I have believed all my life that I can achieve my dreams. It just seems I kept getting in my own way and the dreams I had were always deferred. Deferred because I had a son at 17 because I married at 17 and divorced at 29 because I was the sole provider for my son. Through it all, I never gave up on my dreams, I just kept recalculating how. How do I support my son and finish school? How do I work and work on my dream?
Born in Chicago, I always wanted to live in San Francisco and Paris. But how do you do that when you’re married to someone who has no desire to live Chicago. Then, after divorce how do you do that when you have a son to care for. First I fought to make sure I received child support, then one day I made a call to a friend in San Francisco and said I was moving HERE. Its now 31 years later, next week my son will be 45 years old and I have lived between San Francisco and a rental apartment in Paris for over 9 years.
The best advice I received that supported me on this incredible journey was from my father the day the movers came and emptied out my apartment in Chicago. I was on my way to life in San Francisco, no job, no place to live, my son with my ex-mother-in-law until I worked it all out. I was scared and started to cry at the enormity of what I was doing so I call my dad. He said “If it doesn’t scare you it’s not worth doing! Do you get scared when you brush your teeth in the morning?” I stopped crying and with every risk I have taken since, his voice resonates through my head. I am now in the process of my next great journey. I am a consultant to keep a roof over my head while I write the next “Great Gatsby”. I WILL move to Paris permanently by my 65 birthday.
I have travelled to Portugal, Spain, Africa, Canada, France, Italy, Switzerland, and I will add even more adventures which require I am healthy with the energy and ability to travel. So, I am working on my health and physical fitness. Two women – Ernestine Shephard, and Tina Turner, our my examples of a healthy life throughout my 70’s and 80’s. I want to experience every day with joy!!!
I’m a civil engineer by profession and worked as a procurement executive in construction industry for the most part of my professional career in Turkey, Georgia and UAE. My last role was Head of Procurement, setting up and managing a team of 50 as well as the spending of $2 billion in 2 years. It may not be difficult to guess that I have been mostly the only woman in the rooms of influence and decision-making. As much as it sounds negative, it has also been the reason of my drive: to prove the normality of my presence as an executive in construction.
Once I felt that it was time for me to take up a new challenge in a different industry, I quit my well-paid senior role, the offers of promotion, and set up my own company in the tech industry. www.newshifts.com
I have also held a few other “odd jobs” in my past. One of them was, spending two summers at the age 20-21 in the States working in the games on the fairgrounds in various states. That means, I was one of the people calling the visitors to throw the mini basketball through the hoop, or spill the milk bottles with a ball. People who do those jobs are mostly considered losers and crooks I suppose, but contrary to the prejudice against the environment, it was a great experience for learning to read random people and understand how to entertain them.
Volunteering has also been an important part of my life. I worked at German Red Cross for a few months after a big disaster in western Turkey, and then at few different projects in Africa, as business consultant, teacher and habitat protection researcher. They all gave me the opportunity to look at life from a different perspective and learn to listen.
Also, I love to give breaks of a couple of months every 3-4 years and travel to a new destination on my own. The reason I love this is because it significantly contributes to self-discovery, digesting the hectic years before and as a lone traveller one truly gets to know the places and the people of those places. So far I have been to 50 countries in 5 continents.
To summarize my approach towards life, I can say it has mostly been about challenging the assumptions for why something cannot be done and looking for ways of how they can be done.
How can I grow my career in an environment where my presence is not natural? How can I be a lone female traveller anywhere in the world despite the general belief that it’s neither safe nor fun?
Assumptions are useful to keep in mind but in my experience they are not always the best way to reach a goal, or be a part of a good story.
I am a HongKonger, the founder of CFO Today-an asset and property management and consulting company.
I lived through transition from a poor family living in old public housing estate with shared toilets with 100 plus neighbors around until I am 11 years old. I never thought of chances of getting in Universities when I was young. I was able to get my first degree in Hong Kong in 1995. Life has not been easy. I started off working as trainee in Zeppelin Capital and was involved in supporting an investee company soon after vertical integration. I was then transferred to Ernst & Young as accountant for 2 years in order to gain some more professional exposure. I thought I was a bright student since I studied master courses and got distinctions in those when I earned my bachelor degree. I also held important positions in universities’ societies. I always want to enter the consulting, or M&A industry which many business top students aimed for. So after I took my CPA exam in the US. I was so confident that I did not want to follow traditional boring way of career. I quitted my job in Ernst & Young and got into a conglomerate called Eton Management doing all sorts of internal audits worldwide. I was treated well living in 5 stars and getting allowances every day. Due to the dream of studying a master, I applied for scholarship and finally got into LSE doing MSc in Operations Research as I would like to have repertoire to exert bigger positive influence on corporate decision rather than just pointing out internal control and management weaknesses.
My first career setback was at the time I came back from a study break in 1999. The aftermath of 1997 financial crisis in Asia had hit hard in HK and Eton Management has no immediate need to re-employ me.
