Andrew Plumley On Being a Two-Sport Athlete, Not Having a Job Upon Graduating, And The Misconceptions of Building a Career in the Social Sector

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Every now and then, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Maybe we’re not playing as much as we wanted, or maybe we’re not satisfied with our careers. At this point, we are faced with the tough decision whether to continue on or seek new challenges. Not long into his career, Andrew Plumley found himself in this predicament. Uninspired with his career in consulting, Andrew spontaneously decided to take an 8-month road trip across the US, which had a transformative effect on him. In this interview, Andrew talks about his career in the social sector, how football has helped him handle transition, and why we all need to run our own race. 

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How would you describe your journey to Middlebury?

My journey to Middlebury was somewhat random. I grew up in Burlington, Vermont so it was really right in my backyard but I didn’t know much about the school. I also had never really fully thought about the prospect of going to college until I started getting recruited by schools to play football.  As I remember, Middlebury reached out relatively late but I’ll always remember the first time I saw the beautiful campus. I did an overnight, had a great time, and then was sent a Wanted Poster(you know, like the old cowboy ones?) in the mail with my face and name on it. On the wanted sign it had all my senior year football stats with the words “Last seen in the Patrick Gymnasium (UVM gym where Vermont State basketball championships are held) winning the state championship.”  After I opened that up, I called my dad and told him I knew where I was going to college. Midd.

So you started as a Football player and walked onto the Basketball team. What was your experience like as a two sport athlete?

Being a two sport athlete was one of the more difficult things I did while at Middlebury, especially when the seasons were back to back. The basketball season actually started before football was over, so all the basketball guys had a good head start in terms of getting in shape, so I had to get into basketball shape fast which meant a lot of sprints and cardio to lean down. The other challenge was the changing of the structure of my day. In football, I knew exactly what my weeks were going to be, pretty much day in and day out. Class all day, training room by 3:30, film and early drills at 4, and practice until 7ish… Then dinner, and school work… Every day. Basketball was different because we shared gym time with the Women’s team, so some weeks we’d have earlier practices and other weeks we’d have later ones. I loved switching it up. 

The advantages to being a two sport athlete were endless. I got to play the two sports I absolutely loved, and was able to be an integral part of both teams. I was much better at football than I was at basketball, but being able to be on a team of 75 guys, and then moving to a much more intimate team setting of maybe 15 guys was great. I got the best of both worlds. I realized during that time just how much I appreciated the smaller team dynamics. It really was a brotherhood. 

You graduated at a turbulent time in the job market. What influence did this have on your potential career path?

The recession had hit right in the middle of my college career. My first two years, I was seeing all the football guys leave to get jobs at Goldman or Lehman, but by my junior year, a lot of those job openings were being cut in half, with more and more of my teammates having to find other gigs at less known firms. 

Luckily for me, I basically knew right away that I did not want to be a banker, so I was less worried about what that might mean for me. With that being said, I didn’t spend too much time trying to figure out what I was going to do when I graduated. I really had no idea. I had worked over summers and saved enough money to do some traveling after school. I did that for a bit, and then still didn’t know what I wanted to do for work. 

Did your travels give you time to figure out what you ultimately wanted to do then?

Remember how I said I wasn’t going to go into banking? Well, I kind of did because I didn’t know what else to do. When I got back to Burlington from traveling, I worked for TD Bank for a short while so that I could make some money and figure out what I wanted to do next. It’s funny what life brings you, but I figured that most things in my life had worked out when I believed in myself and my decisions, so I stuck it out for a while at TD so that I could support myself and wait for something I would enjoy more. That came along about a year later when I was offered a telecommunications consulting job, which I took almost immediately. 

Do you feel like you prepared for that consulting job?

I wish that I was much more prepared for than I actually was. This particular job was a new role, with not much on the job training. I had no idea about telecommunications, but I knew I liked helping people solve problems. The job required a significant amount of unique skills. So I was drastically under prepared for that job, but I learned quickly and actually did pretty well. Unfortunately, a lot of the things I learned are not things Midd was ever going to teach me, except for being an effective and efficient learner, and adapting quickly.

