The Work Seminar

Ep. 4: Lizz Gardner - MA in Writing & Publishing Turned Higher Ed Administrator

November 24, 2021 Jesse Butts Season 1 Episode 4
The Work Seminar
Ep. 4: Lizz Gardner - MA in Writing & Publishing Turned Higher Ed Administrator
Show Notes Transcript

Lizz took the well-tread barista-by-day, writer-by-night path after finishing DePaul’s MA in writing and publishing program. When work became heavy on the baristaing and light on the writing, she threw her hat in the ring to teach a section of developmental education at nearby Wilbur Wright College. 

Fast forward ten years, Lizz is now the dean of community and continuing education at Malcolm X College, one of the other seven City Colleges of Chicago. Every day, she helps students in the West Side develop professionally and personally with programs the community needs and wants. (She knows because she asks and listens.)

Her transition from adjunct faculty to administration didn’t happen overnight, or in a clear-cut, linear fashion. She moved through teaching, advising, data strategy, and grant management, having to learn numerous skills along the way, including means to manage work-life balance as her responsibilities expanded and free time contracted. 

Yet the art of storytelling she honed in grad school has always come in handy.  

Books & other resources mentioned

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine

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Jesse Butts:

Welcome to The Work Seminar, the podcast for people with liberal arts advanced degrees considering work outside their fields of study. All right. Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining me again for another episode. I'm your host, Jesse Butts. Today I'm chatting with Lizz Gardner. Lizz is a fellow MA in writing and publishing from DePaul University turned higher ed administrator. Lizz is now the dean of community and continuing education at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. Lizz, welcome.

Lizz Gardner:

Hey, Jesse, I'm excited to be here. Good to see you.

Jesse Butts:

Good to see you. Before we dive into the path you've taken to become the dean of continue, or dean of community and continuing education. Sorry about that.

Lizz Gardner:

It's a mouthful, yeah.

Jesse Butts:

First, congratulations. I know this is a recent development.

Lizz Gardner:

Thank you. Thank you so much. I've been in this role since June. And it's very, very exciting. Thank you.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah, absolutely wonderful to see the fellow DePaul alums doing well. So I in particular, I'm not entirely sure I know what this position is. Would you mind explaining a bit about your focus, what you're doing most days? Which I'm sure varies quite a bit when you're at this level, but if you could just give us a little insight into your job, that would be great.

Lizz Gardner:

So in this role, I'm so excited because it really brings a lot of the skills that I've developed throughout my career to bear. The department that I head up of community and continuing education is a space where within the college that we offer non credit courses. So we kind of function...I think about it in two arms. So there's the professional development. So Malcolm X College is the healthcare hub of City Colleges of Chicago. So there's a lot of professional development opportunities. For CPR, we do the National Registry of EMT psychomotor exams. So these are opportunities for students to build their skills in their professional field. And then on the other side of that is the personal development. So this, think like Zoomba classes, and we're, we've just launched this really exciting How to Invest in the Stock Market 101. So really building skills in response to what the community wants. We are on the west side of Chicago, this is an opportunity to put the community back in community college. We're kind of starting from scratch. So I'm really excited to perform some listening surveys, getting results in, recruiting instructors. It's a great way to build relationships with our partners and to build a community with our faculty and staff as well to come in and take a belly dancing class after work, you know. So it's been, it's been a really cool opportunity so far. And I'm excited to continue building kind of this... It's a whole separate structure of the college, it's a whole other opportunity for the college to operate in the ecosystem of the city. It's great. I love kind of bringing my creativity and innovation to it. It's a really autonomous role, which is right up my alley as well. So it's fantastic and a lot of room to build.

Jesse Butts:

Nice. Excellent. And I'm curious, is this position unique to Malcom X? Or do the other city colleges have someone similar in your role?

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah, absolutely. The City Colleges and a lot of colleges and universities have this non-credit option. It's really what community college's mission started with, serving the community with classes like this. So yes, there are many of us around the district. Many programs around the district. Some focus more on the cybersecurity roles and certification in it, and things like that. But as the healthcare hub, we're really looking to capitalize on the population that is already here and continue to serve our students that way as well.

Jesse Butts:

So a small plug to all the college, the community colleges, the City Colleges out there, it's so easy to forget that we have these wonderful resources in our neighborhoods, or just a stone's throw away, where we can learn new interesting things that might have nothing or everything to do with our career. I personally took one one course at a community college after undergrad between grad school. It was really nice. I was just pretty bored at work, really kind of struggling to find an avenue to learn. And it was just a wonderful opportunity. So I regret, my only regret is that I haven't done it since. And I feel like I've been inspired to check out my community, my community colleges course, listings after this.

