Many life experiences have led up to the launch of this blog, and it takes a while to tell those stories.
But I hope you'll hang there with me to hear them. Why? Well, they certainly provide insight into who I am and why I'm doing this.
But perhaps more important is this:
Hearing others' stories can be a powerful vehicle for reflecting on your own life. My hope is that learning about my journey will help you gain insight into what you yourself need to do to ensure you're truly fulfilled by your work.
Before I dive into this, though, let me admit that it feels a little weird to write about myself here.
Here are three reasons why I'm doing it anyway:
Reason #1: It's About a Relationship...
One of my motivations for starting this blog is that I want an opportunity to build longer-term relationships with the people I support through my work. Sharing information about myself and my own journey is an investment in that relationship.
Do you build relationships with people who won't tell you anything about themselves? I don't.
Reason #2: It's About Something I've Been Learning...
An important theme in my own development over the last couple years has been authenticity.
I'm learning that when I let myself be vulnerable enough to show who I really am, what I'm really thinking and feeling — including the stuff I'm not so proud of — things always go better. I feel better about myself when I'm authentic like that, and I find that things go better too with my projects and my relationships.
Reason #3: It's About What You Deserve...
How can I expect you to trust what I say here if you don't know who I am and why I'm writing this blog?
You deserve to know about what kind of expertise and experiences I bring to this endeavor. And you also deserve to know that I'm still learning (and relearning, and relearning) some of this stuff too.
Most of all, you deserve to know about the goals and principles that have led me to invest hours in researching and setting up this blog, the same drivers that will be the motivation behind every new idea and resource I add here.
The People Who Inspired This Blog
I've been a leadership and organizational development consultant for 13 years.
In my own consulting practice since 2003 and in my previous consulting jobs too, the clients I've partnered with have been quite diverse.
They work for all kinds of different organizations, serving many different types of clients, patients, students, customers, and causes.
While the majority are women, they otherwise represent a rainbow of demographic differences — young and old; black, white, and brown; gay and straight; well-off and recently homeless; Ph.D.s and high school students. Not to mention a broad range of personality styles, skill sets, professional roles, etc.
But despite these differences, I've noticed a few things my clients all have in common. I'm drawn to and blessed by the opportunity to work with people who are...
- Compassionate and altruistic. They truly want to make a difference in their communities and in the lives of those around them.
- Thoughtful, eager to learn, and eager to improve — so they can do even better by themselves and by those they serve.
- Lively and passionate. These are people who want to live fully. They have a passion for and deep sense of purpose in life.
I like to think that I share these qualities in common with them. With you.
And I know from my own life experiences — as well as from what my clients have trusted me enough to show me — that being and doing those things can be hard.
At times, really hard.
We have so much we're trying to accomplish, it can be hard to balance it all.
We're so driven to make a difference, so driven to continuously improve — that we can be really hard on ourselves when we fall short of our own expectations.
Often we're kinder to others than we are to ourselves. And that makes me sad.
I have to say, I've gotten much better about this myself over the years. And then a series of health scares last Fall helped really catapult me forward in my progress on this front.
Nonetheless, I know this is a continuous journey for me. It will always be tempting to push myself too hard, to take on too much, to judge myself too harshly, to put my own well-being on the back burner while I work to help others.
And so one motivation for starting this blog is this:
I hope that by coming back to these pages again and again to write about what matters most, I'll remind myself about how I want to live and what I need to do to accomplish that.
But even more than that, this blog is for those other beautiful people I described above. For you.
You are doing such good in the world. Yes, you can always do better — we all can. But you won't accomplish that by pushing too hard, by losing track of the big picture, or by never stopping to rest and reflect.
And so I hope this blog will become a place that also reminds you about how you want and need to live your life. A place where you discover things that help you reach toward your vision for yourself and fulfill your sense of purpose in life.
If it does, that will be a big step for me in fulfilling my own purpose and calling.
My Path to This Blog
I didn't always know what my calling was.
And, truthfully, even once I finally landed on an authentic and inspiring sense of direction for my career, my understanding of how best to express that has continued to evolve.
