Imagine you are a rock climber scaling a steep cliff wall. You are respected and experienced, highly competitive, and confident. As you near the top of the cliff, a rock under your foot crumbles, but you don’t panic. Breathing intentionally, concentrating on your next move, you lift your leg slowly to replant it. But the movement loosens another, larger rock, and before you can take your next breath, the wall around you is collapsing in an avalanche and you are tumbling downward through space. What do you do?
If this sounds like a wild exaggeration of the experience of losing your job, you haven’t been there. Kim has.
The quintessential successful business executive, Kim’s career path is strewn with accomplishments and the attendant recognition and financial rewards. He was respected, experienced, highly competitive, and confident.
Kim has worked with companies like Pillsbury, Borden Foods, Bobcat, and USBio here and overseas when they were underperforming or embarking on massive change. He was good, really good at turning things around. The more he worked, the more he was in demand.
His entrepreneurial bones and natural creativity and energy also led him to create and sell two companies, start a business consultancy, and become licensed as an investment advisor.
Then a recession put a drag on corporate spending and hiring. Before he knew it, he was dangling in mid-air, hanging on by his fingernails. What did he do to bring this on? Nothing. The global economy is not something any of us can control. Kim was accustomed to moving seamlessly between companies without ever having to search. People sought him out. But now there were no jobs. They were simply gone.
During his three and a half year descent from the pinnacle, Kim was slammed up against bankruptcy and foreclosure. He and his wife, Suzie, sold or gave away most of their possessions, Suzie was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she lost her job. One of the bright spots in Kim’s situation was his ability to be available 24/7 as her caregiver and personal chef. Today, about two and a half years after her surgery and chemotherapy ended, Suzie is a grateful cancer survivor and is teaching Zumba classes to people half her age.
With her recovery well underway, Suzie and Kim left their beautiful home to the bank and settled into their new apartment. Then in July 2012, when Kim was offered a full time position doing what he does best, turning around underperforming operations, they figured the battering they had sustained was behind them. Before they could regain their foothold, however, a benign tumor was found in Kim’s brain in November. Happily, surgery to remove the tumor confirmed there was no malignancy, and even with a recovery period ahead, Kim and Suzie could breathe easily again. Energized and excited by his new opportunity, Kim has already made some operational adjustments that have dramatically improved product quality and reduced cost.
Most of us cannot lay claim to the kind of career success Kim enjoyed. I certainly can’t. But one does not have to ascend to rarefied heights for a fall to cause serious physical and emotional damage.
How did Kim and Suzie survive this extended period of hard times? They remained a united front. No matter what else happened, their support of each other was unshakable. They took each blow with a gasp, and when their heads stopped spinning, they got back up and moved forward. And they did not give up, no matter how seductive it seemed at any given time. They did not let up on their spiritual faith or their faith in themselves.
Kim earned some money consulting on and off over the years, but he never eased off on networking, volunteering, and sending out resumes (over 3,500), and he earned a Masters Certification as a life coach. He used this new skill to co-found a non-profit organization, THRIVE Veteran Employment Initiative, to help veterans reintegrate into civilian society and find meaningful work. Perhaps most importantly, Kim and Suzie learned to let go.
Kim told me the story of his family saying goodbye to their home. They stood in a circle by the living room fireplace and gave thanks for the gift of having the home and for all the good times they shared there. And then they asked that the next family to live there would be equally blessed. I relate this because the event is so reflective of who Kim and Suzie are. Always thankful for what they have been given, never vindictive or blaming anyone, taking accountability for their lives.
Throughout my conversations with Kim, one clear message kept surfacing: Celebrate who you are and what you have, and put to rest what you no longer possess. Don’t let misfortune drag you backward. Focus on your dream. Let it pull you forward.