Lizz Gardner:

Jesse, one thing I'll tell you, you say a stone's throw away, but the pandemic has really, one of the silver linings is we've really bolstered our online offerings as well. So...

Jesse Butts:

Great

Lizz Gardner:

You don't have to throw a stone. You can just login to zoom and learn how to invest in the stock market. So

Jesse Butts:

All right, even better. So now that we understand what you're doing now, I'd like to talk about the journey that you've taken. And I'd like to start with grad school. So obviously, as I mentioned before, we were in the same program at DePaul. I'm curious what prompted you to enroll DePaul. What made you want to go beyond what you studied in undergrad?

Lizz Gardner:

So my bachelor's degree is from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. I have a bachelor's in English literature. And then I kind of flitted around Jackson for a while. I managed a restaurant. I worked in food service for quite some time. And I just wasn't feeling fulfilled in that work. I continued to kind of write. I joined some writing workshops through coffee shops around the city and things like that. I actually took some classes at a community college in Jackson as well, just that...

Jesse Butts:

Practice what you preach.

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah. Hinds Community College, thank you. But there, there was this kind of thing that was missing. I had this thought of, Oh, my gosh, I have a bachelor's in English literature. How am I going...I have this deep desire to help and give back. And how can I do that? And I didn't want to teach high school. And then I visited the beautiful city of Chicago. And it was kismet, and I said, Okay, let's explore a grad school opportunity. Because, I mean, honestly, Jesse, the truth is, if I didn't get into grad school, I wasn't going to be able to afford to move. I worked in food service. And, you know, it's paycheck to paycheck, and grad school, and student loans, gave me the opportunity to move to explore academically, to explore geographically, to meet new people and be exposed to new experiences. And I was actually accepted to DePaul's literature program.

Jesse Butts:

Oh, interesting.

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah, and I took a James Joyce class, and one...

Jesse Butts:

That's a hell of an entry.

Lizz Gardner:

Maybe my second quarter.

Jesse Butts:

Okay.

Lizz Gardner:

I mean, that's right up my alley. I'm like, Oh, my God, I can finally do the James Joyce class I've always wanted to do. I was just so wide eyed and starry eyed about it. One of the options for a final assignment was a creative writing option. And I leaned into that, and that, it really rekindled a lot of the joy that I found in my bachelor's program where I did do some creative writing. And so I talked to my professor, he really kind of coached me through making the decision and DePaul was starting this new writing and publishing program. So I made the transfer. And I was really following my convictions about where I really started to see writing as an opportunity to build communication skills, telling stories, connecting with people. The opportunity to, and when doing creative nonfiction, getting the opportunity also in this therapeutic kind of way to kind of tell stories from my life and a lot of self reflection. In spaces like that, I found a lot of joy there. And I found a lot of joy being around other writers. And being in a space where creativity was praised, right? It wasn't just this side hobby or kind of thing. It was a real intellectual exercise. And I felt like that was really fostered through my grad school experience. So I, I got there out of desperation. But I stayed there out of real deep self reflection and desire to grow as an artist, and to hone my communication skills and storytelling skills.

Jesse Butts:

And just for the listeners for a little context, so the program that we were in it, it had essentially a creative writing track and more of a professional writing track. And these weren't really tracks per se, but they combine both types of courses into one program. So I'm curious, Lizz, as you were thinking about honing communication skills, but also developing as an artist, were you taking a mixture of both classes? Or both types of classes? Did you lean more heavily toward the creative versus the professional? How did that play out for you?

Lizz Gardner:

I definitely lean toward the creative. So I did some fiction writing workshops. I did some great narrative structure lecture courses, some creative nonfiction, I did a revision for creative nonfiction essays course with Dr. Morano, and that was awesome. I had ventured into the technical writing with a course on food and travel writing, because it felt like kind of like a safe space, you know, I feel like food and travel writing can be very creative and very interesting. But I was struck by the rigidity. I'm a gal who needs to be free. There are times when I appreciate form, right? When it when I was an undergrad, I loved writing villanelles and sestinas and the occasional sonnet just to force myself into these spaces where you have to be really economical with your language and get really creative and like, how can I express this idea with x syllables instead of y syllables? But where to put your nut graph and an essay about, you know, it just, it didn't speak to me in a way and maybe I didn't give it enough chance. But I was turned off by the technical writing.

