“I’m going to quit and go to work for Crate and Barrel,” said a dear friend after a long day at her employer, a local technology super power. She is a senior level leader. Her company is heavy on politics. Add to that endless pressure on quarterly results. Get the picture? A bit far afield from large white boxes and beautifully displayed home goods. I wondered as I listened…is Crate and Barrel a day-dream for her or a legitimate path forward?
I recalled this conversation because earlier in the day I listened to The University of Michigan’s 2013 commencement address by Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter. Would it surprise you that he worked at Crate and Barrel as his story unfolded?
I can take no credit for finding the speech. A colleague whose son graduated a few weeks ago from U Michigan mentioned it. It was a sidebar comment amidst a serious conversation about ‘how to’ define new service delivery models for his business while still delivering monthly numbers. The question felt very transition-esque to me. As an alternative to Crate and Barrel…can you work on advancing your transition while still in a demanding job or situation that leaves little time for experimentation or curiosity?
If I use my pre-transition job as an example the answer is patently no. I had two little kids and an extreme job that often required travel or entertaining customers & employees in the evening. Demands on my time left little room for independent thinking let alone a structured thought process about pursuing my passions.
Twitter’s Costolo offered some opinions on this in his speech at his alma mater. It’s only 17 minutes long…worth a quick listen while you are standing on the edge of the soccer field or folding laundry. I found three meaningful messages in his remarks.
- The Folly of Defining Paths: Costolo informed students, “you cannot draw any of your paths looking forward.” He continued, “you have to figure out what you love to do. What you have conviction about. And go do that.” My take away was that he pushed graduates to make personal passions the common denominator in their lives. His reasoned out loud that his simple formula translated into a sequence of adventures over twenty years that ultimately led to Twitter. (approx. at 12:30 minutes into the speech)
- Recognize the Need to Pivot: Costolo made an interesting observation about pivoting away from achieving external milestones to defining your own. “From here on out,” he told graduates, “you have to switch gears. You are no longer meeting and exceeding expectations. There are no expectations. There is no script. When you do what you love to do you become resilient because that’s the habit you create for yourself. You create a habit of taking chances on yourself and making bold choices in service to what you love.” (approx 12:50 minutes into the speech) Honestly this is the first time I’d heard anyone articulate this pivot but it was instantly recognizable for me. Can you identify expectations that shape your pursuits? Or how your judge yourself?
- Seek Courageous Risks: Costolo encouraged graduates to bet on themselves. He shared an unbridled confidence of positive outcomes ahead should graduates be courageous enough to make bold choices in advancing what they love. Positive outcomes for self. For the greater good. For all humanity. (Ok, he had a touch of hubris thanks to Twitter…)
Costolo wasn’t Pollyanna-ish about his path….which by the way didn’t come into focus until he looked in the rear view mirror. His path was marked with financial uncertainty, real mistakes and learning. But, he reasoned, that those who invest in the direction of their passions get the gift of resilience and courage and grace. Not so those who chase externally defined goals.
If Costolo is right we won’t know if the Crate and Barrel option is a good one for my friend until sometime from now. I can say that my choice to transition has provided me with incredible gifts……energy, unchecked optimism and grace.
For the record….I believe there is a path forward. It requires a choice which is all your own. The only question is whether it is a gift you are ready to give yourself.
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