Then I studied IT and obtained some certificates to make Operations Research more applicable after then I was able to get into consultant positions in data marketing, KM and CRM positions in a few big names in consecutive manner and my salary was able to be raised by 30% after 30% after 30%- for a few successive jumps. I was able to almost double my salary 1 year after I obtained my Master degree. I was very few in Hong Kong to have that skills level which was very sought of at that particular time. However, I have made a decision to get into a telecom giant-Nokia due to my being head hunted. I am also start to worry about dot.com bubble since those big names I worked for are corporate ventures. Although, I was offered a CEO by my boss for one of the software venture at the time, I did not take it and I insisted to resign and get to more admired and stable sizable Fortune 500 company-Nokia. I tried to use my KM and CRM skills there but as an Improvement Manager, I was given performance & process management, costing and six sigma related tasks, etc. I was not able to build up old skills directly but rather I gained supply chain exposures and have eye opener for corporate structure and a lot of practices there. I like the culture there. Things was not as good finally. Lights will not always shine. China’s was announced entry into WTO in 2002 and this has changed the corporate strategy using Hong Kong as a raw material transfer pricing hub. I helped China’s material, technology and staff localization and finally my position, as my 300 co-workers, were transferred to China. Those mainland workers have much much lower salary than I was. I was given extra ‘severance payment’ if I can transfer my skills to 6 people who altogether take up my vast varieties of tasks. I broke my heart but the company has done everything to help us find new job. I got the payment of around HK$100,000. Lacking of orientation, I used my savings gained after spending all money in pursuing my Master Degree overseas plus the severance payment into a small property in Hong Kong in 2004. This was my 1st investment property after acquiring principal residence with mortgage in 2002. That was how I began my investment business.
My life was blessed or cursed. I was able to get a job into a local traditional toys factory helping them to make improvement in and Organization and Methods Department. Not long after come a short sighted financial director who advocated brushing up financial statement and sales of the company. Our direction of thought were different and his thought was by no means resembled and accommodated Nokia’s type of working culture and visionary development. I stayed there a little longer than half year and was asked to move on. Then I joined a loss-making china pioneering mobile phone international joint venture and worked as Director there. I was asked to be Director to lead a task force worldwide to optimize process, raise revenue and cut costs. I met the Consulate of France in China who was against any pay cut or firing of staff. It has been a challenge to turn over this lost making company. This position was short-lived until the company have decided not to synergize Alcatel and TCL operation, due to cultural and technical non-compliance, synergies of whom they initially thought of having great benefits. I started to realize that I have to master my own fate. I was trying to finish my doctorate afterwards and began to hope that I have a professional discipline on my own that can never be replaced and hoping that I can exert influences on a wider scope in future. I taught at different universities contract position as Lecturer for 2 years. That was the happiest time since I could control everything in the classroom and consolidated my wide knowledge into output. I lived lively and grew with students. At end of contract I was pulled out to the working world again. I was leading a procurement analysis team to control billion dollar commodities procurement for packaging division of Alcan, currently Rio Tinto. Due to the abrupt rise in oil prices, almost doubling in 2007 to US146 in half year time, I and the whole regional procurement team was put into big pressure and overtime work since packaging requires a lot of oil derivative raw material that rising costs had hit hard company’s profitability. With a new born baby, I quit the job myself to spend more time on family. I believe that I can grow elsewhere and shine everywhere if I am smart. I am confident. Not long after, I joined CJ, helping them acquire food companies. It was one of my top paid job throughout my career. However, the project was suspended due to 2008 financial crisis. Then I realized that I needed to master my own fate, perhaps working for my own. I cannot control if people trust me, works well with me, setting aside politics. I cannot control if a company will continue to use Hong Kong as a base to control China and Asia Pacific. I cannot make more profit no matter how much harder I and smarter I work. Then, with the sudden fall and slide in the financial market, until Hang Seng Index reached near 10424 pt., the world have provided me a lot of potential investment opportunities as most people were fearing. I began to apply my knowledge I gained before in corporate finances, management as well as commodities analysis, into securities and derivative brokerages, fund management and insurance brokerage. I joined a big security firm headquartered in Singapore to start my own business as a trader, and a fund manager.
I got no fixed salary but a high commission. I also registered a company with consulting and accounting practices so that I can provide value added services for clients in no competition with main security business. I also started to take advantage of the rising property market in Hong Kong, China and the falling market in Europe and U.S. to arbitrage opportunities. I was successful in capturing these trends and having turned my asset tenfolds during the past decade.
