A call from her husband about a mix up in childcare was the last straw for Linda. Soon, she would leave her corporate job and begin a journey that would culminate in the publication of her new book, Women and Transition.
Tell us a little about your background…
I am a third generation Italian American who has lived in/around Boston for most of my life. In my early twenties I lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil when my then employer, Bank of Boston, sent me there. I’ve traveled extensively for my various jobs but always called Boston home.
My family and I live Northwest of Boston. I have two children, who are eleven and twelve.
I hold a BA in Economics from Simmons College, an all women’s liberal arts college in Boston, MA. I also had the great good fortune to attend the Harvard Business School where I earned an MBA.
My work experience leading up to my next act was largely in the technology arena. My coolest/best role in that arena was when I started and served as CEO of EMaven, Inc., a technology services company. Our customers were companies like Sunoco, GEICO, Merck, and Amgen. We raised $1.5MM in venture capital financing. The company was acquired by Perot Systems, Inc., now Dell Corporation.
After the company’s acquisition, a gentleman who served on EMaven’s Advisory Board recruited me to Iron Mountain where he was CEO. Despite my technology and P&L background, I was asked to run Human Resources and Administration for a company with 21,000 employees in 37 countries. My former colleague recruited me because he wanted a businessperson in the C-suite to partner with him to re-architect the company. I held that position for just under five years.
When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?
I can’t say that my decision was part of a long analysis or big decision process. Instead it struck me that I was done with my prior path thanks to an unexpected event. One day in 2009, when I was 45 and traveling in London for business, my husband called me on my cell phone to let me know that my daughter had inadvertently been left at school on an early release day.
In that instant, as I stood outside a meeting in the middle of London, I said to myself, “That’s it. I’m done.” I wasn’t sure what I was done with. But I crossed an imaginary line at that moment. I remember standing there awash in all sorts of emotions—like exhaustion and worry and guilt—but also thinking that there must be something more for me. At the time I couldn’t name it but it was a powerful enough sentiment to get me to act on it. It would take more than a year before my transition got underway. Even then, I wasn’t aware that I was in transition for quite some time.
The London event started a process that, back then, I couldn’t name. I knew I needed to alter things radically but at the time that looked like a new job or maybe a new line of work. I had no idea about the enormous opportunity that lay ahead for me.
What is your next act?
I am an author, thought leader, and social entrepreneur dedicated to increasing the capacity for transition in women. My first book, Women and Transition: Reinventing Work and Life, introduces women to a new way of thinking about the events that shape their adult lives—like empty nests or career changes or infertility—and offers readers a step-by-step toolkit to help women transition successfully. It was released in November 2015 and is doing great—already in its second printing! That said, I am working diligently to broaden the book’s reach and, more importantly, to gain exposure for the topic of women’s transitions. Since September 2015, I’ve spoken with thousands of women through formal and informal speaking engagements. I’ve also appeared on radio and TV.
My investigation of transitions, an important and enabling force in women’s lives, led me to write my book and to establish a not-for-profit, Women’s Engagement Resources – WER, that focuses on educating women about the transition. The organization is still in its infancy. I envision it as a capacity-building organization that will do two things: to create materials to support women’s transitions; and to collaborate on research to advance our understanding of transition in women’s lives. Materials, like workbooks and audiobooks, will be available for use by women’s not-for-profits to aid their women’s advancement missions.
My next act has allowed me to fuse a lot of different interests—like my life-long passion for women’s issues and my desire to be a visible female leader. The topic captivates me. I believe in its ability to influence women everywhere. While I love this phase, I also acknowledge that it is still ongoing.
Why did you choose this next act?
In hindsight, I chose this next act for a lot of reasons. First, I was tipped off about the topic thanks to finding myself in transition and frustrated by the lack of relevant resources available to me. I outreached to other women to inquire about what to do and found that nearly everywhere I went, women were struggling with the same issues that I was encountering. I saw patterns emerge from my early discussions with women. No one seemed to be paying attention to these patterns. That got me angry – because I saw transition as a broad issue for women. The topic began to captivate my imagination. I was fascinated by it and continue to be. I think raising people’s awareness of transition has the potential to change lives by changing how women view their personal decisions. It is incredibly powerful. I love the work.
