What Did I Do? IV: A Final Critique and Grade

Heads up:  this is arguably a blog only a mother could love.  It’s l-o-n-g; it’s a “blogella.” If seeing how one person looks critically back upon his career might interest you, or likewise where knowing more about what the hell I’ve been doing with my time over the years is concerned, read on.  Or, consider jumping to the end, the final grade section, and see if what you read there makes the rest of it worth it.


Having written in previous blogs about my interest in the exercise of critiquing my career (What Did I Do Part I), what my career path looked like (Part II), and why I chose to pursue psychology in the first place (III), I think I’ve set the stage to now offer the critique itself. Since I’ve never really heard anyone critique his career quite like I’m interested in doing, or read any such treatment, I’ve had to first think about what’s a sensible approach. Seems to me what a critique might best focus on would be the major decisions I made along the way, how I did at each step, and a summary sort of evaluation of the entire shooting match altogether. I’ll address the decisions and my performance together, then end with a final grade (spoiler alert: B+).

Here’s how I see the major decisions in my career (and when they occurred):

  1. To pursue psychology in the first place (1987)
  2. To pivot from clinical to organizational and join a consulting firm (1994)
  3. To transfer offices (2000)
  4. To go internal to Genentech (2003)
  5. To leave Genentech and drift a while (2006)
  6. To redirect from organizational to school and join Woodside Priory (2008)

Pursuing psychology

I’ve explained my decision making process here already. Bottom line: I had a real interest in psychology, but in a particular aspect of it—positive development, let’s call it (versus rehabilitative psychology). Since there weren’t any programs out there that focused on this, I had to go with what was available, a degree in clinical.

Was this a good call on my part, to “go with what was available”? In light of having no other specific career inspiration at the time, I’ll say yes. Anything else would have been an even bigger crapshoot, that’s for sure. What’s regrettable, though, is that this choice meant making a big investment in time and education that would prove to compel the rest of my career, whether I loved my experiences or not. Yes, I have heard of people who once they finished their law degree, say, decided to not do law. I wasn’t that put off by working in the field once I was positioned to do so (mercifully for me the field just then WAS that put off by hiring anyone, during its managed care induced ice age). But feeling like I had to do psychology at that point and going forward does seem to have been my fate.

Another point bears mentioning as well. A degree in clinical was also not a bad call had I directed my energies, once done with my degree, in pursuit of professional activities that actually pertained to positive development. So why didn’t I? Well, none ever really presented themselves to me. I didn’t see such opportunities out there and didn’t myself have any vision for what I could have done in this direction. About the only bona fide action in this space was sports psychology, which I’d not been exposed to during my education, and frankly wasn’t of any real interest to me anyway.

So that’s the main reason I fell short of pursuing that which initially excited me about psychology: I lacked a vision for what I could do (and earn the kind of money that paid the rent and began to chip away at my small mountain of student loan debt).

Pivoting to organizational psychology and joining a consulting firm

This was a great decision on my part (with huge thanks to my former classmates Lynn and Sally, whose thoughts and encouragements on the matter were why it happened at all).

To appreciate how comprehensive a game changer this was, you have to grok the space I was in the spring of 1994. I’m in Baltimore, I’m wrapping up a “post-doc” in behavioral medicine at Johns Hopkins, I’m dirt poor with my student loan debts coming due, and I’m searching altogether in vain for a job. This has me paying calls on completely depressing institutions (where my emphasis would mostly be on assessment, which I could do but didn’t really like doing), or pitching to private clinical practices (that would basically offer me an office, which I would rent from them, as well as pay my share for administrative support, and not even get any guaranteed referrals from them), or just striking out on my own altogether—essentially hang a shingle somewhere and walk the street outside with my sandwich board. All of this in pursuit of a job and work that I was fully capable of doing but not at all really psyched to do. In a word, it sucked.

