A new year for many means new starts, course corrections, resolutions and perhaps even a career pivot. Late last year I shared the story of Camille Blakely’s career pivot, which is defined as the act of finding a different career, a new trajectory, using current skills. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans today average about 4½ years in a job. For younger generations, job duration is a mere 2½ years. I suspect that behind these statistics are many career pivots.
This year I reconnected with someone I first met years ago. Donna Carlson made a major career pivot in 2017 when she went from a 9-to-5 job to starting her own business as a life strategy coach. Leaving a paying job to become an entrepreneur is not for the risk-averse! Donna’s story is full of ups and downs, achievements and disappointments — a tapestry of experiences that has led her to today.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Donna was the youngest of four sisters in a family where both her parents struggled with addictions. She came home one day to find her mother gone.
“I was actually relieved,” she said.
Numerous moves as her father searched for a job landed Donna in Austin, Texas, for the start of high school, her sixth school in three years.
During this time, Donna met a new friend who took her to a Bible study. There she found Jesus and her life’s path changed. This was especially timely as her father developed early-onset Alzheimer’s and eventually died from emphysema.
“Unexpected changes forced me to pour myself into something positive and kept me from being sucked into a vortex of negative thought cycles,” she said.
Donna was a straight-A student, and her high school counselor helped her get enough scholarships to cover tuition, room and board at the University of Texas at Austin where she got a journalism degree. She had aspirations to be a writer for The New Yorker or Smithsonian magazine but ultimately chose a public relations career track.
Fast forward several years — Donna continued to work with PR firms, met her future husband, Jeff, had three daughters, moved several more times, nursed an ill daughter and took care of Jeff through a stroke. By 2009 they had moved to Colorado Springs, where they collided with the Great Recession and lost their house.
Leaving PR, Donna worked for two large local nonprofits while pursuing a master’s degree. Turning 50 was an important milestone that stimulated her pivot — she decided to launch her business, 360 Life Strategies. Her goal is to help people find strategies to live their whole life — on purpose.
Donna is now a friend and I admire her ability to be self-aware, look at her life’s experiences and build on them with a delightful sense of humor and optimism. A good example is a story she told me about managing a team for the first time in a global PR firm.
Donna said, “The only leadership experience I had at this point was running women’s Bible studies and I almost opened my first meeting with a prayer!”
Many such experiences prepared Donna to navigate the risks associated with an entrepreneurial career pivot.
An article by Jayson DeMer on entrepreneur.com highlights the risks entrepreneurs must be willing to take. Among them are: abandoning the steady paycheck, sacrificing personal capital, relying on cash flow and donating personal time (and health).
DeMer, founder and CEO of Audience-Bloom, writes, “Entrepreneurship takes a toll on the average person. You’ll spend countless hours doing work to make your company successful, and your remaining hours worrying about what you have or have not done thus far.”
Donna agreed and shared some of her life lessons to date: Don’t disqualify yourself for roles because of insecurities; a job separation can be best for both parties; pursue what is best — don’t accept jobs based on perceived prestige, because your ego may take you off track.
After one year, she acknowledges she may have gotten too much advice that created confusion and took her further from brand alignment. Today she says, “There is freedom in having a strategy and a purpose.”
It’s not just in business that Donna is a risk-taker. Simultaneously with her career pivot, she founded the Colorado Springs chapter of 4word, a global community of women in the workplace that connect, lead and support each other to achieve their God-given potential with confidence. Donna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BJ Scott, an advocate for age-friendly workplaces, is the former CEO of Peak Vista Community Health Centers and its foundation. She can be reached at email@example.com.