It was Saturday evening, June 16, 2001. My beautiful wife and I were celebrating our twenty-second wedding anniversary at dinner in St. Paul. I asked her what she thought the next twenty-two years would be like for us. We started projecting. I would be sixty-six, she sixty-four. Although another twenty-two years sounded like a long time, sixty-six did not seem that old or that far away. Our teenage daughter would be thirty-nine! Now that put the twenty-two years into perspective. We did not discuss it, but I just assumed that life, as we knew it – having a nice dinner out, being able to afford it, walking safely through a neighborhood, able to breathe the air - would not change too much. Some might say I have a pretty naïve, self-centered view. Let us explore where that view comes from. The Formative Years
I grew up in a white, upper middle-class neighborhood in the Midwest. My Dad owned a small, wholesale sash and door business that his father started. My Mom was a housewife. I had a brother, two sisters and a Golden Retriever. Our family had two cars, each kid had a bicycle and we went to the lake each summer. My world was narrow and changed slowly. When I turned eight, my white-bread life started to change. My Mom went back to college to get her degree. When I was ten, she started a consulting business that specialized on helping organizations and institutions resolve long-standing conflicts. An early memory I will never forget was going into the basement of a community center in the ghetto in Passaic, New Jersey in 1969 and watching my Mom mediate between the police and the gangs. At seventeen years old, my parents divorced. They sold the house and toys. I spent my senior year of high school living with different friends so I could stay at the same school. I went from a relatively stable, seemingly idyllic life, to one where my foundation was seriously threatened. Change seemed like a very scary thing! From my perspective, when change happened, all of the good and comfortable things went away. Another part of me however, had no fear. With my world turned upside down, what else could go wrong? These experiences early in my life began to shape my perspective on life and the future in the following ways: 1) No barriers – I had seen my Mom earn her doctorate, start a business and affect social change. 2) Nothing lasts forever – I saw some things that I took for granted and that I assumed would last forever (i.e. stable family, house, vacations) disappear relatively quickly. 3) The worst is yet to come – Seeing my world unravel, made me somewhat pessimistic about what the future may hold. 4) It’s a small world – Other than vacations to New Hampshire and Florida, my window to the world was Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was very homogeneous with most people having all they needed.
Becoming a Change Master?
A few years after my parents divorced, my world began to change more dramatically. In the period of one year (1979-80), I graduated from college, my Dad died, I got married, started work and my new wife and I picked up and moved from Michigan to Colorado. I did not slow down to think about the impact of these changes or where I was going, I just kept going. I threw myself into my work; learned quickly, received a string of quick promotions and the company gave me increased responsibility. I moved from Colorado, to Texas, to Michigan, to Minnesota, then to Illinois. I loved change. I loved my employer. When job opportunities outside the company came along, I would quickly turn them down. As long as I was learning, growing, and challenged, why should I go somewhere else? I had a clear vision of where I was going – the top. I could not get there quickly enough. Fifteen years later, not much had changed, but everything had changed. It was 1995. My job was to lead the sales efforts in the second largest office furniture market in...