I’m five minutes away from saying t’hell with it—bag this pursuit altogether and call my buddies to beg them for an idea for what I could do in business that might suit me. I happen to speak with my former classmate Lynn and share my frustration. She says, “Why don’t you look into the space where business and psychology interface? Sally is working in that area and loves it.” I call Sally, she tells me the space is great, and booming, then says these magic words: “Matt, of all my former classmates, I can’t think of anyone who could do this work—except you.” She gives me some names of firms in the organizational psychology space, I make calls to them, and pretty much overnight I’m being flown around the country to meet and interview with various interests. I went from “Fuck off” or “We can offer you this piddly shit” to “PLEASE come work here! We NEED you!” It was night and day, and profoundly encouraging for it.

I ended up joining Personnel Decisions Institute (God, that name!) for a handful of good reasons. First, they had a deep track record of hiring people like me—those with a clinical background looking to cross over to working in organizations—and successfully retrofitting their skills to work in this space. Second, they had offices around the country, and were growing internationally, and used their network of talent to deliver on large projects everywhere, thus offering the prospect of “seeing the world” a bit via my job (so long, lonely dimly lit room!). Finally, they had an office right up the road, in Washington, D.C., and that office was hiring. It all fell into place; I said yes.

PDI was a great start for me in this space. It just so happened that, right as I joined, the firm growing like it was just then, they held a three week orientation and training event at their headquarters in Minneapolis. So basically the first thing I did with the firm was to go to Minneapolis, along with about 25 other young, new consultants to the firm, where we were exposed to and trained in all aspects of their business, and of course networked like hell with each other. That was an awesome time, and those relationships were HUGE to my fate and experiences going forward and throughout my eventual 9 year tenure there (the first six taking place in our DC office, the last three in San Francisco).

So, how did I do there?

There are three things a consultant was responsible for in my job: doing billable work, managing client relationships, and business development (ie, selling more work to clients). I proved very capable at doing the actual work, and was okay at managing clients and developing business.

My smarts, my confidence, and my articulate nature all played very favorably where doing the work was concerned. I was heavily involved in a number of our services and developed a strong reputation internally across the firm for being able to show up and deliver. This was of huge benefit to me, since this meant other offices regularly requested I come and do a project in their city, that kind of travel fast becoming one of the more treasured aspects of the work I was doing.

The best of this came when the GM of our San Francisco office called one day and said, “Matt, wondering if you’d be interested in doing a project for us. It’s a two part project, covering two weeks of work. The first week takes place in Sydney, Australia, and then a few weeks after that, the second week takes place here in San Francisco. What do you think?” My answer was roughly, “Well, I think I just shit my pants in excitement over what you just said.” And, where this overall client engagement was concerned, this was just the start of things. I’d eventually go to Tokyo twice, and London once, doing this gig, each event having that week in San Francisco attached. Died…and gone…to heaven!

I experienced a few failures as well during those first six years in DC that are worth noting since they pretty much revealed an important truth I discovered about myself, which ultimately led me to leave the field altogether in 2006.

The first instance happened when three of us, including our firm’s head of our North American offices, my office’s GM and I went to Wilmington, Delaware to make a pitch for some high level work to the executive team of a regional bank there. I’d never worked with Dale, the muckety, and, given his role, and his coming to town to do this meeting, this meant that this was a pretty big deal for me to have a role in. We had a presentation prepared, each of us having a role in it. When we arrived and were brought into the boardroom, the atmosphere was hardly welcoming. The executives sat there stone faced around the table, the nonverbals all radiating a spirit of, “why the hell should we hire you guys?” I was first to present. And when I got up there…I froze. I froze! My mind literally went blank. For a small eternity, I groped blindly for something to say, eventually turning to my slide for an answer. I began to recite what was there on the slide, a truly pathetic, beginner’s technique, as if I was presenting to illiterates. It was flat, I was the opposite of convincing. You could feel the consensus in the room, both among the executives and even my own colleagues, that I was bombing. In no time, the prospect was dead, no matter how effective Dale and Mark subsequently were. The Q&A after our preso was perfunctory. The drive back to DC was a long one. It was an awful experience.

