In last week's episode I shared about a moment in my life when I took a huge risk. Today, I reveal how that decision was really just the beginning: from that experience, I realized I could do something I'd never done before. In fact, I could do it several times over. In this episode of Champions of RISK, I reflect on the chances I took next: traveling, living abroad, and making big career moves - some of which panned out better than others. But I have no regrets. Taking these risks helped me decide what kind of person I was going to be, and shaped who I am today.
Hi, I'm Michael Kithcart, high performance coach for sales leaders and teams, and the creator of the Wynning Your Way framework. Welcome to the Champions of RISK podcast, where we examine the many aspects of risk, so that we can all face uncertainty with more courage and confidence together.
Last week, I did my Part One series on Taking a Risk. And I shared with you my story about how I decided to write everything that I wanted to achieve as a sales rep, and all the goals that I wanted to hit and break. And I made this long list and I gave it to my managers and I went about achieving it. And the end of the story is yes, okay, I did it. I accomplished everything that was on that list. And more, I even had to make some stretch goals. And I had my best year ever, you know, up to that point in life.
But here's the thing. Doing that is really what launched the rest of my life, actually taking that risk and putting out big goals and declaring that I was going to do things that hadn't been done before. And then doing them was just the start. That is when everything changed after that moment in time. So today, I want to take you to part two of taking a risk, because it was through that experience, and recognition that wow, I could do something that I've never done before. And I could do it several times over, and could even set new goals and challenges. It really just launched me.
So I wanted to share with you a little bit about what happened next. Because quite frankly, it was everything after that year, that really helped me decide and realize who I was as a person, shaped who I became as a person, who I am today, because the reality is back then that person who wrote everything down on the list and achieved it and moved on, she didn't have a clue who she was.
And I think this is really the part that matters is what comes after. So the result of me declaring that I was going to do these things was that if you remember, I was then going to quit my job. And I did after that one year I quit my job, I sold my house the things in it. And I moved to Paris. I moved to Paris because I had this vision that once I visited it, that that is where I needed to live. I'd never been anywhere outside of the country. I was 27 years old. First time I ever had a passport. And I went there and I came back and I was like oh my God, I need to live in Paris. And I don't know why. And I think a lot of people come back from vacation and say, Oh, my goodness, we should really live there. And so I kind of blew it off. And I waited another year and I went back to Paris and I was like oh no, I really need to go.
And that's kind of what really launched my what I'm what am I going to do over the course of this next year, that's going to allow me afford me the opportunity to go to Paris. So along the way, I just started declaring that, that I was going to move to Paris, I started taking French lessons and it was like what am I going to do there am I going to work? And back then it was really hard to get work visas. I don't know that it's any easier, quite frankly, in this day and age.
But I decided that I was going to go to Paris and I was going to get my master's degree. I'd been out of school for a decade. And like I said, you know, I can just kind of started declaring these things, and I made them happen. And I'll just fast forward to the point where it's like I moved to Paris I thought I knew French, I started taking French lessons as a you know, a 29-30 year old, got there and realize I couldn't really speak or understand in the way that Parisians spoke, you know and understood French so I had to take a whole lot more French lessons. It was a very humbling experience, started grad school and had an absolute identity crisis.
I don't know if you've ever had this in your life. But here I was in this beautiful city doing things that I had never done before. You're trying to figure out how to communicate how to listen to others comprehend what they're saying and be able to respond to them in French.
And all I had been my whole life leading up to that really was a salesperson. You know, I was sales, professional sales, account executive, whatever you want to call me, but I knew who I was. Because I had a job title that told me who I was.
Are you starting to see the absurdity in this? And clearly, that had nothing to do with who I was as a person. But I did not know that. I just equate - my identity was so entirely wrapped up into my job position and what it was that I did for a living.
So then I get to Paris. And guess what, like the Frenchies don't care what you do. They want to know, you know, what do you think, what do you like to do? Who are you as a human being? And I could not answer those questions. I had no idea who I was. And my time there I spent like two and a half years in Paris, and that time period helped me start to realize both who I was and who I wanted to be.
