Deborah Diamond of Campus Philly on Retaining Talent, Side Hustles and ‘Finding your Passion’

Posted on October 16, 2017

Hearing someone successful state that “finding your passion” isn’t as straightforward as others sometimes make it seem was a welcomed and different perspective to hear at the cohort’s first Leadership Dinner at the Campus Philly offices.

Over take-out Chinese food and beers, Deborah Diamond, president of Campus Philly, joked that if she had pursued her career choices based off of her ‘passions’ she would be somewhere quite different now: “I was often asked what I was passionate about and I was like ‘well, swimming in the ocean.’” In terms of a career however, Diamond stated that the trouble was she didn’t have a way of answering ‘the passion question’ in a convincing way. That is, until she received some sage advice that taught her to reframe her thinking about passions and careers, and to think instead about focusing on what she needed work to be: “Do I need to like the people I work with? Does my work need to have a social mission? Do I want to be valued?”

Based off of this experience and her own personal application of it, Diamond advised the cohort of the importance in establishing what their current and relevant priorities are for work and to allow these core priorities to lead the way when making career choices. This approach towards making career choices allows a kind of adaptability and flexibility which can give someone a competitive edge in the job market. This is especially true in today’s job market where the focus areas and jobs are always changing. In Diamond’s words: “The best quality someone can have is to be a quick learner because jobs change.”

The application of this philosophy towards work and career are the obvious undercurrents of Diamond’s successful career path. A Philly native, Diamond originally planned to be a professor after attending Bryn Mawr College as an undergraduate. However, after completing a PhD in political philosophy at the University of Chicago and teaching at Columbia University and Bryn Mawr for a bit, she came back to work in Philadelphia out of love for the city and a desire for her family to grow there. Ultimately, Diamond ended up at Campus Philly and eventually replaced the former president who left for other opportunities.

Campus Philly was started by the City’s Commerce Department as part of its strategy to retain young talent in the city. People had begun noticing that despite the plethora of colleges and universities throughout Philly, most students left the city after attending school. This trend had led to low overall levels of education for the majority of the permanent residents in Philadelphia, proving bad for the economic growth of the city as a whole. As a result, Campus Philly was born in order to invite students to become more engaged in Philly, thus paving the way for them to invest more in their future and the future of Philadelphia.

As with any smart organization, adaptability and flexibility became key for Campus Philly’s ability to achieve its mission. Over the years, one of Campus Philly’s biggest adaptations was to become increasingly focused on the job landscape for Philadelphia college students. Campus Philly made this change because they began noticing that without connection to employment, students were not as likely to stay in Philly despite strong efforts to bring them downtown and enjoy the city. Through a series of changes and adaptations, the program today aims at getting area students off campus through a combination of interesting and exciting events and employment/internship opportunities.

Diamond’s final advice to the PHENND cohort was to urge them to seek a balance between pointedly shaping their careers with a certain amount of engagement and strategy while also being wildly open to new experiences. At this point, side hustles came into play in the conversation. (Coincidentally, also at this point, one cohort member had to excuse herself from dinner to attend to her own side hustle—babysitting.) Diamond emphasized that the cohort continue pursuing things they like, no matter what work they were doing. In the end, she claimed, side hustles and hobbies will keep cohort members motivated, stimulated and connected and could end up turning into a career opportunity—or not. However, she emphasized, the most important thing is to stay interested.

Afterwards, in reflection, a fellow remarked that Diamond had offered the cohort timely advice. As each fellow begins making decisions about how to get the most out of their PHENND Fellow year while also preparing for after, looking at their careers as a series of decisions based off of core priorities and values, makes the ‘what next’ question a little less daunting and the ‘passion’ question more manageable.

A big thank you to Deborah Diamond from Campus Philly for her advice and hospitality during the first PHENND Fellow’s cohort dinner.

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