Now that I’m 65, I look back on my long career. Not that it’s done yet, but I’m lucky enough to be able to work how and when I want to. That means running my own business coaching practice, working with amazing leaders in our community.
My first formal job was working for the computer center in a bank. At the time, I knew I wanted to go into programming, so this was an ideal fit and helped me get experience in the field. Few high school kids are able to have anything on their resume which applies to their future career.
Lesson 1: Get experience in your field however you can, even volunteering. That has much more weight than school grades.
I was fortunate to graduate from college when my degree in hardware/software engineering was in high demand. So I actually had multiple job offers straight out of school. I chose Hewlett Packard, partly so I wouldn’t have to leave Colorado, but also because they had an amazing reputation for the way they supported employees. I had worked a number of summer jobs during college where … I wasn’t respected so much.
Lesson 2: The people you work with are usually much more important than the actual work you do. If you dislike your boss and co-workers, you’re going to be miserable no matter HOW much you love the work itself.
Ultimately I stayed with HP for 31 years, because it was such a great culture and they kept giving me interesting new work. I didn’t advance up the management ranks as quickly as some might have expected – in fact, I turned down several opportunities for promotion because management work just didn’t seem to be all that fun. I liked being close to where the “real work” was.
But I had the opportunity to start up a new business for HP in Australia, using some investment money by HP and the Aussie telecom company Telstra. After a deep and careful decision, my family and I moved there for 2½ years. It was the fastest growth period of my entire career because I had massive responsibilities and was learning every day.
Lesson 3: Sometimes you just have to (gulp!) jump on the opportunity. You’ll probably never know if it was the “right” decision. Instead, you take the big leap and do the best you can.
Ultimately we ended up returning to Colorado because of our attachments to family and social circles. I was sad to find out that the organization I’d started was shut down six months later because it was never able to become profitable. In retrospect, we never had the kind of solid business plan which could have succeeded inside a large company like HP. Yes, we chewed through $4 million pretty quickly, but we did some interesting and productive work.
Lesson 4: You always have regrets anytime you take a risk. But that doesn’t mean you should stop taking risks. It’s about learning and growth.
That was the point at which I decided that I no longer wanted to advance up the management ranks. I looked at the org chart one day, and EVERY boss above me – including the CEO – was divorced. I wasn’t willing to pay that price. And those didn’t look like fun jobs anyway.
Lesson 5: Work and Life aren’t separate things. And since you only have one life, sometimes you have to give that priority overwork. Otherwise, your employer may continue to take all the time and energy you have.
That’s when I worked with a career counselor, and ultimately began my journey toward professional coaching. I got some amazing support from one particular manager, and in fact, ended up working for her three times over the next 10 years in different organizations. (Fun footnote: I had hired her into HP!) She gave me support to incorporate coaching into various jobs, to go to seven successive international coaching conferences, and to get formal training.
Lesson 6: When you find a boss who treats you right, they’re absolute gold. Do everything you can to maintain that relationship, because you’ll be much happier in the end.
I ended up doing a widely diverse set of jobs after that, even a couple that I had defined and created myself. (Yes, that’s possible even in a large corporation!) My mind started shifting towards the possibility that I might have a career after HP, so I worked on what it would take to run my own coaching business. The company offered me their Early Retirement package a couple of times. I turned those down primarily for job security reasons, but it was getting to the point where I was going to take it the next time it was offered.
Then my job was eliminated in 2009. I tried finding another job in HP for a few weeks, but that was a fruitless exercise. So I was out there looking for a job at the beginning of the Great Recession. I connected with other job-seekers in the area but ultimately decided to formally launch my business.
Lesson 7: Sometimes a “kick in the butt” is the best thing to happen for you. Not fun, perhaps, but it can get you moving.
Well, that business went nowhere. I could blame it on the recession, but the fact is that I wasn’t out there doing an effective job of marketing. I also discovered that selling my services to large companies was incredibly frustrating. Why would some big company want to take a chance on a single guy who just started up in Colorado?
That’s why I started looking at different business models in 2010. Coaching is a pretty vibrant industry, with a lot of creativity. I ended up looking at coaching franchises, and created my own process for deciding who the “good guys” and “bad guys” were. That led me to join up with Small Fish Business Coaching, an Australian company. They were looking to expand their presence into the US, and they had the kind of culture I could really love. So I again took the leap (gulp!) and signed on with them.
Lesson 8: Do your research, but in the end you’re still going to have to make a decision and take a risk. You can’t research forever.
Small Fish has changed over the years, and is no longer a franchise. It turns out that international franchises are very complex and expensive because of the different government entities you have to deal with. So Small Fish remains as a loose collaborative, not a legal structure. The name continues to serve me because I’ve spent a decade now developing a strong reputation in Colorado. Many people think I’m the whole company, but I’m not.
Lesson 9: Reputation is everything. It takes constant attention and can impact everything you do. But if people don’t trust you, you’re irrelevant.
After going through treatments for Prostate Cancer last year, and going on Medicare this year, I’ve wondered whether I’m moving into the “postscript” portion of my career. But the pandemic has offered some interesting opportunities – I’m now doing some production work for conferences and training classes which are being held on Zoom. Clients are valuing that I’m professional, reliable, and unruffled. Because that’s who I strive to be.
Lesson 10: At the end of the day, all you can affect is your own attitude and approach. So just decide who you want to be, then be that.
What’s the next chapter? It’s hard to tell. But I’m really loving where this career has brought me.
Carl Dierschow is a small business coach homed in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. He specializes in leaders and owners who strive to better society and the planet through thoughtful business practices. He is currently available for free coaching sessions for those whose organizations are struggling with the impact of the pandemic. Feel free to connect with him here on the Foundation platform!
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