Jesse Butts:

As you were approaching the end and graduation, did you have any ideas of where you wanted to go after this? What did you start doing for work after you graduated?

Lizz Gardner:

After I graduated, I was a barista at a local coffee shop in my former neighborhood in Lincoln Square. I felt a little lost. I want to clarify, I'm a first generation college student, first generation undergrad and grad school. There's this conflict that I have still as an adult working in higher ed, of pursuing passions versus pursuing the paycheck, pursuing the workforce placement. And I pursued the passion, and I continued to read, I continued to write. I wasn't submitting anything for publication, and I was kind of like, okay, maybe this isn't... I started thinking maybe I made a mistake. Now I'm in all this debt, and maybe I made a mistake. I I didn't take the time to envision what it would look like, which sounds absolutely insane after working in higher ed for so long, but I was so passion focused. I didn't really leverage that opportunity to to envision that for myself.

Jesse Butts:

And I think that's a very common feeling that a lot of our listeners will have. I mean, this podcast is dedicated to all of us out there who got those liberal arts advanced degrees. And obviously, some of us are probably thinking that we would teach or practice the craft, but I don't think it's uncommon, I mean in this community, to really just think I love writing, history, whatever, art so much that undergrad wasn't enough.

Lizz Gardner:

Yes.

Jesse Butts:

But as you started, as you were working and writing, but you mentioned that you weren't submitting. How long did that last? And what was the impetus that made you leave that barista position and try something new?

Lizz Gardner:

So I was encouraged by a friend, actually a fellow student from the program, Cydney. Oh, Cydney. She was awesome. Yeah. So she lived in the same neighborhood. She popped in the coffee shop one day, it was around this time of the year. And she said, I started adjunct teaching at Wright college, which is one of the City Colleges of Chicago on the Northwest side. And they're looking for instructors, and I think you could be awesome. And I sat and I thought, and I was like, What do you mean? She was like, you've got the energy, you've got the passion, just give it a shot, just see what you think. And it could be a cool way for you to employ some of the skills that you learned. I forgot to mention, I also took a teaching creative writing class while I was in grad school, as well. But come to find out I would not be teaching creative writing at Wright College. So this was my first, so I got hired on the first day, Jesse, the first day of class.

Jesse Butts:

Oh, wow.

Lizz Gardner:

And so they wouldn't let me in the classroom because I had to go and take a drug test and pass a drug test before they would fully hire me. Just city policy. So I didn't even get to greet my students on the first day. And in the job interview, the person who was interviewing me was like, you've never taught a classroom, how are you ever going to...how are you going to do this, right? And this is where I learned the idea of transferable skills. Huge. I was like, Listen, I've managed a restaurant that makes over a million dollars a year. I have managed a coffee shop. I have, and, I can manage a classroom and work with various types of people. I embrace diversity. You know, these types of things. And she was like, great, you get one section at 8 am. I was like, she took a chance on me. And it was the greatest gift, that opportunity. And, and I don't want to give her all the credit. I also want to say I took a risk. I took a risk doing that. I continued to barista because adjuncts don't make any money at all. But I was horrible. I got in there and I was, I was teaching developmental education. So that means, the old and not very nice word for that is remedial, okay? So I was spending 16 weeks teaching a class of about 28 students how to write a paragraph. And a lot of that, you know, is critical thinking skills. So getting really creative and how to form an argument, how to think your thoughts and get them out. I felt out of place. It took me, it...I was uncomfortable. Many of my students were older than I was. But it really changed the course of my life. It was hard, and I took a risk. And I was being a barista. You know, I was teaching an 8 am class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I would do my office hours and go straight to the coffee shop and do that for 40 hours a week. And just hope and pray that I get another section to teach the following semester.

Jesse Butts:

If you don't mind, I think this is a good place to pause. Because I've heard this in a few people, or with a few people I've interviewed, is that a lot of people who talk about that, that entry point into what they're doing now. What they they've discovered, or that they love or that they've really attached to. There is of course, the luck, the opportunity. But there's the advocacy. And there's the hard work. That seems like that's the trifecta. You know, we all get breaks in different places. But it's because we asked, we made a compelling argument, and then once we got it, we figured out what the hell to do, and how to do it.

