Jim started out living the American story. He grew up in a middle-class home in the suburbs, married his high-school sweetheart, went to business school, and got a job in corporate America.
When he started having children, four before he was 34, finances were tight. He was driving a used Dodge Omni, 30 miles each way to work. On the way home on Friday night, if it was a good week, he bought a six-pack of Heineken, and at the end of the bad weeks, he bought a six-pack of Old Style.
Something had to give.
Jim was making less than he needed to support his family and certainly less than his business school friends. The cataclysmic event was when he asked his boss for a raise and learned he was at the top of his pay scale.
This conversation spurred him to look for a new job. At 29, he became the seventeenth employee and one of seven founding partners of a startup management consulting firm with a niche in a recently deregulated industry. Jim knew this industry from his previous dead-end job and was a perfect fit.
Jim loved his new boss and his new company and couldn’t have been happier with his career. While he was making a bit more money, finances were still challenging. Jim remembers the day he was driving his new boss in his rusted out Omni, in 90 degrees with no A/C, and his boss turned to him and said, “You’d look great in a Mercedes.” Indeed, at the time, this seemed a most unlikely prospect.
Yet, a mere eight years later, he was driving a new BMW. The company had grown, gone public, and the seven founding partners, including Jim, would never have to work again.
During those eight years, he traveled three days a week and saw his family very little. So little, in fact, that one night while he was waiting for a taxi to the airport, his youngest asked him, “Daddy are you going home now?”
Jim is the first to say he was lucky. Lucky to have landed in an industry that deregulated, lucky to have met and gone to work for the founder of the new firm, and lucky the sacrifices he had to make were over in a relatively short time.
Yet, the transition from pinching pennies to no financial worries presented its own set of challenges. The biggest challenge was he lost his sense of purpose. He went from his children asking if he even lived there to them asking, “why are you home, daddy?”
It took Jim ten years to rediscover that sense of purpose. He pushed himself into many things, from running an NFP, becoming an investor and unpaid COO for a startup, to a series of partnerships with friends.
One of his favorite stories is a partnership where they were flipping foreclosed homes. When all was said and done, he and his partners made $1.37 each.
Undaunted, after having too much to drink one day, he and some of his partners bought a parcel of land in the Dominican Republic. The plan was to develop the property, and instead, they spent years tied up in legal challenges with various previously unknown entities who held claim to the land.
The truth was the “too much to drink” had itself become a pastime, and Jim realized, much as had realized back when he learned he was at the top of his pay scale, that it was time for a pivot.
During his discovery years, two of Jim’s activities were coaching (baseball and hockey) and serving as a company board member. So when he learned about SCORE and started volunteering there, he realized he could apply all of his experience in a meaningful way to benefit others. Today, in addition to volunteering at SCORE, where he enjoys working with immigrants from all over the world, he is an executive coach working with founders, owners, and CEOs.
Advice for Others
It’s not about money: Initially, I wore my income on my sleeve; I didn’t know any better. I learned that staying genuine, true to myself, and accessing my core humanity is all that matters.
Our life stories are parables: I’ve learned a lot about what not to do. I share my story here in this blog and with my clients, hoping that others can take something from them. Every day is learning, even the bad days. For me, it’s about learning and self-correcting.
How you treat others matters: Not everyone thinks the same, acts the same and is motivated by the same things you are. Today I am incredulous about some of what I have said in the past and work hard today to self-manage.
Communication Matters: I’ve learned that if you want people to join you on a journey, you must share your vision and keep them informed.
Good fences make good neighbors: I’ve learned to set boundaries. I’ve learned without a value exchange, others will not take you seriously. I’ve learned first to think about what I am interested in and good at before saying yes to an opportunity.
Finally, I’ve learned that life is all about being a worthy human being.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s full quote from 1888, “Out of life’s school of war — What does not kill me makes me stronger.”
This quote came to mind as I was listening to Henry tell me his story. Perhaps it will resonate for you as well.
Henry grew up in a middle-class home where his parents sacrificed extensively so that he and his sister could “have everything.” He frequently heard them argue about money and decided early on that financial success was critical so as not to experience these same stressors.
School came easy to Henry, at least easy enough that he could coast and get passing grades. After a physical transition (his family moved states) in his early high school years, he had an awakening and realized that he needed to perform if he was going to achieve financial success. He calls this his first transition. He went from “needing to have others recognize and appreciate my abilities to seeing my own value” and went from a C and D student to straight A’s overnight.
