Tanya Van Court: Sowing the Seeds for a Brighter Future

tanya Sow

Tanya Van Court’s great idea, the one that would become not only her next business venture but her all-consuming passion, began simply enough. Her daughter, the older of her two children, was turning nine. When Van Court asked her what she would like for her birthday, her daughter replied that she wanted only two things: a bicycle and money to open an investment account. Van Court thought these were laudable goals, but she knew it wasn’t going to happen. She knew – we all know – that well-meaning relatives and party guests were likely to brings a few arts-and-craft kits, maybe a board game, and several versions of the fad-of-the-moment (rubber band bracelet, anyone?)

“Sometimes we walk down a path because it’s easy and comfortable. We may never meander, and consequently miss the new opportunity right in front of us. Change doesn’t have to be bad; change can be wonderful.”

Van Court saw a problem – a broken gift-giving system – and thought she could come up with a way to fix it. She had always taught her children the concept of Share/Save/Spend as a way to handle the money they earned. It occurred to her that she could set up an online system that would allow gift-givers – friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, anyone – to contribute directly toward these goals. More personal that simply writing a check, the gift giver would view a child’s profile and see their specific saving, spending and donating goals, and then decide how much and to what fund they’d like to contribute. “My daughter very much appreciates the gifts people give her,” Van Court says, “but it doesn’t necessarily mean she actually uses them. I wanted to fix what I see as a broken economic exchange, and just as importantly, teach our kids the value of all this money that’s being spent.”

It happened that right around the time of her daughter’s birthday, Van Court had been trying to decide on her next career move. She received both her undergrad and master’s degree in industrial engineering from Stanford University in the early 90’s and after trying out various engineering jobs she began working her way up the corporate ladder, first at CableVision, then at ESPN and later Nickelodeon, which suited her well because of her passion for children and education. From Nickelodeon she moved on to her most recent position at Discovery Education, where she helped launch the first digital textbooks. But Discovery Education had just gone through a major restructuring and Van Court found herself out of a job and trying to figure out her next career move.

Slide1Van Court had been planning to look for another corporate position, but the more she thought about her online gift giving idea the more she started to think that maybe she didn’t want to continue on the corporate ladder, after all. “I’m not one of these perennial entrepreneurs who’s always seeing opportunity wherever I look. I wasn’t looking for a business venture.”

Still, she wanted to explore the possibilities. She read a book called The Lean Start-Up, by Eric Ries, and followed the book’s recommendation to talk to as many people as possible. And when Van Court did that, she was floored by the positive feedback she got. “People said, ’Do this. Not today, not tomorrow, but yesterday.’ I have friends from every socio-economic background, and it didn’t matter if the person was a working-class mom, or a person with millions of dollars in the bank. They all felt that their kids had too much stuff, and that kids weren’t learning lessons about healthy financial habits. They thought that this could fix the problems that they were experiencing with gift giving – both in terms of their own kids and as far as buying presents for other kids.”

So in early 2015 Van Court made the decision not to return to the corporate world but instead to turn her idea into a reality. Naming her company Sow, she put together a website using all the feedback she had received. Her company was officially launched on December 3, 2015, one day before her son’s 6th birthday. Naturally, he has his own Sow account. Van Courts says, “An amazing proof of concept came when my son got $250 for his birthday towards meaningful goals, instead of receiving meaningless goods.”  The site has already signed up hundreds of young people and parents during its first month.

Van Court's daughter
Van Court’s daughter, Gabrielle

Financially, there have been and continue to be many sacrifices involved in not collecting a regular paycheck, but her family and friends have been extremely supportive, including her ex-husband (she refers to him as her Wasband) with whom she maintains a great relationship. Still, she cautions others to be careful. “You have to be realistic about your prospects. It’s likely you’re not going to go a couple of months without income, you could go a year or more.” Still, the financial sacrifices, which have not been insignificant, haven’t deterred her. “Sometimes we walk down a path because it’s easy and comfortable. We may never meander, and consequently miss the new opportunity right in front of us. Change doesn’t have to be bad; change can be wonderful.”