In 2014, as an owner director of my current company, I also was invited by the Chinese Government, as a contract advisor, being given directorship position in Investment Promotion Bureau for an economic zone in a local city. The position enables me to give advice into policies development of a brand new zone and to attract funding and maintain big corporate networks and customers worldwide. It will also enrich my network to build up my future career. There is limitation, however, in a socialist country. I am still learning to adapt their top down approach, leader-driven instead of law-driven approach of work. There are a number of artificial elements within the Communist parties and nationally owned enterprises. It is very centralized, layered decision making. It is relationship focus and involved many small circles. This means I will have to make compromise to not to use my market driven, process-oriented, law based professional, direct approach in work and planning if I have to succeed rising up the ladder in that part of the world. It takes huge efforts to solve cultural differences as well as to pierce through the political suppression, power struggle and all sorts of jealous arising from economic differences between mainland China and Hong Kong. I need to make the differences become opportunities.
I do not know what is next for me. I am in my early forties.
I can see that 100 year life is not easy. To sum up, I can see a livelihood pictures of Hong Kongers changing its role after China takeover for 20 years. I write as if I have had smooth transition in career but it fact it has been very frustrating for me at times.
I was almost tried myself to work in virtually most remained economics pillars in Hong Kong, first in e-commerce, then in Procurement & logistics center, and in education and in financial industry, and finally even in political governmental. My career reflected how Hong Kong thrives and falls. 1.E-Bubble burst 2.China took over HK in procurement, HK losing positions and shifted to China 3. Education-Teacher Oversupply and limited local students 4. Growing China Stock Market eroding Hong Kong’s edge 5. China’s increasing influences over Hong Kong in freedom and politics that occurs through all layers, from mainland student learner, to huge influx of mainland cheap labor and intellectual, to bigger Central government control over local enterprises and national enterprises increasing influences and Mainland Chinese leadership in Hong Kong. It is more relationship based, and to a limited extent, skill based. China has the ability and its people wanted to work its way out. There is an increasing tendency to disregard and undermine Hong Kong’s experience and value and even international counterparts’ experiences.
Analyzing my own profile, I begin to discover some pattern. In this changing world, even up to 1oo years of live. I was ‘resilient’ . There was constant changes and setback in my career. Each time, it made me stronger than ever before. There was a constant break in between job. I have learnt to be a bus driver, a carpenter, a travel agent, etc. I see a “Lacking sense of peace” as HongKongers since most of the time people uses Hong Kong as a stepping stone. Thirdly, I can see “tough side of mine as a multitasking active person”. I once was upset but I have finally managed to adjust myself to face all these challenges and regard this as a strength rather than a shame. “Going international” is one feasible solution to me. Now 100 year life is another challenge for most countries. I have my honor to take part into finding out a solution. This solution is important for me, now at this aging society. My father and mother have retired at 60s and living on renting a house and never want to work although physically strong enough to do so. I am the only child. I have only probably 10-15 more years of working life while my 2 children are only in early primary school. What if nobody rent the house? What if I got no job? What if my city of residence have no more money to pay pension, welfare and take care of elderly anymore? What if I immigrate to other city whom cannot pay those welfare eventually? These scenarios force me to think about the risk and the ability to sustain lives through age 90-100. We need to work together to find out something to prepare for a crisis. e.g. I imagine if a robot can integrate with elderly people as part of the body so that they can work longer and take care of themselves.
Lastly, I have not tried to answer, what if I stayed in Ernst & Young and followed the traditional way. I see many corporate leaders having a long tenure of Big Four background have edges rising quickly in corporate ladder as they mastered important financial decision and information. I believe in “Butterfly effect”. I am inspired by a TV serial -“Emergency Unit (Police)- Overtime Mission”lately in Hong Kong talking about passing through the time. Even if you are allowed to go back to the time and to redo all your actions, it was proven there that the outcome would usually not what we could anticipate, no matter how many time you tried. You end up feeling alone, helpless and in vain. So live with it! Enjoy everyday!
Anyway, thanks for letting me contribute my writing.
I was taught an early lesson on sudden life transitions when the Soviet Union collapsed and I moved from a Ukrainian communist state education to a capitalist private boarding school in Brighton. The change from being a popular girl in school, head of class with top marks, to an outsider, incapacitated by the language barrier, struggling to decipher new social and cultural codes, was quite challenging to put it mildly.
Being presented with contrasting societal values made me flexible and open to alternate points of view and ways of life and sparked my interest in political and moral philosophy, which I went on to study at LSE, alongside Economics. As I was graduating with Msc in Philosophy and Public Policy, I was torn between a life in academia or working for an NGO or a think-tank. I was deeply affected by the war in Iraq, which undermined my faith in the benevolence of western institutions and generally put me off ‘life in the real world’, so I opted for a life in ‘the world of fiction’.
I retrained as an actor in LAMDA, got signed up by one of the top London acting agencies and by my mid-twenties was acting in British films and TV, doing some work for which I still get recognised in the streets. Acting careers are notoriously difficult and even though I was lucky to get some high profile jobs, I was faced with additional difficulties when I became a mother. At first, I travelled for work with my children, but once they started their own education it became impractical to move them around. I also found my beliefs and values changing as I started prioritising my children over my career, not taking on any work which would be either compromising or would take me away from my family for too long.
