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Career Path? Life Path?

We often gain insight from questions we are asked. Particularly when the questions are on topics we were not thinking about at the time. Recently, I have been asked twice to describe my career path to groups of young leaders.

Ostensibly, the young leaders were interested in how one gets to the position of CEO. What path do you take? This is not something I was thinking about and it led to these observations.

Twentysomething – Career & Love Combined

Upon reflection, I chose to name the first ten years of my career What’s Love Got To Do With It? – a song made popular by singer Tina Turner in 1984. My first job was an instrumental choice in my career, but frankly a lot of the subsequent decisions of this first decade were about sorting out love and life. My career in brand management began at the esteemed Procter & Gamble Company in Cincinnati. It was a fabulous place to start. And I believe the foundations I received there influenced my career for years to come.

But this was also the decade that I figured out how to pursue career and love together. First, I learned how to support myself and buy a home. Then I decided to get married and that led to two-career couple decisions. These were not storybook years; there were stressful decisions. In the end, these years were about establishing foundations for both my career and my life.

Thirtysomething – Confident Progress

The next stage of life is best characterized by the song I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly. For me, this decade was marked by big promotions in my field and big commitments in my life. I became a Vice-President of Marketing at 32 and General Manager of a division of Nabisco at 35. My husband and I welcomed our two children to life. We built our first house. This was a confident, good stage of life. Career was good – life was good. It was a very busy time. We were making progress, so to speak.

Fortysomething – Expect Trials

Unexpectedly, the forties were full of change and challenges for us. The song I Will Survive sung by Gloria Gaynor captures the theme. Perhaps because the thirties were so good, the forties caught us by surprise. Both of us made big changes in our jobs, relocating first to Michigan, then to Kentucky, then back to Michigan. My husband lost his parents. I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. And we adopted a pre-teen child from an orphanage in Russia.

I enjoyed two terrific career steps in the restaurant industry at Domino’s and Yum Brands. This decade provided the key work experiences I would need to be a CEO. It was a time of very important career preparation. But to be honest, the life family issues we faced are what I remember most. While this time was full of difficulties, I’m grateful for this phase. When you experience trials, you grow. One of my friends says it this way: “I never learned much from the good times.”

Fiftysomething – Blessings Abound

– Martina McBride’s hit song I Have Been Blessed is the theme song of the current decade. In 2007, I landed the pinnacle job of my career as CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. All of the experiences of my career suddenly proved ideal for the business situation Popeyes was facing. The Board of Directors of Popeyes knew me well and had confidence in my capability. It was the best matched opportunity of my career thus far. And, in retrospect, all my other career experiences were the ideal preparation for this opportunity. It was meant to be.

On the family front, our three daughters are doing well, living and working in three different cities. My Mom has moved in with us, after my Dad passed away. We enjoy our home, church and community.Life is good.

I was told by a wise elder that your fifties are the best time of your life. Not because things are perfect, but because you appreciate the good more and you have learned to navigate the difficult. The striving of your twenties and thirties is behind you. You are stronger for the trials you have experienced. And you are calmer about the ups and downs of life. If you choose to see your life through the lens of gratefulness, this is a very good time of life. You want it to last forever.

What Comes Next?

The next stage? I’ll have to write about that 10-years from now. But watching the lives of others, I can see a glimpse of what comes next. Careers typically continue through this decade. There are more blessings like grandchildren and special events with family and friends. There are more trials, often around health. There is the reality setting in that life doesn’t last forever.

All of which leads me back to the topic of this blog, purpose. While I may not have given you a road map to becoming a CEO, what I learned on my way to this position is that for both your career path, and your life path, you will be more at peace if you figure out why you are doing what you are doing. Some figure it out in their twenties. Some figure it out in their sixties. Some never figure it out at all.

Be one of the people that consciously chooses the purpose of your work and life, as soon as possible. Purpose will make your career and life decisions work best together.

0 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing your observations and experience from each decade. I currently reside in the twenty-something field and I cannot agree more with you that this decade is replete with stressful decisions. Many people focus on finishing well, which I wholeheartedly agree. But, to finish well, I believe it’s important to start well. As you mentioned, your experience at P&G perhaps catapulted you into a favorable position for future career choices and experiences. It’s great to hear this perspective from you who has lived the path of a CEO. Thanks for sharing Cheryl.

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