The second instance occurred some time later. AOL was in its booming dotcom heyday (“You’ve got mail!”) and was located just outside of DC. They were looking to bring on board what amounted to a resident executive coach, someone who would operate within their organization and coach various executives as needed. A phone call was arranged to position me as that prospective executive coach. On the call was some HR muckety muck for AOL, the head of my firm’s executive coaching practice, my GM, and me.

The AOL executive explained the opportunity then asked what questions I had about it.  So I asked a few questions.  Then a few more.  Then even more questions, after which I think I finally said something like, “That sounds like an exciting opportunity.”  Which of course was NOT an exciting response on my part.  The moment called for a summary of what I’d heard and my offering a shrewd depiction of how I would position myself and operate in light of AOL’s business dynamics just then, how I would add value.  The executive was underwhelmed.  The opportunity went nowhere.  The head of my firm’s executive coaching function (who saw a lot of potential in this opportunity, including it being a door opener for all manner of other business opportunities) was clearly put off by my effort.  The feedback I got was not unkindly delivered though it still hit me in a place that worried me.  More on this later.

To transfer offices (2000)

This was a decision driven not by professional interest alone, but significant personal reasons as well.  Professionally, my work on that international project out of our San Francisco office allowed me to develop a good relationship with Brian, the SF office manager.  Around this time Brian was looking to move out of his GM position and had floated the balloon my way of me transferring to the SF office and assuming that role.  So not only would this move be a step up career wise for me, but I’d also be working in San Francisco, which just then was the epicenter of the business world given the dotcom boom (as contrasted with DC, where there was some business in our region, but it was of course dominated by absolutely ghastly federal organizations).

Personally, my wife at the time, Mary Beth, and I were running into some serious marital discord.  This move represented an opportunity for us to hit the reset button out west.  I had a bunch of my closest college friends living in the bay area with their wives so we’d have a sense of community waiting for us.

All lights seemed green, so we decided to do it.

Then a light turned red (just bypassing yellow), and this decision became complicated as hell.  Shame on me, but in all of my discussions with Brian in SF about the move and my promotion, I’d never spoken to the head of our north American offices to confirm he was in support of this arrangement.  This may seem a gross oversight on my part (since the decision would be his, not Brian’s), but I think I may have assumed he was in support in what I was hearing from Brian.  In any case, literally a week or two before our move, Dale, the executive who would make the call on the SF GM position, calls me and says he wants me to not transfer to San Francisco but stay in DC and take the GM position there.  I mean, the bloody boxes are packed at this point!  And, of course, this move isn’t just about my job, but the fate of my marriage, something I couldn’t really disclose to Dale (or didn’t want to—Dale was a bit of a snake, so you walked and talked carefully around him, not wanting to hand him anything that could be used as a bullet against you down the road).

I pushed back, Dale dug in, even going so far as to say he was already thinking about promoting another consultant out in San Francisco into the role (but not saying he was for sure going to do so).  I had a world of additional experience in the firm than that consultant, but more importantly had too much else on the line for this move.  I said sorry, Dale, I’m going.  You can guess who eventually got the GM job in San Fran.

I was put off by this outcome and immediately began searching for another job (truth be told I was also feeling a tad done with the consulting thing, and was interested in “going internal,” taking a job doing my kind of work but within a company).  In this search process, I was one day from getting an offer from Levi Strauss when their business performance hit a wall and a hiring freeze was put in place (I’m serious: I went for my final, just-to-confirm-things meeting on a Thursday, and Friday the freeze hit).  In general, the job market had tightened considerably in the bay area around this time given the bursting of the dotcom bubble which happened beginning in 2000.  While I wasn’t happy about it, I resigned myself at that point to sticking things out with PDI.  This wasn’t the worst state of affairs.  I actually very much liked Chris, the guy who got the GM position and who handled my situation with sensitivity and respect, and liked my office team a lot too.  And my clients were a dream list for the bay area:  Peoplesoft, Kendall Jackson, Williams-Sonoma, and Genentech, to name a few.

So in critiquing this decision, I’d say it was a net positive one, though it hardly played out the way I’d expected.  I worked with great people, had great clients, did some good work, and experienced the incalculable benefits of living now in the bay area.