But it it did not stop there. Oh, no, it like was only the beginning. And I love that I remind myself of that time in my life. And when I absolutely had this identity reckoning, I would call it of just like, get over yourself. Whatever it is that you do in life to earn money has nothing to do with the quality of person that you are or want to be, and how you show up for others. And so I needed that experience, some might say that it was very extreme that I had to move across the pond, and, and, and be in Paris and learn different languages and stuff. But for me, for me, just me my journey is that I had to do that, to actually start to realize that I had no idea who I was.
And so when I came back to the states and I came back to Minneapolis, I was still kind of wrestling with this. And without a whole lot of clarity, I went back into the sales profession. But I had this idea that I needed to be a State Department worker, I needed to work for the government, I needed to be a Foreign Service officer so that eventually I could become an ambassador.
And I just had this vision with like zero sensibility behind it, which is kind of fun on some level. But to test myself, I decided that I should take the Foreign Service exam. And if anyone listening has ever taken it before. It's it's a really fascinating experience. You take this written exam, it's like five hours long, they ask you all kinds of questions, and you have to write essays. And so people take this at certain times throughout the year, and then you wait like two months, I think, before you find out if you pass the exam, and if you pass the exam, then you get to go to the 'orals' in Washington DC. And if you cringed by me saying that, I just have to say it's a terrible description. It's they should not use that word to talk about a stage of you know, going through to determine whether or not you're going to be a Foreign Service Officer.
But anyway, I went to Washington DC I passed. I went to the orals in Washington DC and I channeled my inner Jackie O. This is where you show up with other people who have passed and you get watched and cri- critiqued. I was gonna say criticized - not far off - critiqued by Foreign Service officers through a series of exercises, case scenarios, interviews that you do throughout the course of the day. And sometimes you're interacting with some of the other people who are also trying to pass the stage of the Foreign Service, and sometimes you are in there by yourself with two other foreign service officers who are kind of grilling you about things.
And I decided that I should show up in like my pink linen suit and pearls, I thought I was the shit. You know, like, I thought I was looking at the DC part. And everybody else I mean, every single other person, whether they were a Foreign Service officer, or they were a candidate, like myself was either wearing a blue or gray suit. No white, there wasn't even a white shirt in there. And then there was me in pink.
So that maybe could have been the indicator of how the day was going to go. And I will just save you the train wreck of a day that it was, and tell you that it was a total and utter disaster. And I knew it about 45 minutes into the day, when I was in a group session. And I kept plugging along, I went through the whole day. And it just kind of got progressively worse.
But the beautiful thing about this is, one is I'm proud of myself that I did it, um, I just really wanted to pass even the written exam. And so having the opportunity to be in DC was really great. It was fascinating, because I had absolute clarity, by the end of the day, that there was no way in hell, that I was ever going to be a government worker, I was never going to work for the State Department. And I was never ever going to be an ambassador. And to have that clarity is actually incredibly valuable. I did not belong. I and people took great pains to make sure that I knew throughout the day that I did not belong there.
And I really didn't. I really didn't. I am not a yes person. I hate following orders. I don't really like rules. And you might hear this and go, Then why in the world, would you think that you should go work for the government? But in my mind, that's not how my world was going to look. So I needed to go through that experience myself to recognize that. Yeah, this is not a fit.
So back to corporate I went. And I was a sales and marketing leader for a new corporate initiative that the company had laid out. And I loved it. I mean, it was it was fun. It was fast paced, it was cross functional. There were big ideas, it brought different divisions together. And I really enjoyed this role. And I thought, okay, like maybe this really just is my calling. And I've just been having these other great life experiences up until that.
And I faced another kind of fork in the road, where I had to decide if I was going to take a risk or not. What happened was the company sold off one of the divisions, and it kind of dismantled the initiative. So it was like the bright, shiny object for maybe two years at most, and then they just kind of grew restless with it, and just kind of wanted to disband it. So in the market that I was in, I was tasked with coming up with a plan that was going to replace the revenue that had been generated the millions that had been generated from this initiative. And then how was I also going to keep growing the revenue.
