How Clark Changed My Life Without my Knowing it
I’ve always been able to think and speak on my feet. Either an innate or learned personality characteristic, I’ve always seemed to possess it. In honesty, it can be both a blessing and a curse. I’ve found myself in just as many predicaments as I have opportunities as a result of it. Therefore, I never considered my Irish wit a bankable commodity.
As a result, when considering colleges as a Junior at Northfield Mount Hermon School I did the rudimentary basics: I looked at the Iveys, some of the more liberal New England schools, a few west coast options and, as an after thought I looked at Clark. It turns out that choosing to attend Clark was one of the best afterthoughts I have ever had.
I have been reflecting lately, in earnest, about my life and wondered “How in the heck did this happen?” My Clark life was full of academia and directed action. I “knew” what I wanted, even what I wanted to “be”. There were no questions in my mind. I clinged to the amazing Psychology program like a lifeline. Clark afforded me amazing professors, a liberal arts environment that fostered exploration, and opportunities for research and intellectual growth which remain unparalleled to this day. I traveled. I published. I even won awards. I was going to be a Professor of Psychology and was going to be equally proud to be a Clark alumnus.
Well, none of that has happened to this day…except getting my degree. In fact, everything that has transpired since has been quite the opposite. Still, I proudly wear my Clark sweatshirt to work, visit Annie’s Clark Brunch on every occasion I can, and speak boldly and proudly with my business associates about the power and richness of my Clark experience. I call it’s resultants “unintended consequences” of my time at Clark.
I started to write them down– a mental inventory of all the doors Clark opened for me that I never expected or understood. Then I took stock in them. It was a deeply introspective exercise, sometimes sad, mostly joyful, and in other parts confusing and down right lucky. Unlike others who regail their family and friends with mundane, often directly consequential results of a college education, I thought I would share some of the those “unintended” opportunities being a Clarkie offered me.
1.)Being a Clarkie taught me how to survive.
In my Junior year at Clark, I learned late first semester that my mother was dying from an auto-immune disease and would need a kidney transplant. It was something my parents hid from my sister and I, she still in high school, as we diligently pursued our studies. When the call finally came, I was both shocked and heartbroken. Not only was her life in crisis, but my own as well: I had to drop out. The expenses of uncovered medical bills, thousand dollar a month prescriptions and general family anguish required me to begin COPACE classes and continue credit to credit. I was sure I’d never finish.
My Clark community supported me, most importantly close friends and trusted mentors like Michael Bamberg. I took early leave of my dorm room and moved to Maywood Street in an apartment owned by a fellow Clarkie. Now, I faced rent, bills, food…and for the first time, real paying work became a necessity. I got a job at the Worcester Centrum, took classes at night, and when it finally became too much to handle financially and otherwise, Clark took a backseat to work. I was successful but never truly fulfilled. As I worked in the city, more and more opportunities arose and I took advantage of them as they came. Carrying the Clark name on my shirt sleeve sure did help…but something else helped more: being able to think and speak on my feet! As I look back now, it was my time at Clark that really solidified my understanding that communication, concept, and context drove all successful negotiating endeavors. I quickly rose to the challenge, using those critical thinking and speaking skills to survive. Without this “unintended consequence” I’m not sure where I would be today. And by the way, Mom’s still with us today and I finally got that piece of paper in 2005.
1.)Being a Clarkie made me a Dad.
I met my wife Julie (Bell) ’00 when she was working as a photocopy work study in the Psychology Department my Sophomore year. In essence, we hated one another. She was strong willed, intelligent, athletic and popular. At that time in my life she was everything that made my teeth grind, except I couldn’t get her out of my head. We never clicked, although I always knew something more was there between us.
While working in my Junior year, it was my job as low man on the totem pole to visit Stop and Shop in Shrewsbury to procure a specific and exhaustively described grind of coffee- a job meant to annoy me beyond my breaking point. It was that day I met Julie all over again. In one moment, I saw her from a distance and was awe struck. I was moved in that deep way that most of your body feels to separate from it’s connective parts and you feel electrified- frozen in time. I knew she would be my wife from that moment on.
We got married in 2001 surrounded by our Clark community. We now have two beautiful children, Siobhan (9) and Cathal (6) who are a unique blend of both of us. We will celebrate 11 years next July, and neither one of us can imagine nor understand just how we were brought together. Credit Clark with this “unintended”, awesome voyage.
1.)Being a Clarkie gave me a career.
All the late night postulations about Heinz Werner and his intentions with genetic theory, volumes of Lev Vygotsky translated into English, and examinations of discourse and narrative theory were meant to prepare me for a life steeped in academia. By accident, it prepared me for the business world.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak, but I adapted it to creative academic energy. That may be why I was drawn so powerfully to writing theory and posing larger-than-life questions that most surely must have had a clear, rational answer. The beauty of Clark University has always been just that- mental gymnastics are encouraged, if not a pre-requisite of the Clark experience. I never gave it a second thought.
Since 2004 I have been self-employed in marketing and communications, where I have run the gamut of roles and responsibilities. I created and ran a successful web-design start-up company which I sold in late 2009 to my then partner. We had 100+ clients at the time of the sale, and I never really knew how I got into it. I did know two core things: Communicating value to clients is extremely important, and if you listen to what they actually need (not what they are saying), the likelihood of helping them be more successful is very high.
I have since taken on executive communications projects for many large companies, writing position papers, marketing programs, creating advertising…but it never felt right. I essentially “sold out”. My hands weren’t dirty enough, and I wasn’t doing any “real” work. It was unnerving. I decided to scale back and look for key projects with long term relationships of value, where I could be of demonstrable, change oriented help. I settled on small businesses in flux– either growing or slipping – where I felt I could be most effective.
To this day I have wonderful clients with meaningful relationships where the results of our mutual efforts are visible every day. Through analytic approaches, creativity and instinct many great things have happened. My most recent client has seen a 350% growth in their annual revenue in just three years because of our work together.
Clark University taught me how to work through the tough stuff with my eyes open- eager to see opportunities and questions with the same zeal. To work collectively with the same vigor as one might selfishly work for themselves alone. Most importantly, the concept of effecting real, lasting change through one individual’s efforts is a Clark message burned on the deepest parts of my self. Not only did Clark give me a career, but an “unintended” passion as well.
I could enumerate other “unintended” benefits of my Clark experience, but it would seem as though I was fishing for just one more thing to justify the meaningful impact being a Clarkie has had on my entire life space. There are few parts of my every day where I struggle to find a direct connection to Clark. That says something.
Instead, I implore you to consider the relevant and important impacts Clark has had on you and the lives to whom you are most intimately connected. Suffice it to say that in life, I have found, the most “unintended consequences” of an experience are meant to teach us to be grateful, introspective and mostly, humble.