That, in a nutshell, was how the dominant cosmetics and fragrance empire called Estee Lauder was created.  I learned it from Estee Lauder herself while we were having dinner years ago. She was an amazing businesswoman and a great corporate leader who never forgot how she’d gone from being “just a housewife” (her words) to the head of the largest business in that sector.

I’ve been thinking about her story, and similar ones I’ve heard over the years because, lately, many people have asked for my assessment of the current employment climate and career prospects in general.

My dinner conversation with Mrs Lauder reminded me that many of the biggest career success stories inevitably were those who figured out how to make the most of any environment. Even ones which wiped out many other leaders.

Here’s another example.

Former Best Buy Chairman Brad Anderson started as a sales clerk in a small, three-store stereo chain that was later purchased by Best Buy. He labored there for 7 years while that chain was going through some seriously rough times and was in a near-death experience financially.  At that point the company’s founder was touring all the stores looking for some new head office talent.  He was working the day the company boss arrived at his store looking for new talent and, in his words, “…I did something that was completely out of character for me.  I told him he should pick me to lead the company!”  And he did.

In my sector of coaching, most people have heard of Tony (Anthony, now) Robbins.  He’s widely regarded as the pre-eminent coach in the world, running a massive empire dedicated to helping others become more successful.  What most people don’t know is that he was a wreck himself just prior to getting into coaching.  His one-on-one client base now includes current and former presidents of countries and large organizations; but years ago, while living in a one-room joint in Venice Beach, California, he woke up one morning and realized he was a total failure.  He had no money, almost no clothes or possessions and was physically, in extremely poor shape.  But that day he made a commitment to himself that he’d to get back on his feet and figure out what he could do to become a success one day.  Things came together fairly well for him.

We all know the stories about well-known college dropouts or other geeks who started leading IT companies that dominate the world today.  But, for the average leader, is it still possible to make such a dramatic change in one’s life and career – or are those days gone forever?

I have good news and bad news: Yes it’s still possible. Many are doing it.  But it may require some dramatic shifts in your thinking. You’ll have to push yourself.

In the past few months, I have helped some of my clients to change organizations, industries, even countries after they decided to re-invent themselves.  One person is moving into a new company in an arena in which she has no experience – with the guarantee of an income in the area of several hundred grand. Another has decided it’s time to create her own company so she can finally have the right balance of career, husband, and kids while still doing valuable work.  The last one chose to move to another country because the career options in the U.S. were simply too limited.  What they are doing is gutsy, challenging, and potentially dangerous – but they know they’re doing the right thing: Taking a bad economic environment and making it work for them. They, and others like them, are pushing hard.  And for that, they’ll reap rewards that their former peers will never taste.

Are you’re feeling landlocked in your current role?  Perhaps hearing, too frequently, that because times are tough, everyone has to share in it – despite your great contribution?  If so, maybe it’s time to get pushy.  I can assure you that others are.  It’s up to you.

And if you’re looking for a little help figuring it out, check out this interview I did a while back on CNN/; it may get you noodling.  Here’s to your future!


Leadership Coach