My stimulating past intellectual life also started haunting me, I understood I needed to re-conquer and expand my inner intellectual landscape, so I got a diploma in psychotherapy, specialising in existentialist and Jungian approaches, and dedicated myself to a regular reading diet of psychology, philosophy and classical Russian literature and poetry. At the same time, feeling the societal pressure to be a superwoman, who can juggle a perfect family, an exciting career and an interesting social life, I was continuing with smaller more manageable acting jobs and writing sitcoms, while running the lives of two little humans.
Then life took another unexpected turn and my father got diagnosed with a terminal illness, while the war erupted in Ukraine, my birth country. Once I realised that British media didn’t present the whole picture, I started writing a political blog, in which I tried to explain the underrepresented Eastern Ukrainian point of view. It quickly became a popular blog, on the back of which I was offered a job in an independent business magazine, as well as jobs in state funded news networks, which I declined, in order to maintain an independent voice. Then last spring my dad passed away and I had to go into the war zone for his funeral, which involved travelling through the battle front lines and trying to sleep while hearing explosions and shootings.
All these events shook me deeply and have led to a paradigm shift in my worldview, making me acutely aware that in the context of the current global crisis humans can no longer afford to focus solely on private concerns. If we want to survive on this planet as a species, we must evolve beyond our purely individualistic approach to life and start dealing with at least some aspects of our collective issues. Becoming politically active, making a conscious effort to examine one’s memes and weed out those which are harmful to one’s own and other beings, getting involved in solidarity (aka charity) causes, spreading awareness about global issues, establishing a daily practice of raising one’s consciousness (though mindfulness techniques and/or meditation), developing a close relationship with nature – these are just some of the steps that we could take to help that evolution. Personally, making all of these a part of my own life was very transforming and made me feel much more profoundly connected to myself and to others.
The last couple of years were tough for me, but through a daily practice of yoga and meditation, I’ve managed to achieve and maintain a peace of mind, clarity, renewed energy and creativity and general emotional and physical wellness. I also finally accepted myself as a whole and instead of being torn between my intellectual and artistic selves, I made a decision to cultivate both and pursue acting and writing simultaneously. I no longer think of my various interests as being disparate. Theatre, psychology, philosophy, spirituality, literature, poetry – are all different ways of exploring what it’s like being human and I’m already combining all of these in my writing (www.veragraziadei.com), while developing intellectually-stimulating acting projects (www.verafilatova.com). Pursuing two careers at once might mean that each one will progress slower, than if I was focusing on one path only. However, in the context of a possible longer life, I’m in no rush. Ultimately, it’s all about the journey and not the destination, and at the moment I’m finding my own journey quite exciting.
It’s nearly 3 years since I graduated from university with entrepreneurial dreams. I wanted to create an online media company for young and aspiring entrepreneurs. It was called Getting Off The Bench.
What I had experienced at university fascinated me. During the first term of first year, a master’s student from Columbia gave a talk on ‘Enterprise societies’. It was where we could come together, hold talks on entrepreneurship, create businesses and go on talks and visits. I didn’t know exactly how I would be involved – I just knew I was in.
The whole concept of creating your own future fascinated me. The previous year I had left Nottingham Trent University after failing first year. After being depressed I began to read biographies and personal development books. I thought that experience was the end for me – who would hire me and what would I do. Through reading these books I saw people who went through difficult experiences and created there life from that. It took a vision and belief.
So after returning to university (Essex) and joining the enterprise society, I took over as President the following year. And we had an amazing time, running our events, going to inspirational talks in London, pitching at startup competitions in Germany, winning awards. Just a group of students who wanted to create our experience and do things we cared about.
So I spurned the traditional graduate scheme path. I didn’t even look to be honest. I was going to become a content creator, make money from that somehow and live happily ever after.
Now it didn’t quite down exactly like that. I got an internship at London Real, now one of the largest podcasts in the UK and worked closely with the host on getting interviews and promoting the show. At this time I won a competition for office space for Getting Off The Bench and launched the podcast.
I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I was in a rush. I was trying to impress people, to prove a point.
After that experience I was aware that something was holding me back. I had beliefs and a certain way of being that led to these results. And that is where I discovered a personal development course for young people through the WhatIf Academy in January 2015. And it was through that course and the community of friends I made there I began to discover who I am – and what beliefs I have that hold me back.
I spent the next year in various personal development groups and courses…..exploring myself and what I cared about became a full time job!
And I realized……what is this rush that I’m in? I’m in this game for life. I have that certainty I will always be creating and there’s a level of mastery I am seeking.
So my strategy has changed. These 3 years since graduation have been my apprenticeship in life. So I am searching for a new job. Somewhere I can learn more about personal transformation and utilise the skills I have acquired to make a difference.
