This I Believe

Giyen - Seattle, Washington
Entered on November 11, 2007

Some people believe that diversifying your financial portfolio is a way to mitigate future losses. I believe that by applying this same philosophy to own your life, you can mitigate your personal losses.

Most recently, I have been reminded of this notion when after six years of working under the same leadership, the nonprofit organization that I worked for went through a change in Executive Director. The previous E.D. had been in his role for 19 dedicated years. He had amassed a management team who reflected his own commitment and values. The new person that was hired to replace him was an implant from another city and had different ideas about how the organization should be run. The change of cultural dynamic was so great that after eight short weeks, most of the long tenured senior management staff was contemplating leaving the organization. The work environment had become so stressful and our relationships with this new person so strained that the situation seemed irreparable.

Facing these challenges, I took it upon myself to be especially vocal about my concerns. I rallied my colleagues. I challenged the new leadership both publicly and privately. I engaged the Board of Directors. I believed that the strong working relationships between the Board and staff would be enough to turn the tides. How could they not hear our concerns?

We tried to stage a coup. But it didn’t work. My colleagues and I received a letter from the Board stating that though they highly valued us they were unwilling to meddle in staff issues. They felt the issues were beyond their purview and responsibility as Board. Hearing those words was like a slap in the face. Not normally being a person who shows emotion, I immediately left work to go home and cry. I was devastated with the rejection.

After a couple of days of feeling grim, I felt that there was still something I could do to resolve the situation. I emailed a friend of mine, who is an expert in organizational design and behavioral sciences to assess the situation. Over a 2-hour lunch I explained the whole ordeal from the beginning. After listening intently to my impassioned account, my friend said, ‘Let’s get down to the real issue here.’ I sat at the edge of my seat, feeling as though I was on the verge of being validated. What I got surprised me.

My friend stated, with hesitation and earnestness, “Giyen, for the past six years, our conversations have been dominated by the topic of your work. I believe that the reason you are so devastated about this situation is because work is such a huge part of your life. This needs to stop.”

At that moment I realized that I was not following my own philosophy about diversifying my “life portfolio”. Work and parenting had become such a huge percentage of how I defined myself that it was no wonder that when one of those things wasn’t going very well, a huge portion of my life was not going well.

I know that if I wanted to weather life’s changes with grace, I need to diversify my life. My daughter will grow up and be off to college in a few years and I will probably change jobs too. The market changes and life changes. I know that if I do not expand the things that define me, I am going to set myself up for even greater losses in the future. I believe that the more things that define me and the more diversified my interests are, the less of an impact it is when things change or take a downturn.