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah. And just to add on to that, it's not easy. It's not easy, you know, when I took on more sections, teaching as an adjunct because I was hoping to maybe get a full-time faculty position to actually have an income that I could live on. I mean, because the contradiction is the city's paying me pennies and requiring me to live in the city, which cost dimes. And I had to take this chance. I had to suffer to get up there. And frankly, when you adjunct and you teach English, you're grading 90 papers every two weeks. So it's a lot of at-home work. It's not like a coffee shop where you go in and you leave and you're done. But that's when I really started to figure out what is this? What is this kind of like interstate that I'm on? And what exit do I want to take? And if I'll take an exit. So it became really compelling to start exploring other avenues within higher ed in that kind of way, but I never would have made it through if I didn't sit down and really think about my transferable skills, right? Everything is like "teaching experience required," teaching or experience required, you know? It's like, well, how do I get that experience? And when you sit down and really think about the hard skills that it takes to do certain things, so much of the hard skills can be gained in retail and food service work. Or the soft skills are gained in a liberal arts education. So...

Jesse Butts:

That's a great framing. I really like how you think about that. At what point did you start looking to move from a teaching role to something in a staff capacity?

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah, great question. So in the teaching role, the reason I got better is that I had some incredible mentors who gave me incredible feedback in that I understood where it was coming from, saw myself getting better, allowed me to kind of see that vision of myself. So eventually, I started picking up so many classes as an adjunct teaching four sections a semester, I couldn't barista anymore. But when you're an adjunct, you ain't got no summer job, you only have a job for two 16-week semesters out of the year, and that's the only time you ever get paid. So one of my mentors, the chair of the English department, she recommended to the Associate Dean of Student Services that I could be a great adjunct advisor. So this is someone who helps out during peak registration. Kind of works with students to pick their classes, build their schedule, right? Like, where do you go to get your ID? Have you talked to financial aid? All of that stuff. So it was out of a need for money, and then a job, right? And I was interviewed for that role. The Associate Dean brought me on. And I had the advocacy from the chair of the department. And it was an incredible experience. And I spent that first summer when I was kind of doing this part-time advising role. I'm a real nerd for Prezi and PowerPoint. And I love honing those skills. I love telling stories with visuals, and I like editing videos and things like that. And so I built the whole new student orientation deck and trained all the advisors on how to give the presentation. And it was awesome. It was awesome to start thinking about as a teacher, I was only with these students for 16 weeks. And I could see them grow in 16 weeks, but start to think about with them on their whole academic journey. And that became this whole other space to explore. And space I wanted to make an impact. So that's when I moved shortly after that into a full-time role as a college advisor.

Jesse Butts:

But it sounds like a key difference with the advising is that you found something where you raise your own bar to excellence. I mean, obviously creating a new student orientation deck was, I shouldn't assume but I'm guessing that wasn't required. That was something that seemed like a mixture of what you like to, like you said you like to nerd out in visual storytelling, you saw this need. And I'm guessing that you really distinguished yourself by doing that.

Lizz Gardner:

What I discovered in teaching that...you're definitely on the right track. What I discovered in teaching that really I've been able to carry through my roles is it comes from grad school, storytelling. And when teaching developmental education, you have to find new tools to connect with your students. And visual storytelling was a way to do it. And when you start kind of liking it and giving your space to grow, build those skills. And I mean, Friday afternoon, I was here at work watching YouTube videos on the new PowerPoint transition thing that's super cool. But like, never putting any skill that you've acquired on the shelf. And honestly, never putting any relationship you've acquired on the shelf. All of that has been huge for me that I was able to take the skills and relationships I built in my teaching role to enhance myself as an advisor and bring skills to the table that no other advisor had because I made that I made that choice. And it's also a space that like, like you said, I like to nerd out in. But you're definitely on the right track. There's a lot of self-starter requirements.

Jesse Butts:

Were you feeling at the time this is something I really want to latch on to for the long haul? And, you know, you can define long however you want, whether it's five years or 25. Or did it did it seem like a track? Like each thing as kind of getting closer to something that...like each role, I'm enjoying more and more, and this is getting closer, but it's not quite there? What were you feeling at the time with these jobs that you were at?

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah, great question. It's City Colleges. And in a lot of bargained for spaces, and unionized spaces, there's the term "lifer." Are you going to be a lifer? Are you going to be an advisor for life? Are you gonna be in this role for life? And I knew it was no, no, no, no. Because the more work I did, and these roles, the more work I saw needed to be done. And the more I needed to kind of learn to make an impact, you know, an advisor can only do so much. And when you when I've got a caseload of 600 students

Jesse Butts:

600?

Lizz Gardner:

600, right. I mean, imagine that. I had great intentions, but my impact was not high.

