Turning the page to my next chapter of life (and 5 lessons I learned from my job search)
Closing this chapter of my career
In my October 2021 blog, I wrote about how I was stepping into the great unknown by announcing I was leaving my role as CEO of Water For People. I didn’t have a new job on the horizon, yet I felt it was the right time for a change. Water For People was thriving, strong, and ready for new leadership.
Departing Water For People was a deep experience in vulnerability. I was leaving something I loved without a plan for my next role yet I had a belief that things would be ok. In addition, I was committed to seeing the new CEO selection and transition through smoothly (this would take at least 6 months). Therefore, Water For People would need to start the CEO search process before I could start my own job search. Plus, I wanted to find a new challenge that resonated with my personal purpose and that I could embrace 100%. This could take a while.
Some people called me courageous. Others thought I was crazy. No matter what people said I wasn’t swayed to change course. I was following my heart. Lo and behold — it all worked out and I got a job! I will be the next Lead Executive (new term for CEO) at B Lab. Here is the press release. I will start on June 13th, and I am very excited!!
Selecting new leaders at Water For People
After a global search, Water For People selected two new Co-CEOs. I am thrilled that I can pass the baton to not only one but two amazing leaders that are also Water For People insiders. Their Co-CEO application was a welcome surprise. Mark Duey is a long-time (13 years) Water For People employee and was our COO. Mark hired Samson Bekele to be our Africa Regional Director five years ago. Their skills, expertise, and lived experiences are complementary and synergistic, and they trust each other deeply. Water For People is very fortunate.
It is a great new frontier in Water For People’s history to have our first Co-CEOs and our first African CEO. Giving stronger voice and authority to our leaders around the world, especially from the global south, is aligned with our justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) ambitions and journey that I described in my blog last November. In addition, Water For People is innovating (again) by embracing a new model of global leadership.
As I had envisioned back in October 2021 when I announced my upcoming departure, I have been able to see the CEO transition through to completion. Mark and Samson became Co-CEOs at the end of March. I continued working to support them in the transition throughout April. This allowed for a smooth change in leadership with minimal disruption to Water For People, which is what I had hoped would happen. The last step in the process is that I will join the Water For People board once I am no longer an employee; I am honored to do so. It has been a busy couple of months at Water For People!
Synthesizing what I learned in my job search
Reflecting on what happened in my life during the past six months is interesting. There were times when I had panic attacks feeling like I had given up the golden ticket. What was I thinking? I had a dream job. There were other times when I was sure that I would find a great next opportunity and I had to be patient.
At the start of my search, I updated my resume and put the word out to my personal network that I was looking for a job. I regularly searched Linked In and Indeed for job openings and applied to several openings. I went through many interviews, received some unsolicited job offers, and was rejected from a few opportunities that I pursued. Some jobs I applied to never even acknowledged receipt of my CV and cover letter. (Note to self — a courtesy response is better than nothing. Hearing nothing felt pretty bad.)
I did my best to stay optimistic, calm, humble, and curious. I moved forward with what I could control. As a Plan B, I opened my own consulting firm in case I didn’t find a job that I really wanted by the time we had a new CEO selected at Water For People. I even designed the website, which was fun. It may come in handy someday in the future — who knows.
All throughout my search I felt like I was trying to thread a needle to find the right next job. What was the perfect role for me where I could the skills and expertise that I had gained over all the years of my professional career? My path was nontraditional at this point and a bit eclectic. Where should I go next? I could go back to consulting engineering — but then (perhaps) I wouldn’t really be able to use my experience running a nonprofit. And I loved the global aspect of the work (would I have to leave this behind?). I could lead another nonprofit — but then (perhaps) I wouldn’t be able to use my business expertise. I learned that the more people I talked to in my network, the better I could define what I wanted, and consequently the better chance I had to thread the needle. It was an enjoyable process; my focus became more targeted over time.
My new job — I threaded the needle!