The people that I admire – writers, entrepreneur’s, artists – there journey has been one of years of experiences, creation and development. Thus I am glad I have chosen this path and rode this rollercoaster.
Because as important as money is, the perspective I am developing is invaluable.
I’m 26 now so it’s been a fascinating 1st quarter in the 100 year life, and I’m excited for what I’ll create in the 2nd one……
You can find out more about the journey at www.dubemmenakaya.com.
“You’ll soon be very frustrated” my manager told me when I joined GE, straight out of my PhD, beaming with happiness, passionate and excited to be joining one of the best companies to work for. The first hire of a new technology team GE was setting up in China, I was assigned within a few weeks to recruit the rest of my colleagues from around the world and set-up the whole research facility. I was stretched and challenged, and did not know what work life balance was supposed to mean. I was quickly placed on the ‘fast track’ and found myself first transferred to sunny California, before moving again to Boston for an even bigger role. Neither the cold, nor my friends telling me I was insane to move from paradise to the Siberian East coast slowed my enthusiasm. I was having a blast climbing the ladder and could picture myself climbing it around the world for years to come.
However, my enthusiasm eventually began to cool down after a few years in Boston, not because of the artic cold and the snow which I loved to slide during the weekends but rather because of the lack of freedom and the need to constantly change plans to “increase shareholders profits” as the message kept on coming down. I needed to rechallenge myself and put back on the table the MBA I had looked at years before but pushed aside because I could not really justify it when GE kept on sending me for various trainings. “Would you regret it if you don’t do it?” my friend Marie-Claude asked me when I pondered about treating myself to going back to school. With two masters and a PhD, I did not really need another degree but wanted to take the time to master some of the business skills GE had not trained me on and simply to satisfy my love of learning. “Yes I would regret it” I replied without any hesitation.
Attending the EMBA Global program from Columbia Business School and the London Business School with 74 similar world travelers really made me consider life and events from a different perspective and eventually broke the umbilical cord with the corporate life. The adventurous and entrepreneurial side of me that earned me to be nicknamed a ‘pioneer’ at GE took over and carried me to Sub-Saharan Africa where I spent a year doing some research on potential new ventures. The creative side of me, suppressed during years being told that “since you’re good in sciences it’s better to focus on these skills since these will get you a good job”, sprang up fully when I landed in Hawaii. I eventually took the time to write all these inspirational travel and personal stories my friends loved to hear and let myself paint and create arts.
Eighteen months later, my arts exhibited in galleries, a draft of my personal journey saved on my Mac, and still alive after daily swims to listen to the whales while avoiding the sharks, I wanted out of my creative bubble. In Dubai for an EMBA class I had put on hold and to explore the last continent I had always wanted to discover but had never worked in I met a professional connection who offered me a job as CEO of an education startup.
I obviously never had imagined I would end up in the Middle East working in education when I joined GE straight after a PhD in sciences but I have discovered over the years that our careers evolve into different phases. I think our lives are not as binary as we have grown up to imagine and that we can let different sides of our selves shine in our professional lives. “You had such a nice career with GE” my family remarked disparagingly when I landed in Hawaii and they eventually had to admit that I would not go back to the corporate life they liked to see me in. “People are used to the person you were three years ago” my dear Columbia coach had told me. A corporate career certainly looked more stable than venturing in Sub-Saharan Africa or being an artist on Maui but it limited my ability to realize myself fully and be the black marsupial I have always been.
My financial advisor certainly has a lot less to invest these days after my spending a couple of years on the road and my EMBA but I have no regrets. I actually wish, in hindsight, that I had at times moved faster and not waited for outsiders to unlock situations for me that I could have acted on. I wish I had at times taken even more control of my life to follow my deep desires and passions because I strongly believe that we all know deep inside what truly makes us happy and that life is about crafting careers that let our true selves emerge and fully bloom. Life is way too short to live someone else’s life. Time is running short to eventually craft our careers to let our personal selves shine to fully realize our true potential and become the authentic self we all long to be.
By current estimates, I have yet to reach the half-point of my life. By my own family’s longevity, this also seems like it could be an accurate lifetime for me (without wanting to tempt fate, I certainly hope to live a long and happy life). And yet, in my professional life, I seem to have behaved the way millennials are often described – I started work immediately after A-levels, went to university 3 years later when my career as a journalist started to take shape; once a graduate, I changed course and trained to become a lawyer. By the time I qualified as an English solicitor, I had already worked, studied, re-qualified and worked some more for about 12 years in total.
I then took another turn and became an entrepreneur. Just over 5 years ago I founded Obelisk, a business centred on helping women/ parents to work at that most crucial stage – that of bringing up young families; at this time in one’s life, being able to earn flexibly around your commitments can make a huge difference to the quality of life. Whilst we all treasure financial security, we also put our children’s future and emotional security at the centre of everything we do.
So being able to remain economically active at this moment in your work life is pretty important – not only because it allows you to continue to provide financially for the family, but it allows more involvement with the children development.