Which, you know, is a great little brain teaser, if you think about it. I did ask, you know, could I could this be both a combination of cost saving measures as well as, you know, revenue growth? And yes, but that was about the only kind of conversation that was had about it. And so I thought long and hard. And I really thought like what's going to make a big difference across the board, no matter what division, no matter where we were.
So I decided to go big and address the low morale, the high turnover, and just kind of the lack of engagement that I was seeing amongst the sales team- teams, plural, across the board.
And I thought it would be great if I devised a plan on how you could reengage with employees you could retain them, basically, I, you know, it was like 'how to give a shit about your employees' and you know, make the company better. So I will say that in my close circle of friends, this is the moment in my life that is referred to as the Jerry Maguire moment. Because the more I thought about it, and the more I created my rationale and I had numbers and charts and everything to explain, like what it was costing the company to be losing employees and how it was costing millions and millions of dollars, just even in the market, just the area that I was in, let alone the whole darn company. And I just got so excited, because I thought the leaders of the divisions are gonna like think this is brilliant, right?
And it so wasn't. I mean, it was a colossal flop. I made everybody in the room so flippin mad, that I could just like feel the daggers that were shooting out of their eyeballs at me. And it was at that moment that I realized that not everybody cared about employees the same way that I did, or saw it the same way. And it's not that they didn't care, they were actually so upset with me they like, Who do you think you are to even tell us that we don't care about the team, when we so do. So anyway, like, I really didn't make my point that clear. But I did make it clear enough to be eliminated two weeks later.
So I am so glad that I decided to make that presentation. I mean, now that I'm older, and you know, hopefully wiser, I can see a whole different approach to be able to still bring up the same subject. And I still feel super passionate that if you aren't invested and care about your team, that really nothing else matters, you just will continue to lose money. And you just won't have a culture that people want to be a part of.
But hey, this led me into wanting to be a coach. So a defining moment, defining moment in so many ways. But it led me to that, to understand that I really wanted to be a coach that I had to be more diplomatic, you know, and know, my my audience in the future. And I really did take that to heart going forward.
But it also gave me time because all of a sudden, I didn't have a job, right. And so I got to travel, I got to regroup, I started helping entrepreneurs launch businesses, and I started coaching people. And some of the people that I were coaching were leaders of INGOs, international nongovernmental organizations, who had organizations at that served people in developing countries. I spent months traveling by myself, with groups with friends. I mean, this really probably took me over the span of several, several years. But you know, I got to go see the world.
And I used that opportunity to go spend a couple of months in East Africa. And I went by myself, I did spend some time with a nonprofit organization, but then I just traveled by myself.
And there is nothing better. To help you realize who you are as a person, than solo travel. If you've never done it in your life, I really, really recommend it. You don't have to go to other, you know, other other sides of the world to do it. For me, I needed to, I really felt the need to. But man, you know, I spent time and I started seeing things and you see things and then you think, oh, I could, I could help, I could make a difference, I could contribute.
And I did in my own white American way. And it took me a long time. I mean, I went to different places this I didn't have all this discovery in East Africa. I mean, I spent time in Haiti and South Africa, spent months in India and a month in Nepal. And what the travel finally helped me see and realize is that the problems that we see as outsiders aren't always problems for insiders. And to have that, you know, white American lens and seeing big systemic problems that needed to be solved, and wondering why people weren't concerned about it the way that I was, helped me realize that A), I was completely and totally out of line. In working with some other nonprofit organizations that were local and local people, I really got a lot of feedback from them about how, you know, white people come over, Americans come over, and then they leave, and they never come back. So they just really, like, perpetuate more problems than they do good.
And so I really, I mean, it forced me to look at who I was, and what was, what was I really contributing? Was I there for them? Or was I there for me?
And these were not some I mean, some of these conversations were not very fun. I mean, even the conversations I had with myself. But it's a good reminder is that, you know, sometimes what we see isn't always what it appears. And that just because we think something needs to be different, that's not always true. It really isn't.