I knew the moment I read the job profile for B Lab Global that a role did exist that seemed to be la combinación perfecta for me — running a nonprofit that works with businesses to help them be more sustainable and uses business as a force for good. Bullseye. This role would allow me to live my core values of creating positive impact for people and the planet, working with integrity towards fulfilling the organization’s mission, and finding synergies through interdependent parts of B Lab globally to accelerate the B Corps movement. Pinch me — I found the perfect job!
My future role
Becoming the Lead Executive of B Lab Global is an honor as I am the first person to lead the organization following two of the three co-founders (Bart Houlihan and Andrew Kossoy) who are the current Co-CEOs (the third co-founder is Jay Coen Gilbert). B Lab’s mission is audacious and intriguing: redefining capitalism to shift the primary focus from shareholder primacy to stakeholder governance thereby leveraging the power of business as a force for good. This is done through the B Corps movement. B Corps are businesses that have been certified by B Lab by demonstrating that they adequately take all stakeholders — employees, environment, community, and business governance — into account in their operations and their performance.
B Lab is the only global standard for ESG (environment/social/governance)-focused businesses of its kind. B Lab created the first B Corp standard 15 years ago and has been improving and refining the standard and verification process ever since. Today there are over 5,000 companies that are certified B Corps across 80 countries. B Corps companies collaborate together and are a passionate, unified group of businesses that are working together to change our global economic model. Stepping back to look at the big picture, there are millions of businesses globally. Making B Corps the best standard for all business around the world is our goal and our opportunity. How we get there is what I will be working on with the B Lab Global team and global partners very soon!
Retrospective: 5 lessons learned in my job search
If you are thinking of what your next job could be and are willing to take on a similar “great exploration” to find your perfect role, then perhaps what I learned can be useful to you. I want to pay forward the knowledge I gained over the past six months if it can help you:
1) Take time to pause and define what you really want in your life (personally and professionally) — ask yourself what you love and what you enjoy; consider what job opportunities exist at this intersection;
2) Use your personal connections for advice, ideas, and networking to define what you want to do (based on #1) vs. spending time on cover letters sent in response to black box job openings;
3) Think about the skills and expertise you have and how you could leverage them in other ways or in other sectors/roles. Ask yourself if the work you are considering is deeply interesting to you (hopefully the answer is yes);
4) Remain curious and follow the breadcrumb trails in your discovery process until they end. You never know where they will lead, and you only need one trail to be THE one for you; and
5) Be vulnerable and honest with yourself. Dig deep and get to know your zone of brilliance. Look for opportunities that will allow you to be in your zone and shine. Take time to disconnect. When your mind is quieter, you can often hear/find the answers you are looking for.
GOOD LUCK in your journey. I hope that you too can follow your dreams and thread the needle of your career. Being unsure and out of your comfort zone during this process is normal and good. It means that you are learning and growing. If I can help you in any way, please let me know.
A book that helped me
One of the silver linings of COVID is that I have been reading books again. From Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks is one book I enjoyed that helped me frame this life/career shift that I am going through right now. It is about how to maximize our second half of life when we have more crystallized intelligence vs. fluid intelligence. I am leaning in and embracing my crystallized intelligence and my third chapter (of four) of my life — my vanaprastha. In this phase of life I may be slower than I used to be, but I am wiser and more equipped to synthesize my expertise and be a teacher. I am refining my life’s goals to take advantage of all I have learned so far so I can leverage my knowledge and skills to help others. I am intentionally working to move from strength to strength in my life journey.
Taking a break to recharge
My husband asked me what I wanted to do in my time off between jobs. One of the things that came to mind was a meditation retreat. I wanted to disconnect and recharge before I start my new role. To that end, I went to Big Sur, California, last weekend to “Reawaken in the Wild” for a few days. The experience brought me joy, awe, and wonder about the beautiful world we live in and our duty to protect and cherish it. It reminded me just how restorative nature is for me and how I have become more of an inside species than I want to be. I am committed to change this and connect with nature more often. The retreat gave me time and space to shift my mind to embrace my next chapter in life. I will be 100% ready to start my new role and support the B Corps movement wholeheartedly in June!