Here's the story of how I got to where I am now:
Early Career: The Most Miserable "Perfect Job" Ever
On the surface, my first job out of college seemed perfect for me. A position at an influential Pittsburgh nonprofit, it blended my interests in art, music, architecture, and urban life, and it drew on my talents for writing and organizing.
But the reality was that this particular role and the organizational culture in which I was working were both a complete mismatch for my personality and my deeper passions.
I know now that I'm most inspired when I feel I'm making a direct difference in people's lives and when I myself am doing the creating. In that first job, I was mostly managing processes and paperwork that enabled other people to do those two things.
So despite the fact that I was employed in a nonprofit setting working toward a cause I deeply believed in, the longer I stayed there, the more unhappy I became.
I eventually fell into a deep depression. It took leaving the job to feel happy and hopeful again.
This experience taught me what a huge impact our work can have on our well-being. And I was determined to be smarter about my choices going forward.
A Search for Direction
I held a series of other jobs after that — paid and volunteer; part-time, full-time, and temporary; for-profit and not-for-profit.
But my main purpose during that period had nothing to do with the jobs I was holding. Rather, it was about figuring out who I was and what I ultimately wanted to do with my life.
I spent a lot of time researching and reflecting...
- I read a bunch of career books and completed one self-reflection exercise after another trying to pin down the ingredients in my most meaningful work, volunteer, and school experiences.
- The Internet was this great new resource at the time (imagine that!), and I did lots of online searches and reading to explore some of the different potential career paths I had identified.
- I went to the library at the University of Pittsburgh and perused the professional journals there to see what topics lit a spark in me.
- I took some classes at a nearby college.
- I also spent a lot of time writing in my journal, processing all that I was exploring as well as the clues in my day-to-day experiences.
Despite my intention to segregate my jobs from my search for a meaningful career, ultimately it was an on-the-job experience that helped me clarify my sense of direction.
The "Ah-ha" Moment
The engineering firm I was working for at the time went through a big reorganization.
It was the kind of reorganization that leaves people worrying — if not about losing their jobs, then at least about losing their authority, their important professional relationships, their nice offices, their confidence in their ability to accomplish what they've been asked to do.
All those kinds of things that come with big change.
I saw how the news of this reorganization impacted the others who worked there — and how the way the announcement was handled only exacerbated the stress and frustrations.
Eventually, our top management recognized the problems too. And because of my communications role at the company, I was asked to help with the efforts to address the concerns.
My personal "ah-ha" moment came in a large meeting intended to answer the (anonymous) questions and concerns from the firm's employees.
The initial responses from the management team kept missing the mark, and I could see the fear and anger in the room building. So I stepped up and began facilitating the meeting I had helped organize.
I translated the issues into language the top leaders could understand, and I diplomatically pressed for answers when their responses didn't address the deeper concerns beneath the questions. And as I did so, I saw the anger and fear in the room begin to melt away.
That's when the light bulb went off for me.
I suddenly realized that I understand people's concerns on a level that many do not.
I discovered that this facilitation thing — which I had never attempted before — comes pretty naturally to me.
But most importantly, I absolutely *loved* the feeling I got when I saw that I was helping to transform a bad situation, helping people to feel better and more confident about the change, about themselves, and about one another.
I remembered my own miserable experiences at my first job, and I was thrilled at the idea that I was maybe helping to prevent that kind of misery for other people.
It was a high like I had never before experienced at work.
Two Possible Paths
That experience pointed me in a pretty clear direction. And with a little more research, I figured out my next step: graduate studies in psychology.
I knew now that my calling was to help people be happy at work.
And as I saw it, that meant one of two paths: career counseling or some kind of consulting role. Psychology could take me down either of those two paths.
So I took more classes in preparation for grad school. I built a relationship with a well-respected and very kind social psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and he gave me the chance to get involved in his research. He also helped me land an internship in organizational development, where I learned skills and techniques I still use today.
My interest in these two parallel paths led me to Virginia Commonwealth University for grad school.
There, I had a remarkable opportunity...
At the same time I was studying counseling psychology and learning how to do career counseling (and other types of counseling / psychotherapy), I also had the chance to work with a consulting group that was housed in the psychology department and led by a wonderful woman who would become my professional mentor and personal friend.
