Yep. You read that right. In March, I resigned from my position as Senior Vice President at GoAbroad.com. And then I went for a margarita…and started to freak out. A little.
But let's go back to the beginning. About three and half years ago I met Troy Peden (founder and CEO of GoAbroad.com) at a regional NAFSA conference in Minnesota. I was running study abroad at the University of South Dakota and building a study abroad system and culture there from the ground up. We had a random conversation about something related to marketing in study abroad and I gave my full, unedited opinion (which, if you've met me, is my basic MO). For some crazy reason Troy liked that about me - he liked my ideas, my organization, and my - je ne sais quoi - audacity. About nine months after meeting Troy I found myself packing up my life in South Dakota and driving across the plains to Fort Collins, Colorado. Troy just told me "write up your job description and we'll go from there." The rest, as they say, is history.
Brooke, Kayla, Tiffany, and Nikki - GoAbroad Holiday Dinner 2011
The years I spent working with Troy and for GoAbroad were the most rewarding, challenging, frustrating, fun, amazing, and educational of my career. Troy put a lot of trust in me allowing me to build my team from scratch and lead an organization that was heading into challenging (but exciting) new terrain. I'm extremely proud of what I accomplished at GoAbroad. From my position, I was able to hire and mentor a team of very new professionals introducing them to the study abroad field, client/customer/institutional relations, online marketing/social media, and overall business strategy. I also learned all about about payroll taxes and other fun business nonsense.
Brooke, Troy, and Rhea - Denver Nuggests game, 2010
With a great team of people and mentorship from Troy, I led the conceptualization and implementation of the GoMedia online marketing services division, developed a US-based institutional relations strategy, created the GoAbroad Innovation Awards now in year three, and strategized the overall direction of the partnerships, marketing, content, and growth for GoAbroad. Am I tooting my own horn a little? Hell yes! I'm extremely proud of everything we've achieved at GoAbroad. Yes I have my flaws and still lots of improving to do in every aspect of my career, but that doesn't mean I'm not happy with what I've achieved so far. And I know that Troy and the team are only going to see even more success moving forward. They have no bigger fan out there cheering them on than me.
"GoooooooooAbroad!" - NAFSA 2012
I'm determined for this cheer to catch on even if the entire team thinks I'm a big dork.
But I bet you're wondering why. Why would I leave if everything was all roses and sunshine? Of course, life at GoAbroad wasn't perfect. What job ever is? But at the root of my time there, the truth is - I. Loved. It. And I wouldn't change my decision to work with Troy and GoAbroad for anything. But despite all this…it was time to lean in.
No. I didn't read Sheryl Sandberg's book and immediately call Troy and quit my job. In fact, since I finished grad school I've been thinking about different business ideas and in the past year I actually started putting one specific idea down on paper as an actual grown-up business plan with research and even spreadsheets. But since I resigned in March, I've read Sheryl's book and it further reinforced my decision that this was the best move for me. It all comes back to the heart of who I am, the career I want, and the life I want to design. Probably for about 5 years I've been refining my entrepreneurial mind coming up with a new business idea every day, spending my free time reading about the Inc. 500 companies, devouring articles about start-ups in FastCompany, talking with other entrepreneurs asking "how did you do it," and generally being inspired by my many friends who've taken the plunge/risked everythingto build their own companies and ideas.
Danny - The Other VP
As much as I love Troy and GoAbroad, it was never going to be mine…and for me, that's just not enough. I've spent years scheming, planning, researching, crunching numbers, more planning, brainstorming, and generally dreaming about starting and running my own company. And as the days ticked by and as I grew more confident that I could actually do this, it was clear that it was time. Time to lean in - to my ideas, my abilities, my dreams. As one friend described it, "You're standing at the cliff, completely prepared and ready to take that leap. You just need a light tap on the tush to push you over the edge."
Troy's Angels - The GoAbroad US Team
So with some savings in tow, a 40-page business plan, some smart advisors, and my own will to make this happen, I'm taking the leap. I'm now Brooke Roberts, crazy entrepreneur and CEO. And it's freaking scary and amazing. And guess what?
I might fail.
Just typing that makes my heart beat a little faster and the "freak out" face emerge. After all, I got my LAST official paycheck last week, I'm shopping for my own health insurance, and I have mortgage payments and student loans looming over head. "What the hell are you thinking, Brooke?!" is a common thought that runs through my mind. But then I remember that I'm ready. And believing in yourself is half the battle, right? I'm extremely self-conscious about this decision and question my own abilities every. single. day. But I have to keep reminding myself that every step I've taken in my career has prepared me for this moment. Every person who's mentored and advised me has groomed me for this move. All the pieces are in place. Now it's just time to start doing. I totally expect to make a lot of mistakes and find myself standing in many puddles of proverbial failure. But at least I'm going for it.
My first Kansas Jayhawks basketball game. And Noah Peden photo-bombing. #rockchalk
So what am I doing? Great question. I'll be focusing and working on two primary projects. The first is a yoga resource and travel website. For those of you who know me personally, you know that I love yoga and I'm all about making it accessible to the masses wherever they are in the world. I won't say much more about it here (it's still under construction and not really a "study abroad" thing). But if you're interested in following me on this "starting my own company" ridiculous journey, you can follow me on Twitter and my personal blog where I'll be posting updates and some behind-the-scenes info and stories.
The second (and secondary) project I'll be working on is…wait for it…Inside Study Abroad. Yep. I'll actually be devoting a lot more time and energy to this site and a ton of ideas to help provide more information, advice, and resources to all you study abroad super fans out there. I have another post coming this week all about the future of InsideSA, so stay tuned for that.
So there it is. The what, why, and how of the next step in my career. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who reads this blog and especially to the hundreds of you who have emailed me over the past few years giving me the encouragement that I may actually be able to do this and build something of my own. It seriously brings tears to my eyes thinking of all the support and encouragement I've received from so many.
Thank you to the GoAbroad team - USGA and GAP - for helping me learn so much about leadership and the kind of team I want to build in the future.
To Troy, thank you for helping me grow (even when it was painful) and for believing in me.
Thank you, Boss, for everything!