Mai Linn, CEO of a large company in San Francisco, had just informed Cheryl that she was grooming her to take her position. “She left my office and I started crying,” Cheryl said to me. “Not because I was overjoyed, but because I suddenly realized that I was living someone else’s life. I didn’t want to be the next CEO, and I felt like I’d wasted the last 20 years. That’s why I called you.”
Cheryl had been steadily promoted for almost 20 years, and excelled in all she was assigned. Regularly asked to take on more responsibilities and special projects, she proved herself time and again, and was acknowledged through new titles and additional salary. Many colleagues called her “Girl Impossible,” because she was known for reaching goals that challenged even the most seasoned executives.
I used to rush to get to the office and dive into my projects. I loved the feeling of conquering challenges. But now, it’s hard to face the office. I feel empty and sad. Who am I, anyway? What’s wrong with me?”
As we began to work together, it became clear that Cheryl had never really asked herself what she wanted from her career. Instead, she worked hard for almost two decades, and gratefully accepted the accolades and promotions as they came. “I was excited to feel like I was climbing up. Isn’t that supposed to be how it is? But I forgot one thing – I never asked myself what I wanted – where I wanted to climb, and where I wanted to arrive. And so I found myself one day where others thought I needed to be.”
Cheryl and I worked to define and design her next professional chapter, and then, over the next few months, we worked an action plan that helped her exit from her corporate position and into the arena of business ownership. Today, she runs her own successful small company and, with her team of five employees, provides software for personal development.
Asking for what you want and getting it requires five steps. And the first of those is knowing clearly what you want. If you don’t define this, the world will decide your life for you. Pretty scary thought? You bet. But no matter where you are in your career or life, you can begin to regroup and take control. Take a few moments and answer the following questions for yourself:
Where are you, now?
Where do you want to be?
What needs to change in order to get there?
What’s one step you can take, today?
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.