As I got closer and closer to transition, I initiated very formal research. Once that started, I began to focus on thought leadership and social change as venues for my next act. It is still evolving and I still love it.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
It was very hard—with tons of difficult days. As I think about how to answer your question I see that there were a series of gates, not one plunge. The first was my London phone call; that gave me a jolt but only started me on a path.
The next few gates were pretty low risk. The first was I started a blog: Novofemina.com, a celebration of women’s transitions. It took up only a few hours a week while I was doing independent consulting. The second, when I started my research, was a slightly higher commitment level. At that time, I wanted to simply understand transition more completely. I didn’t conduct the research in hopes of one day writing a book.
It wasn’t until after I finished the research and realized how much I’d learned about transition that I decided to pursue a book. This was substantially more risk for me. I’d never written a book nor did I know anything about the process. I guess that was a plunge, although the riskiness of the topic itself had been greatly reduced thanks to my earlier two steps. I already believed in the power of transition so it made the plunge easier.
I guess I learned that it is a series of steps not one swing at the bat that brought me to my next act. There wasn’t one big jump, but a series of steps—each of which provided opportunities for learning and experimentation.
How did you go about writing and finding a publisher for your book?
My earlier career stops all made sense once I got hold of this topic. After graduate school, I’d spent a few years in a management consulting firm. That experience schooled me in primary and secondary research. As a result, I conducted the research myself—everything from question design to facilitating focus groups to analyzing data.
I also relied on my experience networking and leveraging other people as I began the process of writing a book. There were several flights of activities. In the first flight, I focused on educating myself about writing books. I dug into topics like publishers and agents and the mechanics of book writing. Ultimately, I learned that I needed a proposal for a non-fiction work. As I developed the proposal, I networked to generate a list of agents and publishers who might help me. It was a huge effort.
Ultimately I connected with an Executive Editor at Palgrave Macmillan who was interested in my project. The entire process—from initiating the research to signing a contract for the book—took 16 months. It then took another nine months to write the book.
I’ve blogged about the mathematics of dreaming: 73 versions of the proposal, 12 agent/editor connections, 3 versions of the manuscript before my editor said, “I finally am hearing your voice”, 1 book.
During this time I had two other part time jobs and my mom become very ill. In fact, I missed a deadline for the book thanks to a trip she made through the ICU at a large Boston teaching hospital. My point is that life doesn’t stop. I was so committed to the topic and its usefulness to women that it kept me going.
How supportive were your family and friends?
At one level, my family and friends were very supportive. But I don’t think that they really understood the enormity of what I was undertaking.
My mother, who is in her 80s, couldn’t understand why I wasn’t working at the breakneck pace that I’d always chosen to work. She didn’t really understand the consulting projects that I was taking on. Also, early on, we didn’t have the vocabulary of transition to help us talk about what was occurring. My mother would say, “I spoke with Mrs. So and So. She can’t believe you are still not working…” This went on for months while she went through her entire address book.
My mother worked when I was a child. Over the years, she has always reminded my sister and me that we have choices. When she was graduating from college, her choices were limited—sadly. I’m not entirely sure why she struggled with my decision. My guess is that it was outside of our social context; I wasn’t working full time but I wasn’t able to say what I was doing. There was no vocabulary.
I honestly don’t think my husband really understood my transition until my book was nearly done. He kept saying to other people that I would “go back” after I finished writing. My next act isn’t about going back. I will only go forward from here. I don’t think he really got it until the book was finished and he saw my commitment to the topic in a broader sense.
My female friends were incredibly supportive and gave me a gift beyond belief. They assumed that whatever I tried I’d be successful with. In all of their actions, they neutralized failure. That was a real gift. The executives with whom I worked—both female and male—were curious but distant. I was a science experiment to them only to be viewed at a distance with safety glasses. They were similar to my mom: The lack of a shared vocabulary really strained those relationships.
