As I approach my 50th birthday, I’ve been doing quite a bit of self-reflection. In my personal life, I couldn’t be more satisfied: my husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in October; both my 16 year old son and 11 year old daughter are thriving academically, athletically, and creatively; my 88 and 93 year old parents are still part of my life, and I am finding time to do the things I love: write, bike, ski, play fetch with my dog, travel, and go to concerts. When it comes to my professional life, I feel more conflicted. While I love what I do now, I wish it hadn’t taken me so damn long to get here! I mean, I’ve been out there working for 25 years, and only 7 of them have been in the “green” world. Oh, those seven years have been chock full of action: I’ve ranted extensively about personal responsibility and the need to change our consumer habits, I’ve praised those companies and individuals who are making significant contributions towards sustainability, and I’ve introduced tools and products that make our lives safer and healthier. Surely, I’ve made some kind of an impact, no?
Well, don’t call me Shirley! I’ve got a lot more work to do. For one, I’d like to inspire today’s youth to build their careers around sustainability and social responsibility. If only I had started earlier in my life, oh the things I could have accomplished. I suppose it’s easy for me to say now with 20/20 hindsight, but I had so much ambition, energy and entrepreneurial zeal that could have been channeled early on to do more good. Last week, I was invited to speak at a career transitions presentation on behalf of GreenHomeNYC and I retold my story of ups and downs and drama and disappointment that has been my career:
I started on the right track to “doing good”- as I took a job in healthcare consulting out of graduate school – I mean the next best thing to being a doctor had to be working in healthcare, right? Well unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the equation as I ended up helping insurance companies become more profitable by making sure they got paid every last bit possible from the federal Medicare system. I continued on in that field and built a thriving software company with 30 employees and millions in revenues. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of fun, but not the most fulfilling in terms of contribution to society. Every day I helped more insurance executives line their pockets with more profit. But I was employing people and keeping the economy going so it wasn’t all bad. But while I was working for radical transparency with clients and employees, my partner was fighting for radical privacy (or whatever the opposite of transparency is). That led to partner differences which led to me leaving the company. Two years later my partner sold the company for $35 million. I saw none of that. Ouch.
After picking myself up off the floor and spending some time getting really involved in my kids’ schools and other non-profits, I finally found my true calling in sustainability when I started EcoPlum. Better late than never, I suppose. But my advice to those attending the presentation last week as well as to those reading this now is to try and find meaning and purpose early on in your career. I look up to people like Adam Werbach, Gary Hirshberg, Annie Lenoard, Bill McKibben, and others who started making an impact and spreading the word about sustainability early on in their lives and careers. I am inspired by the young(er) social entrepreneurs like Sara Ross, co-founder and CEO of Sungage Financial, and the other co-speakers at this event. When I turn 50 on Monday, I can only hope that I am not only doing what I can to make difference in the world, but inspiring others do so as well.
A few years ago, I was asked to contribute a quote for the 2010 Woman’s Advantage Calendar. Here is my quote, and I still believe this today: