Transition Triumphs?

“I’ve been reading your blog and thinking ‘ugh’ all this transition stuff,” said Victoria Taylor, CEO and founder of Victoria Gourmet, lamenting that transition would be ahead of her again sometime.  Victoria’s remarks made me wonder, ‘Can we ever triumph over transition?’

I was talking with Victoria as part of a new column idea Voices of Transition — a blog-ette within Novofemina.    I know that there are women who’ve entered transition and exited the other side.  Like Victoria.  Their voices could bring some rich perspective to our discussion.   Honestly I’ve felt really stuck since Labor Day.  When I’m at my most judgmental I’d say my transition has stalled.   This blog-ette is another angle that will hopefully jump-start my thinking.  So, Victoria…

From the AC360 view Victoria is an accomplished entrepreneur.  Wharton grad.  Winner of the coveted “Outstanding Food Gift” award, the food world’s Oscar, at the Fancy Food Show.   Victoria Gourmet is a multi-million dollar business established over a decade ago that offers seasoning blends, sea salts, peppers, brines and gourmet ingredients.  She employs staff.  She has investors.    I can go on and on with accolades.

Would it surprise you that Victoria Gourmet was the result of transition?  The quick facts are that Victoria studied physics as an undergrad.  Following grad school she headed to the large corporate food industry.  She spent close to ten years there – ultimately miserable because of the corporate behaviors she experienced.  Although she was unhappy she stayed put for a long time – long enough to continue fertility treatments or risk her medical coverage eligibility.  She finally exited the treatments and the company.  She headed to high-tech, a world of creativity and promise.  But after a short stint she was fired.

Officially in transition Victoria decided to “cleanse” herself by assisting an uncle who was rehab-ing a farm.  Picture a pallet knife and old rafters in a sagging barn.  She loved the days and the elegance of her accomplishments.  After six months she felt like a new person.

It’s funny that Victoria mentioned “cleanse.”  She reminded me of a cleanse I pursued the summer I exited Harvard Business School.  The campus’ investment banking cohort was too much for idealistic me.  I needed to regroup.  So I enrolled in the Colorado Outward Bound School for a 10 day mountaineering course.   I had never camped.  I didn’t ask too many questions prior to attending.  How hard could it be?   Perhaps deep down I knew that  I would lose my resolve if I asked too many questions.

Picture a sixty pound back pack on a relatively modest-framed person.    A group of ten adults carrying everything we needed – including our trash — for 10 days.  We were with purists – our guides.   We slept under tarps tied to adjacent trees.  They had a tent.  Any water used for cooking had to be put through a strainer before being dumped out.  We wouldn’t want the animals to get distracted by trace amounts of Cream of Wheat

The experience introduced me to things like rappelling & rock climbing, contour maps and the Continental Divide.   It was an incredible high although friends remind me that when I returned I described it as a ‘near death’ experience.  Wow, how the mind morphs with time.  In reality this cleanse coated me with a thick suit of body armor.    I needed it.  At the time I worked for a Bain & Co. spin-off led by a former marine.  After my Outward Bound experience nothing phased me.  Nothing.  Have you ever indulged in a much-needed cleanse?  There was something remarkable about that one.

So too for Victoria.  Mid-cleanse someone gave her a heads up on a spice business that was for sale.   She investigated it but ultimately concluded that she could start a business versus buying someone else’s.  This conclusion led her to 9 months in her test kitchen — a.k.a. her kitchen — with an adoring husband who was willing to try all sorts of concoctions.  What emerged was an entrepreneur with a set of solidly tested seasoning products.

“Looking back there is so much clarity,” said Victoria,  “but going off and being an entrepreneur was never part of my program.”  Victoria had always loved the food business.  She considers herself lucky that she could put embrace this love as her new self evolved through transition.

From Victoria’s perspective the business is now of the size that it could be sold.  But there is also trepidation.  She remarked, “there is something about being relevant.”   I understood her comment to be a fear of losing relevance if she lost her business owner identity through a sale.   “I’m having fun,” she said, “but I know more transition is in my future.”

Victoria’s remarks gave me cause for pause on the definition of transition: could transition be a serial experience of self-renewal interspersed with periods of activity, even decades long activity?   Could transition be the constant and other activities be the events along the way?  What do you think?

I like the Voices approach – thank you Victoria for indulging my test kitchen.  I’d never otherwise have considered flipping around my view of transition.  What piece is the constant here?  Let me know what you think.

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