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IN TRANSITA 365-Day Transition from the Corporate World to You-Are-on-Your-Own-and-Good-Luck-with-That!
By Gisele Aubin
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Gisele Aubin
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePart I
Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. John D. Rockefeller
It does not matter how many times in my life I start over. It is still a challenge. The first time was after college when I had to decide between entering the job market and pursuing my education. While contemplating career choices, the prospect of selecting anything for the rest of my life was daunting. Frankly, there was nothing I wanted to do for the next forty years because there was everything I wanted to explore. Choosing to bypass further schooling, I got a job within two weeks. This was the market in the late '70s. I worked for a year with the sole purpose of saving enough money to be able to quit my job. The goal was to travel. I was never able to convince my dad of that strategy. He just would not understand why I would give up such a good thing. My argument was, "Once you know there is more out there, why would you settle for less?"
So I flew to Paris on a one-way ticket and left everyone behind, including a promising young man who had to stay to complete his degree. The objective was to go out and explore, and mostly to discover the unknown because how else would I know what I didn't know?
I was on my own, experiencing an unbelievable state of equal vulnerability and freedom. I realized that they often come together. I learned about autonomy, self-reliance, stillness, the depth of one's own resources, and the incredible, indescribable richness of life when you are open to what it has to offer, whether you had planned for it, or not.
I felt capable, beautiful, and limitless. All in all, a good year.
Then, nearly a year later, this promising young man, who had stayed behind, came to fetch me. After all that time away, I fell for him again. He had no difficulty convincing me to go back. So I did. And I married him with the deepest conviction that it was the right thing to do. If ever in my life I felt grounded, solid, and convinced, it was definitely when I stood at the altar next to him and said, "I do."
Then it happened again. Starting over again, I mean, when my marriage blew up twenty years later. That time, it was not voluntarily. Of course, marriages don't blow up overnight. They erode with time. I could not see that then. I was completely lost, feeling cheated, betrayed, confused, hurt; in fact, any pain-related word you can think of can be added to this litany. It was a crisis for which I was unprepared, ill-equipped, and overwhelmed, but I had to face it just the same.
At age twenty, getting on a plane headed for Europe somehow felt like a whole lot better way to start over. It had been fun and full of promises. This time around was difficult. The only commonality between these two journeys was the need for self-sufficiency. I had relied on someone else to take care of me financially and emotionally, and now I had to backtrack and find my way to recovery. It was a struggle for quite some time until I understood that only I could change my life. Looking back, I know that coming to that realization was the kicker. A simple statement, but it was a long time coming. I figured my best way out was to get a decent career, which I did not have at the time. I had a job. My passion and vision had been in my family. But now things had changed. Family was still number one, but how I would keep it a priority would require major overhaul.
So I applied myself and started building a new reality for my children and me. In the process, I flushed everything I otherwise knew as my life. Once you start ripping away a corner of your life, you quickly realize that much like your kitchen renovation, it is very hard to make anything new out of the old stuff. I moved into a new city, a new job, a new industry, a new house, and essentially, a new life. I also changed my car; might as well. I like to say that I kept only the kids. Considering that they were fifteen, twelve, and seven, that alone was an undertaking.
As I went along, I don't think I had time to stop and think about whom I was becoming. It didn't matter. It was not the object. I was on a roll, or rather a climb; the corporate climb as it was.
Human resources was my field of expertise; leadership was my natural groove; hard work was my mantra, and as far as I was concerned, I was not going to stop until I got to the top, wherever that was. I figured a time would come when I would feel I had succeeded, and I would know when that would be. The goal was to provide for my kids and myself in a way that would offer us options in life, a sound education for them, and a happy retirement prospect for me, and hopefully, a good life in-between.
I got busy and gradually life got better. In time, I was able to enjoy the benefits of a successful career, and I expanded my role to a global scope, where until very recently, my home was in Vancouver, my office in Florida, my boss in Cincinnati, my children in Montreal, my team scattered around the world, and my best friends in Quebec City. God only knows where my boyfriend was. I was confused. Had I arrived? Was this how success was supposed to feel?
This is how I find myself in a similar place of change, again, minus the crisis. This time, the journey to change my life is intentional.
Change may be a desired state, but it is nevertheless a scary one. A great deal of anxiety surrounds it. On the inside, the doubts, the fears, the uncertainty around the decision to quit my job and change my career all contributed to creating a constantly recurring litany of questions and debates with myself, something like a deafening noise in my head, for which I had no volume control—much like being at a rock concert twenty-four hours a day. No intermission. It is not always easy. It requires a whole lot of determination and some getting used to, not to mention the ability to face your own fears head on.
I didn't have much to get started on since I didn't really have time to plan any of it. All I had was the stubborn conviction that there had to be more out there. I also had some time on my hands, and enough money stashed aside to last me until I landed on my feet, provided I was careful and didn't take too long—altogether, not such a bad start.
Even without really knowing what I was on the lookout for, I knew it had little to do with a three-car garage, Louis Vuitton, or even a romantic weekend in Paris. It was not about stuff. It did have everything to do with self, stretching and daring to move past my fears to find out how far I could go, whom I would be in the process, and of course, where I would land in the end.
My hope is that by reading the day-to-day reality of my transition year, others will associate it to their own desires for their lives and find that they too can take it a step further.
So, from this point on, it is my journey, but it could just as well be anyone else's.
* * *
The eighteen months preceding the sale of our division are anything but your same old, same old scenario. They are pretty much a frantic, non-stop, survival reality show. The business is losing money beyond the definition of acceptable, the board is expecting much more from us, the leadership team, and the executive committee is irritated by our inability to turn the ship around, and our clients are squeezing us for everything we have.
Our saving grace is that the economy is in the tank and our leader is one incredibly stubborn man. We aren't going down until the sun comes up. Count on him. What is equally working for us is that as tough as conditions are at work, the employees have nowhere to go. Nobody is hiring. So we all hunker down and take the bull by the horns, bring our division from loss to profit, and sell the damn thing.
So it is more than just putting lipstick on the pig and selling it. It is about making it right.
And we do. We take what initially looks like a situation bigger than life and tackle it, one step at a time. We call it "slicing the elephant," dealing with issues, one bite size piece at a time. Make no mistake. Due diligence is not for the faint of heart. It is real hard work. It takes a village to make it happen.
While we are meeting with potential buyers, going through every twist and turn of internal data, again and again, we continue to support over three million employees and retirees around the world. We implement new systems and services, also all around the world, and do so while conducting a sweeping restructuring. We offshore a large portion of the business and downsize our North American footprint considerably.
In some areas of the world, we have to manage significant downsizing. In others, evidently, we manage growth. Instant, hurried, make-it-happen-now kind of growth. Managing growth is a lot more fun than downsizing, but no less work. Also, taking from Peter to pay Paul, as we find ourselves doing when we shut down offices in one part of the world to open them somewhere else, is not an easy thing to do. People don't always take well to surrendering their paychecks to their colleagues.
For too many of us, it has become a typical day at the office. If there is an equivalent to the Richter scale for measuring stress in the workplace, my guess is we are busting it.
My part of the deal is to manage change and lead the resources through it. Typically, change and people tend to butt heads. The first always creates friction on the latter. So friction, tension, frustrations are all additions to the already fairly loaded days. No two days are the same, but most weeks start the same way, and that is early and on all cylinders.
* * *
Monday morning—5 a.m. Mondays are always a hard start. My colleagues are on the East Coast for the most part and I on the West Coast. Before my day begins, I am already behind.
Every other week, I get on a plane and fly 2,800 miles diagonally across North America to spend the week at my Florida office. Sounds like a vacation destination, but it is no picnic.
When the cab to take me to the airport pulls into the driveway at 9 a.m., I have already held several calls, answered a myriad of emails, and gotten most balls in the air. My secretary makes sure I have all the day's highlights so I can work on the plane and be ready to reply when I get on the ground in Chicago for my ninety-minute connection.
Coordination is the word.
From the backseat of the cab, I return phone calls. Voicemail is a relentless 24/7 reality. I try to put out as many fires as I can before going underground, or rather above clouds, for the next four and half hours.
Juggling with a running laptop, passport, and boarding pass, while crushing my phone on my shoulder, I am often one of the last passengers to board. What is a girl to do when boarding starts before the download is completed? Efficiency is sometimes a matter of seconds....
The long flights are the best. I totally zoom out from the cabin around me, and zoom in on my screen. Those four and a half hours in the air are like eight in the office. Where else do you have the luxury to be shielded from the endless phone calls, emails, instant messaging, and whatever other ways people have to reach you? The day they allow mobile phones and Internet access on all flights is going to be the day I stop commuting, I hope.
Ninety minutes on the ground in Chicago. I have my routine down pat. I welcome the endless walk from terminal B to terminal F. This is the only stretch I get all day. I love the underground walkway. The lights are subdued and so is the music. Feels like being in a cave ... very soothing—when my phone is not ringing that is.
O'Hare has improved so much compared to earlier years. I used to think I should seriously look into getting a boyfriend in Chicago for all the nights I spent there by myself in some remote Quality Inn, or whichever hotel was available on the shuttle route. "Stranded passengers" they used to call us—the poor losers who had flown in on a late flight and missed their last connection out, on account of weather, heavy traffic, gate changes, or whatever else came up!
Had I gotten that boyfriend, the relationship would probably be but a picture on my wall now that the vast majority of flights do connect. The food has also improved. I have my favorite restaurants. I actually look forward to the usual fruit and feta cheese salad from La Tapenade at gate B4.
You know you are in serious need of a life when excitement is a tossed salad at an airport terminal.
On a good day, there is time to sit down and eat it on the spot. On a not-so-good day, I take it with me on the plane. Not everybody appreciates the smell of feta cheese, I've noticed. On a bad day, skipping the salad altogether and starving is the only option. Starvation is always better than airline food.
On any good day, though, once I have gulped my salad, I make it to the lounge, recharge my laptop battery, never mind my own, and send/receive another round of emails. That is the endless pas de deux. By the time I am done dealing with everyone who has his hair on fire, the day is mostly gone. Truly, this is the ongoing cycle. At least it is mine at this point. Whatever happened to the vision of a global strategic team leading the organization into best new practices? That came and went and lasted the time that it took for the ink to dry on my offer letter, or so it seems.
I am boarding again, laptop still running. Freedom is when they close the aircraft door, and I have to shut everything down.
The next leg of my journey is only two hours. I am roughly twelve hours into my day. Outside the aircraft window, it is dark already. The passengers have shifted from reading the morning paper or working on their laptops to reading Grisham or their favorite magazines. Some are sleeping. For the most part, their day is over. They are heading home.
Me? I am still on my way to work hitting the keyboard as if there is no tomorrow, going through the last wave of email downloaded in Chicago. I am mindful of the fact that my teams in Singapore, India, and the Philippines are already into their tomorrow and in need of answers to their questions of yesterday (my today) ... There is no time zone when you work globally. There is only the here and now. Mine or theirs, it is all the same.
Landing in Florida, it is 11 p.m., but not quite so late in my body, given the three-hour time difference.
Sometimes, my luggage is delivered to the carousel; sometimes it is not. Once you have had to show up the next morning for a board meeting in your jeans and flip-flops on account of your luggage not making it on the same flight as you, you never let that happen again. Now I always travel in business attire with extra undies in my purse.
It's just the smart thing to do.
I pick up the car at the rental office and hit Highway 95 south. It's a forty-minute drive. I like the drive from the airport to the hotel. I know my way. I have my preferred radio station. With the window down, I take in the evening heat. A voluptuous moment in an otherwise gray and neutral day.
Because it is so late, no one is on the road except for the occasional trooper's car speeding by, so driving is very relaxing.
It is almost midnight, and I am nearing the hotel. I have to locate a pharmacy in search of some cosmetic apparatus since I have left my makeup bag on the ladies room counter in the Chicago airport lounge. If I were to tell my mother that I am cruising on the Interstate by myself past midnight to find a pharmacy to buy lipstick, she would think I had gone mad.
Maybe I have....
By the time I get to my room, the clock is tracking time on a single digit number ... it is late. Just about supper time in my body, and the only food around are Pringles, Aero chocolate bars, and for the health-conscious freaks, sodium-loaded crackers and crap cheese!
"Qui dort, dîne," we say in French. My problem is that I neither sleep nor eat.
I unpack, hang everything up, and prepare for the next day. The wake-up call typically comes in at 3 a.m. in my body, and it is always painful.
I don't need to look for the light switch. I know this room inside out. I lie here wondering how healthy it is to think of this place as a second home. How many homes can one have before she feels like she no longer belongs anywhere?
* * *
Of course, it did not start out this way. It was not intended for me to commute from Vancouver to Florida; nor was it intended that we would run into 2008 and its financial crisis and sell the division. But life happens. Between the time I joined this company and the time we decided to sell it, 2008 came and went, and as they say, the rest is history. What was intended to be an exciting global expansion initiative turned out to be a laser sharp single focus, as sharp as sensitive surgery would require, aimed at divesting ourselves from the mother ship. Not unlike a life crisis. Luckily for me, I already knew what it would take: head down, eyes on the ball, learn to breathe through clenched teeth, and don't make other plans just yet.
Excerpted from IN TRANSIT by Gisele Aubin Copyright © 2012 by Gisele Aubin. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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