Tom Peters recently posted a two-page piece he wrote in 1992 called The Pursuit of Luck:
Innovation is a low-odds business—and luck sure helps. (It's jolly well helped me!) If you believe that success does owe a lot to luck, and that luck in turn owes a lot to getting in the way of unexpected opportunities, you need not throw up your hands in despair. There are strategies you can pursue to get a little nuttiness into your life, and perhaps, then, egg on good luck.
He has a great list of fifty suggestions for "getting in the way of unexpected opportunities," but I already have #30 down pat:
"Repot" yourself every 10 years. (This was the advice of former Stanford Business School dean Arjay Miller—meaning change careers each decade.)
I've actually been on a seven-year cycle, but the advice still holds true. During a stint as a journalist my first year out of college I began covering homelessness, and although I knew I was playing a helpful role, I needed to work on the problem more directly--I needed to make a real difference in specific individuals' lives. So I left journalism and spent the next seven years working with nonprofits that served low-income and homeless families in San Francisco. It was a great experience--often frustrating, but very fulfilling--and when I decided to pursue some new professional challenges, I felt that I'd done all that I could in that field.
I spent the following seven years earning an MBA and helping not-for-profit institutions use technology more effectively. Helping to launch the Nonprofit Technology Network and working with Beaconfire Consulting were both great professional experiences, but last year I realized I was ready for another career change. I wasn't sure what would come next, but I'd been volunteering for a few months with a group that was starting a new advocacy organization, and at the end of the year I began working with them full time.
Having seen the future of the web in Seth Goldstein's essays, I was excited to be able to work with Seth and Steve Gillmor on AttentionTrust, which educates people about the value of the data that reflects what we pay attention to (and what we ignore) and empowers us to make effective use of this personal "attention data." I still believe that these are important issues, but in recent months my passion for AttentionTrust's mission was eclipsed by my interest in executive coaching and change management.
I've been intensely interested in organizational and personal development for a number of years--Organizational Behavior and Interpersonal Dynamics were my favorite classes in business school, and I asked my professor from the latter to serve as my executive coach during my first job after graduating. The process of helping to launch three new organizations also allowed me to put a number of change management theories to the test.
Earlier this year I decided to pursue these interests in greater depth and spent several months training with Joe Murphy, an executive coach here in San Francisco. After a great experience as a pro bono coach and a lot of helpful feedback from people in the field, I decided that my next career was going to be in coaching and change management consulting. I initially thought a longer-term transition would be best, but I soon realized that trying to start a practice in my spare time would short-change both myself and AttentionTrust.
So I've taken the leap, resigned as AttentionTrust's Executive Director and am fully committed to launching my executive coaching and change management practice. I'll be spending the next few weeks on some logistical issues--like re-organizing this site--but I've already begun working with my first organizational development client. I'll be posting more on coaching and change management and describing my services in greater detail shortly, but if you'd like to talk further, please drop me a line--my contact information is near the top of the right-hand sidebar.
One final thought: the phrase "7 year itch" actually seems a little too flippant to accurately describe the often grueling process of making a substantive career change and "repotting" oneself. I think the French translation comes closer to the truth: 7 years of reflection.
Thanks to everyone who's been a source of support during this transition--it's an absurdly long list. Every day I pursue this dream I'm reminded of the motive that led me to make my first career change 15 years ago--to make a real difference in specific individuals' lives--and I'm truly thrilled to begin working alongside you in this new capacity.