And, you know, I think if we're being honest with ourselves, and we stopped and took a look at our lives, where are we kind of maybe forcing our viewpoint or opinion on others that really aren't concerned by it. I mean, it could be family, it could be colleagues at work, it could be in your community, I don't know. But just stop down and think for a moment because that was and continues to be the greatest life lessons that I've ever had is, is through traveling, and especially in Africa, in India.
So again. Decision might be risky for some, seemed like a good idea, to me, had some risky moments while I was traveling, especially by myself. But again, all of that was worth it. It all has helped shaped me with my view of life, how I want to be as a person.
The last kind of risk that I want to share with you for today. And again, right, like if I wouldn't have started this journey, years ago, decades ago, now, I guess close to it, I wouldn't maybe be able to put all these little dots together. But I hope in each scenario, you're able to see, you know, what we all wrestle with at different points in our lives, and that every single one of these quote unquote, risks, that I've taken have absolutely been worth it, even when the outcome may not look so great, I wouldn't change any of these life moments for anything.
And I will tell you, you know, up to a couple of years ago, I was in the corporate world, I had a job that I really enjoyed, I loved the people, absolutely loved the people. And I had to get honest with myself that I really didn't see that anywhere else for me to go. In the company, there was no growth opportunity for me. Unless I wanted to move far, far away. And, and for the first time in my life, I actually didn't want to. And I had to recognize that I really wasn't growing and stretching anymore.
So I wanted to take the part of the job that I love the most, which really was about developing sales, talent and strong teams and training. And commit to doing that all the time. And that's what helped me three years ago, you know, I decided that I needed to bet on me one more time, and launched my my coaching and consulting business. And now every day I get to work with entrepreneurs and sales leaders and their teams on winning their way in business in life.
And yes, that included, you know, COVID, the pandemic, everything else that we have all been going through over the last 18 months. And I am so glad that I did it when I did. I it's the last greatest risk that I have taken. And I have no regrets. I mean, there, I really don't have a lot of regrets in life. And I think in part it's because I don't spend a ton, a ton of time thinking about 'what if'. A lot of times I just go do it. Not always, not always. But I do, and I take a chance.
And my point In sharing all of these experiences with you today is just because it like taught me so much about myself. And I don't look at them as failures, even though maybe some of you could listen and say, Well, that was a swing. And I really see like, these were all necessary things for me to experience in my life, to help me really unpack who I was, and am as a person.
I had to be willing to risk the failures, the bumps, the bruises, along with the triumphs, the big wins the huge discoveries, in order to get to where it is that I am today, I was willing to risk financial uncertainty, selling homes traveling solo, having my voice heard, regardless of the consequences in order to live life the way I want.
So I want to ask you, what are you willing to risk? It does not have to be as extreme as maybe some of my examples are, it's just my story. And I wanted to share it with you because I wanted you to really understand why I'm so passionate about having a podcast called Champions of RISK, and why I love elevating the stories of the great guests that we feature on this podcast. And really, why why I'm dedicated to helping sales leaders and teams reach new levels of success by winning their way, not by somebody else's definition.
I really want to invite you, if there was something about today's episode that reminded you of the time that you took a big risk, if you have a risk story that you want to share, or you know somebody's story that really needs to be told, I welcome you to talk to me to like, be a guest on my podcast or introduce me to the person whose story you think needs to be heard, you can click on the show notes, and it'll take you to a link and we'll schedule a time to talk. But most of all, I just want to thank you for listening. Thank you for being an avid fan of the b podcast, I look forward to catching you on the next episode.
And before you go, if you'd like a way to discover how you can build risk tolerance, create new habits to get new outcomes. And if you want to enhance your self awareness, I really want to invite you to check out Champion You Group Coaching, because every month I go live with members to highlight a high performance topic that shifts perspective. I provide a cool new tool or resource and create everybody who's a member creates an action step each month that they are saying that they're willing to take to get a different outcome. Sometimes it's about the personal life, sometimes it's about their professional life. But if you are looking for personal or professional development, and you want to companion on this journey, come and check us out for a month. And if you like it, you can stay. You can do an annual membership - but just come and check us out for a month. You can start at any time, we meet virtually the first Wednesday of every month. And I put details in the show notes so you can check it out.