Whilst Obelisk and my own young family are now taking much of my time, who knows what the next stage in my work life will bring. I certainly have many ideas and things I plan to do and new turns to take.
I never thought career and life should be separated. In my view, a career is merely a collection of jobs accumulated through one’s life, each enriching you through the new skills and perspective gained in the earlier jobs. So to be looking at a longer life is a gift to be used to learn, adapt, evolve – I suppose, a way of remembering to stay human.
My transition happened when I was coming up to 50.
I’d enjoyed working in a large multi-national organisation for 16 years – varied roles, ongoing development and for me, the perfect balance with family life. At 50 I had more time, more flexibility and was ready to step up my career, excited about what I might do next. I just assumed that I would find something easily.
Finding the right role proved tricky. One colleague advised me to take a role I didn’t want and ‘get my head down’ for a few years – but being 50, I felt being reactive was not the answer.
I certainly felt wiser than my younger self and more confident in my work. But I was uncomfortable putting myself forward to people who clearly viewed me as old. I had somehow lost sight of my potential. In the years leading up to 50, I hadn’t realised that I would feel so differently about my career. Nor, I realised, had my colleagues or the organisation any expectation of me at this stage. I was ready for excitement, a challenge, not winding down to retirement.
I observed a pattern around the experiences of other employees of various ranks but a similar age group, who were also finding it difficult to navigate the second-half of their careers. I witnessed valuable, productive people walking out of the door, and knew that valuable knowledge of the organisation was going with each one of them.
It was when I heard Andrew Scott talk, I realised there was an opportunity for me to do something; so I made what was a very difficult decision and left my job. Getting together with some old colleagues, we conducted a survey and interviews, consulted with academics, talent and diversity leaders. All this confirmed our thinking.
Today, 18 months on, I’m working with a fabulous team running UntappedX, focussing on working with people in the second half of their careers (typically 45 up) and their organisations; helping the individuals flourish and the organisations see commercial benefit as a result.
It’s not always easy, there are aspects of corporate life I miss – but I’m loving this adventure. It was hard to leave, and what I miss most is not the organisation, but the working relationships that came with it. My greatest success has been building new working relationships with great people – both in the UntappedX team and our expanding network.
My advice? Take some risks, be curious and invest time in strengthening your network. Recognise you’re changing and accept that some of that change is beyond your control so learn who the evolved you is. Mostly – life may be short, but our working lives are going to be much longer than we ever imagined. At 50 you’re so much more able than you might think you are. Enjoy!
I’m about to turn 35 and, with my second and youngest child about to celebrate his first birthday, I’ve said good-bye to running Spark+Mettle, a small charity I founded aged 30, and have just said yes to a full-time position working for someone else.
This was not a transition I was anticipating. By my late twenties I’d had enough uninspiring and frustrating experiences working for other people that I decided to go it alone. I moved back to the UK from the States and set myself up as a freelance consultant in the education and non-profit sector. I’m not very good at being boxed into a role by others. I like working on my own time, in my own place, in my own way. So the freelance life worked well for me for a couple of years. Then the idea behind Spark+Mettle hit—finding a way to develop character strengths and soft skills for marginalised young people. I’d never viewed myself as an entrepreneur, and didn’t know anyone else who was one, but muddled my way through, found brilliant people to work with. A few years in and we had a good-sized team, a range of projects in the UK and overseas and an extraordinary community of people who believed in our approach.
Turns out I’m not very good at being boxed into a role by myself, either. I’m great at getting things set up, less good at keeping them rolling. So I stepped aside, had baby number two, and moved to France with my family for four months to live a quiet life, and to try to figure out what on earth I’d do next.
After an autumn of baguettes and coq au vin, we returned to Brighton. I had decided to go back to the freelance, portfolio life, while also applying for a PhD. Pieces of work started to float my way, I got accepted onto the PhD programme, and got a fully-funded scholarship to boot. But then I was offered this full-time gig, working for an entrepreneur-cum-philanthropist who says he doesn’t like being boxed in, or boxing in others. He asked me to lead on setting up his new charitable foundation. He’s offered me a decent salary. He’s putting in a large endowment to the foundation, and he’s keen to spend it rather than sit on it, changing education and youth entrepreneurship ecosystems across the globe. It’s my dream role.
Yet accepting a full-time job feels oddly risky after all this time. I’ve thought hard, talked a lot, and decided that I’m prepared to take it. We’ve got two kids, two dogs, two countries of origin and a whole heap of things we’d like to do as a family, that we wouldn’t be able to do if we were to subsist on my PhD scholarship. Two weeks ago my husband and I, for the first time ever, had a conversation about pensions and retirement plans. We’ve been so up against it—getting by, doing what we love—we’ve only just found the headspace to consider that there’s a lot more of life to come. If this job gives me some certainty and security and a bit of wiggle-room, financially, right now and in the future, then that is wonderful.
