Exit Strategies

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October 07, 2013

The First Step to Transformation ExitStrategies_Web In 1999, I was scheduled to speak at a large industry meeting in Orlando. There was nothing unusual about this; I had been to this convention so many times that it had become second nature to me. As CEO of an event company for nearly 15 years, this was my world. I lived and breathed special events, working with clients to put on the most cutting-edge parties we could imagine. I had won international awards, been featured in national publications and developed a stellar reputation in my hometown. People around me thought I was swimming along in a sea of success. In truth, I was gasping for air.

I faced business decisions I wasn't equipped to handle, cash flow I couldn't seem to control, employees I poorly managed and administrative challenges that confounded me. Some days, getting out of bed took greater effort than I was willing to put out. I felt trapped, staring at the ceiling at 3 A.M. wondering "Is this all there is?"

At the depth of my despair, I received a brochure inviting me on a silent, sacred walk across the Sahara Desert. At the time, my idea of vacation was a week at the beach and a spiritual adventure was church on Christmas Eve. Yet something pulled me toward this improbable trip. For two weeks, I would step out of my predictable, normal existence and walk into a strange and foreign world, one where Berbers lived a nomadic existence as they had for thousands of years. And while this would be only a brief departure from the "real world," I figured it would give me the kick-in-the-butt I needed to fix my life.

While our small group trekked through the desert, we quickly fell into the natural rhythm of life. We slept until sun up, ate only until full, walked trustingly wherever we were led. I savored the feeling of sand slipping seductively between my fingers and the sound of a camel's wearied moan as he prepared for the day. The sweet pasty taste of a date, the shine of the full moon, the grit in my blister, the uneven feel of rocks beneath my feet--all these felt like tiny miracles.

These small bits of enlightenment were illuminating, but to be honest, I was hoping for a big bang. I looked every day for a spiritual revelation, like in the Monty Python movies when the cartoon God parts the clouds and the celestial doves fly to earth holding a proclamation in their holy little beaks.

The trumpets didn't blare in the desert, however. The epiphany happened when I traveled straight from Marrakesh to the Orlando Convention Center where we would celebrate the event industry's top-achievers. My two weeks of silent contemplation had moved me, but I looked forward to returning to the real world after my break from reality.

I stepped onto the exhibit floor, while lasers projected overhead, music blared, confetti fluttered and a giant-headed Elvis strutted by. I became unsteady on my feet. My heart pounded, sounds began to echo and all of a sudden, I knew. The sand dunes and camels were real. This was an alternate universe.

Suddenly, I felt like an alien in a foreign land, peeking out of my tent flap at an exotic landscape filled with false assumptions and distorted values. My quest to be the best had forced me to deny my most basic need: to create a life of meaning and inner fulfillment, outside of society's measures of success.

The event world is no more rooted in illusion than banking, law or politics. While each industry has its own sub-genre of a skewed reality, the professional world suffers from the same illusion: in order to succeed, we need to check ourselves at the door every morning. We must separate success from self.

My awakening on the exhibit floor set me on a course to find a middle way--to create a life with one foot firmly planted in business and the other in spirit. Rather than turn my back on my business, I redesigned it to fill my personal goals. Our mission, "To inspire others and affect positive change" informed most every business and personal decision during my final ten years as an entrepreneur. When I sold my company in 2010, it became my personal vision as I began to explore life after Tribble Creative Group.

We all live in our own version of an alternate universe. Left unchecked, it distracts us from purpose and drains us of spirit. In this monthly blog, I will share ways to inspire you to bring your whole self to your work and create the life you want.

Is there a way to be accomplished in business and keep your spirit fulfilled? Can you be successful and stay true to yourself? The answer is yes. Yes, you can.   

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