Has a death made you re-evaluate your entire professional career or personal life?
Over the past week, I have read two articles, by successful executives who have dealt with death. One executive lost a son who was only 18. He is dealing with the emotional upheaval that he lived longer than his son. The other executive had a peer who was only 40 suddenly pass away. These incidents have an impact on our emotional capacity and core. They make us think about the uncertainty of our own lives, careers and life journey.
The first death that affected me happened in 2012. I was already 2 years into renewing focus on my life journey and ability to own who I was both in my personal and professional life. I will always remember March 2010 as a true outward turning point in my life – it was when I got divorced for the second time at 33 years old. I had been shattered emotionally and was starting my journey with a new purpose (another post for another day!). In 2012, a respected Assistant Vice President passed away on vacation, in his sleep, next to his wife. He was only 41, had no children and was making an impact, in his work both internally and externally. There were no outward signs or health issues that would give any indication that we were going to lose him. Over time, it was released that he was very stressed with work but just kept it internalized instead of finding and using his network to support finding solutions to his stress. I was two years into my new journey and this incident made me think, what I wanted considering I was now single and didn’t want children. I had already made a shift from being a brand marketer to leading innovation which allowed me to be closer to the way I thought and could envision the future.
The second death hit me harder. Cathy Coughlin was a mentor and the CMO of AT&T when I knew her. She accepted me for the person I was – someone who was a little different than others. Cathy was a successful woman in what had been a very white male dominated executive board. She came up through the ranks and played her part well. She was highly intelligent and for her time knew how to fit in but also bring her knowledge to the table. She followed the rules to get where she was and I respected her greatly for her journey. I on the other hand, was breaking “rules” left and right both in my personal and professional life. In the beginning, she would be embarrassed for me if I was a little too open or blunt about how I saw things. Over time, she began to appreciate me for the same and would ask for my opinion when we met. She was one of the first work individuals who noticed, when I outwardly started changing my appearance from being old school power suit professional with long hair to owning my presentation of who I was to the outside world. Cathy passes away in 2015 at the age of only 57. I was no longer at AT&T but I received 5 texts, when it was announced, from folks who knew my relationship with her. I cried that night as I hadn’t had a chance to see her since 2012 when I had left her organization. She had made the biggest impact on me with her support of someone who was so different from her and others in the organization. She gave me the some of the strength I needed as I was moving on my transformational journey to truly own what path I wanted to take forward.
The third death was very personal and happened at a time when I had already left the corporate world and was spending my full time focusing on me. I met June in 2014, at the Joule Hotel lobby while she was sipping a dirty martini in honor of a celebration of life for one of her close friends, alone. I went over and a 2 year friendship began. She became part of my life family and a mirror to my future. I thought I had years of time with her but I always made sure to make time for her or meet her if she could. June was 82 when I met her and a firecracker. In some ways, I think she was busier than me! When I was with her, I felt happy and fulfilled that I could learn from her and move forward in owning myself and my journey the way I want it and not based on what the path should be. She passes away February 1, 2016 at the age of 84 because of a fall. I will never forget the day, as its my dad’s birthday. June had also been a very accomplished lady during her time but I knew her as a friend and the relationship we cultivated.
We know that life at the end of the day is about a legacy we leave and the legacy is left through relationships. As a whole, even the most successful people are remembered by their relationships with those around them. I am still a very ambitious individual. These deaths were a piece of my self-awareness journey as I continued to focus on how I could make an impact on people and feel fulfilled with the work I was doing. The journey of owning who I was – personality, thought process, lifestyle – took almost 6 years. It is not an overnight journey and in many ways harder to do alone. I had the support of a life family that didn’t judge me and gave me a safe space to evolve. This is what I now provide to others.
I enjoyed the corporate world while I was in it. However, at some point the box wasn’t big enough for my thoughts and ideas. So today, I focus my energy on impacting individuals and continuing to build relationships doing what I do best. Connecting and making people see their own paths. The focus can sometimes make me be away from my “family” but it is a part of what drives me and is accepted by those in my life. Over the years, I have had the consistent, honest conversations on who I am and how I want to live my life. It allows the people in my life to manage their expectations on what support I can provide to their lives. At this point, death is no longer something that will shake my world as I make sure that I have good relations and spend time with those that matter to me. It will always be shocking when you see young deaths of good people and the definition of young is changing everyday as we live longer.
How has death affected your view of your personal life and professional career?
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