Are you a wayfinder?
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill
As a result of that encounter, I spent a few weeks weighing the options of the current landscape at the North Carolina Virtual Public School and how my effectiveness as the leader would always be tied to the department of education and the political interests of the Superintendents. I had wanted to operate the program as a spin-off for the past few years, but that intention had also been met with resistance. And I was weighing the options around a possible jump to a new opportunity. I had never been to the private sector before, having spent the first eighteen years of my career in public school systems as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, a district Chief Quality Officer, and as the Chief Executive Officer of the North Carolina Virtual Public School.
After chatting with my family, I informed my team, the Governor, the State Board Chair, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction of my decision to resign. An emergency meeting was called of the State Board, and everyone seemed to react as if it was a surprise - even though the relationships in the state board office, the superintendent’s office, and with the Governor’s office had been strained for the past few months because of the funding formula.
I did not see it as a surprise because I had shared - repeatedly over the last few months - alternative models we could consider, data and financial implications, and how we might proceed further on a compromise agenda for the various constituencies. Not one leader involved in the discussions wanted the role of taking a position on what was to become of the program’s next phases.
The truth was the writing had been on the wall for the past year, and the road ahead was going to be fraught with the inertia of government traction (or lack thereof), and an innovation agenda was not looking promising.
After my resignation, I spent the next month trying to figure out a transition to my new role as a Chief Innovation Office of an education consulting company. We held a planning retreat and worked together in a hybrid fashion in North Carolina, Seattle, and New York City. We were defining a budget and a rollout plan and getting to know each other as a team on weekly calls.
Then a phone call came from the CEO.
Apparently, an article was about to come out in the New York Times about the work we were doing in New York City, and - based on some previous work before my arrival - the article was going to be damning. Not only did it have the potential to threaten the new organization, it would also have a significant impact on funding and what we had just spent a month trying to design and scale. To be clear, the article was unfair and unfounded, but the damage was done.
I was at an inflection point after the article came out. The CEO asked me to consider a new role that was different than the one I was hired for, and I immediately found myself in a crisis. I needed a weekend to think.
Because I didn’t “know what I needed to know” and be able to do in terms of next steps, I called a mentor and asked him what he would do if he were me. He told me to negotiate a runway with my current employer.
My mentor wanted me to see if I could gain about 30-60 days of current project work to start a transition. During that window, he promised to help me with a few introductions, and he did. He also encouraged me to think critically about answering the following questions I shared with him from another mentor and to chart the insights and themes. Who was that mentor? JB Buxton, the current President of Durham Technical Community College in North Carolina.
Bonus: Want to learn more about JB Buxton and how we think about the future together to this very day.
Watch Here >> Barriers for Breakfast: Community Colleges as Catalysts for Closing the Opportunity Gap
What do people need to know and be able to do in a career crisis moment?
Potential job loss or the anxiety of leaving something you know can cause all types of responses. Feelings of inadequacy, worry, nervousness - even feeling enveloped by a sense of fear - are all normal. "And" you cannot be paralyzed by any of those emotions. Talk with friends, exercise, pray, or do what I did when I experienced it - have a lazy weekend in the pool sipping sangrias. I laughed, spent time with my wife and friends, and took the recovery time needed to ready for how I would find my way on a new adventure.
Finding a new opportunity was to become my full-time work in addition to winding down the last 60 days. I had two jobs and very little time to consider doubts or what-ifs. Oh, and my weekend in the pool was with my new wife, who was already expecting our first child, Ben, and had the backdrop process of building a new house.
As Lou Holtz once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. That is when we find the strength of our character." So, here I was, going through three to four of the most challenging changes in someone’s life, and I might be out of work in 60 days.
Wait, stop! Don't do that! Stop! Yes, don't do that. Stop! Yeah, but don't do that!
I had to answer the questions around what type of sweet spot I wanted in my own personal Ikigai graphic and notes.
Should I start my own work? Look for an organization to join? Consider my old role and relationships? I was obsessed with working the problem to find my purpose with the best fit and team I could find.
Bonus: A game plan for any career crisis moment.