Letting Go

What happens when you need to downsize your lifestyle, shed long-owned possessions, and sell your home to make ends meet? It might seem this would take a heavy toll on a family and a high level professional taking a  “lower-paid, entry level job.” But, we get ahead of KC’s story.

It’s 1974, and the economy is in a stubborn recession; college graduates and returning veterans are scrambling for jobs in a market with 9% unemployment. KC is fortunate to find a temporary job as a career counselor while she completes her Masters degree in Human Development. This marks the beginning of her thirty-plus year Human Resources career.

As she gained experience, KC found that business strategy came to her naturally and stimulated her intellectual appetite, and she focused increasingly on the intersection of HR strategy and business. She saw opportunities for HR to use technology to improve the efficiency of its processes. But just as importantly, she envisioned the potential of technology to free people from the tedium of administrative work and allow them to create innovative, fun, highly productive workplaces. Soon she was working for large corporations in industries from retail to high tech, including Pillsbury, SuperValu, and Apple. Most times, jobs came to her. If her position was eliminated or was a poor fit for her, she quickly found a new one, moving up to Director and Vice President roles. Throughout the years, she kept her focus on organizational culture.

In the 1990’s, with her income sufficient to support the family, KC and her husband decided it was time to realize his lifelong goal of devoting himself full-time to his art. The arrangement worked well.

In 2008, as the recession hit advertising again, KC’s employer continued its downsizing, and her role as VP of Human Resources was eliminated along with others. A short-term contract position followed. During that period, she chose to take a sabbatical to focus on a “perfect storm” of multi-generational family issues.

By the end of 2009, KC decided to pursue her dream of developing an HR software application, but it was clear after a few months that the financial commitment would not be supportable. No problem—she just launched into independent consulting.  But she realized that solo consulting was not for her either.

By September 2010, she had to tap her 401(k) for expenses and knew it was time to return to a full-time corporate position. However, the recession had delivered a knockout blow to the job market, completely changing the landscape. Obstacles she had overcome before in her career did not respond to her persistent efforts. This was the “new normal”.

A year into her search, KC reassessed her situation. She realized that HR itself had changed, becoming more tactical, and as a result, she had lost her passion for the field. It isn’t easy to let go of a 30-year self-image, executive status, success, generous compensation, and recognition as an expert. As she struggled to come to terms with the loss of all these trappings, she started asking herself questions.

What do I want to do, if not HR? Can I start a new career at this stage? Can I learn new technology? What company has a culture, not just an aspiration, of a truly great place to work? Which of my jobs had most energized me? Is there an organization that would recognize my age and experience as an asset? Can I take the risk of earning a significantly lower income while building a new career path? And the answers crystallized: “Be at the leading edge of technology, directly involved with customers. Why not? Yes, of course. Apple’s culture had expanded into retail. Apple again. Yes, Apple. I can make it work”.

She directed a full court press at Apple. KC wanted to learn technology training from the ground up—at the store level—helping customers understand computers and smart devices. She had discussions with everyone at Apple retail who would talk to her, asking questions, understanding their needs, and ultimately, convincing them she was committed to carving out a new career. She got the job!

If you didn’t know KC’s story, you might think she is seriously underemployed. If you do know her, you admire her courage, and delight in watching her successful transition at a time when many are looking toward retirement.

As for KC? Six months in, she is enjoying learning continuously from her colleagues, customers and her company. She is energized, excited, and challenged every day. No regrets. Not one.  It’s a new start.

3 thoughts on “Letting Go

  1. An inspiring saga by this gifted person. I detect the evolution of a book coming. Your writing style is super.

  2. Best story yet. Abe nailed it. Written with a simple clarity that I didn’t notice till the end when I realized that I really liked it and went back to re-read it. Coherent, inspiring, and with a happy ending!

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