A gap year, and that made all the difference…

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

It turns out, Campus News has been my longest running job.

Seven years in, and it’s still here. Some advertisers come and go. Who knows when they will abandon print completely. But until then, we keep printing newspapers, and they keep being read.

But just because Campus News has been my longest-running place of employment does not mean it’s what I’ve been doing the longest.

The title I’ve had the longest is Director of Communications, or some variation – just it’s a title I’ve carried with me from employer to employer over approximately 17 years.

What happened was, out of college with a degree in Writing, I started working for newspapers. The first newspaper I worked for had a circulation of about 2500. Campus News has four times that, though newspaper business models today aren’t what they were back then.

last word square iconThen, I started working in college administration as a PR/marketing director. It was a more stable job, considering I had a new baby at the time with my wife. Going to the “dark side,” my journalist friends called it. Now, PR professionals outnumber journalists 5:1, according to a recent article I’d read in Columbia Journalism Review.

In any case, I am a great college marketer and can get enrollments up at any institution using a variety of tools I’ve developed over the years. The problem is, I’m a “mission accomplished” type of guy. Once I’ve reached the goal, I get bored and want to move on. So, typically, I’d spend four to six years at an institution, rebrand them, and move on to another institution, without any lapse in employment. My working theory is that the institution is hiring me to fix a problem; I’m not conforming to them. So, once the problem is solved, the expectation is for me is to conform – to go from “creativity mode” to “maintenance mode.” But that’s not for me. After I leave, they hire a maintainer. There are lots of maintainers out there, continuing the brands I’ve created.

But the 20-year-old me wanted none of that. I wanted to be a writer and a professor back when. Just life got in the way. I kept writing on the side, albeit shorter pieces, and taught extensively as an adjunct, but with the high-intensity day job in college administration, I’d never be able to focus on fulfilling any previous dreams.

Because I was good at marketing didn’t mean I loved it. And therein lies the rub. People say you should do a job you love, but what if you just happen to be good at something and there’s a need for your services, and you have family who need you to earn a decent living?

So I took a gap year. My daughter was now 18. Obamacare was relatively cheap. I did a life “reset.”

I got out of college administration, let my hair and beard grow, wore T-shirts and jeans and old sneakers, lost a few pounds. I became who I was, before all of the BS. Like a previously developed lot that reverts back to nature.

Of course, I kept this paper going as a side gig – it meets my overall life goals and entertains and informs thousands – but now I really could change things. I upped the page count to 32. Went full color. While most college papers are shrinking or disappearing, I doubled down on this project.

Click image to order!
Click image to order!

Then I wrote – I have a really good book that is just getting to its final polishing stage, and then off to an agent. It’s about an adjunct who can’t pay the bills and gets into a bunch of mayhem. It’s better than that description, trust me.

And, with my cleared head, I was able to become more than I’d been as an adjunct. As you may be aware, longtime adjuncts often get overlooked at colleges when it comes to them being hired full-time. Add to that that I was a – gasp! – administrator, the perceived Darth Vaders of the academic world, and no college faculty hiring committee would even entertain interviewing me.

But without that stigma – considering I was on a gap year – I started getting callbacks from some colleges searching for a full-time instructor. Now I’m teaching Public Relations full-time for a respected four-year college Upstate; albeit, I’m not yet on the tenure-track.

Turns out, colleges are now looking for people with significant experience in the field – and the appropriate degree – to teach. So, all of those years of doing college marketing actually paid off. I know my subject matter inside out; enough to teach it. And, yeah, I didn’t really hate marketing when in the midst of it; else, I wouldn’t have lasted that long in the field.

The gap year from academia resulted in a “mission accomplished” for me. I’m doing what I want now – what my 20-year-old self had wanted – which has always been the goal.

And that’s the last word … for now.

aaeaaqaaaaaaaagsaaaajgi5otcxmdc4ltllytgtngu1mi1hyme1lwflmdjin2m3owflngDarren Johnson writes several columns for the Campus News web site that do not appear in print. Find more at www.cccn.us.