I own an executive search business focused on recruiting leadership positions for nonprofit organizations.
I was 30 years old, working on a novel, temping and doing all that other stuff artists do to make a living. I’d been married for eight months, and my husband had a breakdown. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
He was the one who had the big job. But suddenly it was clear he wasn’t going to be able to work for a while. A friend of my sister’s had a search firm that focused on the financial services industry. I’d never even had a full-time job. She threw me a lifeline.
Almost two years in, I realized I didn’t care about placing an executive at American Express. I felt like my soul was dying. So I hired a coach, and soon I went into business for myself doing candidate development, which was work that search firms would outsource. I made a nice living working part time and got back to work on my novel.
Our daughter was born in 2001, and I had a self-financed maternity leave with money I’d saved. But when it was time to get back to work, it was after 9/11, and the business had tanked—there was no extra work coming from the firms.
My husband was working again by then, but I still needed a significant salary. My sister was doing executive search for nonprofits, and she referred me for a search in academia. I had no clue about that world, but somehow I got the job. It wasn’t a big fee. It was a start. And I got referred for more jobs in the nonprofit world.
At first, I put pressure on my husband to get back to his big job. But then something clicked. I realized that he didn’t actually care about money. I was the one who cared. I wanted the choices that having more money brought. And I thought, why am I pushing him to do it? It seemed sexist and retrograde.
I put my stake in the ground. I said to my husband, do what you want to do. I’m going to take care of this. That allowed him to flourish. There wasn’t a price tag on work he could consider. Now he’s a restaurant consultant, and he invests in some restaurants. He can take risks because of what I do. As he likes to say, I’m the bond—he’s the stock. It was an empowering moment for both of us. Our daughter knows I’m the financial engine, and she’s proud of me. She knows I didn’t start out to be a businessperson.
Once I thought, if I die without publishing a book, I’ll have wasted my life. I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m doing good work for organizations that are doing good work.
The flexibility combined with the compensation made this the right road for me. I was running my own business, but I could still go meet my nanny and push my daughter on the swing. And I’m proud of the fact that the women who work for me now can do the same.
Interviewed on April 24, 2018