As for the other agenda in this move, on the homefront?  Yeah, that didn’t work out so well.  In 2003, I ended both my career with PDI and my marriage.

To go internal to Genentech (2003)

I made the switch from PDI to Genentech, heading up their new executive development function, in August of 2013. God only knows what my headspace was at that moment, though it couldn’t possibly have been good. In June my marriage had blown apart, unexpectedly in how it happened (though not that it happened, really), and in July Mary Beth had moved with the kids back to Iowa. It would be years before I processed all of that; point being, I couldn’t have had my wits altogether about me when I made this career decision, nor in how I proceeded in my new role and company.

That being said, this was still a very good decision, and a potentially AMAZING one. If you do consulting like I had been doing, invariably you will at least flirt at some point with the idea of “going internal.” You’ve heard about all of the tradeoffs—more money, more opportunity to climb the ladder, less influence as a member of HR (than as an outside consultant), less diversity of work experiences, less travel—and so, yes, you wonder if this existence might be preferable. And if I was going to make such a switch, Genentech presented an opportunity that could not have been more ideal.

Here in the Silicon Valley was a company that actually made something, made real drugs that really impacted lives, thus was not the type of place to suffer the vicissitudes of the insane digital marketplace like so many other ventures that dominated our area. Jumping on board Genentech was not taking a big chance on some daring startup that would hit or miss. At the same time, Genentech was starting to hit doubles and triples, was growing in leaps and bounds, and was poised just then to start smacking the ball out of the park. If the best time to join a great company is the day it was born, the next best time to join is as soon as possible, and before it had fired all of its big bullets. That was when I joined, at a second best time in its history.

I just didn’t happen to join it when I was in a very good space personally. Given what had happened on the home front, in changing jobs I was literally changing everything in my life right then. It was a lot. Emotionally I was compromised. From a different angle, I suddenly found myself making a lot more money, not having any restraints on me in the form of family commitments, all the while dealing with the exuberance of freedom and a new lease on life, yet experiencing what I described then as a warping grief at the loss of my daughter from my daily life. Let’s just say, it made for a volatile cocktail.

This was only exacerbated by three aspects of my new job. First, mine was a new function in the company, a function intended to improve the performance of a cohort of people who were experiencing a ton of success just then. In other words, there seemed very little that was broken among the leadership ranks at Genentech just then—and I was there to fix it. I don’t think I fully appreciated the delicacy of these conditions coming in, making of my work a potentially rather charged political matter. Second, I wasn’t coming in to run any existing programs, but to build them from scratch. You do this by networking and building relationships and getting the lay of the land and identifying opportunities, which you then gently propose and advance. So while there’s a lot of being there involved in all of this, there isn’t a lot of real, tangible work to do early on. And what’s that they say about idle hands…? Finally, my department itself was growing and changing quite a bit just then, including experiencing some changes in who ran it. And I ran BIGLY into some internal politics in all of this that caught me way off guard, and cost me BIGLY for it.

I experienced some successes at Genentech, and a lot of personal failure there. When I was there and working with an executive, I delivered. I even gave Art Levinson his 360 degree feedback, and that exchange went just fine. Where managing my time was concerned, in the ample white space that existed in my role as the function was finding itself and in a build out mode, I made fantastic hash of that. And where managing the politics of my relationships within my department was concerned, I was just god awful.

And that, bottom line, is why I eventually left Genentech after three years, and then left organizational psychology behind altogether: I cannot stand, and suck at, organizational politics. Not altogether; I’m smarter than that. But at the level these play out where the upper echelons of leadership are concerned in a company, yeah, that shit’s over my head (more accurately, my radar doesn’t tune to those frequencies, being fundamentally dismayed by them, even altogether contemptuous of them). My failure in front of the banking board in Delaware, on the call with AOL, my misread of the situation when transferring to our San Francisco office, the piddly gaffes I made at Genentech that were seen by others as much larger than that—what all of these incidents have in common is my having a tin ear for organizational politics. About which, I could give a hoot, though this disposition is not conducive, of course, to career advancement in the corporate world.

I have not missed a day of working in those environments since.