Jesse Butts:

And is that like a ... can you give us a little context? Is that like a super load? Is that what any academic advisor in a community college would expect to carry?

Lizz Gardner:

So it's, it's recommended you're at 400.

Jesse Butts:

Wow.

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah. So 600 is a lot. There was a team of us, 12 or 13 of us, that had caseloads of 600 students, because every single student gets an advisor. And you're expected to have appointments once, appointments with them, build relationships with them, and it can get very exhausting. It's very much a performative space, to be an advisor. You're constantly kind of asking the same questions, and you're asking the same questions, but you're always getting different answers. So you always have to pivot and strategize and things like that. And I came to really love that work. And that's what kind of moved me into the data space. So I started to gather all this institutional knowledge. I felt like it's definitely a track of, if you think about it as a ladder, which I don't really want to, but the higher the ladder you get up, in the end, you yell, more people can hear you. That's how I've really seen my role as like an advocate and I've gained this institutional knowledge, these are the things we need to change. And if I can get in positions where that change can happen, and along the way, gain the skills of how to use a pivot table and how to make really cool data vis, you know, that attracts people to tell the story. That's where change can happen.

Jesse Butts:

And when you say advocate?

Lizz Gardner:

When I talk about advocate, I'm usually talking about my students.

Jesse Butts:

Got it.

Lizz Gardner:

There is this on the ground work that has to happen. That advocacy isn't just screaming, yelling about all the things that are wrong. It's about having conversations and problem solving and thought partnering with various leaders throughout the institution. So for me in the end, it's all about the students. And sometimes I get called out, like, "All right, Lizz is here. Thank you, Lizz, for being so student-centered.

Jesse Butts:

I'm sure in academia there's no shortage of backhanded compliments.

Lizz Gardner:

It's...yeah, there's a lot of "wit" around here. We'll call it that.

Jesse Butts:

But I think though, I mean, you're bringing up something that I think I've learned, or I know I've learned along the way, that was a hard lesson. I mean, in my...Really, I feel like until my late 20s, I just presented every boss with, you know, "This sucks. Why are we doing it this way? We're so far behind." Without any plan or any idea and just expecting that change would happen, because I'm so important. And I complained. It really is, you know, I'm laughing now. But it's the least compelling argument anyone can make for why something should change.

Lizz Gardner:

But Jesse, I think that is always the begi ning of the career. There has o be a dissenter, right? You ave to have someone that's gonn say, Uh-uh, this sucks. Uh-u , this is horrible. No, why are ou going forward this poli y? And why can't you change this It takes time. It takes time in an institution, it takes time in a career, it takes time as a frickin' human being to unde stand what problem solving is. agree, I started the same way. I started the same way. It stil hasn't changed today, but it's one of the things I always am s reaming about. Why on our CCC pplication, do we say the word gender and then ask if it's male if students are male, fema e, or intersex? That's cal ed sex, not gender. And we' e an academic instit tion. You need to get your la guage right. Right? We want to b a welcoming, inclusive envir nment, and the application is not equitable. I'll continue hat fight, but that's an example right? We can shake our fists. ut that's just the beginning. A d it's okay to shake your fi t.

Jesse Butts:

So can you tell us a little bit about the the data role that you were in? What exactly was this? How did you change from being an advisor to being in the data realm?

Lizz Gardner:

So when I was an advisor, our chancellor at the time, Cheryl Hyman, was really focused on improving our IPEDS outcomes. So this is the completion rate that gets reported, the Department of Ed and the graduation rate of students earning an associate's degree in three years at City Colleges was 7%.

Jesse Butts:

Wow.

Lizz Gardner:

Unbelievable. So she had the college's top several advisors to become completion advisors. And that's what I became. It was so much kind of data entry and tracking, that I am a person, I like things efficient. And someone, a close friend of mine once told me, If you're doing something repetitive in Excel, there's always a way to like improve.

Jesse Butts:

That's a great life lesson for everyone.

Lizz Gardner:

Yes. So I just started Googling things. I was like, Can we please make my life easier? And honestly, I just submitted to my curiosity and fell in love with Excel and continued kind of doing that work. And this data strategist position came up within the Office of Institutional Effectiveness here at Malcolm X. And I thought, this could be awesome, right? That's when I started to really see kind of the elevator door, the elevator doors closing and going up to another floor, right? But I can be a data strategist where I'm no longer just in this student services space, but I'll be working on data from academic affairs, right? I get to wrap my head around data, around instruction, right? And in the end, when you start to see the rates of students who come to Malcolm X that don't complete English 101 in their first year, you start to say, Wow. Right? That's when you start shaking your fist. And then a strategy part of it is the problem-solving part. That's where I really started honing that skill. I mean, and Jesse, that was only a couple years ago. And I was just surrounded by a team that fostered curiosity, creativity, and really kind of fed into my drive to make change when you start to be on a team that is working toward the same thing. That's huge.

