Friday, July 11, 2008

Running on instinct

I’m one of those people who rise to a crisis. In the normal course of life, I am analytical to a fare-the-well, weighing costs and benefits, expected value and range of possible outcomes. But in a crisis, I act quickly and decisively. I slice through waves of emotion, mine and other people’s, and I do what needs to be done. Then I fall apart later.

It seems like a good system to me. But mental health professionals characterize this behavior as dissociation, which at the extreme results in multiple personalities or other maladaptive mechanisms. I accept that this shadow is out there, but these days, I am grateful to feel I have a channel to that inner instinct that guides my daily decisions.

The current crisis is not even mine, at least not mostly. My boss—let’s call him Jay—and my old dog were both diagnosed with cancer. At first, I joked with my boss that he had the same symptoms as Toby, but that ceased to be funny. Toby is no longer with us, and my boss is facing a grueling course of chemotherapy.

Jay has non-Hodgkins lymphoma, mantle cell type. As he says, it’s a “nasty little bugger.” He learns more about his prognosis one day next week, but he and his family and his colleagues have come to accept that the treatment is going to be a big challenge, even as we firmly believe that this big, strong, dynamic 55-year-old man will come through and regain his health. We can’t imagine any other outcome.

On the practical level, my world has changed. Outwardly, I will be doing many of the same day to day actions that I did when I was marketing Jay’s services. With him out of pocket for at least six months, we figure, it makes sense for me to change focus. I will continue networking my little heart out, but on my own behalf rather than Jay’s. I will talk to people about retirement plans, investment strategies, long term care and disability insurance. Until I can gather up some new clients, I will have an income gap to bridge—thank goodness, I am one of those conservative people who actually has several months expenses in the bank.

When Jay is healthy again, we can work out how we can work together in the future. When I joined Jay’s wealth management firm a year and a half ago, I was adamant that I wanted a role where I did not have to be involved in sales. Didn’t like selling, couldn’t do it. My outlook has changed. It turns out that the heart of wealth management for small business, individuals and families is talking to human beings about what they want to do with their lives and how their money enters into those decisions. And I do want to be on the front line of those conversations. Even if I have to recognize that I am in a sales role.

I am certainly qualified. I have over twenty years experience in financial services, and I have resources to fill in any gaps. Also, it has turned out that I am an effective and enthusiastic networker. I enjoy hearing about people’s hopes and dreams and helping figure out ways to achieve them. And I have a long list of contacts that I think I can convince to let me practice my value proposition. I had been thinking for some months about hanging out a shingle, which would allow me to work closer to home at least a couple of days a week.

But I wouldn’t have had it happen this way for anything in the world. Here’s a comfort for me: Jay sees it as a major positive that I am taking on this new role. He retains some continuity in the office, and he also genuinely believes that I will be wildly successful. How nice is that to hear?

Am I terrified? You betcha. I’m an introvert, for heaven’s sake! And I’m going into sales? Correction. I have been in a sales and marketing role for the last five years, one with Jay and four in economic development. Calling on businesses, listening to people, trying to find solutions. Still, it is different to have my income depend on whether I can find the people who need solutions and find solutions that they will embrace.

How can I go forward? I am running on instinct. I feel in my bones that this is the right road to follow as opposed to, say, going after another corporate job. There is little analysis behind this decision, beyond a quick check of my bank balance, and for me to proceed without analysis is rare. It is mysterious, even a little creepy, how strongly I feel this is the right path.

This spooky certainty has overcome my native conservative cast before. Many of my big life decisions have been made this way, and I have emerged with relatively few regrets. What would life be if we couldn’t remake ourselves from time to time?

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