My children were in early elementary school as I exited full-time work and embarked on this uncertain course. On a practical level, they loved it because mom was around more. I no longer disappeared to London or elsewhere for a business trip. As my research took shape and I started writing a book, they were incredibly interested in what I was doing. I am thankful that they’ve seen this cycle. I had a question and a dream. They saw me work through it. They saw me try and fail and try again. They were both at my book launch party. My son was 10 and my daughter 12 at the time. I am grateful that they’ve seen this whole cycle. They each played a role. The book’s early success—like my TV appearance—was very visible to them. They are great champions of my work. But I’ve also given voice to a process I hope they embrace in their own lives. What a gift.
What challenges did you encounter?
There were lots of challenges but probably the most substantive were those tied to societal expectations. These are the ones that come out as “I should do….” They influenced my judgment about what was or was not a viable path, particularly early on. These expectations also influence our beliefs about what success is. It was tough wading through all that early on before I had the benefit of understanding transition more completely.
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
Yes, I remember one day when a friend called to let me know that she’d just gotten a new job after being in the job market only a few weeks. The news sent me into a tailspin. It occurred about one year after I left Iron Mountain. I immediately got self-critical and began thinking how much I’d failed. Questions like, “How could I have gotten myself into this predicament?” raced through my mind. At that moment, I really thought the best path would be to stop and just go get a job—any job. But my belief that something more was ahead for me was incredibly strong. It gave me confidence to continue to explore despite the uncertainty.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I learned that in spite of the career accolades that I’d accumulated, I wasn’t tapping into all that I had to give. I was also surprised how good it felt to dignify my voice. The process of bringing up my voice allowed me to tap into incredible energy and grace. It has been enlivening and empowering. I am happy and never feel as if what I do is work. I am thrilled that I landed here and continue to explore what/where it might lead. I also have humility to know that I am still learning and discovering.
I’ve learned an enormous amount about myself and how I want to interact with this world.
Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I wouldn’t invest so much energy in the negative emotions that were present during the early stages of my transition. Now, with my knowledge of transition and its phases, I would recognize that stage and its emotions as only that—emotions. I wouldn’t believe for a minute that they were a proxy for my self-worth. For example, early on I was convinced I had failed as a professional and as a parent. Ironically I also felt guilty for not working the 60+ hours per week that I’d come to know meant “success.” Those emotions took a large toll on me. Now that I understand transition, I would place those emotions within a larger framework of transition. It would help neutralize them and also conserve energy for the later—more exciting—steps.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
I would encourage women to educate themselves on transition as they start out exploring reinvention. A little context can help reframe obstacles and keep us moving. For me it’s been invaluable.
I have two additional buckets of advice. First is to dream. I observed through my research that women are very reluctant to take the time to dream. Many want to “go do.” Take the time to wish or dream or explore the things that hold meaning for you. This part of the exercise is essential.
Second, create mini experiments to help you bring shape to your dreams. Experiments can range in size and commitment level. A Skype call with a new contact can serve as an experiment. A walk with a friend. An internship. A volunteer opportunity. A new job. A new schedule for your home. The one requirement that is non-negotiable is that you need to explicitly state a learning objective for the activity. As you get going, craft bigger and bigger experiments until you are reshaping your dream.
What resources do you recommend?
The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen
Listening Below the Noise: The Transformative Power of Silence by Anne LeClaire
Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson
There are not-for-profits that may be valuable to you. Two examples are The Women’s Exchange or The Transition Network. There are many that serve the needs of women’s development. There are also career and life coaches who can be enormously helpful. I wish there was a fantastic resource that I could reference. Remember my work started when I was frustrated by what was available to me in terms of resources….
What’s next for you?
I am continuing to build out my next act. First and foremost, this includes getting visibility for my book. More than 40 reviewers have take the time to share their opinion on Amazon. I am honored and encourage readers to add their voice to the discussion.
Second, I continue to shape my not-for-profit dedicated to increasing the capacity for transition in women. It is in its formative stages. I hope that it can be a resource to women and women’s organizations as this topic gains awareness. Through it, I also hope to collaborate on additional research so that we can advance society’s understanding of transition and the role is plays in the lives of women.
Contact Linda Rossetti at email@example.com
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