Jesse Butts:

And if I'm remembering correctly, it sounds like each role you're progressively getting more and more interested in, you're having a deeper connection to it. But the data role, that wasn't a particularly long role for you. I mean, you were, you moved into your next role at community college, at excuse me, at Malcolm X College.

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah.

Jesse Butts:

Pretty quickly after that, correct?

Lizz Gardner:

Yes. So I was on the Office of Institutional Effectiveness team. And when I was a data strategist, I worked really across disciplinary, building actually an online orientation as well. That way, so then I was asked to manage this grant, the Workforce Equity Initiative Grant, that Malcolm X received from the Illinois Community College Board, it was $1.5 million to spend in 12 months.

Jesse Butts:

Can you give us a little perspective of...I mean, it sounds like an enormous amount of money.

Lizz Gardner:

It is.

Jesse Butts:

How, how much, you know, I don't know if this like in terms of just comparison to Malcolm X's annual budget, but I mean, how, how much money is this? For those of us who just don't know the numbers and, you know, higher ed.

Lizz Gardner:

I'm not sure what the Malcom X annual budget is. But I will say it supported over 200 students going through several basic certificate programs. And that was... ...that was just kind of like a small percentage

Jesse Butts:

Wow. of the money. We bought, like I mentioned earlier, we're the Health Sciences hub. So we bought a lot, we upgraded a lot of new equipment for our virtual hospital and for our programs. We were able to support over 200 students, like I said, through basic certificate programs. We paid for their tuition, we paid for their books, we paid for their Upass. We gave, yeah, we gave them stipends. And if they dropped the class and had a debt on their account, because stuff came up, we paid that too. So this grant was all about equity. This was we want to bring you in, we want to give you the opportunity. And we want to support you on the way, but, you know what, life happens. And we're here to support you, if that happens to you know. And the coolest thing is, demographically speaking as the requirements of the grant, we had to have our participants, 60% of our participants had to identify as Black. And we recruited primarily from the West side of Chicago. And I created this stuff from the ground up. And if it hadn't been for the experience that I'd had before, both the kind, Oh, this is what our application looks like, our application process looks like, this is what our financial aid, what, you know, all of that kind of stuff I gained, and also the people. I had developed an incredible support system around me. And that was key to having this grant be a success. And it was so fun. It was so fun. And I had to report on it quarterly. There's your data strategist, right. I had to talk to students about pathways. There's your college advisor. It just became this really incredible opportunity to, to kind of really put myself to the test with hard, hard goals. You know, deliverable measurables, from the state of Illinois. And again, it was a risk. It was a risk. I didn't have to take this. You know, I didn't have to apply to this. But I wanted it. What did you develop in this role that you found has helped you so much in where you are now?

Lizz Gardner:

Absolutely. So hard skills, I would say budget management to recruitment. I was recruiting from the West side of Chicago. I was in basements of churches. I was at aldermen's meetings. So I was able to really network within the community. And networking is not, it's not something that comes natural to me. So, I like waxing poetic about things and not necessarily like the small talk. Oh, yeah. So, you know, building those relationships was really, really great. And also understanding contract negotiation, and understanding the place that Malcolm X is in our community and what our community needs from us. And I also learned, oh my god, I can't even tell you. I learned what happens when you don't have good work-life balance. It was painful. And then the pandemic came sweeping in right as those things are settling in.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah.

Lizz Gardner:

My husband and I took a trip to Mexico, and I worked a lot. And like, Oh, my God that was the last international trip I took before the pandemic, and I worked the majority of the time. And if I wasn't working, I was exhausted. I learned that I have a hard time relaxing. And then when you have the pandemic kind of coming and blurring those lines completely, I mean, my office, when we re working remotely for over a year was in our guest bedroom. I mean, I'm like, let's say I like crash in that room for the night, I wake up, and like, my commute is literally six feet. There, there is no space there, both physically and just kind of in my mind, and that's something that I've tried to spend a lot of time reflecting on. As I started considering this dean position, right? What is this going to look like for my marriage? What is this going to look for my commute? What is this gonna look like for my health? Is my weight gonna fluctuate? Are my vices gonna act full force in a way that could be potentially damaging in all sorts of ways? So it really helped me kind of understand my relationship to work in a bad way. That's definitely something I learned in that role.