Along the way, Henry discovered he had a knack for numbers and finance which led him, not surprisingly, toward a career in investment banking. He hated it.
So, at age 24, he decided to quit. As luck would have it, his dad called at that exact right time and asked if he would come home and start a business. It seemed a win for both of them. He knew his dad needed money for retirement; he could help his dad and escape the job he hated.
Henry became an accidental entrepreneur. The business they chose played well to both of their strengths, and it did well immediately, better than either of them expected. The growth continued, and Henry believed it would continue forever. As is often the case with immediate success, “I became overly confident in my abilities, some might say arrogant. Frankly, in retrospect, I think I was privately even more inflated than I realized.”
Ten years later, at age 34, all at the same time, they lost a large client, a key employee, and discovered they had severe technical issues that required substantial investment. Henry had just bought a new home and had not yet sold the previous one. And if that weren’t enough, a few months later, he learned his mom was seriously ill, and his father took leave to care for her. Suddenly, the wheels were coming off.
“I learned a lot about myself in the process. I was in my early thirties when things started to unravel, and I went from overconfident and feeling firmly in control of my world – to wondering if I had ever been a success. I began to question whether I could achieve again, and I asked myself if my best days were behind me?”
“Less than a year later, I had a full-on anxiety attack. I spent a month and a half in a full stupor. Having watched my birth family struggle financially, I was determined I would not follow that path.”
Upon reflection, perhaps it was that determination that led to the anxiety attack. A strength over-used?
“I went to see a counselor who told me I was going through a personal transformation and that I would come out of it stronger than when I went in. And, while I didn’t believe it at the time, she was right, of course. People who knew me then and know me now tell me they like, the less arrogant, more thoughtful, more mature me.”
“I learned that despite my perceived confidence in myself, I didn’t have all the answers. It was time to ask questions and to pause and listen to other people’s ideas.”
Henry went back to work, and the business recovered. He bought his father out of the business after he had been absent for two years caring for his mother, who had passed. The company did well enough to afford the lifestyle he wanted, yet something seemed to be missing.
Three years ago, after eight years of record growth, Henry began a quest to better understand his drive for a sense of self-worth. At first, he believed that the missing piece was in the business. “Shouldn’t I be doing more, making more?” he asked himself.
In the last few months, after about a year in the You Pivot™ Program, Henry has greater clarity that self-worth doesn’t come from growing a business. Instead, these drivers of self-worth come from being at peace with who you are and from being in service to others, helping them realize their dreams with the realization that it’s okay to fail.
Today, at nearly fifty years old, Henry feels energized and more balanced. He continues to enjoy leading his business and spending time with his family (his top priority). He volunteers with an accelerator, helping other entrepreneurs grow, and has begun building things in his workshop, something he did with his dad in his youth.
Surprisingly, (or perhaps not), along with his personal energy renewal, has come renewed energy in the business. The business had its best January in a long time, and 2021 is on track to be a great year.
Advice For Others
Sometimes we need to be kicked in the face –– to have to get up and look around a bit, drive down a path and see where we are. Transitions can be painful and can take a while. There is no easy fix, no drug to make it faster. You won’t wake up one day with an aha. Instead, we slowly transition and notice retrospectively that it has happened.
Finding ways to give back to others teaches you so much about yourself –– As business people, we often measure our worth in lockstep with the enterprise’s success. Finding a way to give back to others during a transition can help us find self-worth outside of business, career, and financial reward. See Ego Diversification.
Reach out to others, get a coach, find peers on a similar journey – In my journey, I needed to reach out to a coach, someone I respected, who would tell me the truth and ask me the right questions. As leaders, we may feel weak when seeking advice about ourselves. Everyone is willing to lay themselves bare when seeking counsel for business strategy. Somehow that feels strong, but being vulnerable about ourselves is so much harder.
As leaders, we want to be that strong, capable person. We tell ourselves if I don’t know my direction, how can I have a sense of self-worth? In my experience, it’s when I have felt uncertain that I have benefited the most from reaching out to others and being vulnerable.
After conducting these interviews and writing these YOU PIVOT™ stories for nearly a year now, a common theme for the men I’ve interviewed is a choice to follow Dad’s career path. This choice has worked well for some, reference Flunking Retirement: Marsh’s story of following his dad into the military And for others, like Darnell, not so much.
