A number of years ago, I read an article in Fast Company (one of my very favorite magazines). It was about balance, that elusive devil. Liz Dolan had written an essay, reflecting on the all consuming nature of her job at Nike, as Vice President of Global Marketing, and how she had come to the decision to leave it. “Instead of having one big job, I now divide my work time into thirds: business consulting, public service, and creative projects,” she wrote at the time. One of those creative projects was the development of a talk-radio program. I had never heard of Liz Dolan at the time, but within a few years I had come to know very well who she was. That talk radio program turned out to be the Satellite Sisters, which became an award-winning show and led to exposure through the Oprah Winfrey media empire.
She made a difficult decision, and took a risk, jumping off the traditional career track. But she had a clear idea of why it was worth it to her at the time. And it seems to have paid very good dividends. She got to limit her clients as a consultant to a level she felt allowed her balance, she got to work with her sisters on an exciting creative venture that turned out to be one of the most successful radio talk shows for women and, just one year ago, she was offered an opportunity to go back into a more traditional corporate role – a Chief Marketing Officer position. She took it. Where? OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network. Why? I don’t know and would love to ask her. But there is no doubt that this opportunity showed up on her path because she was willing to take a risk and do something different than what was expected, rather than in spite of that. In seeking balance, I think she found much more.
This path – traditional corporate to entrepreneurial, creative back to traditional – is an illustration of the modern career. Few of us, from Gen X on, will experience the lifetime employment with one company that our parents and grandparents experienced. And that has the potential to be a really good thing. (For me personally, it’s a huge relief – I can hardly imagine anything more dreadful). But how good or how bad it will be for each of us has to do with how actively we are willing to drive and direct our transitions. As long as we are driving that bus ourselves, not sitting in the backseat, just along for the ride, we can create a challenging and rewarding career.