A New Beginning

“Now What?!”

I never saw it coming.

I was riding high, traveling the world leading seminars for senior executives and managers at Fortune 500 companies like Intel, Alcatel-Lucent, Citrix, Gartman, Chevron Canada Resources, Siam motors in Thailand, Nokia in Japan, as well as Los Alamos National Laboratories and Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute School of Management — over the years I’d conducted programs at over 50 big companies and lots of smaller ones on 5 continents. I’d taught them how to do cross-cultural team building, win-win-negotiation and empowering leadership, and how to manage interpersonal relationships effectively. Respected by my peers, in demand as a “Master Trainer” helping others develop their skills — I had reached the role I planned to work in for the rest of my life.

Then came 9/11, and all of a sudden companies weren’t flying people in for training any more. Just like that, my entire profession, the work I had developed and championed for more than 20 years was no longer in demand.

It was a big surprise and disappointment, but the economy was growing, my wife Kari and I were happy for the opportunity to spend more time together, and we quickly pivoted to start a real estate business. Over the next six years, we bought, rehabbed and sold over 40 houses in midcoast Maine.

We had just settled into a comfortable rhythm when the real estate crash hit, and a precipitous loss on several houses wiped out our capital, so that we could no longer afford to invest.

The training business was still iffy, and after sleeping in my own bed for several years I didn’t relish the idea of getting back on the road anyhow. I began a lengthy training process to lead Dale Carnegie courses locally — by now we were living in Florida — but it soon became clear that they would never have enough work to support us.

That’s when Kari and I looked at each other and asked, “Now what?!”

“A ROAD NOT TAKEN”

We agreed that we needed a complete reset — a whole new way of approaching the next chapter of our lives. Kari pursued certification to be a health coach, and I took a job as a front-line canvasser at Greenpeace to keep money coming in while I regrouped.

I had heard the statistics: in a world changing more and more rapidly, most of us can look forward to as many as five careers. OK, I had explored a couple; where would I look to find the next one? I knew I wanted a field with enough depth to capture my imagination, make good use of my talents and the skills I already had, and challenge me to grow in new directions. And practical constraints meant that I needed a relatively quick on-ramp — I couldn’t afford to stop working to pursue a several year degree.

Often, I read, when people reach a crossroads like this they discover that one of the options is to walk down a road not taken earlier in life. Talking with my daughter Shira about her satisfying career as a computer programmer, I remembered how in grad school, kind of on a lark, I had programmed the data analysis for my doctoral dissertation. I’d really enjoyed it!

Well, what about a career in technology? In some ways it was actually a natural. I’d always particularly enjoyed the “human engineering” side of helping people improve their relationships and work more effectively together. In my work at Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, etc., I’d felt special kinship with the engineers I was training. They thought about things in the same, systematic way that I did. And they seemed to especially appreciate the added perspective I brought to them on how to resolve interpersonal conflicts and meet tight deadlines and actually enjoy getting things done with other human beings — creatures they often found frustratingly much harder to understand than their computers.

Moreover, I’d always felt that what I was helping them accomplish was some of the most worthwhile, exciting work on the planet. From putting a man on the moon and taking the next steps to explore Mars and beyond, to fostering new kinds of connection around the globe through cell phones and online meetings, they were transforming our whole civilization in mind-blowing ways. Maybe it was time to join them.

I’d heard that there were bootcamps beginning to train people for software engineering jobs outside of the traditional engineering degree system, getting students productive on the job in record time. I began feeling a new energy building in me. Could this be the answer I was looking for, the path to my new career?

More to come… Click here!