Darnell’s dad was an engineer at the same company for 43 years. So… Darnell became an engineer.
He realized even before he graduated, that wasn’t what he wanted to do. Darnell knew he was a natural leader and a people person, so he pivoted toward an MBA.
That said, the traditional corporate path was what he knew from his dad, so off he went to a big company. The plan was to “work my way up the ladder, punching the tickets – moving up to responsible positions. My stated goal then was to become president of a company within a company in my 40s”.
Along the way, he realized he is less of a rule follower and that he had his mother’s family genes. She came from a family of entrepreneurs – grandpa started a business in the boom times – followed by a bust. And then another boom.
“As I reflect on my career, there must have been something about the turnaround, from bust to boom, that caught my attention because everything I’ve ever done has been a turnaround. And, I don’t fit the turnaround stereotype. In my first company turnaround, I was more of a consultant/project manager and observer. From this experience, I learned that if a company is going to survive independently after the turnaround, it has to be about the people, not just the financials.
One thing that was consistent with the stereotype, every time I got it turned around, I moved on to another adventure. While I was accustomed to moving, having grown up moving every three years, part of me regretted moving on. I wanted to stay around to be part of the growth.”
Darnell got his chance to pivot to a growth company and accepted a position with a German conglomerate. At age 39, he was on a path toward becoming President of a company within a company by age 40.
It was not to be.
While moving all the time seemed normal to him, his wife’s experience was the opposite. She lived in the same town all her life and wasn’t keen on raising a family so far from their extended family. They stayed in Germany for a while, but he knew she wasn’t happy being so far from family, and he committed to returning to the U.S.
While he sometimes wonders what would have been if he had stayed, this spurred his pivot out of corporate and into privately held. Who Knows What is Good and What is Bad.
He came back to run a failing company. He learned from this position that his knack for turnarounds worked best in a privately held company. His training, combined with his independent nature and leadership abilities, fit best in a private company where politics was not primary. He went on to do three more turnarounds after this one.
Darnell is sixty now and has come full circle. His wife was diagnosed with heart disease two years ago, so time with her is his number one priority. Time to pivot again. His vision is to create a three-legged stool:
- Family time
- Investor/advisor in stuck companies, i.e., turnarounds
- Active philanthropy at the board level with his passion projects
And, as is often the case, we plan, and life happens. Darnell invested in four small companies, one stalled, one is still trying, one is on-hold, and one… took off.
Darnell moved from advisor to CEO and is having fun with this role. “I can apply all my experience, all I have learned, without recovering some of the baggage, i.e., the rat race, the emotional need to work more, ego engagement, etc. I still care, but I am not emotionally invested like I once was.”
So what happened to the pivot vision?
“On the surface, it looks like I just changed jobs. And, my intention is for this to be temporary. I’ve organized my role, my contract, and my compensation to still treat this company as an investment, albeit with a larger role than an advisor. I am giving myself a B on having an exit plan – truth be told, I don’t have a clear path out with a timeline. That said, my 3-legged stool vision is front and center. Every day I am focused on taking actions toward the vision, e.g., hiring key leaders to reach my goal.
Advice for others
- Have a vision – Always be looking out a year or two ahead of yourself. Life isn’t always going to happen the way you think it will, so at least be thinking about what is next before exiting. It’s essential to think forward, to wrestle with that map continually –write it down and wrestle with it.
- Align your actions with your vision – I’ve designed my three-legged stool such that I can spend as much time as possible with my wife and have other things to keep me distracted. While I am having fun building the team at my current company, I am building ahead for the first time in my career. I am doing this intentionally so I can go when the time is right.
- Make choices that give you the moral high ground – Decide what is important to you and choose accordingly. I am not taking a full salary in my current role to ensure I am treated as, and think like, an investor. This choice gives me the comfort to chose my exit on my terms.
It’s an interesting coincidence that this month’s interview with Sheila followed last month’s with Marsh. They are both from the same generation, Sheila a bit younger at 75, and both followed similar, very intentional, highly accomplished corporate career paths. And yet, as a woman, perhaps because she is a woman, Sheila’s story and her transitions were quite different from Marsh’s.