Conversely, for all my talk of being boxed in, I have a hunch that working for someone else now is going to feel strangely liberating.
As a woman, starting my career in the late 1960’s, I followed the traditional route for an English major and became a teacher. I knew I wanted to “be in business”, but my counsellor told me that “Women in business became witches on wheels” – traditional “wisdom” at the time. I had access to few business mentors, and vowed if I ever succeeded in business, I would be one, and I am: I became a CEO; I now have a portfolio career, and I mentor younger women.
One of the things I tell these young women is that my career is a lot like looking back up a ski slope. From the bottom, it looks like all my turns were linked, my path was predetermined, and that the bumps could be avoided. But of course, that is not the way that it looked from the top. Skiing makes us lean forward, and be a bit aggressive, take an occasional leap, and one assumes that we will be in one piece at the bottom. I have lived by that.
I have always tried to “say yes at the door.” I even said I played golf when I didn’t, in order to ace an interview for a corporate board. Saying “yes at the door” became a metaphor for my life and career. Women can use this to test themselves. We can do much more than we think: Just doing it is the key.
The highest hurdle for me was breaking the glass ceiling, in a male-dominated industry, to become a company CEO here in California. This was made more difficult with raising my son at the same time, but I did it (and successfully too): I don’t think I fully appreciated how pioneering that was at the time. I then set up and ran my own business for a number of years, before realizing that I had “done” a full-time career and wanted to move on and broaden my horizons.
A portfolio career suited my many interests, the transatlantic lifestyle I share with my husband who was himself a UK-based CEO and now a Chairman; to stay close to my son, and to allow me to fulfil my ambition to “give back”. So I joined the Boards of US and Australian public and privately-held corporations; became active in a number of philanthropic endeavors including chairing not-for-profit boards, and am also active at the University of California, being a member of a number of faculty business, law and medical school boards, chairing the CEO Roundtable, and becoming a Trustee of the University.
I am probably even more active now than I ever was when I worked “full time”, and it is tremendously fulfilling, I get to do what I really want, and I have (mostly!) control over my time. I have survived serious health bumps, and I have successfully travelled many roads since that first teaching job.
I will be seventy this year; I still ski, and I don’t believe in retiring. Just morphing, and I hope to morph into my 100th year. At some point I will progressively wind down, but the morphing process will continue. My advice to anyone is to do your maintenance on body, mind and soul, so that the next run down the ski slope is as exciting as the first. Keep taking leaps and moving forward. There is still a lot of territory to cover!
Like many historically traditional career paths, I followed my father’s footsteps and joined him in his one man band business as a signwriter as soon as I left school. This art was quickly replaced with technological solutions, making traditional signwriting one of those dying arts that will unlikely be ever seen again as a trade, and the end of my Father’s Father & Son business.
Following this I, like many, took the brave decision to face the challenges of moving from the comfort zone of the homeland to working in Australia and New Zealand.
The hotel industry was a fantastic enabler for this, and to this day, I still reflect that this industry gave me the skills and experiences I have been able to incorporate in all levels of work and in life.
These experiences ultimately led me on the path of Human Resources, and more specifically the field of remuneration and benefits, a field I have now been working in for c17 years.
The past 10+ years has seen me permanently move from the UK to New Zealand, where I have been very fortunate to be in a HR role that is in constant states of change and rewards.
Looking forward, as I was once told, the future is blind. But what we do know is that it won’t be the same.
This summer I reach my threescore years and ten but my life to date and my thinking is so different to that of my parents’ journey at this stage and, indeed, that of many of my peers.
I am fortunate to have had good health, energy, love and support along the way, but this all needs regular investment to help it all flourish. I have lived by the challenge I give to others ‘know yourself, be yourself and look after yourself’ and keep on doing this, including being insatiably curious, reflective, resilient and ready to seize opportunities. I like to think of achieving ‘life balance’ across everything. I find sometimes I can be most alive when I am ‘working’.
I am now a truly cross sector leader having moved on recently to solely non-executive roles after 25 years as a ‘chief exec’. I am engaged with the boards of a bank, a business school and a skills academy and I contribute advice for an orchestra, government and charities. I have every intention of continuing to enjoy the privilege of this active life!
Looking back, I know that I wanted to make a difference and help to put right some of the injustices in the world. I have found some of my greatest rewards in satisfying my hunger to learn and to nurture other people. There have been some unexpected events and I have taken some flying leaps, but there never was a plan for this.
My journey has been like a pyramid with the levels wide as I progressed, allowing different directions and ‘tops’ to be possible, always staying open to jumps as well as steps. For example, I took eight years as a full-time mother of four young sons with an often absentee husband travelling on business. This was a rewarding management and personal resilience building experience from which I still thrive.
