If one word can describe the direction I’ve chosen for my life in the past year, it’s BOLD. For nearly 20 years, my adult life had shied away from anything particularly daring. Oh, certainly some would argue that years spent as a light infantry scout, creeping through the Panamanian jungles and tropical rivers, land navigation and patrols through snowy mountain passes, and fast-roping into action on counter-narcotics missions with federal agents might classify as fairly bold. Or the years spent flying onboard reconnaissance aircraft off the coasts of North Korea and the Russian Far East, interpreter duty in foreign ports, and “cats and traps” off aircraft carriers might define bold career directions.
In fact, I’d categorize each of those (and many others) as adventurous, physically courageous, perhaps, and certainly out of the ordinary for a product of an East Coast college prep school. But bold? No, there was an innate security in living and operating within the military work structure.
At a certain level, yes, the stakes were high…..extremely high. On occassion, the life and death nature of our work was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. I’ve seen soldiers come within seconds of death. I’ve seen the fragility of the human body, and more tragically, the human spirit.
You see, while the dangers and risk I accepted as an Army soldier and later a Navy aircrewman were at times extreme, the mililtary framework is one of inherent underlying stability. Think about it, when we ask our young men and women to willingly serve at the “point at the end of the spear,” where their bodies and lives are subjected to the harshest of conditions and possibilities, we do so while trying to ensure their worries and concerns around job security, health care, insurance, dependent care, etc., are minimized. And while there’s always more we can do to support our service members, particularly while deployed and serving in remote corners of the globe, for the most part, the military system DOES remove many of the apprehensions the rest of the working American public must address for themselves individually.
Similarly, the Fortune 500 world held little in the way of “bold” opportunities for me. Perhaps, with my career passions and expertise, I’d have found a quirky, innovative start-up a more bold choice, but the appeal of Fortune 500 positions had more to do with resume building and security where I was in my life than taking a risk that would be equally engaging and potentially rewarding. For that’s precisely what my Fortune 500 years provided, the chance to observe and participate in “big business” and hone my knowledge and experience for more “adventurous” and impactful opportunities down the road.
A year ago, I found myself in a much different place in my life. Oh sure, I still had my kids who were (and are) dependent on me for financial stability and lifestyle (and of course, parenting). But no longer were the shackles of dependence from a spouse in place. Now, say what you will about any divorce situation, but it provided a freedom I’d never felt before, and it prompted me to more seriously consider making a BOLD move professionally.
And a BOLD move I finally made, turning my back on the conservative “golden handcuffs” of a full-time, salaried corporate existence. In reality, I walked away with nearly nothing lined up, but one adjunct teaching opportunity that would hardly pay for more than a month’s mortgage payment. BOLD. Putting faith in the network and connections I had made over the past decade, I launched out on my own venture, looking to put together a conglomeration of consulting and teaching gigs, relying on my personal savings and retirement funds to finance my transition.
And it worked. A year later, I’ve got more work than I could have imagined, so much so that I’m routinely turning down additional projects and opportunities, carefully and deliberately choosing those that I accept. I’m teaching full-time graduate students in Organizational Development. And I’m writing extensively (my dissertation, blogs, professional development articles, and (my personal favorite) fiction.
So, what’s the point here? Simply put, there are times and actions we each must face throughout our lives that are either conservative or BOLD. Neither are necessarily poor choices. My military and Fortune 500 years were the result of good, SAFE choices that fit my place in life and the responsibilities I had toward those with whom I was sharing my life. But in the end, it wasn’t until those responsibilities were removed through divorce that I, for the first time, felt “safe” making the BOLD choice. The results have been mindblowing….And for that, as we enter this annual holiday season, I am most grateful!
So, when your life provides you chance, make the most of that opportunity to do something truly BOLD. As a dear friend and colleague once promised me, “When you leap, you soar…..” I haven’t forgotten those words of encouragement and support. She was absolutely right. I’m definitely soaring!