The Call to Adventure, Part 2: Courage and Reality

(This is the second installment of the Capture Higher Ed blog series, The Call to Adventure, in which Senior Content Writer Sean Hill discusses billionaire Ray Dalio’s “Principles of Success” and how they can be applied to the admissions office. Go here to read the series introduction.)

What can we learn from Ray Dalio? A lot, it turns out. Let’s start at the beginning.

Decide what to do and have the courage to do it.

All great stories begin with “The Call to Adventure.” Whether it’s becoming a parent, starting a company, moving out of your parent’s house or — let’s be real — going to work in an admissions office, we all begin the adventure. And that adventure is, and will be, replete with rewards. There’s also one slight snafu: it’s also replete with risk.

But is that a problem? Not at all, says Dalio. Risk and rewards are intimately bound together — you can’t have one without the other. Now just look around you at the admissions office — you know what the rewards of your work are: filled seats for a freshman class, for one. But there are others: a steady paycheck, for one, not to mention the sense of accomplishment one can encounter.

The risks? They’re numerous. All you have to do is think what happens if you don’t fill those seats. And yet, those risks are part of the journey you’ve embarked on — you, individually, and your entire office. Indeed, your entire institution must cross the dark forest, and many times over. Yearly, in fact.

Think about it: in the autumn, you can see clear to the mountaintop. Next year’s class! A happy college president. A sense of relief. But by spring, even before, you’re wandering in a jungle full of monsters. The fears may keep you up at night. We all shudder just to think about it.

But the first fact Dalio says is this: you’ve embarked. You want to be successful. Who doesn’t? And the students: they want to be successful, too — and their success is hitched to yours. Keep that shining star in mind. Move forward.

Deal with Reality

A lot of us — and I unabashedly include myself — are rather taken with the way we would like things to be. If only life were easier, we say. Why can’t it be? we ask. Now there’s a question, just not the right one.

From the Greek philosophers to you, the ultimate quest is the quest for Truth. What is Truth? Why, it’s nothing more than The Way The World Works. And when you’ve figured this out, the first thing to do is embrace it.

Here’s what we in enrollment management must embrace: a declining body of students; a shaky economy; colleges closing. I could go on. But the bottom line is not to wish it to be otherwise, or to pretend it is otherwise. The task is to say to yourself, as my family likes to say to me, “It is what it is.” And it is.

The economy at this moment is a fact. Declining birth rates are a fact. And the lonely fact that one must compete for students is an inalienable FACT. Now, having accepted this, you can deal with it. In order to produce the outcomes you want, begin with accepting the Truth of the situation.

Every one of us must explore and accept our weaknesses. We must reflect diligently on our mistakes. We must investigate the problems that beset us. All of these things cause pain, as Dalio says. He also says that pain-plus-reflection equals progress. And that’s how everything — every human, every animal, every flower — progresses, which is to say, evolves. We look hard at the problem and we adapt.

Of course you know what this means: it means the obstacle IS the path. It means our mistakes help us progress. It means the pain of the day-to-day search for students helps us evolve — as individuals, as groups, and as institutions.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk about Dalio’s third principle of success, “Make a Five-Step Plan.”

By Sean Hill, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed