In my years advising and working alongside Fortune 500 CEOs, Presidential appointees, and other C-Suite executives, I’ve seen many talented individuals fall into the trap of being defined solely by their position, rather than their legacies of amazing outcomes. When they departed their jobs, they were surprised that their calls were not as promptly returned and invitations dwindled. It’s natural to experience that “out of sight, out of mind” feeling that with some strategic pre-planning could be avoided.
Thoughtful analysis before an exit enables you to forge future legacies grounded in a life that breeds fulfillment and creates a sustainable future for the things that are important to you—your community, field of study, and areas of passion. The key is mapping a course to control where you want to go within the lifestyle and financial framework that fits the life you want to have.
“You can imagine a career and a life that don’t exist; you can build that future you, and as a result your life will change.” ― Bill Burnett, Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You
In January, I made a planned transition from serving as a full-time CEO—a role I have held with three organizations since 2004. As I accepted my last position in 2018, I knew that my goal was to build a portfolio of engagement that meets both my desire for intellectual stimulation and my passion for giving back. Last fall when I told people I was retiring after nearly 40 years of work, a friend who understands my insatiable need to build things suggested I rename this next step in life as my “preferment” stage. The focus is now on things that I prefer to do instead of things that I have to do (and I am loving it)! I am not stepping back but stepping up in a way that is empowering and satisfying.
There are distinct stages in everyone’s professional life. For me, phase 1 was my credentialing phase of college, grad school, first jobs. Phase 2 was my impact phase, taking the credentials and skills I gained to help organizations move to the next level of performance. Phase 3, happening now, is deploying the experiences I have accumulated to support the next generation of leaders. I’m dedicated to enabling peers who are investing in solutions to solve big problems—impact investment, health equity, climate tech. We map out “big hairy audacious goals” with an eye towards implementation, sustainability, and measurement. I am investing in my passion for mentoring rising leaders through an academic affiliation.
I am not defined as what I was, I am still defined as who I am and will be. The key is not to wait until you leave before you think about where you want to end up. Start thinking about it today—a few years before you make that big announcement.
Here’s how to do it.
Invest in your future now. Hire your own PR team. Personally, fund programs that support your future goals. Invest in projects that are important to you so that you are the donor, not the company you represent.
Define yourself through the positive changes you have made in society, business, and the lives of others. Create a story not about you, but about the lives you have touched. Be the person who helps young leaders move forward. Not only will you build a positive legacy, but you will continue to foster the loyalty of those who want to be part of your ongoing journey.
Operate in a manner that leaves doors open. Thoughtful commitment to the needs of others will keep relationships meaningful.
Build a narrative that defines how you want to be known. Work with a coach or a peer mentor to quantify the results you have brought about. Speak with facts. Be diligent in recording the successes you achieve in your career. You are doing good work and have a long history of positive impact. Show it.
Leave the door open for re-entry. You had a long career, and a break is required. But you may be surprised as doors may open for a political appointment, a role in academia, or a corporate role with a company in which you invested. If a new opportunity arises that sounds energizing, you can craft your re-entry in a manner that retains lifestyle attributes that are important to you, but also allow you to invest yourself one more time.
You have been successful. You have nothing left to prove. You have given back. Let life happen and enjoy the life you deserve to have.
Written by Lisa Gable, former CEO, US Ambassador, UN Delegate, and author of Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Turnaround – How to Change Course When Things Are Going South .
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