Monday, January 16, 2012

The Courage to Make a Change


During the summer of 1982 I was working as director of federally-funded programs for a local school system. It was my second year on the job, and the difference between Year 1 and Year 2 was like night and day.

I had been hired by someone who recognized my abilities and gave me free reign to make improvements to the programs I was in charge of. My first year was fun and exciting as I worked hard to involve parents and to provide the latest learning strategies to teachers whose positions were funded by federal dollars.

At the end of that first year, we got a new superintendent of schools. As often happens with a new regime, people get shuffled around. My supportive boss got relegated to a lesser position, and I no longer worked for him. Instead, his replacement turned out to be a micro-manager who held agonizingly long meetings and stifled my creativity.

On top of that, the new superintendent decided I should take on an additional program that I had no training or expertise in. It was a directive, and I had no say in the matter. That program was politically-charged, and I often had to deal with pressure from different factions when making decisions.

I worked under these conditions for almost a year, as my typical enthusiasm and commitment to my work waned with each passing day.

The final blow came when the principal in one of the elementary schools moved two strong teachers out of my program and back to the regular classroom. He replaced them with weaker teachers and made these changes without consulting with me first. When I protested to the superintendent, I discovered how little my opinion mattered. Principals had absolute power about placement of teachers and were not expected to collaborate with those of us affected by their decisions.

It turned out that I had the responsibility to get results (improved student performance) without the authority to make that happen.

I felt powerless, frustrated and disillusioned.

I started having knots in my stomach each day and found myself dreading Monday mornings. I hated the lack of control over my situation and the inability to directly influence the results I was expected to achieve.

If I wanted a different outcome, I was going to have to do something different. Drastically different.

I could no longer tolerate seeing my confidence and energy drained because of a work environment that was toxic to my mental and physical health.

With the support of my brand new husband and to the shock of my boss, I turned in my resignation in August, 1982. At the time it was very rare for someone to leave what was considered a prestigious position at the school board office.

Even though I had ZERO experience in the business world, I decided that I would become an entrepreneur...

A wise mentor once told me that we’re only motivated to change when the unknown looks better than the known.

You may be hesitant to make a change in your life because you aren’t sure what the consequences of your decision will be. You could be afraid that you’ll be worse off after the change. So you stay where you are, even though it’s uncomfortable or actually painful.

But if the situation worsens, there may come a time when the price you’re paying is just too high. And when you get to that point, you’ll need to alter what you’re doing. Maybe it will be just a small step each day to move towards a future that seems more desirable. Or you could end up like me, leaping into a whole new adventure without a safety net, trusting that you’ll discover the best course of action as you go.

It takes courage to look a difficult situation in the face and acknowledge its reality. You can’t change the players, and it’s usually a waste of energy to try. But you can change yourself and the way you respond to your circumstances.

Almost 30 years ago, I left the security of a paycheck and ventured into the world of entrepreneurs. That journey has had its own set of perils and challenges, but at least I’ve known that I’m the one responsible for charting my course.

No matter what path you’re on, you have choices and opportunities, even amid your difficulties. Will you have the courage to recognize them and take actions that lead to your happiness and fulfillment?
"It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before...to test your limits...to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin, American author (1903-1977)

4 comments:

Monica Diaz said...

Congrats,Meredith on everything you do and also on sharing this true, heartfelt story. I am sure many can relate to it and will find it...well, encouraging! Working with passion, commitment, creativity and joy is so important!

Jennifer Taylor said...

I love your personal stories too Meredith. Monica is right - many can relate - including me. Thanks for all you do!

Meredith Bell said...

Monica and Jennifer, thank you for your positive feedback. It's very encouraging to ME to know that my own life stories have value to others. It's a key reason I'm now writing a book for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Lots of stories and business lessons will be there!

St├ęphane Menada Balla said...

Thanks a lot Meredith for sharing your inspiring story, and many thanks for all your posts!

Your story has confirmed what Peter Drucker once said about courage & success "Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.". Now, I know the courageous decision behind your success.

Looking forward to reading your mentioned upcoming book!

Best Regards