One big change for Van Court was learning to ask for help. “When you are working as an executive you have a lot of leverage and power to help other people, and you don’t need to ask for as much. When you are an entrepreneur that whole paradigm gets completely shifted upside down. You ask for help with everything.” One neighbor helped her get together a focus group of kids in the neighborhood. She reached out to another friend who had expertise in branding, another with marketing experience. A friend who is a graphic designer helped her develop a logo. “I literally reached out to almost every person I could think of in my network to help with something. I was so grateful, and continue to be so grateful, that people were so willing to help. I was almost in awe. I’d never asked for so much help in my life; it’s just not in my nature. It was a real growth and learning experience for me.”

Despite the hard work and financial sacrifices, Van Court, 43, has no regrets and remains passionate and upbeat about her mission. “I have not wavered from the belief that this is the right product and I am the right person to bring it to market. I believe that this has the potential to be a great business and have real social impact. It’s the opportunity to leave the world a little better. Where I sit today, there is nothing that I would rather be doing and nothing I could be more excited about.”

Van Court’s startup tips:
    • Be realistic about your prospects and about how long you will go without a paycheck (hint: probably longer than you think). Be clear on what sacrifices you will need to make.
    • Read the book, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries. Then talk to people and get as much feedback as you can.
    • Ask for help. You might be amazed at people’s willingness to help, but you have to ask.
    • Don’t minimize the power of networks, and know that you’ll need to grow and expand yours to succeed.
    • If you have the grit, the toughness, to endure the sacrifice, doing something you believe in is wonderful.

 

 

Susan Rocco: The CEO Whisperer

Sue RoccoDrawn to journalism and the stories behind the stories, Susan Rocco has always been curious about other people – where they came from, what led them to where they are now –  so it should come as no surprise that today she hosts a live weekly radio show and podcast that spotlights female CEOs, founders, leaders, and entrepreneurs from around the world. What is surprising, however, is Rocco’s own story; how she struggled with low self-esteem until the day she finally decided to believe in herself, pitch her idea for Women to Watch, and chase down the guests and advertisers needed to make her dream a reality.

“I was not an honor student. I had a tape playing in my head that I wasn’t smart enough. Although I had a wide network of family and friends, there wasn’t that one person who believed in me and my abilities. If you don’t have a mentor or someone who sees the gift in you, you get lost and struggle. I had no awareness of who I was and what I was good at so it took me some time to find my way. Later I learned to appreciate that our emotional quotient is equally as important as our IQ. That’s my strength. My ability to connect with people, to be a good listener and have empathy.”

Raised outside of Philly, Rocco was the middle child of three. An Irish Catholic, she attended 16 years of Catholic Sue Roccoschool, including Villanova University where she studied communications. When she graduated, she bounced around a bit from advertising to PR before ending up in sales. “I had grand illusions of making it in media but if you’re not in a C-Suite position there’s not a lot of money to be made, so I looked for other opportunities. I didn’t give sales a lot of thought. It wasn’t something I was really interested in, but I was good at it and it paid the bills.”

After taking some time off to raise a family, Rocco did a lot of part-time work before returning to sales full-time, but it wasn’t fulfilling. Her greatest joy had always been her family, so when she became an empty nester in her late 40s, her search for personal growth hit new heights. Her “a-ha” moment came while being interviewed on the radio one day about her small direct-sales business, W by Worth.

“I was so fired up. It was such a great experience, but I’d really have preferred to have been on the other side of the mic. I said as much in the “thank you” letter I sent to the host, Kim Douglas,” she recalls. “In a joking way, I added if Kim ever needed someone to fill in for her, I’d love to do it.”

The response was immediate. Douglas encouraged Rocco to pitch her idea to the general manager.

