Alumni Post: The Road to Success is Full of Bumps

It’s difficult to describe the courses and education you receive from the Honors College at GVSU. Sure, you can anticipate that the material will be more challenging than your standard gen-ed courses, and there is a certain level of prestige in being a part of such an incredible organization. When I joined Honors in my Freshman year, I anticipated that more would be expected of me as a student, but nothing truly prepared me for the multidisciplinary style of learning that at times was uniquely challenging.

For my science sequence, I decided to take Human Body in Motion. It was a year-long course that encompassed elements of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. As none of us in the class were majoring in any of those fields, and I anticipated that we would learn the fundamentals of the biological sciences in a direct and practical manner. We would learn the various theories and formulae, receive a general overview, and I would continue on my merry way back to my Political Science major. Oh, how wrong I was.

On our first day of class, our three professors sat the class down and started handing out the syllabus. We were told that for our first exam, we needed to understand the fundamental formulae of Physics, but they would not be provided to us. Rather, we had to develop our own “operational definitions” of weight, potential energy, force, and others, using a random collection of office supplies. The standard formula for weight is W = mg, with “m” meaning mass and “g” meaning gravitational acceleration, with standard units in kilograms. Simple, direct, to the point, easy to throw into an equation. Now, imagine trying to create a mathematically accurate formula for weight using none of those terms. You could only use paperclips, string, and a ruler, and once you constructed the formula with those items, you had to apply that formula to measure a wide range of complex scenarios. I felt like I was in some form of high-stakes kindergarten, and almost wished I had taken a standard Physics course instead. Here’s a list of formulae, here’s how you use them, complete these equations, have a nice day!

This was a repeating theme throughout the course, and despite the initial frustrations, we eventually learned the actual formulae for our exams. But there won’t always be a formula to plug in. A problem may not resolve itself through rote procedure. Sometimes, in order to get past a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, you have to adopt an unconventional way of learning. It has been a skill that I have carried with me throughout my post-graduate career.

After graduating in the spring of 2013, I moved to Austin, Texas. It is an epicenter of state politics. There’s no snow, and there are taco trucks on every corner. For me, it was an absolute paradise. I quickly found myself embroiled in the 2014 election cycle, as I was field director for a local City Council race. For those of you who are considering volunteering for a political campaign, let me give you a behind-the-scenes look at managing one. You have to hit the ground on day one with a fully-fledged voter outreach strategy. You have a pool of registered voters, and you have to identify which of those have voted most often, who they’ve voted for, whether or not they are likely to vote, whether or not they are likely to support the campaign financially, and the most effective way to reach out to them. You have to decide when to knock on their doors, when to call them, when to send them emails, and how to win their vote. You have to do this over and over again, and everyone involved in the campaign has a different idea as to what the most effective strategy should be.

Your consultants, who largely seem paid to walk into your office to provide sage wisdom, tell you how to run the campaign. And then your volunteers, long-time community residents, tell you how to run the campaign. And the candidate will tell you how to run the campaign. And every single one of them will have completely different strategies. And then you have to work to receive endorsements from newspapers, political organizations, and other elected officials. And then you have to pay for all of it. The hours get longer as you get closer to election day, and days off become a thing of the past.

It’s stressful and exhausting and I absolutely love it! You definitely have to have a certain kind of crazy to pursue a career in politics, and I lovingly like to think that I cultivated that unconventional crazy in the Honors College. There were never any simple solutions, and every day some new obstacle presented itself. Fortunately, on election night, my candidate won 75% of the vote and earned her seat on the Austin City Council. I would not have succeeded in that role had I not learned to think as geographically far outside the box as my sanity would allow.

The celebration went well into the night, and then I got my first eight consecutive hours sleep in three months. My candidate went off to work, I enjoyed a couple months of R&R with my win bonus, and then reality slowly set in as my checking account dwindled and the cost of living continued to rise.

My resume was filled with political experience, and I was two years away from another election cycle. Job hunting was frustrating, but I eventually found myself in the field of sales and account management. I went into the interview with nothing but a non-traditional resume and great references.

The first question I was asked was, “what on your resume connects you to a career in a business environment.” My answer was simple: “I graduated from a multidisciplinary Honors program, and I’ve managed a political campaign in a race with ten candidates. I’m used to 60-hour weeks, no weekends, and I’ve developed skills in social media marketing, field canvassing and customer outreach, leading discussions with high-level administrators and officials. Every one of them relates to this role indirectly, and with enough coffee, I can accomplish anything you can throw at me.”

I got the job two weeks later. I now work as an account manager for a range of non-profits and political organizations around the country. Every day, I help clients make the most of their federal funding to best assist the populations they serve, including the homeless, the LGBTQ+ community, at-risk youth, nurses, clean energy activists, social workers, and countless others. I am able to succeed at this job because of my academic background – my studies in Political Science and the critical thinking skills I gained through the GVSU Honors College.

Granted, there have been a number of bumps and bruises along the way. Struggle is something that is almost synonymous with adulthood at this point. College tuition is now more expensive than ever, and a college degree is no longer a guarantee of career after graduation. The cost of living continues to rise, and economic inequality is only becoming more prevalent in the U.S. The road to success is not easy, regardless of how you define it for yourself. Sometimes it may feel like the courses you are taking are doing little to prepare you for life after college.

I encourage you not to fall into that trap. You are a new member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, and that is not something that is easily accomplished. You have the skills and mind to accomplish anything that you set your mind to. It will not always be easy, and sometimes you may be stuck trying to solve a complex problem using nothing but simple office supplies and unconventional thinking. Face those challenges head on, and take each one as a new learning opportunity. Set goals for yourself, and make them lofty. Make them ridiculous in scale and scope, and then you run for them and ask yourself how every accomplished task brings you one step closer to the success you’ve defined for yourself.

Life is not a checklist of clearly labeled steps to “success.” It’s an ebbing and flowing tide of obstacles, failures, and triumphs. It will dare you to abandon your goals and settle for less, and occasionally drive you down a road you never thought you’d take. If that road seems too easy, then you’re likely going the wrong way. I believe that the Honors College will give you the best advantage you could ask for, by challenging you every step of the way. Now get to it and give em’ hell, Lakers! I’ll be rooting for you!

bio-pictureMatt Harvey is a native “Michigander”, and a four-year resident of Austin, Texas. He graduated from Grand Valley State University with a degree in Political Science, and a minor in Criminal Justice. After graduating, Matt worked in the political sphere as a campaign manager and education policy consultant for school districts across Texas. Currently, he works for Social Solutions as an Account Manager for a wide array of non-profit clients, and empowers them to achieve the best outcomes for the populations they serve. He has also had the opportunity to travel to over 40 countries around the world, and is especially fond of Germany and the Czech Republic. If you’re ever in Austin, you’re most likely to find Matt at the movies, outside with a good book, or brunching and testing the boundaries of a mimosa’s champagne/orange juice ratio.

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