Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Beginning of the Beginning

June to December 2008

Triggering Events
In the Fall of 2006, a definitive agreement was announced between a large ($750 billion in assets) foreign conglomerate and my much smaller ($2.5 billion in assets) regional community bank to merge sometime in 2007. To be acquired really--everyone just says "merge" because it gives the acquirees some sense of control and dignity. And we all know the only control you have in these situations, or in life I suppose, is how dignified your own behavior is...but that story is for someone else's blog!

As is typical in an acquisition, members of the acquired executive team are kept on only as long as they are needed to ensure a smooth transaction. The company, post-merger, clearly doesn't need two presidents or two CFOs or, in my case, two senior vice presidents of marketing and communications. So, after completing the rebranding of the community bank, my position was eliminated in June 2008.

It's important to point out here that even though I worked for the community bank for a wonderful and rewarding 16 years, I really didn't feel a high degree of heartache. These things are just business. They're not personal. They just ARE. Life is not about what happens to you, but how you react to it. There's an old Yiddish saying that pain is inevitable; suffering is a choice. So, I wallowed for about three hours and then began planning my next move. Of course, my abbreviated mourning period was facilitated by the fact that I have been "moving on" my entire life, that I had already been in banking for 25 years, that this was my sixth merger (statistics say the average banker will experience seven mergers in his or her career), that I ended up in a pretty good financial position, and that the first phone call I received after being laid off began with, "Congratulations!"

A Pretty Grand Birthday Gift
I celebrated my 51st birthday three days later, and even then, I knew I had been given a gift. We rarely walk away from the good things in our lives to seek out potentially great things. (If you haven't read Jim Collins's Good to Great, do yourself a favor!) Mine had been a good job--challenging work, a successful company, pleasant people, a lovely place to live--all things worth preserving. But here was an opportunity to figure out whether I wanted something else.

I had been working 60- to 70-hour weeks for the last year and was just plain exhausted. So, the first thing I did was nothing. Many of my colleagues jumped into looking for another job. Maybe they had to. I just know I had the time and means to take a breather, so I did. I watched movies, I read books, I walked, I quit eating vending machine food, I increased my volunteer hours, and I began to explore options. Maybe I would set up my own business or consult. Maybe I would change industries and work for a nonprofit that was doing something positive for the world. Maybe I would do something I hadn't thought of yet. I kept my cup empty and my options open.

The Glimmer of an Idea
In late October, I decided that if I were going to set up my own business or do some consulting, I needed to expand my skills. Although I had been acting as art director for nearly 20 years in designing and producing advertising, collateral materials, and packaging, I hadn't been doing the actual graphic design myself. I would pencil out what I wanted and have my staff designer execute it. (Note: I do not wish to imply that the designs created under my supervision as marketing director were mine alone. The degree of detail in my instructions was inversely dependent upon the talent and skill of the designer; some designs were mine, some were the designer's. More often though, final pieces were the result of good collaboration with the entire marketing team.)

I looked for graphic design classes at the local community college and university. Even though I graduated with an MBA from Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo) and would have felt right at home, the community college seemed to have better offerings. And how can you beat the price? Three credits and four-and-a-half months of skill-building entertainment for $216--that's hardly the cost of a weekly movie and box of Raisinets. I signed up for Adobe InDesign.


  1. Like the thought that you have found your "biological" family...interesting perception.
    Also relate to seeing things "differently" when art "grabs you". At a hymn concert yesterday my focus was the very unusual profile of a woman sitting across the aisle in the church--could NOT stop thinking how interesting it would be to try to sketch her...

  2. When we were kids and had to sit through services, my sister would entertain herself by drawing pictures on the offeratory cards. To avoid the stop-wasting-paper-scowl from our dad, she would put angel wings on everything she drew. Perhaps, if you gave your sketches a heavenly glow, people wouldn't mind if you drew in church!