Jesse Butts:

So I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the balance that you need to strike when you're moving up? Because I mean, it seems like the easiest thing to do is whenever you want to move up, just throw more hours at it. Right. But that's...hours aren't fungible. You can't get those back. So what are, what have you learned as far as having a job that you really like, that's very important to you, but setting boundaries, I guess, in the practical sense, but also philosophically, determining the place that work has in your life?

Lizz Gardner:

I think it's really interesting, I think. I'm glad you said the word philosophically because I was about I was about to start laying and leaning until like, upskilling and Skillshare. For me, the decision to apply right to these roles, and to think about moving up in an institution. I knew...Jesse, do you know Simon Sinek. Do you him?

Jesse Butts:

Yeah, the start with why guy, right?

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah. The start with why guy. And I kind of sat in that start with why, right? What, what's your WHY? If my Why is I want to help people, right? Then, you know, I want to help people because XYZ, right? Like my own personal story, and by my own personal experience, right. Help has helped me and I want to continue doing that. The separation, I think there are the practical things. I have to turn my push notifications off. I have to tell my husband, Don't let me talk about work after seven. But a lot of my Why is also connected to social justice, is also connected to things that I have a personal connection to. So I think there's an opportunity to acknowledge the complexity of professional and personal crossing over intellectually. But to your point earlier, having hobbies that aren't those things, like really grounding hobbies, like for me, it's sensory stuff. Like big canvas, bunch of paint, let's paint an abstract, right, with headphones on. Put on some old emo music from the early 2000s. Or more like, you're like bring me Belle and Sebastian. I can paint an abstract to Belle and Sebastian. Or cooking, that's become a real savior for me is that, and baking. If I'm measuring something, if I'm smelling something, if I'm tasting something, I'm not focused. And there's an objective and an outcome, and I'm not focused on, you know, work.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah, cooking is something I've latched on to. It's not stressful. It's, I mean, it's cognitively demanding in the sense that, you know, this timer is going to go off in two minutes, you need to get that thing prepped or whatever.

Lizz Gardner:

Yep, yep.

Jesse Butts:

And it's nice, too, because, I mean, you tend to seeincreasing skill. But it's not something, that you have to put a real value around. I'm probably putting words in your, I mean this my experience, not yours.

Lizz Gardner:

You're 100%.

Jesse Butts:

I'm curious, I mean, are you doing creative writing? Is that something that you're doing in your spare time? Or have you...

Lizz Gardner:

I wish I was doing more. I know, that, I'm gonna get a little personal. So I enjoy writing. And I like, I just I love the infinity of it. You know, there's just something so endless about writing. I mean, the meaning of writing, and the desire and that kind of thing.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah.

Lizz Gardner:

And I started seeing an art therapist. And I don't know if you've ever seen an art therapist, but they're like, here's a brush, here's a canvas, paint something, and I'm gonna ask you questions about it. It's kind of like you're writing a story. And they're like, Oh, why did you? Why is that branch longer on that side of the tree than the other side of the tree? I don't know. It just became this space of well, if I could just write some words down, I could express myself that way. And she really challenged me to think about visual art as an expression in that way. So I've kind of gotten into abstract painting, specifically through the pandemic, in it's kind of like what you were saying, Jesse, there's like, really no value in it. It's just kind of like, huh, you know, here it is. We don't get to eat it.

Jesse Butts:

Like intrinsic value. It's not like identity. Yeah.

Lizz Gardner:

Right. And, and it's exactly yeah, I'm not making money off this. I'm not doing it for a class or for a promotion, or whatever. But I think, but I also reconnected with a very close friend of mine. And we, when we were in college, we had a LiveJournal together. I don't know if you remember LiveJournal very well.

Jesse Butts:

Yes.

Lizz Gardner:

It was called Je Suis Formidable. We are beautiful.

Jesse Butts:

Okay.

Lizz Gardner:

And she and I reconnected. Her name's Casey. And she's about to publish a book. She's incredible. She just had an article on the cover of The New Yorker, and it just makes me want to weep. But we started our LiveJournal again, and started just bleh, just putting whatever we wanted. Because when you look back at those old things, like what you used to post on LiveJournals, ridiculous.