Sheila came from humble beginnings in a small town in England. Her mother aspired to be a social climber, and her idea of success for Sheila was to become a bank teller. While banking became her chosen first career, little did mom know that Sheila would become the first woman business unit president of a Fortune 500 national bank.
Sheila was the first in her family to attend university after demonstrating she was a star student, taking Calculus at age ten and studying Economics at age thirteen! (perhaps a young genius, which she wouldn’t admit when I asked). She had the intellect and drive to do it all. She played competitive field hockey and tennis, excelled in school, and later after meeting her first husband on the first day of university, marrying and balancing two careers.
Career #1 was as a teacher, first in high school and then at the college level. And when she was bored after the second year, she enrolled in the London School of Economics to earn her Master’s part-time while teaching full-time. An exciting time especially when her advisors recommended her for a position as an Economic Advisor at the Treasury. Her intention was for government to be her next pivot AND incorporate teaching by teaching civil servants. Instead, she moved to the United States. Her husband was also building his career. His company asked him to move to the US, and he accepted the opportunity with her support.
So here she was at age 30, always having been intentional about her path, with a significant unplanned pivot – new country, no green card, no job. And she got lucky; she leveraged her economics experience and met a woman who was an international economist. She made some introductions, and Sheila landed a position as an economist with the same bank, where she became the first female business unit president eighteen years later.
Early in her tenure as president, the Board Chair of one of her clients approached the bank’s CEO, asking if Sheila could serve on his board. Initially, the CEO said no. The Chairman persisted, explaining that this is the best development experience he could give her at this point in her career. The CEO finally said yes, and this experience gave her the kernel of an idea for her next pivot.
Not one to want to “meet herself on the next lap,” as she described it, after seven years as president, it was time to plan for what would be next. The current CEO was younger than her, so she knew that role wasn’t an option. At age 55, she exited the C-Suite and began her next pivot.
She quickly added three corporate boards to her portfolio, later becoming the first Non-Executive Chair of one of these companies. And soon after that, she returned to her teaching roots by co-founding a learning institute for C-Suite Executives and high potential women executives.
Today at 75, Sheila is on to her next pivot. She has begun unwinding her commitments, slowly stepping down from corporate board service, and hiring a CEO to run her founded organization (a non-profit). Instead of contributing one-to-many, she is coaching one-to-one, working with CEOs as they navigate key issues in the board room.
Following is Sheila’s advice to others planning a pivot:
- Take the boat off the dock. Until you do, you have no idea what is out there. At the same time, don’t let your confidence blind you. I did a terrible job of risk mitigation when I moved to the US. It worked out, but I was unprepared for the challenges I would face. I was overconfident.
- As demonstrated in Marsh’s story Flunking Retirement, even today, it is easier for men to navigate without mentors and sponsors. As a woman, I believe I would not have been able to pivot without sponsors and mentors. Be sure and access your network and leverage it.
- Learn ethical pragmatism. Be mindful of your standards/ethics, but don’t crucify yourself. Remember, there are times when it’s more important to be effective than it is to be right. Many times throughout my career, I tolerated people in my organization that I would not choose as friends. On the other hand, I once resigned from a board because I felt the CEO was not acting in the shareholders’ best interests. In this case, I could not be effective in changing the outcome, but I could be right. It’s a delicate dance that we each must undertake.
Careers, like software, require updates to keep them fresh.
Just as with software, Version 1.0, while it works, is just the beginning. For some, Version 1.0, is well thought out. These are the lucky ones. My husband, for example, knew when he was a child that he wanted to be an engineer. And, he did just that, even in high school he was preparing to become an engineer. For him, later versions consisted of different types of engineering roles, mechanical, quality, and ultimately design. He is always learning, always updating to a new version.
Me, on the other hand, I graduated high school at 16 because I was anxious to be on my own, except I had no idea what I wanted to do. I walked down the street and applied for a job at a local Savings & Loan Association1. Thus began my career in financial services, career Version 1.0. I eventually completed my undergraduate education, moved to Chicago, began Version 1.5 as an executive at Northern Trust, and completed my MBA at Kellogg.
After 18 years of Version 1.5, I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “you don’t have kids to send to college, you don’t have to make this much money, it’s time to go and find something new.” While I wasn’t able to name it at the time, this was the beginning of Version 2.0 and my consulting career. A few years later, came Version 2.5 as a Leadership Coach and Peer Advisory Board Chair.
