You Never Know: 10 Lessons from an Unexpected Career Journey

Joan Michelson - 702-806-3690 - blue - cropped - 31RBJoan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Media™, a media and consulting firm focused on innovation and leadership, especially in the energy-green space. She shares 10 lessons she has gleaned from interviews with innovators and her own career journey’s ups and downs.

Before I could even get through the second set of doors into the hotel lobby, this cute guy approached me and said, “You must be Joan.” This was a pleasant surprise. After a delightful evening, that included discovering that he lives in North Dakota (a place that had never been on my radar), he invited me out for the balance of his evenings in D.C., including dinners with his N.D. business colleagues.  

Figuring I needed to brush up on North Dakota, I researched it online and must have left cyber-tracks, because I started receiving emails from North Dakota companies asking if I’d be interested in moving there. Ha! This New York City girl? Not bloody likely….

Fast-forward a few months and I was recruited by the electric vehicle division of a top automaker in – you guessed it – Fargo, North Dakota, to lead their communications efforts and co-lead their marketing and sales team, even though I’d never worked in the auto industry (and didn’t even own a car at the time). I had great fun working with smart, interesting people who were making a difference – and it changed my life forever.

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Jack Canfield at Biz Book Festival

When the company president introduced me to the staff in their cavernous plant and said, “North Dakota nice wasn’t working so we brought out a New Yorker,” I knew he had my back and I could do creative stuff.  We generated hockey-stick growth, including bringing to life some of my quintessentially “out-of-the-box” ideas.

The sub-plot running in the back of my mind, though, was the lack of women in the industry, and even fewer women at these conferences or in related media. So, I seized the moment and spotlighted women dealers, women managers, and women buyers, especially because women make the majority of car buying decisions in the US.

Falling in Love, But….

A few years later, a victim of the auto industry collapse, I returned to my natural environment: big city life in Washington, D.C.  But I was not the same person.

I’d fallen in love – with an industry and a cause, with a dynamism and economic potential, with the creative spirit of a burgeoning industry being birthed by brilliant, creative, inspired and determined social innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders across sectors. I also had a deeper level of confidence in my skills, talents, ideas, judgment, intuition and network, and strong convictions about the need for more women in this industry. The next question was….

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Asst. Sec of the Army Katherine Hammack

How do I give my new passion, confidence, and convictions a voice and get paid for it?  The answer came from an unexpected but (in retrospect) natural place.

At a conference one day, a female media entrepreneur asked me to do a radio show on her network. The process that followed gave birth to my podcast series/radio show Green Connections™ and a new level of my media persona (I’d been in TV news and written articles for national media before).

The Green Connections Media™ mission is to grow a clean, green economy in which women have economic parity. We cover energy, sustainability, and clean tech, and how it intersects with every industry – from policy to The Pope, business to Broadway, and activism to the arts.  And, we feature mostly women experts (the opposite of the traditional media).

From my interviews with top leaders and innovators at Fortune 500 companies like Dell, Facebook, MGM Resorts, Campbell Soup, and government agencies like the Department of Energy, as well as non-profit leaders, and my own journey’s ups and downs, I’ve learned great lessons that translate to any career, any time.

10 career tips:

  1. Follow your intuition: Collect the information you need to make a decision, then step back. Take a walk, sleep on it, whatever suits you. Then check in: what does your inner voice say?
  2. Be open to crazy ideas and choices: These could lead you to a path of cool people and opportunities and fuller expressions of yourself – and all this could make you smile.
  3. Reframe a perceived “set-back”: Rejection is just life moving in a new direction, so make lemonade. Find the opportunity, then move in that direction.
  4. Be kind to everyone: Everyone. Period. From waiters to coworkers, to hecklers to people you meet on the subway. You may run into them again someday. Plus, it’s good karma.
  5. Listen for people’s values and agendas: You can learn a lot just by listening. Understanding what makes people around you tick can lead you to some very interesting places.
  6. Stretch out of your comfort zone: Read and listen to people who disagree with you – and hear them, even if you don’t like them. Push yourself to have a more creative idea – flip it sideways, ask someone with a different experience what they would do or how they would think about it.
  7. Increase your self-awareness: The more self-aware you are, the more successful and happy you’ll be, with better relationships.
  8. Make time for self-care: Numerous studies show that taking time for sleep, exercise and healthy eating improves performance and relationships, dramatically slows the aging process, and improves mental clarity.
  9. Trust yourself: The universe does not give you things you can’t handle.


