"The reservoir of all my life experiences shaped me as a person and a leader."
Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks
At the recommendation of a mentor, I've been reading the book Discover Your True North by Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and a lecturer at Harvard Business School. Bill's words have been well-timed as I navigate a pivotal point in my career, reminding me that this season of my life is an important part of my career and life journey.
On July 1, 2018, I stepped down from my full-time job as the Chief Administrative Officer of The Resource Group to stay home with my one-year-old son. After working full-time for 10 years and traveling 80% of the time for six of those years (one with a baby in tow) I decided I needed to hit the pause button. My husband had started a new job that required heavy travel, and our home life was becoming more and more chaotic as we navigated first-time parenthood, conflicting travel schedules, and the demands that accompany two working professionals in a digitally-connected society. As my husband's travel ramped up, it became clear that one of us needed to slow down and establish a greater level of stability at home. After extensive thought and conversation, I decided it was time for me to pivot.
While the decision was easy, the communication of my decision was anything but. Sharing this type of news is often difficult; doing so with people who I had been “in the trenches” with for years was devastating. In my quest to find more balance at home, I worried that I was abandoning everything and everyone at work. From a personal standpoint, work was a huge piece of my identity. My first week at home was emotional as I found myself missing the professional person I had boxed up and put in storage for a few years, perhaps longer.
Along with these worries, most of all I was fearful of moving from a job where I felt competent most of the time to a job where I was a novice. While I have plenty left to learn on the corporate side of things, the learning curve I felt at work was significantly less steep than I the learning curve I have every day as a mom. My son is always a step ahead of me, dropping cryptic clues like breadcrumbs to indicate that something else is changing: dropping a nap, needing to eat more solid food during the day, climbing up (and almost out!) of his crib, teething...and the list goes on. In my spare time, I pour over books and articles trying to figure out the appropriate response to every new development and phase.
When my son was a newborn, someone asked me how things were going as a new mom. I told them that it was similar to my golf game. Before having a baby, I had started playing golf at a level that "isn't embarrassing" (according to my husband), and while my mediocre-at-best game still frustrated me, every time I played I would hit a long drive or sink a decent putt that kept me motivated to go back out and play again in spite of all the mistakes I had made during the round. Many of the “pivotal moments” I’ve had as a professional created a similar sensation, and I have found that becoming a mother has as well. Most days with my son do not go as planned, and I find myself Googling questions about toddlers throughout the day trying to find the magical answer to the new issue I am facing. Once in a while; however, the day will go exactly as planned and for a brief moment, I finally feel like I have things under control. Then, the chaos starts again.
This pivot in my career, and the challenge of doing something new, isn’t unlike other professional pivots and challenges I’ve experienced. In some cases, I have made the decision to pivot, like when I transferred from Ashland University in my hometown after my freshman year to go three hours south to Miami University (Ohio). In other cases, someone made a decision that required me to pivot, such as when I was caught up in a layoff at my consultancy and found myself unemployed when I was 23 years old. Regardless of the reason for the pivot, the challenges that accompanied each situation and the characteristics they required me to develop have, as Howard Schultz stated, “shaped me as a person and as a leader”.
Over the course of my life, I have come to realize that pivotal moments, especially those that are most uncomfortable, are important opportunities to be challenged because they stretch our capabilities beyond their current capacity. Embracing the unknown of a pivot, along with seeking help through them by engaging mentors, collaborating with others, and being vulnerable has helped me become a more multi-dimensional person. Rather than try to avoid these experiences, I want to embrace them, even if the pivot is one I did not plan.
One of the most interesting points that Bill George highlights in his book is how great leaders have a story, often one that involves failure or adversity, which inspires them to create something unique or innovative. This experience has already started to inspire me by challenging me in new ways; giving me a different perspective on people, families, work, and society; and showing me new things about myself that I need to work on improving, regardless of my future vocation. While I do not know what pivotal moments the future holds, I am eager to see how this season of my life will shape me as a person and as a professional.