So while I was in grad school, I had many applied experiences that allowed me to delve into both of these two possible paths for my future career.
I also had the chance to do more research and writing — investigating topics that touched at the heart of what these two paths shared in common: happiness at work.
Choosing a Path
Both of the paths I explored were incredibly rewarding:
- I was so moved by the struggles, discoveries, and courageous choices of my counseling clients.
- And I continued to feel the "high" that came with working with groups and seeing those efforts help people make positive changes in their organizations.
But ultimately, I decided consulting was the right path for me. I felt it offered me more varied experiences and opportunities to help people not just choose the right career goals but also to continually make their own and others' work lives better.
(And on a very practical level, I'm also just not the kind of person who can be happy dividing every single work day into 60-minute increments — which is the reality for therapists and career counselors.)
So for the last 10+ years, I have focused exclusively on work within organizations...
- I've trained, coached, and consulted with leaders to help them increase their impact.
- I've facilitated workshops, retreats, and team building sessions to help groups build cohesion and work more effectively together.
- I've designed and implemented large-scale, multi-faceted initiatives to deepen employee engagement, improve processes, develop useful strategic plans, and more.
And I've done this with a broad range of professionals and students in fields as diverse as nursing, banking, higher education, social services, real estate, adult education, technology, public health, the arts, and the law.
Many of my clients work in nonprofit, educational, and health care settings. ALL of them are people trying to make a positive difference in the world.
Refining My Focus
I've loved the consulting work I've done. And I don't plan to give it up anytime soon.
But as I've been doing this work, I've also been continually learning about myself. About what parts of the work I love best. About what the real value is that I bring to my work with my clients.
And about a few things that have been missing from my work life.
Here are three things I've found myself wishing for:
- A chance to build longer-term relationships with the people I serve. I want to be able to go beyond the one-day workshop, or even beyond the one-year consulting engagement, to see and hear about the beautiful transformations people continue to make as they further learn and grow.
- The opportunity to have a bigger impact. As a single consultant working with just a few organizations at a time, there's a limit to how many people I can help. Even now that a gifted consulting colleague has joined my practice, we can only do so much.
- A vehicle for expressing my creative side. As rewarding as it is to see my clients accomplish their goals, sometimes I also long for something visual and concrete that I can point to and say, "I made that".
The time I've spent on this blog has been some of the happiest in my career.
I'm continuing to have the fun and meaning of the hands-on work I do with my wonderful clients, meeting and collaborating face-to-face. But now my creative side is getting more of my time too as I design and write for this blog.
Each activity helps feed the other, and I'm a better, happier person because of it.
Plus, I'm really excited about how the confluence of these two activities presents an opportunity for me to play a bigger, longer-term role in helping people create rewarding lives for themselves at work and beyond.
My Hopes for This Blog
Wow! You made it! I warned you it was a long journey.
To recap the threads weaving through that very personal story, here are the things I'm hoping this blog will be, for both you and me:
Goal #1: A touchstone that will help me on my journey, reminding me about who I want to be and how I want to live.
Goal #2: A resource that will help you on your journey. I'm hoping what you find here will make you happier, healthier, and (partly as a result of those two things) will enable you to have a bigger impact as you pursue your own calling.
Goal #3: A vehicle for developing meaningful, longer-term relationships with the people I want to support through my work.
Goal #4: A method for reaching more people and multiplying my impact.
Goal #5: A balanced part of my work life, meaning that I ultimately hope this blog is something I can make part of my living from. But this will never negate #1–4 above. I will never put anything here that doesn't call me and you to our highest selves.
So those are my goals here.
But if you want even more info about my plans for this blog, take a look at my "Introducing the Working Well Blog" post. (I promise, it's a lot shorter than this one!)
Meanwhile, if what I've described here sounds like something you'd enjoy reading, something that would help you accomplish your own life goals, I hope you'll keep coming back.
A great way to remind yourself to do that is to enter your email address in the form below so I can stay in touch with you.
Thanks for reading! I look forward to meeting you here again soon...