Today I am moving into 3.0 as I migrate from leading a fantastic CEO Peer Advisory Board in affiliation with Vistage International, toward exclusively leading the You Pivot™ Program.
What prompted me to tell this story?
I mentioned to a friend recently that I am working with leaders in transition, and he asked me, “how does this work, doesn’t “in transition” mean unemployed? I was astonished by this comment, having never thought about transition as an ending; instead, for me, transition is a beginning. And of course, transition is both. To have a beginning, we must also have an ending. And it’s the ending that is often the hardest part.
Sometimes when people are ready for an ending and a change to a new version, they tell themselves a story of failure. “If I were more successful,” they say, I wouldn’t need a change.” How then do we explain the professional singer I met recently, who is now a first-year medical resident?
We need language to talk about transitions, and this language needs to normalize the experience. We are living a long time. With these longer lives, we are likely to have many transitions both in our lives and our careers. Isn’t it time we embraced transition as a normal part of life? And, more importantly, a positive force in our lives.
For me, the people who become intentional about version changes are the successful ones. I enjoy working with people who are ready to explore a new version of themselves and their careers. My clients typically fall into two groups: CEOs, Presidents and Owners who have recently begun a move toward 2.5; or those who may already be in Version 2.5 and are looking toward 3.0.
As you think about your life and career,
- What is your today story?
- What matters to you? How does what matters compare to what you are doing today?
- What is your tomorrow story? Have you begun to write the next chapter or version of yourself?
Let’s work together. If you are feeling stuck, considering a transition and you want to cut your time to action to six months or less, there is no better time than now to contact me.
1 For those of you who may not be familiar with Savings & Loan Association, S&Ls were a simple financial services concept designed to foster homeownership. They took deposits at flexible rates based on market conditions and then lent these deposits at fixed-rates to people buying homes. The model worked until inflation and interest rates skyrocketed in the ’70s. Borrowing and lending terms were mismatched, and while it took a while, that was the end of Savings and Loan Associations.
When I began this interview with Marsh, now 80, the first thing he said is “I flunked retirement twice.” We both agreed the word retirement doesn’t work anymore. Version 3.0 of ourselves, even version 4.0, is not about endings, it’s about beginnings. Discovering the content of the new beginning is both the hard part and the reward of the journey.
Marsh began his career in the military, following his father into West Point and ultimately into the Marines. When the Vietnam War ended, he realized two things, 1) without a war, his military leadership options were limited. 2) if he wanted to change his career, he needed to control it. In the military, you went where you got assigned. With a wife and two children, this idea no longer appealed to Marsh.
So at the age of 35, Marsh decided to enter the corporate world. He sent letters to 85 companies and got zero interviews. When I asked him why, he said, “In those days if you were a Vietnam vet, you were viewed as some crazy person. At 35, no one wanted to touch me; no one was willing to give me a second chance.”
Fortunately, he had a friend at Chase Manhattan Bank who got him an interview for a job for which his military experience was a plus. Soon thereafter, he was offered a job that no-one wanted, corporate budget director. While his colleagues viewed this job as too hard and too much work, it was ideal for a military trained guy. It had the side benefit of regular briefings with the bank’s chairman, which provided him with broad strategic exposure and, ultimately, opportunities.
In retrospect, Marsh describes the transition from the military to corporate life as his most challenging transition. Learning the lingo was hard enough, e.g., the executive dining room was just that, not the mess hall. The hardest part was learning how to create and inspire teams. Teamwork is essential to getting the job done in the military and therefore happens naturally. There is a common enemy to fight, and without a team to deploy it, an 85-pound machine gun is worthless. On the other hand, while teamwork certainly maximizes the result in a company, people are more likely to compete within the company and work in silos.
Once he got the hang of building teams in the corporate world, he enjoyed it and wanted to lead people as he had done in the military. He navigated his way to a regional management job, his first P/L responsibility, and ultimately to head a growing business called global custody. It was in this role that he was tapped to take over as CEO of State Street Bank and Trust. From SVP of a money center bank, several levels below any C-Suite role, to CEO of a regional bank. He transformed this bank into the worldwide leader of global custody, and then after ten years, he retired at the age of 61.