To leave Genentech and drift a while (2006)

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I didn’t leave Genentech so much as I tore out the door and pealed out in leaving the parking lot. And Genentech was a great company! That’s how funked up my headspace was at that point in my life.

Thank God Ann was there on my sideline.

Some career decisions you make to get away from something, some you make to go towards something. This career decision for me was all the former, and nothing but. Truth told, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do next. I went through the motions of setting up my own private consulting practice, and promptly discovered I had nothing in the tank to figure that one out (which would eventually close its accounts without a single dollar in revenue). What I slowly came to realize during this period was that the enterprise of leadership development, and of life in corporate America altogether, had grown dead to me. If you ask me, life in business brings out some of the best in people and a lot of the worst. It just seems like living in a state of chronic paranoia—mostly low grade, with periods of real freaking out—is baked into the equation. I blame it on politics, that advancement and achievement always seem to need a certain degree of scheming and positioning. It’s the great spoiler of the true meritocracy out there. It just is what it is.

Like I said, I wasn’t that good at this because I couldn’t find it in me to become that invested in the efforts. I regretted the demands of this life that seemed to run in the opposite direction of living authentically, a mode that a career in psychology would seem to be all about. I just couldn’t get into, nor past, the game that’s always playing out beneath the surface of the work itself. When I did allow myself to just be myself in a given moment (crack a joke in the middle of a meeting, ask an honest question that is perceived as impertinent), sometimes that scored me a point, and sometimes that cost me one. Bottom line, I hated that there was a scorecard at all.

Another element that proved discouraging to me about my work in organizational psychology was that it was ultimately pretty superficial work. What I mean by this is, when working in the field of leadership development, your focus stayed at the surface of things, the behaviors an individual used or failed to use that resulted in positive or negative consequences in the workplace. What you didn’t do was dive down into the motivational bases of those behaviors. “People don’t go to work to get their heads shrunk,” was the general law of the land (I understand that this is shifting since I left and that more attention to what drives a person’s behavior is being explored. Wouldn’t be surprised if this is being driven in part by the limitations imposed by a more purely behavior based approach. If nothing, businesses do tend to gravitate toward what works and creates value. If shrinking heads serves the business’s needs, the business will figure that out, an aspect of corporate life I did appreciate). My education in clinical psychology introduced me to the vast and vastly rich, almost Tolkienesque, realm of human motivation. To just focus on behaviors was thus a pretty radical limit to my notions of human behavior. In a word, it was boring.

The good news at this point was, I’d made some decent coin at Genentech, and my relationship with the very secure Ann seemed to have real legs under it. Somewhat traumatized and confused as hell about my career, I did the safest thing possible: nothing. I allowed my nonexistent consulting practice to languish into nothing, leaned back on my savings and just drifted for a while. Helped out on some projects for another consulting firm. Taught a few graduate courses in organizational behavior. Otherwise, I think it was around this time I got in my car and drove down to the Grand Canyon and stood at its rim looking upon the greater glory of existence. Which was such a great damn call just then!

A lucky man will play this hand, will just go ahead and leap not knowing what he’ll eventually land on. The shitty turns I’d experienced in my six years now in the bay area—not getting the GM position at PDI, the craziness I ran into at Genentech, the hash that was my personal life—were born of both circumstances and crafted by my own hand. I still felt like a lucky guy all the same, or knew on some level that luck was still mine to be had, still knew I would come through these dark and difficult times somehow intact. Ann being in my life was a huge signal that this would be so. Doing nothing for a bit gave me ample space to, well, heal, while not risking harm on anyone in whatever job and company I might find myself. With Ann as a proponent of this, I felt okay about doing nothing, even a little good about it.

A year went by and a second was doing so when fate knocked. I decided that second year I wanted to do something I’d always entertained, being to coach a lacrosse team, give back to a sport that had given so much to me. Lacrosse was booming in California just then so I figured there had to be a need and opportunity out there. Looked on line for local independent schools with teams, saw where one school had a team but no coach listed, wrote the AD an email, the next day I was in his office at Woodside Priory to seal the deal. I couldn’t possibly have guessed just then that four months later I’d be accepting a position at Woodside Priory as their school counselor.

