The Dulye Leadership Experience (DLE) community is diverse in race, socioeconomics, creed, geography, industry and, most importantly, thought. Psychologists and anthropologists believe a person’s view of the world is formed by their culture and life experiences, and I was no different.
What makes the DLE so unique is that it is a safe environment for people to learn from their peers and experts and to challenge their view of the world.
In 2016, when I was introduced to the DLE, I was a senior at Syracuse University; I had been just been medically disqualified from the Syracuse football team. Since I was 11 years old, playing organized football was my life, and I loved it. I was comfortable in a football culture, but I was scared and intimidated by Corporate America.
Like many other full scholarship student-athletes who play football and basketball in the U.S., I grew up in a low social-economic neighborhood in the inner city, with a high crime rate. My family had limited experience and connections in Corporate America. To use a cliché, “I was a fish out of water.” After being medically disqualified and not knowing the next chapter in my life, I was encouraged by the athletic department to look into the DLE Retreat.
At that time, the DLE Retreat was a boot camp for selected Syracuse seniors and juniors. Its highly coveted 16 scholarships qualified you for the 3-day immersive professional development retreat in a distant location called the Berkshires. Over 300 undergrads had applied for those 16 spots. These applicants ranged from engineering majors to communications, with all of them being the top in their respected majors.
The selection process was rigorous. If you survived the intense application process, you participated in three interviews by phone, video chat and finally in person. Remember, having a Zoom interview wasn’t standard in 2016; the world hadn’t experienced COVID-19.
Another requirement was to write a paper on why you should be selected for the DLE professional development retreat, supported by several letters of recommendation.
The connection with Syracuse University was that DLE Founder, Linda Dulye, was an avid Syracuse alumna. She had established the program in partnership with Syracuse in 2008 as a charitable endeavor to help Syracuse University undergrads transition into the workforce.
That focus changed significantly in 2016, when Linda relocated to Western Massachusetts and transitioned the DLE’s target audience to motivated millennials, primarily in the Berkshires but also beyond.
I have had the opportunity to attend every DLE Retreat since graduating from college. My latest experience in 2019 proved the most profound. A month after attending that retreat, I quit a job that I had started 18 months earlier. I had worked hard to get this opportunity. However, I wasn’t happy, and that was negatively affecting my mental and physical health.
My long-time passion for becoming a financial advisor for professional athletes and entertainers was almost gone. After securing seven professional licenses for investment and insurance sales, I found myself exploring grad school to make a career pivot. I was in a full mid-life crisis at 26 years old.
However, through the DLE’s expansive network, I was connected with a job opportunity at a growing wealth management team in Pittsfield, MA. The role was providing operational and administrative support to two financial advisors. My first reaction was that the opportunity wasn’t the right move. After all, in my last position, I sold to financial advisors. I didn’t want to be a glorified clerk. Then I remembered a lesson from the DLE about career ownership.
For employees in the 1960’s, it was common to work at a single firm for 30 years and perhaps achieve 4-6 vertical promotions during one’s career. However, my generation is different. Millennials generally stay at a firm 2-3 years and make career moves that aren’t all lateral.
The DLE advocates that you should own your career.
Owning your career means taking responsibility to make moves that make you happy and to develop the essential skills you need to become an expert in your field. Your focus, especially for someone in their 20’s, like me, should be on skill acquisition and development. If a lateral career move presents itself, and you can acquire the skills you need to make you a better professional in your field, then you should be open to that lateral career move—because it might a great opportunity for you to grow professionally. I realized that there was a great opportunity waiting for me in the Berkshires. However, making this move was going to test my ability to be open to new experiences.
Accepting the job and moving to Pittsfield was an extremely difficult decision. The first glaring reason was geography. Berkshire County, where Pittsfield is located, has only 130,000 residents compared to my hometown of Philadelphia with over 1.5 million residents. Plus, it was a four-hour drive from home.
Second, I was going to leave my childhood friends with whom I had rekindled relationships after graduating from Syracuse. Additionally, I still didn’t know if I wanted to stay in the financial service industry. All the self-doubt that I was experiencing was normal. But what separates the greats from the average is that they don’t let self-doubt keep them from experiencing new things and moving forward.
I’m not inferring that I’m one of the greats; I only want to be the best version of myself. If I am to stay agile in life and be open to new things, I must overcome a major human flaw—self-doubt.
Since moving to Massachusetts and joining my new firm, Raymond James, I have achieved some significant life and career milestones. I was appointed chair of the DLE Advisory Board by my peers and I am an organizing member of the DLE Business Development Committee. Also, without meeting members of the NAACP-Berkshire Chapter in person due to COVID, I was appointed to become treasurer of the chapter in 2021.
I have many other stories of how the DLE has made a considerable impact on my life. I’m no one special; I’m just one of many people since 2008 that the DLE has made a better professional and, most importantly, a better human. Without the lessons and support of the DLE, I would have passed on this great opportunity that rekindled my passion for becoming a financial advisor for professional athletes and entertainers.
If you want to learn more about the DLE, check our website at dle.dulye.com. As I mentioned earlier, the DLE is a philanthropic effort and is solely underwritten by Linda Dulye. Our weekly programs and workshops are free to attend, and there is no DLE membership fee. Recorded videos of our live, virtual events are free on our YouTube channel.
These assets plus access to our diverse network make the DLE unmatched among professional development organizations.