I'm Moving on From Commsor
Learnings, reflections, and what's next.
This week marks a bittersweet moment in my career: after almost two years building C School alongside a team of incredibly talented people, I’ve made the difficult decision to move on from my role heading up Community Education at Commsor.
In my career, I’ve often found writing about my experiences to be a helpful way to deepen my reflections. I did this when I moved on from Teachable, and even reading back my reflections years later still gives me fresh insights. Sharing these reflections often has the additional benefit of giving me the opportunity to start great conversations with other professionals in the space. To that end, as I move into my next chapter, I wanted to take some time to share some of what I’ve learned over the past couple of years, and share a bit about what’s next for me.
To start, here are some of the things I learned over the last couple of years.
1. Community & Education are natural partners—you'll see more companies pairing them in the coming years.
I joined Commsor to build what exists today as C School: a professional training program for Community Managers. This was a dream opportunity for me to combine education (before tech, I was a high school choir teacher) and community management—but, I was apprehensive about moving into a role that was related to community management, but wasn’t exactly a community management role. That’s where I had started to carve out my expertise, and I was worried that breaking from that would impact my career. To address that, I did two things:
1) Made sure that my work at C School was always deeply intertwined with Commsor’s own community instance, The Community Club, and
2) Made sure I always kept the word “community” in my title.
It may seem silly now, but I didn’t want my resume to read like I had made a career pivot, when to me, my role at Commsor felt like a genuine extension of the work I’d been doing in the community industry.
While at the time, I felt like I was sort of “making up” my title (Community Education Manager, then Director of Community Education) to satisfy those criteria, I now think my worries were unfounded. What I’ve seen in the industry over the last couple of years has convinced me that education and community are becoming more intertwined, especially as businesses become more interested in creating “communities of practice” over straightforward support communities.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had more conversations with folks who had similar roles as mine than I ever could have anticipated, and talked to even more folks who wanted to stand up communities and education programs in tandem. These folks saw big potential in the collaboration between these two disciplines: Potential we saw play out in practice between C School and The Community Club. Education programs and community programs can have a symbiotic relationship that yields engaged super users, community content that’s intentionally paced, and fertile ground for alumni programs. Education programs are also a great option to monetize communities of practice. Lots of folks ask me about best practices at the intersection of community and education, and this is something I’m excited to write more about on my blog in the coming months.
2. Most Community Managers still have the same pain points—and opportunities.
One of the things I’ll cherish the most from my time at Commsor was getting the opportunity to work with and coach 100+ Community Managers who took part in C School as students, plus countless other community industry pros I got to know more informally. What was often striking to me about the conversations I had with so many folks in the community industry is that many of them share common pain points, and thus common opportunities for growth.
The “greatest hits” I came to recognize from these conversations were things like:
Experiencing imposter syndrome in a new CM role—this was especially true for folks who didn’t work with leaders who had direct experience in or deep knowledge of community.
Apprehension over reporting metrics—even though most folks had incredibly insightful approaches to measurement and reporting, a lot of them were scared their way of measuring “wasn’t the right way,” didn’t have the tools they needed to report on what they wanted to, or else weren’t sure what information was most important to executives.
Time management—since lots of community mangers work on teams of one as generalists, a lot of them struggled with prioritizing their most important work. Stepping back from the day-to-day to focus on the big picture was a common struggle.
In the coming months, I’ll share more insights into how I’ve approached some of these problems here on the blog, but in the meantime, I think it’s a valuable takeaway just to recognize that you’re rarely alone in the struggles you experience in your career. It was a genuine honor for me to be in a position where I could work with so many folks enough to recognize these patterns.
3. Protecting your time makes you a more strategic contributor.
Moving between roles has often offered an opportunity to reflect and reevaluate which habits are serving me in my professional life. One of the biggest things I was hoping to change when I moved from Teachable to Commsor was my approach to time management and boundary-setting. Not only did I feel this was necessary for me to maintain work-life balance and avoid burnout, but I knew it could help me become a more strategic contributor. One of my greatest professional mentors, Bethany Cantor, had instilled this in me while I worked for her at Teachable—she taught me that in order to progress in your career, you have to break free from the mentality of “wanting to be the person who does it all.” (From personal experience and from working with C School students, this is really hard to learn if you're someone who's very motivated or has a streak of perfectionism). You have to learn to approach your time with care, prioritize the things that matter most, and crucially, be willing to say "no" to the things that don’t matter.
My mentor Brian Oblinger helped me codify this lesson with an exercise he taught in C School’s Leadership Track course that we co-developed. This project was one of my proudest accomplishments from my time at Commsor, and in my entire career. Brian encouraged us to audit our calendars over the previous two weeks, making a distinction between work we did that was tactical (stuff that “keeps the lights on,” stuff that sets you up for success next week/next month) and work we did that was strategic (stuff we did that pushed the envelope, or set us up for success next quarter/next year). He encouraged us to be aware of how our time was split and to always try to push our percentage closer to the strategic side. This exercise, and getting the privilege of watching how someone like Brian works, was a turning point for me in becoming a more strategic contributor. I’m looking forward to sharing more in the coming months about some of the other strategies I used to manage my time and prioritize my work.
4. Community Management and People Management have some stuff in common.
Around the time I joined Commsor, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to develop my career as a people manager, or go along the path of being a senior individual contributor. I just wasn’t sure if people management was for me—and this is something I’ve heard a lot of other folks struggle with (questioning this, I think, is good—people should consider how they personally want to grow rather than assuming that people management is the only path). I loved the work I did as an IC, and I knew that managing a team would require a different skillset. And, to be totally honest, I was nervous that I was too much of a "softie" for it—I tend to care really deeply about the people I work with, and I was worried that the responsibility of managing a team would take a big emotional toll on me. But, I knew building C School would require a team, and I really wanted to work on the project, and so I decided to go for it—and I am so glad I did.