Giving myself this two year sabbatical was one of the better career decisions I ever made. I love hearing other people’s career stories that involve just such a moment of “throw it all away and see what happens next.” I love that I have one of these myself.

To redirect from organizational to school and join Woodside Priory (2008)

I mentioned how during my “sabbatical” I taught a few courses in organizational behavior, did this at Golden Gate University, sort of a night school operation that offered degrees to folks looking to make a change in their careers. I proved capable at this, got great reviews, the head of the program loved me. So the idea of teaching held some appeal to me at the time I took on the lacrosse coach role. In mentioning this to the school trainer during some idle chat, she suggested I speak with the head of school about my interest, see if any opportunity to teach at the high school level might exist. I did, and promptly realized that my background was terrific for teaching classes in psychology but not much else, and the Priory was so small there were hardly any of these in their curriculum. So no real opportunity to do this at this school or to do so as a basis for the next chapter in my career. At the same time, I was connecting with various folks at the school through my coaching role, and they were taking a shine to me. So when their school counselor suddenly decided NOT to return the following year, they approached me and asked if I might be interested. There was fate’s knock, which I heard, and which I gladly answered in the affirmative. And here I am now in my 9th school year in this role.

Given that I’d never entertained operating as a school counselor, a fair question is, did I really know what I was saying yes to back in ’08? And the answer to that is simply no, I didn’t. Hadn’t a clue. Had to figure everything out about operating in that role in the year(s) to come. What I did know was that the trappings of this kind of position appealed to me on a romantic level that was pretty compelling. I mean, who amongst us that has watched Dead Poets Society hasn’t then dreamt of being John Keating at least a little, right?

This was indeed a more purely intuitive decision on my part. The damn lucky aspect of it was in this happening at Woodside Priory, which, as independent schools in Silicon Valley go, is about as perfect a fit for me as can be imagined. I say this as, most independent schools in our area profess to seeking to develop the whole person, while many of our peer schools are seeking to develop the whole young venture capitalist. The Priory has plenty of really ambitious kids, but overall I think we do work more authentically to develop their character and promote a semblance of balance at our school. It’s not just about achievement at the Priory, or achievement in future career terms. It’s about learning how to live a life well lived.

This has been a great career decision, and one that didn’t eventually become freighted with the baggage of nonsense that I ran into in corporate America. At Woodside Priory, like most schools, those that work there are really devoted to the mission of educating and developing young people. Unlike at other educational institutions, I suspect, this isn’t muddied by status needs and their attendant power plays to grab attention and influence. We are a RIDICULOUSLY healthy community. The degree of collaboration and mutual respect and just plain old enjoyment of each other is wonderfully off the chart. Nowhere is this more evident than in the time during which the faculty gathers for our monthly all faculty meeting. If you were to be walked into this room blindfolded and encouraged to listen to the sounds and tones in the room, you would just know you are somewhere that people are happy to be there and be together. It is precious.

Ten years from now I will most certainly look back upon my time at Priory and love this aspect of my time there the most, the robust sense of community that existed there within the staff. I found and experienced bucketloads of professional love at the Priory. Such a joy, such a blessing. Such luck!

As for how I’ve done in my work there, I know my colleagues and my bosses are happy with the value I’ve added over the years. In a school, especially a small school like ours, you do what you’re hired to do, and then you do whatever else you’re capable of doing to advance the mission. No one at my school is just a teacher, or an administrator—they’re also coaches, program directors, cheerleaders, after school club sponsors, etc. What I brought to my role could be described as an OD (organizational development) specialist. I’ve brought my understanding of how organizations work, and how to implement changes to them, to my job, as well as a general professionalism that can stand in something of a positive contrast to the more loosey goosey style found in schools, if you ask me. Consequently, I get invited to participate in various activities that a school counselor might not otherwise—our current professional development agenda to bring the school in line with “21st century education” principals, a key hire process, to consult on team dynamics in another department at the school—these kinds of things.

