This is the eighth in a series about how nine clients, friends and family members successfully transitioned, transformed or stayed the course in their careers after age 50. This month I will be describing how my sister Liz, pictured above, has decided to continue her work indefinitely, even after reaching the typical retirement age of 65. My sincere thanks to Liz for sharing her wisdom and boundless generosity.
The graphic above reveals the degree of difficulty and the economic considerations for most career alternatives. The continuation option has been placed in the middle of the model to symbolize that it is not meant to be a career move towards a new direction, but rather it is a decision to stay on the current path for the foreseeable future.
In my January, February and March blogs, I described each of the nine career alternatives, with corresponding strategies, economic considerations and degrees of difficulty. Please refer back to these three blogs as you prepare for your own career transition or transformation.
Liz Dow’s Continuation Story
My sister is the long term CEO of Leadership Philadelphia. Its mission is to mobilize and connect Philadelphia’s professionals to serve the community. Each year nearly 200 business and non-profit leaders are served by the program. Each month, over a ten month period, the leaders served by her largest program spend a day together studying a civic issue central to the city of Philadelphia.
By the end of the year, her clients will have received individual and group leadership evaluations, development and training, civic education, and help finding a non-profit board to join.
Liz’s first job out of graduate school was Director of Financial Aid at Swarthmore College. She left to earn an MBA at Wharton, which led her to over a decade in senior positions in consulting and banking. The big career shift happened in her early 40s when Liz realized that she had achieved the Wharton dream: success measured through titles and compensation. This was not her dream: doing work with a sense of purpose.
At that point she shifted gears, swapping financial rewards for meaningful impact, and took over a nearly bankrupt non-profit organization. Over the years she has grown its impact, operating results and reach. It is now a powerful hub of connection for professionals across sector and race in Philadelphia.
Reason For Her Career Continuation
As an entrepreneur, Liz has invested 25 years of sweat equity in her organization and intends to continue this as long as she is the best qualified CEO to run it. Why stay, when she was at a point where others choose retirement? She loves the work.
Each year her team recruits nearly 200 new clients, and Liz takes the time to get to know each one. When she learns their stories, she actively reaches out to connect them with one another weaving them more tightly into the fabric of the community.
Her approach and its results led author Malcolm Gladwell to label her, “Philadelphia’s #1 Connector.” With Liz at the helm, Leadership Philadelphia continues to be a trusted convener in the city. She is integral to the brand and respected as a thought leader.
While focusing daily on running leadership development, civic affairs training, and operating profitably, Liz continues to innovate with special civic projects to keep the organization on the cutting edge. These projects range from identifying, convening and studying the city’s connectors; to doing a joint radio essay project highlighting alumni leaders on the local NPR station; to mobilizing “Pay it Forward” service projects.
This year for Leadership’s 60th Anniversary, she is curating Master Classes in Empathy, Compassion, Connection and Common Ground to encourage people to focus on their shared humanity.
At this point in her career, Liz has accumulated considerable social capital, a web of unparalleled connection with Philadelphia’s leaders, and a reputation for working to build bridges. This positions her to help unite diverse leaders across sectors, races and generations. “Lately, at some level, I have come to realize that the city needs me for the non-partisan behind the scenes glue I create. At a time when my children are grown and thriving, it’s nice to feel needed.”
Reflections, Lessons Learned, and Advice From Liz
“My advice is to think about who needs you and what you need. Part of deciding not to transition out of this position is the result of a high level of self-awareness, crafted as I have taught young leaders to develop theirs. I know that my achievement drive needs to be fed. I meet my affiliation needs by deepening my relationship with clients.”
“My investment in developing and connecting leaders for the common good allows me to feel that my work matters. I also watched my role model, my dad, work till age 80 and saw the joy and fulfillment that it brought him. I want to demonstrate that level of fulfillment for my children.”
“My decision to continue on this path is the echo of the decision I made 25 years ago: to let go of other people’s norms and expectations and leave a lucrative corporate job. Back then my inner voice said, “Leave!” Now my inner voice says, “Stay!”