One day as I was killing time shopping for cards at a Hallmark store, I found a card with a bonus – a magnet reading “Detours still get you there.” I’m the queen of detours. I bought three of the cards.
That magnet and the Beatles song The Long and Winding Road have become the emblem of my personal journey. Here’s the story of my long and winding road with plenty of detours – the Readers Digest condensed book version.
Detour: a deviation from a direct course or the usual procedure – Merriam-Webster online
When I graduated from college with a degree in history, a couple of years’ experience working in an office in the Ag School at UGA (receiving deliveries of semen for the bull breeding program, among other things), and a determination to never darken the doors of academia again, I didn’t know what a career coach was. Since I’m a major football fan, I knew what a sports coach does, but who’d heard of a career coach in the 80’s? So, I graduated with no job, slim prospects, but amazing typing and organizational skills. Oh, and let’s not forget that bull semen didn’t faze me.
The two major career choices for most women graduating from college in the early 80’s were teaching or secretarial careers. Since I had no desire to be a teacher (famous last words), I continued my secretarial career.
My first job out of college was in a scrap yard 10 short blocks from downtown Atlanta. Yep. It was exactly what it sounds like. We bought and sold scrap metal. For decades I held onto my heavy duty, metallic blue magnet with the “Commercial Metals” logo on it. It was a great conversation starter.
From there I moved to the Georgia Safety Council, where I learned how to package UPS shipments, handle ditsy marketing people, and deal with sexual harassment (I quit). We were the purveyors of the “Bee a Buckler” and “Stop at Railroad Crossings” bumper stickers. I also experienced for the first time how a team pulls together to deliver results on a shoestring budget.
I go to the cows
Then came one of my favorite jobs. I worked for Georgia Milk Producers, a lobbying group for the dairy industry, with offices at the capital. This was back in the days when you could drive from Roswell to the capital in Atlanta during rush hour in 45 minutes. Those commutes (which felt long at the time) taught me to take off my watch as soon as I got in the car, and not get it out again til I got home. I still use an updated version of this technique any time I head into town – now it involves podcasts and playlists.
I got to edit and publish a magazine (even chose pictures for the cover). Plus I got to drive down to Macon and learn how to lay out the magazine manually – this was before PC’s – and the delicate art of balance ads with editorial content. I also ran our annual convention for all the dairy farmers in the state.
In our office, across the street from the Georgia Department of Agriculture, we entertained visitors from all over the world. I still remember the nice couple from England who came into our office one day. The wife exclaimed over the variety of veggies in our tossed salads. Who knew that a salad in England consisted of a couple of lettuce leaves and maybe a slice of tomato (toe-mah-toe) –nothing like our mixing bowl masquerading as a salad bowl offerings.
But my favorite thing (other than access to wheels of amazing, super sharp cheddar cheese straight from Wisconsin) was the new IBM Selectric typewriter we acquired while I worked there. When I first started working at Milk Producers, we had an older Selectric that would store one line of text at a time. Since I’d never worked on a typewriter with any memory before, it was life changing.
When we replaced the old Selectric, we purchased a machine that stored a paragraph at a time – heaven!! No more ugly white-out streaked sheets of paper – I could catch typos before they ever made it to the paper. That typewriter was the gateway drug into my technology addiction.
Who knew where that addiction/love would take me? I sure didn’t! Instead, I felt like I was drifting around. I’d get bored at a job, quit, then I’d get another one.
Where I meet my husband
And then I met my husband, Bo, who had been selling software since the 60’s. He figured out that I needed a different kind of job – something with more variety, so he introduced me to the world of executive office administration where I got to work for multiple companies, including a software company and a chemical company.
While there, I learned how to bill my hours like an attorney, how to file paperwork with the USDA for pesticides, discovered the rules for shipping pesticides outlawed in the US to other countries, and was introduced to the world of software sales. I still had no idea where this job or the experience I acquired there would take me.
Well, it took me straight into the world of startups because not long after we married, Bo joined forces with a startup out of Boston. I remember flying up to Boston then hopping the plane from Boston to Cape Cod. It was freezing and snowing – which never happens in winter in the Cape. During the flight, I held Bo’s hand so tightly that he had bruises on his hands for a week after that flight! It was the perfect introduction to a career in startups that has had as many ups and downs and moments of terror as that flashback-inducing flight.
Startups – my other addiction
We ended up moving to the Cape for several months. We lived in a tiny (14 rooms) motel next to a cranberry bog. It was after tourist season, so it was very quiet. While we were there, I learned how to use a word processor and a personal computer. And, we were off in the startup races. At that first startup, I was introduced to the mainstays of any true tech venture: a crazy founder, dedicated tech geeks, leading edge technology, and amazing coaching.
Because there was this young guy, Billy – now that I think about it, he was probably my age. Poor guy was tasked with teaching me how to use a computer and Wordstar, the premier word processor at the time (still the 80’s), so I could write documentation for a product I didn’t understand or know how to use.