Sue Rocco“I said yes but then panic immediately set in. I knew I wanted a show for women. The radio was flooded with political programming, real estate, and finance. And, as much as I love fashion and lifestyle, I didn’t want fluff. I wanted a program that would help women like me who struggle with low self-esteem. So I hit on the idea of interviewing women who are already successful and accomplished and get them to share their stories while sharing their adversities as this is where the greatest lessons are learned.”

Making a decision that day in August 2012 to believe in herself, Rocco set up a meeting with Sharon Pinkenson, who she had just read about in Philadelphia Magazine and thought would make a great guest. Pinkenson was the first Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, which brought the film industry to the City of Philadelphia and the four surrounding counties.

“I finally stopped focusing on what others were doing and decided to be myself. I told Sharon my idea for the show. I confessed I didn’t yet know the name of the show but if she said yes, I’d come up with something. She said yes,” Rocco laughs.

“We women are harder on ourselves. We are often ashamed of our personal challenges. We don’t look at these struggles as something that has shaped us and actually contributed to our success. By sharing these stories, I am trying to break through these barriers. Personally, I went from being very, very afraid to launching a show that’s booked six months out.”

It turned out booking the interview was the easy part. Rocco got the station on board with her idea and was flying high that she was going to have her own show until she learned they weren’t going to pay her, but rather she would be paying them production fees.

“I guess I was a little naive,” she explains. “I realized I quickly had to secure advertisers. I reached out to my network and got some advertisers that would sustain me for the first few months! But there is a lot of ‘behind the scenes’, a ton of prep work involved.

“I knew I could secure guests. I had a mission to help women to build self-esteem and find their own purpose but my vision is to get women to pursue leadership. When I started to share that with other women, it resonated with them.”

It didn’t hurt that three months after Rocco launched her show, Sheryl Sandberg came out with Lean In.The Truth Group Women’s groups were popping up and gender diversity in senior management was a compelling topic. Women to Watch entered the fray with a twist … getting women to open up and share the challenges they face on the road to success.

“We women are harder on ourselves. We are often ashamed of our personal challenges.. We don’t look at these struggles as something that has shaped us and actually contributed to our success. By sharing these stories, I am trying to break through these barriers. Personally, I went from being very, very afraid to launching a show that’s booked six months out. I moderate panel events, I give speeches. I really believe in myself now. Some days we do it well, and some days we don’t. I’ll never turn the tape off completely. I’ll continue to second guess, but every time you accomplish something, it allows you more quickly to turn that old voice off.”

When asked who her favorite guest has been, Rocco politely responds that the ones she enjoys the most are the women who are incredibly bright with big jobs but at the same time, funny, self-deprecating, and gracious.

“I love the ones with no ego, doing what they do because they love it and want to help other people. We really are all the same; human beings are human beings.”

You can listen to Women to Watch™live every Monday at 3 pm EST on WWDB Talk 860 for the Philadelphia Tri-State area, or anytime at women2watch.net.  Available shortly on iTunes.

DeAnne Wingate: The Successful Internet Advertiser Who Found Her Purpose

DeAnne WingateDeAnne Wingate hasn’t had a paycheck since 2010. Instead, she’s been living off the savings she put away from her days in internet advertising. It’s difficult and she knows the money won’t last forever, or even much longer, but at this moment she believes she is doing exactly what she was put on this earth to do.

Her career began in the late nineties, when much about the internet, and internet advertising in particular, was still new. Her early career was exciting, and it’s not without some fondness that Wingate looks back. “It was like the New Frontier; we were setting the rules as we went along. It was a great challenge, and great fun.” She worked first in Boston, then Chicago, and finally in New York City. “Having a corporate position in New York City was kind of the apex, the ultimate dream,” she says.