After working in banking and consulting, you chose to take an 8 month road trip? Why was the break necessary for you at that point in your career?

I needed a break because I just wasn’t finding my work meaningful in any way. My travels earlier in my life had all been to Europe, but I had never seen much of the US except for sports. I wanted to see more. I knew that I had gotten a lot of experience at the two prior jobs I had, which gave me confidence to know that when I wanted to return to the job market, my skills would still be relevant. 

How did you handle all this change you were having between those two jobs and trying to find what was next? 

Being a collegiate athlete teaches you to be adaptive. It also teaches you to grind it out when it’s hard or when it sucks. All of those skills allowed me to shift when I thought it was necessary, and put my nose down to work hard when I knew that was the right thing to do or my only viable option. Sports taught me all of those things. To me, the process of finding out who you are, what you’re good at, and how you can help a team is exactly the same process as finding a career and finding your professional passions. It takes time, it takes effort and hard work, and it takes a lot of time trying things and even being a little mediocre at some things at first before you’re good. It’s a process, and the whole point of this whole thing is to run your own race, at your own speed. 

Having majored in Philosophy, you eventually chose to get an MBA in Social and Environmental Sustainability. What impact did this have on your career?

I loved Philosophy so much. It opened up my mind to the possibilities of human potential. More importantly though, philosophy allowed me to think through questions like, “what is Justice?”, and, “how do you live well?” Lastly, my study of philosophy allowed me to ask the question of “why?” I think that the mindset of a philosopher led me directly to think about the problems I was seeing both socially and environmentally, and how I might be able to think through how social and environmentally focused business, or social entrepreneurship could help remedy those issues.  

Since getting your MBA, you have worked mostly in the social sector, both as a consultant and manager. What lessons learned during your time as a Middlebury student-athlete would you say have benefitted you the most? 

I think working in the social sector, where the focus is primarily on supporting the people who need it most is quite analogous to how I showed up as a teammate at Midd. Being a student athlete helped me see that difference and diversity was a great thing, made my teams better, and made it even more rewarding when I had my times to contribute to the greater good. Winning is great, but making sure for instance, that you play so well that the others on the sideline get to see the field or court during the game; that’s what it’s all about!

Are there misconceptions about building a career in the social sector/impact space?

I always thought nonprofits were bootstrapped, always searching for funding, poorly run organizations. I always thought philanthropy was the Make-A-Wish foundation and not much more. The truth is that the things I thought are far from true. Social sector organizations hold a lot of power to make change in the world, and most are doing everything they can to make the world a better place. 

I also think that people, especially young men, think it might be kind of soft or believe the false equivalency that helping people equates to being less of a man somehow. Obviously this is not true. 

Lastly, I think people think that working in the social sector means you can’t make money. I thought that at first too. That definitely is real. But the reality is, there is money to be made in the social sector, especially on the philanthropic side of things, with some real perks given out to boot. 

What do you like most about your job as a Senior Program Manager at Proinspire?

What I love about my job is that every day is different, and I'm making a huge impact within my sector. I get to do research, speak to large crowds and conferences, and travel the US and consult with organizations on how to be more equitable. 

One thing that has been apparent is that you haven’t been afraid to take the unconventional path. What would you attribute that to?

I think that’s probably true, and I attribute that to knowing who I am and being confident in that person. I might not always make the right choices or say the right thing, but my ability to learn from my mistakes, work hard, and string together good decisions has allowed me to take an unconventional path and still be successful.

If you could go back in 10 years in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t judge yourself based on what others are doing in their lives.  Run your own race and the speed you feel comfortable with. There are a few reasons for this. One is that when you try and go at someone else’s speed, you’re either going to get bored or fall hard. Find your right speed and get comfortable with it. Secondly, many times we assume that we know exactly what people are going through, why they made the decisions they made, or think that they somehow have it figured out more than you do.  Let me be perfectly clear. They don’t. No one does. The older you get, the more you realize that everyone, including your parents - family - friends - everyone, are all just trying to figure it out, just like you.