was growing in the UK when we moved back to the U.S. My last higher education client in the UK was Oxford University…not a bad way to end my full-time work in England. (I mean, I’ll go back for a visit of course…I’m looking at you Reading)
Having been back in the United States since April, it’s been like having a familiar pair of sneakers on. I know all of the acronyms, associations, and events. With multiple contacts at schools/organizations (it’s so refreshing to be able to call universities ‘schools’ again!) I’ve been getting back into the swing of things. I will say that this time around, I’m doing a lot more pitching (something that I never did in the U.S. from 2010 to 2014). A lot of people still don’t even know that I’m back so I have to get the word out as much as possible.
I guess I’ve never really thought a lot about building my career. Most of the time, there’s so much work to be done that I just go with the flow. Speaking gigs come and go, blogs are written, and bills are paid. Rinse, repeat, and try to learn new things along the way. That’s the job.
Being a consultant has allowed me to have the freedom to always engage in learning as the core of my career. I know that sounds odd, but when I left my academic advising job at Oregon State University back in 2010, I was balancing a full-time position, a new Inside Higher Ed blog, and a handful of speaking engagements…I was swamped and barely had time to sleep, let alone learn new things.
Nowadays, I get the chance to work with colleges, universities, and companies from all over the place in higher ed. I’ve spoken at events in Italy, Spain, New Zealand, and Mexico. I’ve written blog posts for Fortune 500 companies. And, I’ve had the chance to start a family along the way. It’s been a wonderful ride and I look forward to the next adventure.
Thanks for prompting this post!
P.S. The photograph at the beginning of this post is from my recent keynote at Kentucky State University. The talk was all about digital transformation and organizational change. I spoke for 90 minutes with an additional 15 minutes for Q & A. It was a wonderful experience.
Each talk is full of new ideas and new audience questions. No day is the same as the next. The career sort of just builds itself.
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