But at the same time, something didn’t feel quite right. “I knew that there was a bigger purpose for my life. I knew there was something beyond doing what I was doing. I felt heart palpitations every time I got on a plane, and I think my heart was telling me that this was not the path I was supposed to be on. This was not the way that I was supposed to be living my life.” (more…)

Ginger Miller: Once Homeless, Now Extending a Hand to Others

23041-banner-ginger-miller-forms-women-veterans-interactiveThere are 52,000 homeless women veterans in the U.S. on any given night. Ginger Miller was once one of these women. Only 18 years old when she joined the Navy and 22 when she received a medical discharge, it wasn’t a smooth transition back to civilian life for Miller or her Marine Corps veteran husband.

Miller met her husband, William, when the pair were stationed at Annapolis, Maryland. They married shortly after being transferred to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and decided that Miller would stay on to serve while William would get a federal job so he could accompany her wherever she was stationed. This decision was made easier by the fact that William, who had served in Liberia and Operation Desert Storm, was suffering from undiagnosed PTSD following the suicide of a friend and fellow soldier. (more…)

Camas Davis: On a Quest to Change the Way We Think About Meat

Camas Davis
Courtesy of Shawn Linehan

Ever wonder about the provenance of your pork chops or how that juicy steak got from Farmer Fred’s field to your plate on a Friday night? Are you conflicted? Having guilty thoughts? Well don’t worry, you’re not alone. Camas Davis understands. She’s been there and now she wants to help others get intimate with meat as she once did. Seriously though, it’s not as kinky as it sounds. Davis is on a mission.

“Ninety-nine percent of the animals raised for food are factory farmed. An increasing number of people want to eat that other one percent but don’t know how to access it and are afraid of the processes by which it ends up on their tables. We teach people about factory-farmed meat and then we teach them how to source and utilize meat that isn’t factory farmed. By making the whole process transparent, putting knives in people’s hands and showing them what it takes to get good meat, we’re bringing more choice to the table, we’re creating a more informed consumer base, one that wants to eat good meat, and, often, less of it.” (more…)

Pamela Anyoti Peronaci: Letting the Sun Shine on the Farmers of Uganda

Pamela APamela Anyoti Peronaci was born and raised in Uganda during one of the most difficult periods in the country’s history.  Under the reign of the dictator Idi Amin, for years Anyoti Peronaci’s parents struggled to provide basic things for their children.  “I didn’t have shoes for ten years of my life,” says Anyoti Peronaci. “In order to work, you need peace.”

And there was no peace in Uganda. After Amin, the region was devastated again by a civil war caused by Joseph Kony’s rebel group that lasted almost 20 years. “There was a lot of misery and a lot of people disappearing.”

But Anyoti’s family managed somehow, and her father pulled enough money together to send the children to school. “In Uganda, nature is on our side, and so we got by with what the land could provide.” (more…)

Carrie McIndoe: A Passion for Creating Opportunity

Carrie-McIndoe-head-shotCarrie McIndoe read a great quote once and, although she doesn’t know who said it or if she’s even quoting it right, it spoke profoundly to her: “‘Savor the time you spend with the people you love and on the parts of your life that matter the most, so much so that it makes you so happy you could dance in the street.’”

After a long career in strategic business planning and financing for start-ups, McIndoe is living those words as the founder of Economic Ventures, a not-for-profit dedicated to entrepreneurship. “I’ve learned a lot of lessons, many the hard way, and want to share these to help others transform their lives. I can’t imagine doing anything better.” (more…)

Ronni Kahn: Harvesting Waste to Overcome Want

10639425_718593768215663_5591722066255461797_n (1)Conventional is not a word that could be used to describe Ronni Kahn. The self-described spiritual sexagenarian and founder of Australia’s leading food rescue charity, OzHarvest, possess a motley accent that’s difficult to pin down and an enthusiasm for her work that’s bursting at the seams. She claims to be genetically blessed with a huge energy field and lucky to have parents who were extraordinary role models. But – blessed or not – Kahn herself is an inspiration to anyone seeking greater significance in life.