Another way I’ve added value in my school counseling role, which I hope isn’t all that unique to me, is in working to give parents a break where the effort to raise kids is currently concerned. I mean, lordy. Is this how the conversation roughly went? “Here’s an idea to help kids through the relentless hazing that is adolescence: let’s put in their back pockets a device the size of a deck of cards that gives them access to every trace of media, an unending supply of stupid games, potential contact with every other human being on the planet (including predators), and has the broadcasting capacity of a major television network. Yes, that’s what these kids need!” This, coming on the tail of a new book about the right way to parent being published every other hour since Dr. Spock launched the industry in 1946. Parents are freaking themselves out all the time. If they are well intended, if they really do love their kids, then they deserve not to. I’ve tried to echo my boss Brian’s advice at every turn: “Breathe.”

Finally, the kids. I think I’m good working with kids, sometimes really good, but not really great on a consistent basis. I wish I knew the secret sauce for allowing them to feel more readily vulnerable, which is the space necessary for them to feel the love and concern of others that can be so helpful, so healing. I sometimes wonder if this generation has learned to wear a thicker shell given how forceful the slings and arrows can be via social media. In any case, those kids that dare to really trust me get the best out of me, and I do my best with the rest.

The Priory has been a blessing, given its people, its fundamentally healthy environment, its utter lack of a political bent internally. It’s the exact atmosphere to get its employees to not just want to work there, but to invest themselves heart and soul in the mission of the institution. I will end my career on a very positive note, the best of my entire career. And who, of course, can ask for anything more?

Final career grade: B+

Matt, as we discussed, here is the basis for your final career grade of B+, a grade you should be proud of. Mostly.


  • Probably the standout feature of your career has been your openness to new possibilities and willingness to “leap” and pursue them. The vast majority of your career has been in endeavors for which you were never truly trained or educated—this alone reflects a courage to “go for it” that would make your father proud (he being someone not unfamiliar with radical career shifts himself). In your career you have been consultant, executive coach, project manager, salesperson, workshop designer and facilitator, public speaker, adjunct faculty member, OD specialist, individual contributor, team member, mentor, and esteemed colleague. You have fulfilled these roles throughout most major American cities and not a few international destinations as well. For someone who may have lived out his career life in a trade about which you were not fundamentally thrilled, you do seem to have made the most of it.
  • You did good work along the way. You were typically thoughtful and on point, often creative, and generally reliable. When the work was coming at you fast and furious, you worked at your best, able to handle a lot all at once.
  • You were a terrific coworker, and friend, even, to those with whom you worked. You brought a levity, perspective, and sense of humor to the workplace that could add crucial value just when the atmosphere in the room needed it most. You almost universally helped others to feel better about their own work. You never knowingly or otherwise screwed anyone over.
  • Finally, you did maintain the kind of self-preservation instincts that led you to “get while the getting is good.” This sounds like you were evasive, when it’s more that you knew when a chapter of your career was ending and moved on appropriately. Except that Genentech moment. That was a guy leaping from his car right before it crossed the rails as the train came barreling through. Ha!


  • It would appear you failed to not settle in your career where doing something you absolutely and incontrovertibly believed in, or wanted to do. Let’s be honest: you wanted to be a writer. You came nowhere near that.
  • As much as you did great when the heat was on in your work, you were that unmoored in your efforts when the heat WASN’T on, when you had time and space to figure things out for yourself. You consistently struggled to take advantage of these periods, which were opportunities to further forge your job and career destinies. The lack of a compelling overarching vision for your career, for that matter, seems to have been replicated in the short term demands and opportunities of each job. You just were not capable at “the vision thing.”
  • More specifically—since you did create various visions along the way—you were not good at going from vision to operational reality. You’re an idea guy, and a good one. You’re just not very good at the execution thing. All “N”, as the Myers-Briggs would say, and no “S.”
  • The whole organizational politics thing. It wasn’t that you were bad at this, but you did rise in your career to a level of operating in companies, at the senior executive level, that exceeded your instincts, and certainly your interests.
  • Finally, you took feedback too personally, let it cut deeper than it was ever worth. Dommage, and we move on.

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