While at Commsor, I built a team of five to scale C School. Working with them was by far the most rewarding part of my job. It was what kept me motivated, excited, and inspired, and I learned so much from each person who worked on my team. I also started to recognize that some of the things I learned about running an effective team had a ton of overlap with Community Management skills. I’ll be doing more writing and reflecting on these overlaps here in the coming months, but I wanted to share just a few—
Buy-in: I’ve often said that the answer to most questions about community management starts with user interviews. If you don’t have the buy-in of your community members, you may as well not bother building your project, no matter how cool it is. I found the same was true for my team—we were far more successful when we created our vision, goals, and projects together from the ground up.
Creating structure for success: I also tend to feel that as a community manager, while you want your members to feel bought-in, you don’t want them to feel like it’s “on them” to make everything happen. As the CM, you’re responsible for creating the structures that let your community members interact with the space with as little friction as possible—I tried to take on the same responsibilities as manager. I saw it as my duty to create structures that made it as easy as possible for my team to do what they’re good at.
Modeling & recognizing: A big “a-ha” moment for me, across my work as a community manager, a people manager, and even as a former teacher, has been realizing that there is so much more power in making a point of recognizing what’s going well than in pointing out what’s not going well. As a community manager, you’re in a stronger position to set the culture of your community by modeling and elevating ideal participation versus simply moderating, and the same is true of people management. Nine times out of ten, I found it much more helpful to actively look for the things my teammates were great at, and mention them a lot. This was easy to do, because my team was amazing, but I also believe it created a virtuous cycle that made our work better and more fun. I’d do it again.
5. In every aspect of my career, community is everything.
While this last point may seem trite, for me, it’s been true. Almost every time, real connections with real people have driven the biggest transformations in my career. I got my job at Commsor through the connections I made in the Community Club (a program I have so much love and admiration for). I learned more from networking with other professionals in the space than I ever have from books, blogs, or podcasts (no matter how ironic that might feel to say in this format)—special thanks to people like Victoria Knox, Jocelyn Hsu, Erica Moss, Rachael Silvano, and Shana Sumers, who regularly made time to chat with me, thought partner, and generally have fun.
Back when I published my first post on my blog back in early 2020, I remember feeling like I was shouting into the void. I didn’t have connections in this industry, and now I can genuinely say going into my next chapter, I know I’m doing it surrounded by friends. Thank you for being a part of that.
Now, what's up next for me?
As I’ve started to share this news with folks in my life and in my professional network, the question they’ve inevitably asked me is, “what’s next”? I’d love to share a bit about where I’m at and what I’m excited for.
I'm taking a step back to rest, and work on my multi-hyphenate-ness 🎵
Most folks who know me know that outside of work, one of the things I spend much of my time on is music. One of the things I’ve appreciated most during my career in tech has been the ability to balance my work life with my personal life—but, it’s time for me to shift that balance toward nurturing my creative side.
Because of that, as I step out of this role, I’m planning on taking a few months off of full-time work to focus on music. I’ve been working on an EP in my spare time, and am excited to have more room on my plate to dedicate to wrapping up that project. I’ll also be working on a couple of ensemble projects in the choral and classical world, and focussing on performance opportunities that were harder to make time for while working full time. It’s an immense privilege to be able to do this, and I’m so grateful for the factors in my life that have made that feel possible.
If you’re at all interested in following along with my creative projects, the best way to do that is by following me on Spotify. That’ll help you get notified when I release music or play shows. If you’re extra interested, I also talk about this stuff a lot on my Instagram—but, follow at your own risk: it’s a personal account where I also share a lot of pictures of my dog, food, books I’m reading, and my life. It’s not about the community industry and work, so if that’s what you’re mostly interested in, stick to my Twitter and LinkedIn.
But, I plan to stay in the Community Industry long-term.
Even though I’m taking some time to focus on me and recharge, my plan is still to stay in the community industry in the long-term.
In the immediate future, that’ll probably look like working on my blog and newsletter to keep my mind spinning, and share some more of what I’ve learned but just haven’t had much time to write about in the last couple of years. If you want to stay appraised of all that, your best bet is to join my newsletter (and get some free resources on community building, too):
I will also be taking on a small roster of consulting clients. I typically work as a strategic consultant to help founders and community teams make the most important strategic decisions about their community projects—from what platform to use, to how to engage members in a meaningful way, to how to measure and report on the ROI of your project. If you’d like to work together, you can learn more and get in touch here.
Lastly, I wanted to share that I’d love to step into another full time role eventually, after taking some time to refocus and recharge. I expect I’ll start being open to that around the new year, maybe sooner for the right opportunity. If you think you might want to have a conversation with me about that, shoot me an email (first + last @ gmail). What’d most likely excite me is…
A role at a SaaS company operating in the community or ed tech spaces, or with a well-established history of emphasis on either of those things.
A role that’s involved in setting community and organizational strategy: I’m good at helping organizations blend their community strategy with their company strategy and connect the former to the bottom line.
An opportunity to build or manage a team: working with my team was by far my favorite element of my most recent role, and I’ll be most excited about an opportunity that lets me build on that skillset.
An opportunity to work with experienced senior leaders from whom I can learn from and continue to develop my career.
There may be exceptions to this, but I’d be more excited about working with an established organization than a super early-stage startup. I’m a person who values and thrives on building processes, and I’ll do best in an environment where that preference doesn’t pose friction.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this—it’s been incredibly helpful for me to write as a form of reflection. I hope our paths continue to intersect in some way in the future!