Jesse Butts:

I think it's a really interesting thing here for our listeners too is that it was so hard for me to imagine when I was in grad school in my mid 20s that I would ever, like, not consider myself a creative writer and not have that be central to my identity. And, you know, it might be hard to imagine for some of you, for some listeners out there, that it feels like a betrayal. I would argue it's not. There's something that you take away. And maybe if it's not practicing, like personally, I haven't done creative writing in years, because I need things outside of work that are some form of stress relief. I'm pretty rusty now. And if I attempt, I just see how much, attempt Creative Writing I mean, I see how far the skills have atrophied, and how much work I'd have to do. And at some point in my life that may very well be appealing again, but it's not now. And that's totally fine. I think everyone will vary, but I really hope that our listeners, especially listening to this wonderful conversation with Lizz, realize that there are so many different things you can take away from what you studied and apply them to what you do now.

Lizz Gardner:

Absolutely, Jesse, and because it is this kind of identity crisis. It's worth the work to reflect on the skills you learned in grad school, if you're not doing the actual vocation that you went to grad school for. It's worth the work to explore every nook and cranny about how you grew in that program, and how those skills are applicable now. And give yourself that credit.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah, I know, it can be hard for some of us to get ourselves that credit. I mean, grad school is about excellence, and realizing that excellence isn't Okay, and is, in fact, detrimental at points. I mean, in terms of expecting that of yourself, that can be, for some people, that can be a hard thing to adjust to. But I totally agree. It's you know, absolutely necessary. So normally, Lizz, we, we tend to wrap up with talking about some of the reflections. And we've done that throughout this entire episode, which is great. But I'm kind of curious, you know, for an ending note, I'm thinking if somebody is in this situation where maybe it's adjunct teaching, maybe it's, they've plied their craft and it's not working out how much. Or they've just been doing work that pays the bills and nothing else. Where do you suggest they start? Is there something you recommend? I mean, you mentioned Simon Sinek, Start With Why, which I'm pretty sure is the title of that book.

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah, it is.

Jesse Butts:

Anything you recommend reading, listening to? Just anything in general as people start thinking seriously about a transition and what they do for work?

Lizz Gardner:

My husband is going through this, and he, I have not read it, but Renaissance Soul is supposed to be very good. It has some good exercises in it, good conversation starters. For those who are in the job just to make the money. That's the Start With Why. That's the Simon Sinek. I would say really exploring those spaces and where your convictions really lie about the impact that you want to make in your work. I mean, and if you got a liberal arts degree, you have a soul, my friend, search it. If you're an adjunct, and you're feel like you're just stumbling through. Your feet are a little wet, you're interested and you want to explore options, I would say, schedule some time with your supervisor and ask for direct feedback. Ask for some feedback. Just ask. As a hiring manager now, that's the question I asked every single interview, How do you ask for feedback from your manager? Right? That simple question, right? How can I grow? What are the opportunities here? What skills do I need to move in this direction? Where do you think I would be a good fit? I think is really compelling. And then the third piece of advice I would give is, don't be afraid to get on LinkedIn, and just look at what other people are doing and where they've been. And shoot them a note and say, Let's have coffee. Let's talk about this. I want to learn more about what your experiences. I mean, and that's kind of what we're doing here and talking through this podcast, but it helps people share their stories and talk about the struggle. Just because you think you are where you want to be doesn't mean that it's rainbows and unicorns, you know?

Jesse Butts:

Yeah, it's kind of like the old, Oh, if I just moved to San Francisco or New York or wherever, you know, life's problems will somehow not follow me, right?

Lizz Gardner:

Right.

Jesse Butts:

I mean, obviously, some won't. But some will.

Lizz Gardner:

Yeah. And that's why I encourage that inner reflection, right. That's the part that is closest, and that's the part where perspectives can change that can impact the rest of your life.

Jesse Butts:

All right. Well, I think that's a great note to end on. Lizz. thank you again for joining us. And congratulations, again, on making dean.

Lizz Gardner:

Thanks for the invite. Thanks for having me, Jesse. It's been great. Thank you.

Jesse Butts:

Thanks for listening to this episode of The Work Seminar. If you like what you've heard, please take a minute to rate the show on your favorite podcast app. Know someone who would be a great Work Seminar guest? Or have a suggestion or two for the show? You can reach me at jesse@theworkseminar.com or @TheWorkSeminar on social. And special thanks, as always, to Jon Camp for the music and Isabel Patino for the cover art and design. Until next time, never cease from exploration.