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At the age of 20, I was a college drop out.

I had changed majors 4 times.

I had no path.

Unhappily, I left Penn State after two and a half years of hacky sack, partying, football games, and very few classes.  When I arrived home, my only plan was to work in order to go back.

After a few months slinging sandwiches at my friend’s deli, I landed a temp job at a college back home in New Jersey.  Little did I know that a temporary assignment would change my whole life and career path.

I worked full-time at Fairleigh Dickinson University and went back to school to finish my undergrad degree.  I worked for the Associate Dean of the College of Business.  He was a vibrant, engaging, and charismatic person who took me under his wing. He didn’t have to. I was very rough around the edges at that time.  I had never worked full-time in a professional, academic environment.  I was still very young and very naive and thought this job was a short-term solution to me getting back to Penn State to party. That short-term solution ended up being seven years of my life.  I remember at a dinner before my undergrad graduation, the Associate Dean that hired me called me a diamond in the rough.  He pushed me and supported me through my entire time at FDU; he mentored me.  He was the first of many people in my life to help me walk my path.

I made the mistake right after graduation to tell my mother I was going to continue in school and eventually get my doctorate.  She never forgot those words.  EVER.  A year or two earlier I had tried reading the first page of my brother’s dissertation and barely understood every third word.  Being completely frightened of the thought of ever writing one of those, I jumped in anyway, by first working on an MBA. This was short lived as I ended up leaving the college and once again dropped out.

Later that year I would find myself working at Warren County Community College where I met a woman who encouraged me to go back to school.  Again, I didn’t ask her to mentor me – she just invested time in me. She saw some spark that caused her to meet with me regularly, introduce me to others in the college, and talk to me about graduate school.  She even hired me to do contract work – to better my skill set.  Another person helping to guide me and develop the skills I would need to reach that doctorate.

Shortly after meeting my husband, I moved to Pennsylvania and spent a good two years trying to find a job in higher ed. I finally landed my then “dream job” at Lehigh University working for someone who I believe was the best manager I ever had.  He encouraged me to grow in my job and (yet again) go back to school.  So I worked full-time, and got back on the path to finishing my Masters of Education. Then I got pregnant with my daughter and seriously considered dropping out… AGAIN. Luckily, I had my mentor in place to guide me, give me advice and support me through working full-time, having my first child and finishing my M.Ed.

It’s now 2012 and I headed off to an opportunity at community college to work with the faculty and staff in organizational development and leadership training. I kept saying, “I’ll go back to school and start this doctorate once my daughter gets older. Next year, next Fall, when she’s in school…”. Work and life getting in the way was my deflection from committing. It was a convenient pause button.

Then life REALLY got in the way when my mother became ill. The year consisted of driving back and forth to New Jersey, taking my mother to doctor appointments, helping my dad at home, while working full-time in a very challenging job and taking care of my family.

Over the next few months, I spent a lot of time listening to my mother talk about her wishes for her family, and the things she had wished she had experienced.  Those conversations are burned in my mind.  It was then that my mother told me her last wish for me. Her wish was for me to go back to school and get the doctorate I promised I would get back in 2003.  That was Easter, April 5, 2015.

By May, I had applied to, been accepted, and enrolled in my doctoral program at Wilkes.

On May 31st 2015, my mother passed away after her 2-year battle with cancer.  I contemplated dropping out (for the 4th time if you’re counting) of school again, even before my doctoral program began.

This time my mentor was my mother and her wish for me. I was determined to honor that wish.

The next three years of my life felt daunting. Thankfully, I had friends, colleagues and multiple mentors surrounding me, supporting me, and challenging me to continue on what seemed like an endless river of research, statistics and writing that filled every possible moment of precious free time scattered within very long work days.  On March 25, 2019, I successfully defended my dissertation. I completed my educational marathon and honored my mother’s wish, as well as the promise I had made to myself.

Without those mentors, those guides coaching me and supporting me throughout the years, crossing the finish line to receive my postgraduate degree would never have been possible.

So…the moral of this story?  Maybe you’d say grit or growth.  I’ll agree there was a ton of both.

But, it was more than just that.  This is a story of mentorship and unselfish guidance from people who could have spent their time doing other things. Instead they chose to walk this path with me during the hardest times in my life and allowed me to become the person I am today.

And that’s what I seek to do for my clients.

To walk the path with them on the journey of growth– both personal growth and business growth.  To help guide them through difficult conversations with family, and to mentor them, and sometimes their children as well, to help them build and strengthen their family business’ legacy.

I think Mom would be proud her college dropout graduate.

Cheryl Doll profile picture
Cheryl Doll

Cheryl’s 20 years in higher education honed her passion for teaching, strategic planning and organizational development. Raised by entrepreneurial parents, she pivoted out of higher education to work with family business owners, providing the guidance, structure and tools required to build thriving companies and families.

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