After many years of self-discovery, she finally understands how good it feels to have passion and how passion can motivate action. “I didn’t start OzHarvest because I was a bored housewife, I wanted purpose and meaning. I am so fortunate to do what I do.” (more…)

Margaret Kilibwa: From Big Pharma to a Clinic in the Tropics

MKprofileRare is the medical research professional who would give up an established 23-year career to start a healthcare clinic in Africa. Fewer still are those who would fund it out of their own pocket, eating through their savings and foregoing retirement benefits. Meet Margaret Kilibwa, clinical nutritionist and social entrepreneur.

“I wasn’t prepared when I made the leap, but I suppose if I knew then exactly what it would take, I might not have jumped into it. Then again, when I’m at the clinic, many women come to tell me ‘you saved my life’ but even if it was one woman it would be enough for the amount of investment I’ve made.”

Kilibwa was born in Sabatia not far from Kisumu, on the banks of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. Influenced by her American classmates at boarding school, the young graduate crossed the Atlantic to study chemistry at the University of Cincinnati, where she had won a scholarship. From Ohio, she was accepted to the prestigious Cornell University where she did a Masters, followed by a PhD in clinical nutrition. Although she was interested in going to medical school, Kilibwa decided to gain work experience instead, “not in the diet area but rather to understand in more practical terms how nutrition can be used to prevent disease,” she recalls. (more…)

Joi Gordon: Volunteering Your Way to A New Career

GordonSuitingClient
Joi Gordon (right) with a client from Dress for Success

Not everyone is as lucky as Joi Gordon. She discovered early in her career that she needed to make a change, that job satisfaction and happiness could only result from doing something that propelled her out of bed in the morning. And while Joi may have been lucky in her timing, she says it’s never too late to do what you love, especially if what you love is living a life of community service in the non-profit sphere.

“The best time to explore the possibilities is when you can volunteer. Find out what you’re passionate about, and give your time and your talent. Join boards and get oriented with the operations of an organization. Understand what is required to run a non-profit organization. When the time is right, make the switch. Because there will be a right time. There’s always a right time for a person to refocus, reshift.”

An only child, Gordon grew up in Brooklyn before moving to Oklahoma where she studied radio and TV broadcasting at the University of Oklahoma. Those were the heydays of court TV and Gordon was sure she wanted to be a court reporter, covering scintillating trials and breaking down legalese for the average Joe. Heeding the advice of a professor who recommended she get an institutional understanding of her preferred beat, Gordon opted for a juris doctorate from her Alma Mater.

As a means to an end of a career in legal journalism, Gordon returned to NY to take a position with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. All was going to plan until the newly minted public prosecutor switched on the local news one morning before work.

Gordon recalls vividly, “It was the usual busy morning, trying to get out the door for work when I was distracted by a story on a not-for-profit that had just opened its doors six months earlier. The organization, Dress for Success, was appealing for donations of women’s business attire to help them in their work of getting disadvantaged women into the workforce.

She left that day for work, planning to contact the organization only about dropping off some items. Speaking with the young founder, Nancy Lublin, Gordon was inspired. The 22-year-old had dropped out of law school to launch Dress for Success with a $5000 inheritance from her grandfather. Teaming up with some nuns from Spanish Harlem and supplementing her income by playing poker in Atlantic City, Lublin was shameless in her pursuit of resources for her non-profit. As soon as she heard Gordon was a lawyer, the entrepreneurial Lublin offered her an unpaid position on the Board of Dress for Success.

Gordon immediately felt a connection with the organization and appreciated Lublin’s passion. She signed on with the Board and provided oversight as Dress for Success began to build out the platform to expand its operations beyond New York. After a little over one year, and only 29-years-old at that time, Gordon knew she had found her passion and signed on full-time to run the Dress for Success New York office as Lublin took on a worldwide role: “I left what I was doing without even questioning it. I cannot say I grew up wanting to be in the helping profession, but I decided this was going to be my path, my journey, and my opportunity to make a difference. My decision was met with mixed reviews from my parents. My mom was always a strong supporter of me, if I was happy, she was happy. My dad, an immigrant from the West Indies, was less sure. Being a lawyer meant having status, he was definitely more concerned about the shift and didn’t understand how his only child, a lawyer, decided not to do that anymore. But he came round and before his death last year told me how proud and happy he was that I made that decision all those years ago.”

