Regaining my Footing

We take a lot of things for granted in this life … like walking.

Last winter I had some pretty extensive foot surgery. Sure, I expected some recovery time, but it was longer and involved more rehabilitation than I had counted on – I essentially needed to learn to walk again after being in a cast, and then a boot for three months.

Although this isn’t the heroic story of someone who learns to walk again after losing a limb or being in a severe accident, it certainly was humbling for me. This setback made me reflect on how, in life, sometimes you need to stop, assess, and start again from the beginning. When you can’t walk, it is certainly a wake-up call – and you put yourself in the hands of experts.

 At some point in our lives, we all need to reach out for help and lean on other people (sometimes literally!). Taking those “baby steps” again as I re-learned the basics of balance, stability, and moving my body in the correct way made me think of the parallels to coaching. The physical shifts and the mental shifts involved mirror each other.

In my energy coaching practice, I am the one telling others to start at the beginning, work from the ground up, and lean on me for support. Just like my physical therapists, I am trying to help people get from one place to another. It’s not always easy, and often, it takes a lot of hard work over a period of time to get there.

I am now through the worst of it and walking several miles each day. I’ve realized the surgery and all the physical therapy were worth the end result. Here are the lessons I’ll try to hold on to and embed in my coaching practice:

  • Don’t take things for granted. Easy to say … hard to do. Be grateful for what you have and try not to be resentful when you no longer have those things.
  • It’s OK to start all over again. We are all starting from different places, and sometimes you need to regroup and go back to square one.
  • You will get discouraged. And angry. And furious. It’s natural to get discouraged but remember you are learning and perfecting the process.
  • Reach out for help. What resources do you have? Although it might not be in your nature, take stock of the people or organizations that are there to help and lean on them. When you lose hope, those folks can help lift you to the next milestone.
  • Take baby steps. It’s natural to want to hurry up and do all the things necessary to get better. But sometimes slow is good. If you can trust your guide (therapist/coach/mentor), learning each new step can end in a better result.
  • Be realistic. Be realistic with yourself that change is going to take time. Also be realistic about the milestones that will get you there.
  • Gain new perspectives. Sitting on the sidelines gives you a new appreciation, and also time to look at things with fresh eyes.  Shifting your perspective may help you understand situations better
  • Be aware of your blind spots. Sometimes you don’t see the bumps in the road that may trip you up. When reassessing your goals, try to be consciously aware of your blind spots. Believe me, I have a new appreciation of physical accessibility issues, something that I had not considered much in the past.
  • Keep your skills current. This is always a good practice, but my forced slow-down gave me a chance to do some research and work on some new skills as I was recuperating.
  • Just keep swimming. As Dory tells Nemo, in Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming” or walking! Try to make forward progress each day. . Keep moving and you will regain strength, whether it is physical or mental.

Life may throw us curveballs, but we need to gain wisdom and knowledge from those experiences in order to forge ahead.

Taking a Well-Deserved Break … and What I’ve Learned

Recently, I left my job at MIT, and I don’t have another job. As the Executive Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, my days (and many nights) were filled with activity – working with students, teaching, and shaping entrepreneurship education programs. All that has stopped, and I’ve taken time to be still, breathe, take stock, and think.

This time of reflection is providing me a much clearer view of what is possible—and realizing the big picture is even bigger than I thought. Quitting your job is not for everyone (and I am very fortunate that I’m in a position where I could do that), however, taking time to make room for other activities is something I highly recommend to everyone. Creating space to see that there are other opportunities, different ways to work, new skills to learn, and passions to embrace is enlightening. (My new passion is tennis! Who knew?)

I have had three acts thus far in my career. I held roles from engineer to executive in tech companies. Then, as an entrepreneur, I navigated two startups through to IPOs, and my third act was a career in academia teaching entrepreneurship in the classroom and through hands-on programs. Each transition had its moments where I said, “What did I get myself into?!” Yet, digging in and being open to learning proved to be rewarding in every case. I’ve had great rides with successful companies, enjoyed relationships with diverse and interesting colleagues, and embarked on learning experiences I could never have imagined. I have traveled the world, thrived in new environments, and have seen colleagues soar and cheered on their success. I’ve learned so much about people and how they think, work, celebrate, and come back from setbacks. It makes you realize that the people you work with truly can make or break any job experience.

As someone with many, varied job experiences, I’ve realized that experience is double-edged sword. On the one hand, you know how to do things, and perhaps you have even forgotten what others have not yet learned. However, experience also can leave you in a lane you know too well and prevent you from taking the risk of trying—and potentially failing—at new skills. When you are starting fresh, you know there will be new risks, new failures, and new experiences.

I am extremely fortunate to have enjoyed every job I’ve had, but I do realize my enjoyment of work is dependent on my own attitude and approach. Approaching each new role as a learning experience helps you get over the hurdles and enjoy the successes. I’ve worked with folks who had deep expertise but lacked some of the skills I have, and we ended up being a terrific team. I am fortunate to have friends from my very first job and from my most recent job, and I make a concerted effort to keep in touch with these people. My network—and talent tree—is something that was built organically with people I enjoy, and it makes a career so rewarding.

In my research findings for my doctorate, it wasn’t a real surprise that matching new graduates with seasoned employees in data analytics roles was a recipe for success. The veterans could contextualize situations for the students based on experience, and the recent graduates would apply that context to achieve a much more robust analysis. Later, my work at MIT included building mentorship programs and creating networking relationships between students, alumni, and startup founders. When I was no longer running these programs, I realized I needed to apply my networking and mentorship skills to myself as well.

Although I am a certified professional coach, it’s true that even coaches need a coach. If you want to do something different and are unsure about how to get there, working with a coach is a perfect way to figure out these decisions. I needed a coach to look at why I was working so hard; although I enjoyed the work and the people, it didn’t feel like it was enough for me at the time. My coach helped me realign my values and aspirations—something that had not been done for quite some time.

I have always been curious, optimistic, and a contributor, but I needed more balance, less commuting (yes, I still commuted through most of the pandemic!), and a good challenge to be passionate about. The first two were difficult to manage in my last job, but there was no lack of challenge, in fact, there were actually too many challenges! I spread myself so thin because I wanted to do everything and for everyone—and this led to an erosion in my passion for my job.

So, as I take time to reflect, I’m betting on myself and focusing on balance. Just creating the space to reflect has let me think about of all sorts of exciting things I can do next, both professionally and personally. I am enthusiastic about the future and approaching new challenges with the renewed energy that taking a break has given me. I hope my story inspires you to give yourself some space to think, reflect and renew!