You Can Change the World (Despite a Pandemic)

As an educator of college business students and a consultant on strategic planning, I’m often asked for career advice — now more than ever. My bottom-line response: Regardless of how bleak the circumstances, don’t just sit there! Moving forward, despite difficult experiences in my life, has made me stronger than any professional credentials ever could. Two such experiences changed my life forever: the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2008 financial collapse.

Early in 2001, I was promoted to a senior executive post in a prestigious Manhattan ad agency, and I was all “Devil Wears Prada” about it. At 10:28 on 9/11, I witnessed the collapse of the first World Trade Center tower from a window in my office at the Chrysler Building. At that moment, my profound insignificance mortified me, to think that I had spent most of my working life promoting large corporations that shill soap, soup and cereal. Within half an hour, there was a credible bomb threat to all of New York City’s landmark skyscrapers. The terror of racing down dozens of the Chrysler’s rickety steel steps, shaking in high-heeled shoes, and being evacuated with thousands in front of and behind me, is something I will never forget. (The Chrysler is 77 stories. My office was on the 16th floor. I still have those shoes.)

The following January, I landed my first nonprofit fundraising job, faster than I could convince myself that my marketing skills could serve a more noble purpose. In 2009, I earned an MBA in Finance and Leadership at New York University, at the height of the financial crisis. A 57-year-old new MBA, competing for a fulfilling leadership post in Manhattan among young philanthropists, was not the reinvention story I had envisioned.

The NYU dean and several professors recommended I consider teaching, and I went on to teach business for nearly 10 years — at NYU, then at two New Jersey colleges, and from 2014-16, at Rutland’s College of St. Joseph, where I served as VP for strategic initiatives. During those 10 years, I published research and led workshops on strategic planning and organizational development, as well as how to thrive through mid-career boredom, economic downturns, mergers that marginalize talented people, blatant ageism and, sadly, the demise of a beloved local college.

If we are fortunate and focused, we somehow become resilient, and we manage to move forward. Because persevere we must. Following are suggestions I hope can help others persevere.

1. Write a plan for the next 60-90 days and prioritize what you need for your physical, emotional and financial health. Read: Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction, by Laura Berman Fortgang, and, Write It Down, Make It Happen, by Henriette Anne Klauser.

2. Focus on using your strengths. Strengths are skills you’re good at, that you also enjoy using. Read: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, and StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath. Both have scads of exercises to pump up your positivity.

3. Choose an issue you’re passionate about and do something! Show up, start a blog, launch a website, or just post on LinkedIn and Twitter. Vermont has lots of worthy causes; in Rutland, Project VISION, Mentor Connector and other youth groups need you. Clayton M. Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life will inspire you.

4. If you’re job hunting, accept that it’s a full-time heavy lift. Your social media profile should reflect your strengths and enhance your hunt. Hang out where employees of organizations you want to work for hang out, online too. Get involved with trade associations, Meetups and alumni chapters. Know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor: Mentors listen, advise and comfort. Sponsors expect excellence and can introduce you to hiring managers. Read: “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi.

5. Adjusting your targets for a job, company, industry or location, will help you diversify your skills and gain exposure to more hiring managers. During my 40-year career, I have worked in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington and Rutland. See “Linchpin” by Seth Godin, for witty and encouraging advice.

6. Update your communications, tech and social media skills. Regard every business encounter as a job interview, even online. Classes in public speaking, improv and creative writing, can enhance your ability to answer tough questions, remember key points and strengthen selling skills. Vermont colleges, Media Bistro, Gotham Writers’ Workshop, General Assembly, Udemy, Southern New Hampshire University and LinkedIn are all excellent sources of practical instruction.

7. Demonstrate why your specific knowledge, skills and aptitudes are right for the job. Research your interviewer(s). Rehearse messages re your perspectives on the organization; your relevant experience and expertise and why you’re excited. Email thanks within 24 hours, emphasizing points your interviewer(s) will appreciate. More tips: “How to Become A Rainmaker” by Jeffrey J. Fox.

8. Set aside time for relaxation, exercise, healthful meals and pursuing entertaining ways to deal with challenges. “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel H. Pink, can help you explore the nine types of intelligence, and expand your usual approach to learning. Love science? Pursue an arts project. Zumba every day? Read poetry. Walking is extremely therapeutic, as are meditation and journaling. Terrific apps to try: InsightTimer, Headspace and Calm.

My 9/11 epiphany — that I should have a nobler purpose than defending disinfectants or peddling puffed rice — was spot on. I have helped raise millions for worthy nonprofits. I have taught hundreds of students – ages 18 to 50 – how to navigate the business world. These experiences have enriched my life in ways I could not have imagined back when I was holding court in my cushy corner office.

Yes, it’s difficult to stay motivated in a crisis, to learn new things, meet new people and engage in our communities. But it’s the least we can do to honor the dedicated health care personnel, cleaning crews, waste management workers, mail — and package-delivery employees and, of course, food delivery teams. For those individuals, just sitting there is not an option.

Liz DiMarco Weinmann lives in Rutland.

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Liz DiMarco Weinmann

Founder | Creator | Owner: B.E.A.M.-Impact Generator©