Gordon ran the NY Office for three years until Lublin decided to step down from the organization to write the next chapter in her life, inviting Gordon to step DFS Joi Gordon with Vanessa Williamsinto the CEO role in 2002. In addition to suiting up women for job interviews, under Gordon’s leadership, Dress for Success has focused more intently on employment retention and offers resumé-writing support, interview training, and general all-around confidence building. “It’s not unusual for us to work with women who have spent 20 years in the corporate world, lost their job, and then lost their way. They need an organization like ours to pick them up again. We work with non-profit job training agencies offering hard skills training like computer training or a culinary program, for example. They refer a woman 48-72 hours before her interview, and we help get her ready. If she doesn’t land the job, we help her further along the process to help her find employment.”

Dress for Success has helped more than 775,000 women find work and is now in 136 cities in 17 countries around the world. “I never would have imagined to have operations in so many countries and find this common denominator, not only in the women we serve, but the women who serve the women we serve – our volunteers. They are so passionate about helping women overcome obstacles and succeed,” Gordon says proudly.

Gordon acknowledges it was easy for her to make the transition. She was young, with a husband and child, but no debt as she had gone to law school on a scholarship. She was also earning a modest salary as a public prosecutor so her day-to-day expenses were reasonable.  But based on her experience with Dress for Success, the 46-year old CEO is adamant in her belief that women must discover their own inner motivations. “If you don’t move forward, you’re standing still. Join a board, do your research, get involved in organizations that you believe in and feel strongly about. Figure out the timing. Look for the right opportunity but it must be strategic, you’ve got to do your homework and you need to get involved. There are so many opportunities for people to get involved in the non-profit sector first as a volunteer, then as a Board member and hopefully then as an employee.”

DFS Joi Gordon 2011 GalaBeing in so many cities worldwide, Dress for Success offers many volunteer opportunities for women looking to get into a new field, learn new skills, or even get a foot in the door. They can serve as image consultants in the boutiques, helping clients getting suited for interviews. Others can work in the career centers, reviewing resumes and doing mock interviews. “Women of a certain age have such wonderful experience in the workforce to offer. We get great use out of retirees to act as speakers for our numerous workshops for example.”

And the best thing about volunteering is that you become a known quantity to a whole group of people previously outside your network. So while you may not have a lot of experience in that new field, your passion and commitment will be proof of your reliability, putting you in serious contention for a job in the organization should one arise, or in similar organizations where others can vouch for you. Volunteering also does wonders for one’s confidence and feeling of fullfilment.

As Joi says, “I’m incredibly fortunate to have a job that combines my commitment to public service with my passion for women’s issues. Volunteering is wonderful in that it offers that opportunity to everyone.”

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with Dress for Success, information is available here.

Encore is an organization targeting men and women in midlife careers looking not only for continued income but the promise of more meaning – and the chance to do work that means something beyond yourself. Read an earlier Career 2.0 profile on Jere King who did an Encore fellowship.

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Jere Brooks King: Redefining Retirement for Herself and Others

Jere King Portrait 2014Jere King is speaking from personal experience when she tells you there is more to retirement than sitting on the porch or playing golf every day. “At the age of 56, I wasn’t ready to retire in the traditional sense.  I was ready for a chance to reimagine what my next career would be. ”

In 1977 when Jere graduated from Kalamazoo College with a liberal arts degree, she thought she would have a career in medicine or education.  When weighing her options, a family friend (a physician) advised against pursuing a medical degree. “He said, ‘it’s a huge commitment, and the medical field may soon become very bureaucratic … why don’t you try something else first just to make sure there’s nothing you are missing out on?” And it was hard to find a teaching job at the time.

