The first 25 years of my post-college career were high speed, high excitement and high growth. At 27, I was supervising a crew of 41 men, all of them older than me. At 37, I was running a $200 million paper manufacturing plant. And by 42, I was COO of a $350 million division of New Zealand’s largest forest products company. I was flying high, living large, and certain that I was indestructible.
I spent my days striving for excellence in
my current role, and looking up the ladder at the next opportunity. When I felt any nagging doubts about my industry, or my career, I let the excitement of the moment burn those doubts away. When I wondered about my future, I remembered the retirement statement I received six months into my first job out of college. The statement told me how much money I would get each month after working 41 years for that company. In those days, 41 years at one company would not have been surprising.
I cruised along like that for a quarter of a century.
Until I lost my job in early 2002.
I had been in New Zealand for six years. I told the CEO of our US parent company that I was ready for a transfer home. He nosed around the company for a few weeks and then called me.
“We just don’t have room for you here in the states,” he claimed. “And…we don’t really need you in New Zealand any more, either.”
Bam! I had not looked for a job since graduating from college in 1977. Now, 25 years later, I was on the streets, and in shock.
No problem though. By January 2003, I was back in the saddle, this time as CEO of an $85 million company in Thailand.
“Hah!” I thought. “That’ll show him how good I really am.”
15 months later, the owners sold that company and I lost my job again. Still no problem. Within two months, I had landed a role in the States running a $350 million division of another forest products firm.
That lasted two years. The CEO and I disagreed over staffing cuts and he invited me to be the next person out the door.
April 2006. I was 51. I had no job. I had no team to sustain me. Having lost three jobs in four years, I felt like a pariah. I was frightened no one would hire this fat, middle-aged ex-CEO, scared I would not be able to put food on the table, and wondering who I was.
My identity, you see, had been wrapped up in my title. I was my role, and little else. Without a role, I felt erased.
For months I wandered in that wilderness, chasing after jobs and searching for my mission. I scored a few interviews, and went to them full of hope. Every time, though, I returned with my tail between my legs. Either I didn’t like them; they didn’t like me, or both. Usually both. Most of the time, I was secretly glad it had not worked out.
As summer faded into fall, my hopes of returning to the corporate world withered and browned. Inside me, the lights of my manufacturing career dimmed toward dark.
But as the nights lengthened toward winter, and the lights in our house came on a bit earlier every day, new lights began to glow within me. I began to see that I was not a senior vice president, a COO or even a CEO. I was not a title. I was something much more unique. I was, and am, Kent M. Blumberg. My struggles to present a clear picture in my cover letters, my resumes and my interviews had forced me to cut away all the fluff and expose my core.
At the core, I realized that I am an outstanding learner, that I can achieve anything I set my mind to, and that I am able to win others over to my point of view. I discovered a talent for asking probing questions, and for listening to the responses deeply and completely. Even better, I discovered that people would pay me to do just that – to coach them toward personal and business growth.
In short, I discovered a new calling.
Discovering that calling wasn’t enough, though. Mastery is my middle name. I will not be satisfied becoming “a” coach. I am driven to become “the” coach. I set out to learn what it takes to be a truly masterful coach, embarking on an educational journey that I hope will last for years to come.
Three years after losing my last real job, I am energized, climbing the ladder to master in my new profession, and eager to start each new day.
The only thing I don’t understand is why it took so long. Why did it take 51 years and three job losses for me to realize that I wasn’t following my calling? Why didn’t I discover and pursue this path earlier?
The answer is that I was so caught up in climbing the traditional ladder of success that I stopped listening to my heart. I wasted a lot of my precious time working at something I didn’t really love.
Time is our only non-renewable, irreplaceable resource. You can’t buy more of it, you can’t barter for more of it, and you can’t steal more of it. You’ll get what you get and that’s all, folks.
Don’t wait until you are 51 to follow your dreams. Don’t wait for someone else to force a change on you. Start right now to figure out what your gift is and to take charge of your career. Start now to explore your passions, values and beliefs. Start now to inventory your skills, talents and experience. Start now to discover the behavioral style that fits you best.
At the intersection of those three, pitch your tent and get to know the territory. Get to know yourself and get to know the callings that fit you. You might find that what you are doing now is perfect for you. Super! On the other hand, you might find something entirely different is waiting for your embrace and passion. That’s super, too.
Whatever you find there, take the next step today. Take another step tomorrow. And a third on Saturday. Each day, from now on, take a small step closer toward your dreams.
Your life’s work awaits you. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Go out and find it.
In life, you don’t get to rollover your unused minutes. Ya gotta use each one as it comes. Use yours wisely.