When I asked how he and they decided he should retire, he replied, “This was planned from day one. The board had been caught short by his predecessor deciding six months before he retired that the person he was grooming to replace him was not the guy. The board had to scramble to find a replacement (Marsh). They were determined not to have this happen again. So, before I started, they asked me, “what are your plans?” I said 8-10 years is about right in the CEO role (today, I think it more like 4-5, he added), and my wife and I want time in our early 60’s to enjoy life. From there, we agreed on how we would proceed. We began a management resource review for candidates four years before I left.”
After Marsh “retired” from State Street, he followed his father once again, this time into teaching, a seemingly ideal retirement job. For two years, he taught full-time at the Kennedy School at Harvard, only to discover he was bored teaching the same subject a second time.
As luck would have it, about this time, the New York Stock Exchange imploded in scandal. The CEO was fired, a new board was created, and the chairman asked Marsh to take the helm.
So much for retirement. Marsh led the New York Stock Exchange for ten years, and then at 74, he retired for real. He still gives lectures at MIT Sloan and consults a bit with business leaders.
What advice does Marsh have for other CEOs who want to pivot?
- Be strategic about your current role AND the next versions of yourself.
- Find a coach – being a CEO is a lonely job; you can’t share your musings and life questions with your team. While you can seek your own counsel, an outside perspective is better.
- Have another passion. If your whole life is around being a CEO and your family, any transition will be hard. Roosevelt had his stamp collection; I learned to fly.
- Forget about retirement. Think more in terms of redirecting.
- Experience space before you fill it and discover what is calling your attention.
- And one more…it’s a big transition when your inbox isn’t full every day!!!
Ryan started his career in his early twenties, working for his dad. And, as is often the case, this young firebrand felt he knew better how to run the business, dad disagreed. On one thing they did agree, it was best that he go to work somewhere else.
After two years of working for a not-for-profit, Ryan went back to work for his dad. By then, he had learned that his dad knew a thing or two, and they developed a strong working relationship. Today he describes his father as his mentor.
Seven years later, Ryan had an idea for a business. He asked his dad to invest, and he said no. They kept talking, though, and with his dad’s help, he put together a partnership that gave his dad the confidence to invest.
Ryan eventually became the CEO of this company, and eleven years after its founding, at age 41, they sold to a Fortune 500 company.
While Ryan could have taken some time off, after three days in Florida, he decided instead it was time to do a startup on his own. He saw a gap, had an idea for filling it, and off he went to do it. A scary thought, he said, but he felt it was time to face his fear.
His big fear was, can I do it alone?
“I know I contributed to the last business. Ultimately though, I did it with partners. The partnership was fraught. I was anxious to push through it – pent up – wanted to prove I could – fear became the drive for the new business. In some ways, this was valuable, some ways a mistake – it wouldn’t be off the ground if I hadn’t – we wouldn’t be where it is.”
It took 2 1/2 years for the new business to get traction, which seemed like an eternity to Ryan. He confessed that while the company is doing well and has high growth potential, he is not enjoying running it.
Time for the next pivot…
Ryan calls his first pivot moving from an operator to a founder. This time he sees himself as becoming a true entrepreneur, revolutionizing businesses and processes focusing on doing what he enjoys most and what he does best — i.e., the ideation and build phase, including creating the leadership team.
The new business will be a portfolio of companies, with a president for each company and Ryan as CEO of the holding company. He sees his role as developing the overall vision and finding and inspiring the leadership talent. His head says he is doing this too soon, the business is too young, and his heart wants to move on. “Am I naive? I know management transitions are difficult, a significant amount of risk, and the leader is culpable,” he reflects.
Is Ryan afraid of failure? Yes. Is he facing his fear and going ahead once again? Absolutely.
What advice does Ryan have for others who want to Pivot?
Three words, Face Your Fear:
- A lot of people allow their head trash to drive their behavior. If you have the drive, head toward the things you are afraid of – look the fear in the face and go right at it – so many people allow their fear to win – I always start with asking what are you afraid of? That is where the magic is.
- This is not your practice life – follow your heart, not your head. Is it the best service if you are half-hearted?
- Take time between pivots. I went directly from A to B. I wonder what I would have discovered if I had taken time to explore.
Let’s work together. If you are looking to grow or get unstuck and cut the time to action to six months or less, there is no better time than now to contact me.
© EKS LTD Please feel free to forward this blog in full with attribution including the copyright notation.
You 3.0 has become a regular feature of this blog. This month, I interviewed Valencia; her story follows.