Little did I know that Billy was teaching me how to teach tech. I would ask him the same question 67 times and he never once snapped at me. He’d just explain it again, in his awesome Boston accent, until I finally got it. Every time I work with someone who’s nervous about learning new technology, I channel Billy and instantly become a kinder, gentler, more patient coach.
We worked at a couple of more software startups, and ended up starting our own software company. Oh, and all of this time Bo and I were working together, usually out of an office in our bedroom. Our desks were a couple of tables set up so we could work back to back. To this day, I have 4 telephone jacks in my bedroom.
From tech to toddlers
While running our startup I learned how to manage project team on both sides of the country – both west and east coasts – using a dial up modem and a telephone – never at the same time. You remember dial ups, the ones that buzzed when you connected, that tied up your phone line and you only had the one phone? There was no internet, no cloud, no laptops, no mobile phones. Our first “portable” computer weighed 20 pounds and looked like my Brother sewing machine.
But I learned how to write a strategic plan, manage people with far more experience than me, debug software, demo software, and every single other thing about building and running a company except for sales (Bo wrote the book on sales).
We ended up selling our company to another software company. Then, after working for that company for a couple of years, we finally (10 years into our marriage) started our family. I can still remember the day I went into my boss’s office, with Ken in my arms, and gave my notice. And I stayed home for 12 years.
Ha!! Anyone (male or female) who has every stayed at home will tell you that, after the first couple of years, you’re never at home. You’re at school, PTA, gymnastics, band, Scouts – anywhere but at home. Heck, I volunteered at school so much that they made me an “honorary teacher.” Which will sound even funnier later in this story.
I officially become an entrepreneur
During those years of raising our son, running the household, caring for my elderly grandmother and mother-in-law (they were the same age), and volunteering, I refined my core coaching skills – patience, team building, organization, juggling, and positive behavior management. Skills that I use every day in my coaching practice. They took me to my next career, social entrepreneurship – although that wasn’t a term back in the day.
While volunteering at Ken’s school, I worked on the school newsletter. At the time, we published it in one language – English. However, we had a parent community that spoke a variety of languages. I couldn’t picture how those parents could exercise full agency in their children’s education if we didn’t communicate parent information to them in their native languages.
Luckily, I found parents who could translate the newsletter into Portuguese and Spanish. But we still needed the newsletter translated into Vietnamese and Chinese. So, I took advantage of our partnership with GE and they emailed (we’re up to 2001 now) the newsletter to Vietnam and China to be translated. Vietnam and China. I was corresponding with people in Shanghai and Hanoi via email and it was free! It was mind bending.
My volunteer work with these parents and students and their teachers gave me a firsthand look at the problems non-English speaking children experienced in school. The problems weren’t insurmountable in elementary school, but when newly arrived, non-English speaking students entered middle school, the language problems were magnified. And, I decided to create a program to help those students succeed. It’s still running, 14 years later.
Oh, and I called the teachers who worked in the program coaches. It’s a long and winding road and detours do get you there.
The Teaching Detour
Then, as a teenager, Ken had cancer, twice. We needed to have rock solid medical benefits – which weren’t a feature of startups at the time. So I returned to the school where I’d spent so much time volunteering and got a job as a special education assistant. Which led to my masters degree, which led to my 4 year teaching career.
Where I learned even more about what makes people’s brains different, how to motivate people, and how to coach them up. The highlight of my career occurred when my principal noted one day that “Mrs. Berry’s students are not afraid to take risks,” I was ecstatic. Those 5th grade boys – reading at a second grade level – entered 6th grade understanding that they could learn best by making mistakes. Coaching.
Then Bo died and I quit teaching without a plan for my next job. Which is my m.o., right? I had no idea that there was a career where I could deploy my rich and varied (aka crazy) experiences, my skills, and my personality to serve people.
I had never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but I was. So, when my friend Christina said I should be a career coach, I believed her. And, in true Becky fashion, I executed a perfect “ready, fire, aim” move and started coaching within 30 days of leaving teaching.
I’d been doing it all along
In that moment, Christina opened the door for me to own what I’d been doing all along – entrepreneurial work. I took risks; I failed; I got up again; I failed again. Now we call it a growth mindset. While I was going through it, it was called “what is Becky doing now?” But I got here. All those winding roads and detours brought me right to this place – on my bed, typing (!) on this laptop, offering you my best work.
What about you? Has your path from college to current career been a straight line? Or, has it been varied, like mine? Or, did you detour into that job you “should” take after college, and never left it?
I know I’m not the only one who’s been on a journey like this. Frequently, we don’t realize we’ve been on a detour until, all of a sudden, we discover ourselves at a destination we couldn’t have anticipated. Sometimes we even find our way back to where we started a long time ago.
The detours we encounter along our journeys offer us unexpected opportunities to succeed, to fail, and to learn. We arrive at our destination with experiences, skills, and stories we would never have planned.
We may be exhausted; we may not realize how far we’ve come; we may not even realize we ended up where we wanted to be originally, but we arrive as different people, better and stronger for those detours. I know I am.
It can be a long and winding road to our next destination, and the detours will still get us there, if we let them.