  1. ASK – ASK –ASK! Don’t be shy, just polite and tell them what’s in it for them, how your request dovetails with their world. Be persistent – pleasant – but persistent.

So, go out there and expand your reach.

You can do it. Yes, you can.

I’m expanding Green Connections and its reach, talking to more talented innovators every week, so there will be more lessons to share. Stay tuned and go to to listen.


To listen to Joan’s insightful and engaging interviews with innovators and leaders, go to Follow Joan on Twitter at @joanmichelson or @greenconnectsdc and like Green Connections on Facebook. Read her blog in the Huffington Post. Joan also does communications consulting.

8 thoughts on “You Never Know: 10 Lessons from an Unexpected Career Journey

  1. I was 12 and watched my father go through 2 years of legal nightmares (he was a creditor in a commercial bankruptcy). It was finally settled end of November – great Christmas for us all!!. Anyway I saw the emotional side of humans dealing with the legal system and decided I could make a difference. At 25 I announced my intentions to go to law school, my father was worried by my choice because “ladies cannot be good lawyers”. I was strong enough to take that as a challenge. 30 years later he is my number one supporter.

  2. I wanted to be an airline stewardess (yes, that is what they were called 42 years ago!) with the intention of being an airline pilot as a long term goal. However, I started what would be my banking career at 16, working part time at the local hometown bank while attending high school. What a blessing to work in a small town, home owned banking establishment! At some point in my tenure, I wore every hat in that bank, eventually becoming a director! When I first started going to banking seminars and various bank trainings, I was so much in the minority, it wasn’t even funny! There were very few young ladies that attended. Most women that attended these meetsings were much older women, clad in gold and diamonds, who had inherited their position from their late husband. I felt so out of place, but now I consider myself very fortunate. My employer kept sending me to these schoolings to learn new things and come back and train my fellow bankers, which is exactly what I did. While at first, I was feeling out of place, I came to appreciate the faith that my employer had to invest that money and time in me, at that time in my life. While I never started out to be a banker…the opportunities in small town, rural America are still few and far between! I decided to remain in the position and learn something new as often as possible. I was never afraid to ask questions and never afraid of change. And here I am 42 years later, still loving every minute of my career journey! Unexpected yes, but unappreciated….no!

      1. Sandy, Interesting and similar story. I too worked with a small technical company. I started with the owner from inception and wore many hats which is normal for a start-up. I started building the business, marketing and sales was my expertise. After almost 5 years, they no longer needed more sales and was replaced by a young engineer right out of college. They needed to ramp up production because they had reached production capacity.
        Like you I have been enjoying my semi-retirement. I would like to export medical devices and have a interest in Quantum energy biofeedback frequency healing.
        I like you believe all good things come in time and will arrive when we least expect it. Blessings

  3. This summer i was let go from my high tech support job from a small software company. I am 51 years old. I worked for the company for 6 years and the customers of the company, I believe, truely connected to my open, honest personality. I may not have been the most “technical” employee out of the 20 or so at the company, but I did my job well, and I gave my heart and soul to the company. I learned that they replaced me with younger workers who were willing to do the job for less pay. It is now late September, I still have not found a job, but i am totally ok with that. I no longer need a job to validate my worth as a woman, or as a human being. I spend my days several hours networking with like minded professionals, job seeking and then i move on to spending time on myself. I do yoga, I meditate, I do things around my home that I never had the time to do when I was working full time. I never turn on my television. I listen to music that inspires me and calms my soul. I know I will find a job that fulfills my needs. I wish to work with children and teens in a capacity that will help them appreciate nature and the arts. I know that the universe will support me in my purpose. I am patient and calm and will wait for my time to receive what is coming my way. I am grateful for what I have is for what will come. I just thought I would share this.

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