I graduated Fairleigh Dickinson in May 2006 with a marketing degree in hand filled with unforgettable memories and experiences that prepared me for the real-world. However, I was caught in the silo of “you earned a degree in marketing, you have to get a marketing job.” I was still with the PR company I mentioned in yesterday’s post, still earning “intern” money but now commuting 90 minutes each way, sitting in an office with no windows, and not working on anything that inspired me. May turned into June. June quickly turned into July. In July, I shared with my boss at the PR firm that I was accepted to go back to FDU to earn a masters in Communication but I was still looking for full-time work. There was no opportunity for financial assistance from the firm or a significant increase worth the 90-minute commute.
That’s when I realized just two months after I graduated, that life was SLIPPING by. Courtney and I had less than a month left until she left for Pittsburgh for graduate school - so I called out sick and we packed her car with her yellow lab Bailey and we headed into the city. Since we had her dog, we went right to Central Park to lay out. That is when I discovered I needed to leave this job and not go back to school for communications, but to apply to work in any student affairs job I could get.
I quickly moved all my co-curricular activities (Habitat, Marketing Club, Programming Committee, etc) to the top of my resume. The three internships moved below. I applied for entry level jobs from Boston to North Carolina - coming up empty. Until I found a job for the Coordinator of Recreation Programming at Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ. I went on two interviews and landed the job - complete with salary, housing, and allowance to take three classes a semester in any graduate program.
This is where I had met one of the top 3 bosses I’ve ever worked for - Kristen McKitish. She was the Director of Student Activities and we shared an office in 3rd Floor Ferry. The previous position only left behind a key to the office and manilla folder of previous invoices. The slate was clean, but more importantly Kristen was the perfect boss for this entry-level position.
One of the best things she did was trust me. On my very first week she asked me to stay late for one of her events. I was able to connect with new students and I had a sense of responsibility right out of the gate. Kristen helped me connect with the right people on campus, delegate the politics and red tape, and helped me only when I needed it. She would always say, “You good Kev-O? If you need my help just let me know.” There were times I definitely needed her help or assistance at a late night program but most of the time the “show” was all mine.
When I look back it, the environment Kristen instilled was all about autonomy and not taking life too seriously. Yes, I was hired to run and grow Centenary’s recreation department. However, I was able to volunteer late night with our Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Trip, help bring our first ever Student Leadership Retreat to campus (with Stacy, Neil, and Kirsten), and create marketing strategies for our Student Life entire office. All while going back to school part time for my Master’s degree in Leadership with a focus on Student Leadership.
Kristen was like the mayor of 3rd Floor Ferry - she got along with everyone. She knew how to work with anyone, but also knew when to keep her head down and work or help out those around her. She was great with students and taught me a lot about how to supervise students while still building a respectful rapport with them even though I was only two years older than most of them.
Kristen’s philosophy on work is when it’s done - go home. Monday through Thursday evenings and occasional weekends kept us very busy. A lot of times, I would be on campus 8:30am-11pm only taking a break for dinner and my 2-3 hour class. Come Friday’s, should say “What are you doing here, you’ve already put in 40+ hours.” If my work was done, she would force me to leave and go home to relax.
What they taught me:
Kristen taught me how to lead others and create an environment where your people can thrive. She taught me how to give others trust, and how to find that sweet spot between the micro-managers and the missing in action managers. A lot of how I lead my staff today is grounded in what I learned from working for Kristen.
How they inspired me:
Kristen inspired me to carve out my niche on Centenary’s campus. I’m sure she had plenty of ideas on how she would have run the recreation initiatives, but she let me have a vision and “run with it.” After feeling burned out from the PR internship, this opportunity to carve out my niche on campus served was exactly what I needed to feel inspired again.
If someone gives you the opportunity to build something from the ground up, take full advantage of it. Use it as an opportunity to figure out your niche and build upon that. I have seen too many people start a job in an autonomous work environment and run scared because they are afraid to mess it up. Believe in yourself, and make the most of these opportunities.
If you manage others, give them autonomy and instill trust in their abilities. This is a very motivating management style.