Tag Archives: life coaching

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Just before I left my corporate gig last spring I was out visiting some extended family in the country. This couple is related to me via marriage (My aunt’s brother and partner but my aunt is my aunt via marriage…confused? No matter, family has little to do with blood in my experience). Bob and Liz are the most amazing people. They have been together for almost 40 years, they are not legally married but they are still madly in love and have built a life for themselves (including raising a daughter) in an idyllic village in rural Ontario. Both of them are originally from Scotland and like my own parents immigrated to Toronto to follow some dreams. Those dreams didn’t work out as expected so they moved to small town Ontario to start again. Bob is wood-carver, Liz is a potter, they are both known in the folk art community and they live in a restored limestone house in a beautiful village not far from Prince Edward County in southern Ontario. I always thought of them as this bohemian branch of the family, driving their big old Cadillac, Bob in his Tilly hat, Liz with her long hair/cool hippie vibe, creative and living life on their own terms outside of what society considers ‘normal’. I love visiting them and I don’t get out nearly as often as I’d like to but their house is so inviting, you never want to leave (a walk after lunch last spring resulted in freshly picked wild asparagus!).

 

As we sat down to lunch last spring just a few short months from my exodus from my job Bob told me a story I had never heard before. Bob, this Sean Connery look a like (with a Glasgow accent mind you), Tilly hat wearing, wood carving, outdoor loving man was in fact at one time just like me! In 1970’s Toronto Bob had been a salesman….in the automotive industry…..one of his biggest clients was the very organization I worked for! Bob had a company car and big sales account. Bob also had a serious drinking problem. People with drinking problems are not happy people; addiction is often a by-product of depression. (I would know, I come from a family filled with addicts but I’m happy to say one of them: my father, has been sober for 14 years, no small feat!) Life was not going as Bob had hoped and he and Liz decided to try something else.

With that, Bob drove his big company car with all the sales tools in the trunk to his office. He walked into his boss’ office and said (with his Glaswegian accent) “I’m for the offs!” Handed over the car keys and walked out the front door. Bob told me he didn’t actually even realize how he’d get back home as he was in the habit of driving to the office and wasn’t sure what streetcar to take. Bob had no plans, no idea what was going to happen next, how he was going to make money but he knew he couldn’t continue the life he was currently living. Bob and Liz found a dilapidated Ontario limestone cottage in a rural part of the province (a raccoon family was living there when they arrived) and started building a new life. They had no idea how they’d repair the house, or pay their bills, they just knew they wanted a fresh start. Bob didn’t even know he had any talents as a wood-carver; he discovered that by accident as he was repairing the house and started carving a piece of wood. Together Bob and Liz built a potter’s workhouse, a  wood shop, a home for them, their daughter and assorted pets (no raccoons) and the bills got paid/they got fed through selling their beautiful wares (Liz’s work was sold throughout the province and had a large following in Quebec, and Bob’s work is sold at rather expensive shops in downtown Toronto: I have one of his stunning Celtic crosses on my dining room wall) or trading work (i.e.: home improvement) for money.

Here all this time I thought this couple I had admired for their life of following their passion, bohemian existence etc had in fact not always been like that. They had at one time lived in the ‘big city’ and worked at ‘real jobs’ just like me! I was obviously a bit nervous about the journey I was about to embark on but Bob told me to just move forward. He said he could tell that I was ready, much like my cousin had said the year before (Her comment: it’s done, don’t worry about how….it’s already in motion) he told me just to step into this new life and not look back.

I don’t know where I’ll be in 40 years. I don’t necessarily know where I’ll be next year. I do know this: with each day that passes, with the people I meet and the opportunities that come in front of me I know that the path I’m on now is the right one. I can’t see the end destination yet and I’d rather not know, I’m focusing on enjoying the journey (a tough habit to cultivate I must admit). I also hope that one day in the future when I speak to someone who didn’t know me when that they are as surprised as I was to find out Bob’s past when they find out mine: another case of mistaken identity. That sounds perfect.

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What’s in it for me?

What’s in this job for me?  How will these roles round out my resume? Who can I align myself with to move ahead in this organization? How can hiring this person make me/my team look good? Ever thought like this? I have.

As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t love my job, it wasn’t my ‘life’s work’ if you will. That said, I stayed with one organization for 12 years because the great people I worked with at times made it not only bearable but fun (I would add that it was the other folk I couldn’t stand that drove me out….but in that sense I owe them some gratitude for that) A one time colleague and now good friend called this week in mid revelation: She may not be able to stay in the corporate world either. She is about to start a new role in an area of interest to her so initially this job was an occasion to get excited and celebrate. However the start date is upon us and already she is a pawn between two senior leaders in a pissing contest over ‘turf’. A war of words over who had the authority to choose my friend and a rather unprofessional grilling via telephone to see if she can really do this job…is she really smart enough? (READ: As smart as these two ‘geniuses’ is what they really mean) Did I mention my friend already has the job? Has already signed paperwork with HR and a start date has been agreed upon? This sort of egomaniacal posturing in my old corporate world drove me crazy! This notion of “I’m the savior of this department and I will decide if you’re smart enough to work in my empire’. Did I mention this empire is often simple a product category, or a line of business and not the whole company? No matter.  It’s all about the positioning in the end. Hey, I’m all for leadership at any level, taking pride in your chunk of the business no matter how small because it does matter to the overall good. However there is a big difference in pride of work, raising a team’s spirits up to deliver their personal best/team best VS thinking you are solving world hunger by brow beating your team into double-digit returns at the expense of moral, increasing stress levels and in general just acting like an asshole. The posturing, snarky comments and raging egos: all behavior that is encouraged to get those double-digit returns (They make movies about it: see Wall Street, Boiler Room etc.). I was often met with a smirk or scowl when I made the comment that at the end of the day if you worked in the business of merchandising/marketing for retail (which I was in): You’re in the business of getting people to spend money they don’t have on stuff they don’t need. Period. No world hunger solution, no cure for the common cold and no lives were saved in the making of this week’s retail flyer. Trust. Now you can pretty this scenario up with speeches about building trustworthy brands, understanding your customer, serving your customer, blah, blah, blah. Hey I’m a happy retail customer spending money I don’t have on crap I don’t need but I recognize that and here’s the truth: if you don’t get them to buy your commodity them you’re out of business!!

 

So where does that leave you and your career? I don’t’ know. I can only tell you where it led me: A totally different approach, change in my mindset.

I love what I do now. My whole business (all three streams of income) is about how I can serve you, help you, what can I do for others. I don’t scrutinize based on your bullshit interview skills (no disrespect-I was extraordinarily good at bullshit interviewing) , or your fancy degree (I have a one of those too). Multiple degrees don’t always equal ‘super smarts’ either: some of the smartest business people I know don’t have a higher education and I’ve met a whole lot of average folks with MBA’s who think they walk on water but couldn’t come up with an original thought to save their life! I love that in my daily interaction now I come across all walks of life from all levels of education, class, and background. I love that I’m either helping people work from home & build a million dollar business or find some calm for an hour in my yoga classes or helping an old friend build a start-up company into a force to be reckoned with. I basically live to help others now. I’ve met more bright, positive people with creative ideas and had more support in this last year from so many amazing people then I had in my 15 years of corporate life. The best part…the opportunities keep rolling in and my businesses keep growing.

A shift in mindset is a powerful thing. During my whole corporate career it was a focus on ‘how can I get ahead’, ‘what’s in it for me with this role’, ‘how can this person help me’? By shifting gears to supporting others, helping them succeed-you will be amazed at what happens.