The Pivot Point
Flexibility, Trust, and a Little Bit of Willingness Can Change Life for the Better
If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path. – Joseph Campbell
Until the day I passed out in the elevator at my office, I wasn’t one to readily change my plans or alter my day. Even after I fainted in the elevator, I pressed on, fighting nausea and light-headedness. I realized I wasn’t well enough to work, but still I tried to drive myself home. I was determined. I was 45 years old, I had a plan, and I was on a path.
I had been working for two decades as an IT executive, driving multimillion dollar projects that all too often were fraught with contention. I had designed a professional and personal plan for the next decade of my life. I was a project manager—it was in my nature to drive the direction of a program, a company, even my life. I was building a hefty 401K to retire at fifty-five so that I could travel the world with my partner, Dana.
Apparently, my heart—or my health—didn’t want me to follow that plan.
A mysterious illness changed the course of my life, and I was forced to give up my project-managing ways. I chose to study for a year with a diverse group of individuals hailing from thirty-seven countries and earn my master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Studies.
If you have read my book, Jungle: A Journey to Peace, Purpose, and Freedom, you know the rest of the story. I had to listen to that voice inside of me that was calling me to a different place—and a different way of being. My heart called me to Costa Rica and the University for Peace, which is affiliated with the United Nations.
See the Signs
All the so-called “signs” pointed me in this dramatically new direction. I had no idea how a (second!) master’s degree would benefit my career. After all, this is what the course of study promised me:
An interdisciplinary and critical analysis of the causes and consequences of a wide range of contemporary conflicts and violence that impact on global, international and human security. Topics to be explored include militarization, armed conflicts, violent extremism, economic, social and gender injustices, cultural and religious identity conflicts, and competition over environmental resources. An in-depth understanding of peacebuilding and peace processes in response to these issues is built.
Militarization? Armed conflict? Violent extremism? Could I get a job with such training? It was a dramatic, significant, indisputable change in the plans I had for my life. I didn’t know how or if it would work. I knew only that this was my next step.
Think Beyond the Bottom Line
During that year, living in the jungles of Costa Rica, my world expanded. I began to think beyond the traditional bottom line of business and consider how my actions––and others––impacted the lives of not only my immediate circle of family and friends, but the greater world.
I learned to recognize that others have viewpoints equally valid as mine. I learned to set aside the need to press and insist on my own point of view.
To hear each person and understand their perspective, it was important that I stop, listen, and ask questions. And you know what? Deep listening showed me even more. When I sincerely wanted to grasp another’s point of view, listening carefully to another revealed more than they might ever say with their words. I learned to ask questions, listen, and probe to discover what more they have to say that they might not say with their words.
Even during my stay in Costa Rica, I thought I would come back to the States and get a job. But I could not get a job! So I made my own.
Now I am an organizational consultant and a leadership consultant to executives who work in companies committed to the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. I help companies tap the talent of every team member. I guide executives, managers, and their teams to take people’s divergent views and move them into an aligned path that can move the whole organization forward. This is how you drive authentic business success.
One Step At a Time
I didn’t go to Costa Rica thinking I was going to learn to help managers develop more cohesive teams and grow their companies. I didn’t know I’d learn to foster effective dialogue and guide teams to create alignment and begin moving a single direction instead of at cross purposes. I didn’t know when I decided to go to Costa Rica that I would be able to support employees to create jobs they love and that would lead to loving their lives. I didn’t know a degree in peace education would prepare me to support businesses in creating peace at work.
I did not have the slightest idea what my next step would be when I got on that plane to Costa Rica. I just took the step that was in front of me at the time. I created a whole new career path when I got home—one step at a time.
Is your life hinting at something more? Has life forced you to take a wholly new direction? My advice for you is this: Get quiet and listen to yourself. Don’t try to map out the next ten years. Just see what is in front of you for the next ten months—or even the next ten days!
You get to decide what is next for you, one step at a time. Trust what comes. Then take the next indicated step.