When Valencia was a child, she had a dream that she would travel the world when she grew up and teach people the secrets of the universe. Today, in what she calls Act III, she has found her calling as a Functional Medicine doctor helping women overcome stress and burnout.
For Valencia, Act I began in high school when she decided to become a physician in her senior year. While she did not have any medical role models, she was always interested in the body and yet had a sense, even then, that heart and soul were critical elements to health.
She wanted to go to Harvard. Her parents made enough money to raise six children in a middle-class home, too much money for Valencia to get a loan for college, and not enough, in their opinion, to pay for college, so she was on her own. In her words, “I went to a poor quality high school on the south side of Chicago, and while graduating in the top ten, Harvard wasn’t an option because I had no visible support or guidance to help me navigate the process.”
“I ended up going to the University of Illinois, Circle Campus, a commuter college because the school recruited at our high school, and I was able to get a scholarship and work my way through.”
Once at U of I, Circle Campus, Valencia decided she had wasted too much time in high school and was going to graduate college in three years. She mapped out her program and took it to her U of I Honors Program counselor to review it with him. The counselor’s response was “young lady; you are taking too many classes; young lady, you won’t be able to graduate in 3 years; young lady you won’t be able to get into medical school, there is too much competition.”
On her way out the door, Valencia said to herself, “I’ll show you.” “This counselor was her motivation.
Then, after seeing her test and grade scores, Harvard started sending her letters asking her to apply to their medical school. The tuition was $15,000, which seemed like a fortune. She took the letters to her parents, and they refused to help. She was young and naive, and without role models or advisors, it never occurred to her to ask Harvard for the money.
“U of I College of Medicine encouraged me to apply early decision, still angry with my parents, and more determined than ever, I enrolled at U of I once again. I went back to my counselor for the first time since that initial meeting to show him my early decision acceptance letter to the medical school – which literally left him speechless. Mission accomplished!”
Valencia went on to become an eye surgeon, complete her residency at the University of Chicago, and then a fellowship at the Kresge Eye Institute. She opened her Ophthalmology practice in 1991.
In 2007, she started having similar dreams to those she had as a child and inspired by President Barack Obama, and his boldness (he was a patient at the time) sold her practice.
Thus began Act II. “I thought Act II was going to be like Act I, said Valencia. Act I was a slam dunk. Don’t get me wrong, I had to do the work, but the doors keep opening.”
“Act II was the hardest thing I’ve ever done—extreme personal growth. I found myself hopping around, collecting pieces, and ultimately learning what is worth fighting for. Several times I contemplated going back to Ophthalmology. It took me nearly ten years of trying to teach the ‘secrets of the universe’ to the business community, as a coach and speaker, to realize something was missing.”
2014 – 2017 were transition years for Valencia.
“2014 came in, and I realized it was time to stop. I felt as though the rug was pulled out from under me, again feeling intense personal and spiritual upheaval, I took a breath.”
Then in 2017, she and her husband moved to California to be near their son, who was in college, and fulfill a long-time dream of hers.
“In 2018, I finally found the missing piece, the body. I had given up the body in Act II and was unfulfilled. In 2016, I started hearing about functional medicine. I ignored it at first until, through striking synchronicity, I met Dr. Jacobson. Within less than two months, I had a business set up in functional medicine and had enrolled in the intensive yearlong medical training at the Institute of Functional Medicine. I opened my doors, January 1, 2019, in Walnut Creek, CA. My niche is helping busy women to overcome stress and burnout, stop annoying symptoms without scary drugs, and experience greater vitality, connection, and confidence.”
At age 60, this is the last act. I have finally pulled all the pieces of this journey together – mind, body, and spirit.”
I asked Valencia to share what she learned from her transitions; without hesitation, she shared these three:
- Buckle up and be very serious about doing your personal development work – this is what saved me during the difficult times of Act II, my ability to be conscious of my emotions and skill set – to develop emotional resiliency.
- Search inside yourself to make sure you have a clear WHY – for me, I was clear, I wasn’t doing it for the money or recognition – more to do with being on purpose and knowing it.
- Slow down, listen to your intuition, be mindful of how you are spending money on your mission. Act II was hard on my purse – I so wanted to cross the finish line, I kept looking for help to get where I wanted to be, I should have paused.
Finally, Valencia, shared, whatever journey you choose to go on, if your heart is in it, you will make it; people can feel the heart.
Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership and transition coaching as well as my peer advisory boards here.
You 3.0 has become a monthly feature of this blog. While most of us continue to shelter in place, I asked myself if I should pause these stories and decided they are as relevant now as ever. And, perhaps hearing others’ stories may inspire you to create your own transition story when the virus is behind us.
This month, I interviewed Corey, what follows is his story.
Corey began his career as an actor. He fell into what ultimately led to founding a business while working as a temp at a management consulting firm to support his acting career. As luck would have it, Corey made friends with John, one of the Managing Partners of the firm where he worked his temp job.
One day, John offered, “if you are ever interested in making a career move and joining us full-time, I can help.” Not too long afterward, Corey took him up on his offer, which led to a nearly ten-year career at the firm.
“Frankly, I thought I would be a lifer,” Corey told me. “I was making great money, with great benefits, and I loved my work.”
“But then things started to change, the company was heading down a different path, and I no longer felt I fit. Yet, I stayed. The last 1 1/2 years, I was so incredibly unhappy. I think I stayed because it was so good in the beginning. I think people tend to stay longer in dysfunctional relationships because of the early days.
When I finally decided it was time to leave, I didn’t know what I was going to do next. What I did know was I was 34 years old, I had been smart with my earnings, I was single, and I could leave.
Up until this point, I hadn’t had a plan, things just happened for me, and I took advantage of opportunities that came my way.
I spent four months interviewing and received several offers. When I asked my dad for his opinion as to which one to take, he asked me a question that simplified things for me and changed my life “which option will put you in the best position to be where you want to be when you are 40?”
For me, I have an easier time with five years from now than the next month. I was able to fast forward in my mind and see what I wanted my career and my life to look like at 40.
The choice was easy. I wasn’t going to work for another company; I was going to start my own business. I am proud to say that my first four hires are still with the firm, folks who reported to me, as well as peers and even people who I had previously reported to, joined as well.”
Today the firm has fifty-six employees and $14M in annual revenue. Ever since his father’s question “what do you want it to look like when you are 40?”, Corey and his company plan in five-year increments.
The 2020 plan was focused on succession planning and taking the company to market. Corey’s successor shadowed him in 2018, and by 2019 was running the company.
The 2025 plan called for geographic expansion. Everyone agreed we should be pragmatic about where and when to do it. Either a significant client wants us to have a presence and/or a senior trusted employee wants to be in a location.
It turned out that Corey and his wife wanted to move to Arizona. And, they have a significant client with a presence in Arizona. The who and the where were answered.
Meanwhile, they sold the company and formalized the succession plan.
The acquiring company liked Corey’s successor for CEO, Corey joined the board and took charge of Business Development in Arizona.
By 2025, Corey, at age 55, will likely be retired; this was part of the rationale for the transaction. His successor will be creating his own succession plan (he is four years younger) and may follow the same path as Corey.
When I asked him what retirement holds for him, “I had a clear vision at 34 for what my company would be at 40. I am not as clear this time, and I have a lot of ideas percolating. Being a project manager by trade, I will be pretty mindful and intentional as my time at the company will decrease as the next will increase. I want to do something more contributory to society. I also want to speak French fluently. I play guitar and would love to get back to gigging with it – back to performing where I started; I am passionate about food – maybe a food truck.”
I asked Corey to share what he learned from his transitions; below are his top three:
- Separate the decision to leave from the choice of what to do next. I used to think of a job change as a singular event. First, you find a new job, then you give notice and go to the next job. When I left my job at 34, I learned how important it is to make this separation.
- Don’t wait to enjoy your life and do the things you want to do. My dad owned his own business; it never got big, $2mm in revenue, 30 employees. He was a child of two Great Depression parents. He took two weeks off every year. His mindset was you work your butt off until 65, then retire and enjoy life. Within a year of my dad turning 65, my mom starting showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and his dream of traveling with his wife and enjoying life turned into becoming her primary caregiver for 11 years.
- Prepare for a transaction before you are ready to move on. Do it now, so the company is ready when you are. If you wait until you are emotionally done, the company’s value isn’t where it should be – you are old and exhausted. Not one of our prospective buyers requested I stay because I had a strong leadership team poised to succeed without me. I stayed because I wanted to, not because I had to.
Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership and transition coaching as well as my peer advisory boards here.