Are You On The Right Path?
Note from Kevin: This is my first blog post as a new business owner. It's the story of how I got here. It’s written from my Christian perspective. If you’re of a different religious tradition or if you have no religious tradition but you believe that people are put on earth for a purpose, you’ll easily be able to relate to this. Enjoy!
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon
Introduction - Three months ago, I had no clue that I’d be writing this. At that time, I thought I was just going to go through the rest of my professional life “as is”, retire, and call it good enough. Man, was I in for a shock!
On October 31, 2016, I got news that I thought I'd never get. My position as our company's leadership development specialist was being eliminated as of the end of the calendar year, four years before I was going to begin a well-planned early semi-retirement. It was a complete shock to me. I have absolutely no hard feelings toward my former employer. Similar business decisions are made every day in corporate America. I just never thought I’d be impacted by one of them.
After a walk around the building, some time in reflective prayer and an extended session of yelling out loud at God during my 40-minute commute home that day, I decided (with His help) to end the pity party, get off my butt and do something about the situation. It was that day that I decided to start up Organizational Improvement Solutions LLC.
It would be easy for me to just stop here and just tell you how happy I am to be a business owner, but I feel compelled to tell you that I think (no, I know) that I was destined to be one. Here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
June, 2005 – Four of us were sitting in a conference room in my employer’s office building. One of the meeting’s participants was one of the business owners. The remainder of us were teammates on the learning and organizational development team. During the meeting, the owner asked us about two major projects that the company was facing. The first was the implementation of a new Learning Management System (LMS) and the other was to initiate and build a formal leadership development program. My teammate looked at me and said, “Which one do you want? I’m happy working on either one of them.” I’d already lived through two large-scale LMS installations in my career and I had a keen interest in leadership development, so this was a no-brainer for me. “I’ll take leadership development!” was my immediate response. Starting that afternoon, and for the next 11+ years, I was involved in the initiation and building of a highly successful leadership development program that is still growing today.
Looking back, I now know that God gave me a choice of what path to take that afternoon. Those 11+ years have prepared me to do what I’m doing today.
Summer/Fall, 2015 – I had been thinking about the possibility of an early semi-retirement for some time. I thought about it a lot that summer, but I needed to be sure that it was financially feasible for my family first. I wanted to pull the trigger in 5 years. Our financial planner looked at the numbers and said that it was possible. During the meeting, I told him that I was thinking about setting up a small consulting business during my semi-retirement, just to make a little money and to “stay fresh” until I decided to enter permanent retirement. After all, I love what I do, so I might as well make some money doing it (just not full time)! He agreed that it was a good idea. God planted the seed for my business that day!
November, 2015 – In the “busy-ness” of my life, I kind of forgot about that conversation in the financial planner’s office. I was in the middle of a stretch where I was on the road 6 out of 8 weeks for business travel. A retirement that was five years out seemed light years away, and not something I had the time to think about anyway. I was way too busy. However, during that month I received five phone calls and had two people stop by my office with the same request. “That leadership and team development stuff…do you ever do it outside of work? I could use some help.” I answered every one of those requests (as my eyes looked toward heaven) the same way. “No, but I was thinking about doing it when I retire in five years. Thanks for asking.” God was knocking on the door, but I was not ready, willing, or able to answer it. Why should I? I was comfortable in my current situation. I was making a good living. I loved what I was doing. I loved my co-workers. Why would I risk all that to start a business? It was a crazy notion. No way…
January 10, 2016 – We celebrated a great Christmas and the New Year with our family. Then we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany on January 10. This feast celebrates the journey and arrival of the magi (wise men) to visit the newly born Christ. My priest (I’m Catholic) is a gifted preacher. He seems to find a message that touches me every Sunday. He didn’t just touch me this particular Sunday. He whacked me in the side of the head! During his homily (sermon), he talked about the wise men and how much of a risk it must have been to jump on their camels and cross the desert in search of this baby that everyone was talking about. They had everything they would have wanted in life. They had wealth, positions of authority and were well respected in their community, but they decided to leave it all behind to go on this journey. I imagine that their friends and neighbors thought they were nuts! It’s at this part of his homily that my priest looks me directly in the eye and says, “What’s that risk that you should be taking right now but you’re not? If you have a seed that’s planted in your head, you didn’t put it there. God did, and you should be taking care of that seed as it germinates and grows. It’s what you’re supposed to be doing.” I sat there stunned and inspired at the same time.
January 11-14, 2016 – I had another business trip that week. That Monday, I was on a plane to Houston. I was conducting three days of training with our company’s division there. Still thinking about the previous day’s homily, I spent the next three nights holed up in my hotel room with room service and my laptop. I banged out the entire business plan for Organizational Improvement Solutions LLC and hit the save key just before midnight on that third night. I was ready for retirement in 4.5 years.
October 31, 2016 – I already wrote about this day in the introduction, so I won’t bore you with the details again. I will tell you that I went through a large range of emotions (mostly negative) that day. I thought I was in full control of what was going on in my life. I was on cruise control, then this happened! During my 40-minute rant at God on my drive home, I asked all kinds of questions. “Why now? Heck, why ever?” “Why do you think I deserved this?” “How am I going to tell my wife?” “Who made this decision and why did they make it?” “Where am I going to find a great job like this at my age?”…on and on. As I pulled into my driveway that afternoon, and as my ranting began to simmer down, I heard a voice in my head say “OK, are you done now?” I said, “Yeah, I’m done.” The voice then said “Well, let’s get to work then.” Not “YOU” get to work, “LET’S” get to work. It was at that moment that I discovered that I’d actually been walking alongside the path I was supposed to be walking down for a long time! It was always there, I just never saw it. Well, maybe I saw it but elected not to walk on it. It was time to open the laptop, open the business plan that I had written nine months prior, and get to work.
November 1-3, 2016 – My boss was very gracious and allowed me to work from home for the next three days. When I wasn’t in a training room, the things I did on my job allowed me to work from anywhere that I had a computer and an internet connection. Frankly, I welcomed these three days away from the office. I had 60 days before my employment was terminated, so I had to work hard at preparing things so the remaining team could carry on in my absence. On top of that, I just wanted to be alone.
Each of those three work days started at 5 AM. All three of those mornings, I took my “lunch break” at 9 AM and attended daily Mass. I was seeking answers. I knew that I wanted (needed?) to start this business, but I’d never done anything like it. I was lost. I prayed for guidance and it came! All three days upon returning to my pew after Holy Communion (big deal for us Catholics), the names of people immediately entered my head! These were people that I could call with questions about starting a business, as well as potential clients. I’ve had very constructive conversations with every one of these people.
November, 2016 – Today – For the last 90 days, I’ve been working to get the business off the ground and it’s off to a great start! This would have never happened had I continued to ignore the path that was laid out for me.
Conclusion/Challenge – If you’ve been to any of my training sessions or if I’ve ever done any personal coaching for you, you know that I always conclude with a call to action or a challenge of some sort. Here’s my challenge to you, based on this (probably too long) blog post: Are you on the path you’re really supposed to be on? If so, GREAT! Keep running strong. If not, what’s stopping you from stepping onto the path you’re supposed to be on? If you’re not sure, listen for that voice in your head. You’ll get some great answers. Feel free to share this story with others that may be "looking for the right path" too.