Here is the second story in the series, Real People and Their Stories. I hope Susan’s story offers hope, courage and inspiration to people wanting to find meaning and purpose in their work.
Written by SZRobins
“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Marc Anthony
It’s true; do what you love, and you’ll love what you do – seriously, it’s that simple! It took fifty-five years for me to put all the pieces together, but now I wake up every day with meaning and purpose. The journey wasn’t easy; there were many successes, and just as many hard-to-swallow failures, emotional and physical struggles (anxiety and weight gain), and financial insecurity.
Now, I spend my days doing the things I love most and that come naturally – connecting with people and generating revenue! I’ve never been happier. Here’s my story:
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. During dinner, we’d sit around the table and my Dad (who worked from home as a consultant) would share his clients’ business challenges with the family – asking each of us to weigh in on possible solutions (e.g. how does a corporation train thousands of store employees across a 700+ store chain – efficiently, effectively, and consistently, etc). I loved these brainstorming sessions! It was exciting to help solve complex business challenges that directly resulted in increasing revenues and profits and ultimately, kept people employed. I was hooked.
After graduating from college in 1984, I began working for my Dad in his newest start up business, Comprehension Research, Inc. My job was to identify prospective customers and sell his “Teacher in a Box” self-paced software training courses to Fortune 100 Company CEOs and CFOs. So, for the next four years, I knocked on doors — cold canvassing inside every office building in NYC, CT, and MA, looking for interested customers who needed to learn how to use their new desk top computers.
In 1989, I was ready to spread my wings and apply what I’d learned outside the family business. I was recruited for a sales and marketing position with a privately held software company in the Boston area. My job was to help grow their multi-tiered retail distribution business from ~100 retail store locations, to more than 12,000 stores locations. I was particularly drawn to the manufacturing, operations, marketing and sales aspects of moving high volumes of product through a complex distribution channel and out into the hands of consumers.
Seven years later, the husband of a colleague of mine (someone who knew how much revenue I had generated in my current position), recommended me to the CEO of one of his publicly traded investment software companies in Cambridge, MA. I would be remiss if I don’t give a huge shout out to the values and virtues of maintaining a robust network!!! Years later, I became a managing partner for this company, enjoying a fabulous eight year run. For the second time, I seemed to have found my happy place – building distribution channels from the ground up.
To this point, my career had been quite linear. My job titles and compensation levels increased in parallel with my experience and successes. I thought I had it all. But, in 2001, the world was turned upside down and retail sales were immediately impacted by the Wall Street bubble burst and horrific events of Sep 11th. We had to close down the division that I had built from nothing. I was forced to leave a 20 year career that I adored; it was devastating. The time had come to reinvent myself. I was terrified.
At this time, the healthcare industry was evolving. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for business outsiders, like me (or, so I thought!), to enter this growth industry. Fortunately, my medical network was extensive (I play the cello in a medical orchestra downtown – so, I knew a lot of healthcare leaders). When my music colleagues learned that I was ready for a new challenge, they enthusiastically introduced me to the “C” suite at Partners Healthcare.
Unfortunately, it was not the smooth transition I had hoped for. In fact, it was the beginning of an emotional and financial roller-coaster that plagued me for a good part of the next 12 years.
I had once been at the top of the corporate pyramid (“a revenue generator”), but in healthcare I seemed to be at the bottom of the totem pole. I struggled to find my niche in an industry that had little appreciation for business people with sales savvy.
After several false starts (I won’t drag you into all the ups and downs), I was so frustrated, that I decided I couldn’t wait any longer from someone to “recognize my value”. In a bold, and uncharacteristically, risk-taking move, I decided to invest a portion of my savings into a health care product that I would design, manufacture and bring to market on my own – Muscle Angel Massagers™, a hand-held massage device for people with chronic muscle pain.
It was one of the most exciting and terrifying six-year ventures of my career; I was self-funded and had no other sources of income to help support myself. None-the-less, I was energized and persevered, against all odds.
I received my first patent in 10 months and built a boutique medical reseller and sports retail network in North America and Israel. But, to grow the business exponentially, I was going to need outside capital – something that was well outside my comfort zone. So, while selling down my existing inventory, I decided to ready myself for my next (ad)venture…!
During this time, Margot Rutledge invited me to join her monthly networking group for people in transition (2013). The experience was life changing. There was one member who’s kind and generous heart influenced how I approached this very important transition — especially, now that I was in my early fifties.
We met for coffee one day, and he pulled a book out of his bag and handed it to me (as a gift) – “Stand Out” by Marcus Buckingham. There is a test at the end, and each book is uniquely coded so they can email your personalized results (so don’t buy a used book, or you can’t get your personal characteristics summary).
It turns out that, this book/exam defined me as a “CONNECTOR” and a “PIONEER”. Sounds so obvious, but for whatever reason, this time around, these descriptions resonated differently. I started analyzing all the times in my life when I was genuinely happy, relaxed, fulfilled…when things seemed effortless, etc. In every example I could remember, it was when I was connecting people to one another (personally and professionally), and when I was building something from the ground up (l’ve always been motivated by making order out of chaos and generating revenue).
My new networking friend didn’t stop here. Several weeks later, I was surprised to find a gift leaning against my mailbox – it was something called a “Gratitude Board”. He must have picked up on my mini-state of paralysis from anxiety and depression, because his note explained that I was supposed to write something I was grateful for – every day. In the beginning, this was a difficult task! But, with some practice, I welcomed the positive outlet to share things that were indeed good in my life (and, as it turns out – there were many!). To this day, my “Gratitude Board” adorns my fridge!
During this stressful time (2013), I was trying to distract myself from the financial and emotional pressures of this latest transition. So, when not working or networking, my dog, Shadow and I (we are a certified Pet Therapy Team) started volunteering on Saturday’s with seniors in assisted living facilities. One thing led to another, and soon – Saturday morning volunteering turned into Saturday morning and afternoon, then Saturday turned into Saturday and Sunday, then – my thoughts about the time we were spending with seniors started taking over every waking moment. I noticed that every time I left these visits, I felt energized; my soul was filled with joy. And then it hit me…
THIS IS IT!!! I mean – seriously – “THIS” – REALLY – IS – “IT”! I LOVE OLD PEOPLE!!! I want to work with seniors. Every day. All Day. With my dog!
With my vision clear (this, by the way, is more than half the battle!!!), I started systematically planning how I could leverage my existing volunteer network and meet the right people, get the right experience, and make a full transition into a healthcare field where I felt I could make a significant impact, quickly. So, I set out to create my dream job.
Finally, after nearly 2 years of consulting in the senior care industry, I landed in the right place at the right time, with the right people. It’s not always easy, but I am living my dream and helping seniors and their families, every day.
If you’re in transition, I encourage you to buy the book “Stand Out” by Marcus Buckingham and treat yourself to a self-made “Gratitude Board”! Then, try to identify and articulate what you REALLY enjoy doing, and what you do well (think of things that tend to come effortlessly). Network, network, network — always. And, finally, find an industry that values these skills and you’ll be well on your way to a life of professional (and personal!) happiness!!!
Best wishes in your search!