My direct leadership experience has mostly been in schools and charities but I have always engaged actively with senior execs in business, education and the wider public sector including government. This breadth of engagement continues to be of huge value as I can move fluently around the sectors, including some days several times a day. I find this shifting and ‘boundary hopping’ hugely stimulating personally as I keep learning something new. Repeatedly too I find new connections and opportunities to bring the different parts of my life together.
One challenge I have discovered is how to keep the right balance of what I call ‘head space’. Some of the commitments I have are episodic with gaps of time between them so I can switch in and out, depending on others to keep me briefed as needed. But other responsibilities require my continuous attention so I can be in touch with relevant issues, ideas and opportunities. Effective leaders, including non-executive directors, are alert to context, both in and for the immediate organisation, across the bigger picture and in anticipation of the future. The antennae to pick up on this do need to be constantly switched on.
I only take on a new commitment if I am satisfied I can do it well and give it the right time and energy. I have declined to do some roles on the basis on not having sufficient head space at that stage to do the necessary induction, learning and ongoing daily attention. This is one of the keys I have found in trying to have a balanced portfolio of commitments. I try to allow some space too, as events do take over and there will always be some weeks that become 24/7 just to fit it all in and meet the parallel deadlines.
In achieving my ‘life balance’ I have benefited from some inspirational mentors and friends along the way and great support too. With my continuing passion to nurture and grow people around me I hope I can continue to do some of the same for others myself.
I became a father at 35 and my newly born son immediately sat in a rather empty field of responsibility in my life. Up until that point I had consciously avoided a pension, savings, mortgage and marriage. I always felt I had plenty of time. I had in fact challenged myself to become sufficiently successful in business to negate the need to siphon off whatever money I had at that time into a pension, justifying my choice to use those funds to enrich the fast and loose lifestyle I lived at that time. Ultimately I had left it so late that this was actually my only option of potentially providing for my older self.
When my son was 2 years old I left a 15-year career organising music events to embark on a journey that would see my new business Street Feast be at the forefront of a new night-market culture in London. I’d been looking for a new challenge for quite some time. In the latter years of organising music events, while watching my customers, I wondered why many of them, particularly those in their 30s like myself, were still out. Couldn’t they find what they were getting here anywhere else in society? Obviously the highs of a dance floor are unique; however there was clearly a lack of regular opportunities for congregating en masse in this manner, that wasn’t accompanied by a thumping bass line. Street Feast changed this. While essentially a food market, its success also owes something to being an opportunity to socialise in large groups, with a freedom not afforded in a restaurant or a pub, which appealed not only to foodies but also to aging clubbers, non-music fans, and a younger post-rave generation.
One of the biggest successes for me in launching Street Feast is seeing so many people in their 30s, former accountants, media buyers, town planners, all with a love of food, leaving the security of their day job, and taking the plunge not just to be their own boss, but to be involved everyday with their passion, food. I’ve seen so many of them not only enjoy working in food, but also being part of a supportive community, and thriving, opening restaurants, writing books, and appearing on TV, wonderful new chapters in their lives which once would have been just a dream.
Just as so many of these food traders are now running their own businesses centred on their passions and interest, Street Feast has afforded me the opportunity to do the same. Just as I spent time watching people in clubs, wondering what else they might like to do, I’ve also been doing this at Street Feast. What I’ve noticed is that while for some the culinary and social experience that night markets like Street Feast offer is sufficient, there are those who are itching for more. I am now about to open a venue, which will add a defined cultural program across live music, theatre, and film, to a rich culinary and social experience. After four years of Street Feast and just working on food and drink, I can now commit to an endeavour that involves more of my personal interests, while continuing my work on the evolution of how we socialise.
I’m 42 now, and my son is 7 years old. We spend every weekend together. I travel when I can, though never for more than a fortnight, because I don’t like to be away from him for too long. With the launch of the new business I see the next ten years as a new chapter, taking me into my 50s, and my son to the end of his secondary school education. At that point I can imagine I’ll be ready for a new challenge, or even quite possibly a break to reassess. I’ve lived in London my whole life, and I look forward to the day I have the personal freedom to be away for longer than a fortnight night and really immerse myself in another culture. That’s as far as I’m looking ahead. I’m still not making any plans for old age other than sticking to my original challenge to myself. However the landscape changes, whatever changes there are in society, I’ll keep watching and creating experiences I think that are right for that time, and also take us forward.
In The 100-Year Life – Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, published June 2nd 2016 by Bloomsbury Publishing, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott outline the challenges and intelligent choices that all of us, of any age, need to make in order to turn greater life expectancy into a gift and not a curse. This is not an issue for when we are old but an urgent and imminent one.Extremely well received by critics and readers alike, the book has received extensive coverage around the world.Buy Now Kindle
The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity has won the second prize of The 2017 Business Book Award of Japan.Read More
Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s recent article in MIT Sloan Management Review is an important piece about the inconsistent corporate response to increased longevity. Read the article here.Read More
Eslite, the leading bookstore in Taiwan, has chosen The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity as the Best Book in February.Read More