One year ago I interrupted a 26-year business career when I left my position as a senior vice president at an S&P 500 company. I was 49-years old and uncertain of my professional future. I share my story here because I believe there are many people who are addressing similar career and life issues.
A confluence of factors, both professional and personal, led to my departure. First, Ihad become jaded and pessimistic, which in turn created troubling stress-related healthissues. This was unsustainable. Second, I had a dawning realization that maintaining my position was no longer critical to my family’s financial security. That was extremely liberating. Finally, there was the lasting influence of 9/11 on my outlook. I worked across the street from Ground Zero on that day, and the knowledge that life can change forever in an instant is never far from my thoughts.
Putting these factors together, I became increasingly disengaged at work. I was notbeing fair to myself or my employer, and it was time to go. I did not know what would be next, but I did know that I needed a major change.
Pause …“I Want To Do What You Did”
Flashback: I met an American couple at Pompeii, Italy, 20 years ago. The husband wason sabbatical, and they were seeing the world with their 12-year-old son. I rememberthinking, “what a wonderful gift to give a child,” and a seed was planted.
Fast forward: Summer of 2006. We have a 13-year-old son with a great curiosity forthe world. We also have two daughters, ages 7 and 4. Three weeks after leaving my corporate life, our family boarded a plane for Florence, Italy, where we would spend several months. We rented an apartment, our kids attended school, and my wife and I enjoyed la dolce vita. It was a great experience in so many ways, and there were frequent “does it get any better than this?” moments.
Upon returning home, as I related our family’s travel experiences to friends andacquaintances, there was a common reaction: “I want to do what you did!”
Now as I move forward with the next phase, I am experiencing a wonderful, if unintentional, process of self discovery. I had expected to return to corporate life, but I quickly realized my heart was not in it.
I’m finding that what I want is a more personally meaningful alternative. I still needto contribute and to feel valued. But the formula now is quite different, as I am blurringthe lines between my professional and personal lives.
I am building a diverse “portfolio” of activities that is characterized by a strong connection to my values. These activities include: consulting with organizations whose missions resonate with me; mentoring young professionals; teaching; and finally, managing my life so that I have flexibility and am present more often for my family.
This is an evolving process. Some days are rewarding, while others are frustrating, andI do not know where these paths will lead. But I do know that I just had the most satisfying year of my adult life.