Encouraged by the president of a local software company, King went to work for a burgeoning IBM. “The high technology field was creative, innovative, growing, and fast paced.”  Thoughts of public service vanished quickly in the golden era of technology, where King forged a path as a skilled technology marketer at a range of high tech companies – first IBM, later SDRC and Autodesk.  She even got an MBA along the way before finally landing at Cisco Systems in 1996.

King had what she describes as “a fabulous career” at Cisco, grateful for being part of one of the most influential and high-profile companies of the Internet Age.  She liked the work and her colleagues, but as 2012 approached, King started thinking about retirement…but not in the traditional sense.

“I thought, ‘I’ve had a great career, but I need something different.  I wanted to spend more time with my family and work fewer hours, but I also wanted to contribute back and do something for the local community.”

She was determined to shape a second act for herself, one where she could return to one of her early career aspirations. “I needed to return to where I was when I got out of college and transition into public service. I had already served on several nonprofit boards.  Perhaps my best work was still ahead of me.”

As luck would have it, someone else had the same idea in mind for her. Literally on her last day at Cisco, a colleague approached King and asked,  “Have your heard of the Encore Fellowship Program?” King had not but was intrigued by what she heard. An Encore Fellowship is a one-year program for those who have been in long-term careers and have a desire to engage in the nonprofit world. The program offers a structured “bridge” to the nonprofit world by facilitating a 1000-hour internship supported by a $25,000 stipend.

King investigated the program, and – when she learned more – jumped at the chance. Many of the people in the Encore program were like King and had retired from corporate careers, or just had a deep desire for a significant change and needed support through the process.

After considering a number of worthy local organizations, King was placed with Abilities United, a Palo Alto non-profit that has been working on inclusion programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities for 50 years. It was a mile and a half from King’s house and everything she had hoped it would be – giving back and playing an active role in her own community.

She began her fellowship in February of 2012 and completed her 1000 hours of service nine months later. “With all my years in the high tech sector, I had the executive skill set to lead the design and completion of many projects effectively. Still, I had to learn the ropes within the nonprofit world, with its wide range of stakeholders and strong mission orientation. It was at times both frustrating and exhilarating to be charting new waters.”

Upon completion of her internship, King continued with Abilities United as a member of the Board of Directors

For King, the internship proved to be invaluable in helping her launch what she calls “the next stage of life.” Rather than being retired, King views this as “life reimagined” – a movement that’s gaining traction as life expectancy increases, and people have a desire to stay in the workforce longer.

This year, Stanford University approached King to ask if she would serve as an advisory board member for their inaugural Distinguished Careers Institute.

“It’s a year-long residential program of personal renewal in an academic setting for those who have already experienced a successful 20–30 year career,” says King of the Stanford DCI program.  With the inaugural class beginning in January of 2015, King is helping Stanford recruit 20 Fellows who will spend a year on campus while attending classes, shaping their own curriculum, and networking with luminaries about how people with “distinguished careers” can embrace new fields and help change the future.

King remembers what someone said to her when she took early retirement from Cisco to participate in the Encore Fellowship program. “What? You’ve had a long successful career in high tech, and you’re shifting into nonprofit? You should go relax and take a break.”

There are rich rewards in launching a second act. Lucky for Abilities United and all the future fellows of Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute.

Tips from Jere King

  • Rethink what retirement means for you.  Start now!  The accepted norms around length of career and age of retirement are changing fast.
  • Reimagine a second act that gives you the chance to pursue your passions.
  • Realize that what we regret most in life is not what we did, but what we did not do – so go for it!

If you are interested in the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, which is currently accepting Fellows for its inaugural 2015 program, you can learn more at www.dci.stanford.edu If you would like to try an Encore Fellowship, be sure to visit the www.encore.org site.

If you have more questions or comments, add them below and we’ll be sure to get them answered.