Anne Witkavitch | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Anne Witkavitch

Background:  

By the start of the New Millennium, Anne Witkavitch had progressed from working her first job behind a cosmetics counter to the world of corporate communication. In 2010, she published "Press Pause Moments: Essays about Life Transitions by Women Writers." The anthology, which won a national Clarion Award, starts with her own story about challenges she faced as a middle-aged student returning to full-time graduate school.

The Mistake: 

Letting my past accomplishments get in the way of reinventing my future.

We tend to think of writing different chapters in our life, but that implies it’s the same book with the same focus and that the narrative arc is going to be the same. Sometimes, you really need to tear out the page and start a new story line. You have to write your professional life like it’s a book series and not a chapter.

The joke is that I came out of the womb with a business card in my hand. I’ve always been a naturally outgoing person who connects with people. I was the youngest of five kids. It was easy for me to connect with older people.

As I grew up my life seemed to fall into place. I got on sports teams. Was I the best? No, but I loved being part of a team. In college I found temporary summer jobs through Kelly Services and learned about business. After graduation I worked at a cosmetics counter, met people, networked, and ended up in marketing for a fragrance company.

From a career standpoint a lot seemed to fall into place. While there were the usual trials and tribulations of growing a career, I always found the stepping stone that made sense. I moved to agency roles and eventually bigger companies, first in global communications at General Electric and then to executive and employee communications at The Hartford.

Then I found myself thinking I hadn’t really taken a big risk for a while—and I went back to school for an MFA in writing. I came out of the program at Western Connecticut State University publishing "Press Pause Moments." Writing about women’s transitions was a natural segue from my work in strategic planning and change management.

My idea was to have my own communication consulting business—and things started off well. But talk about bad timing. The financial crisis hit in 2008; the first time for me (and I think for a lot of people) that, what had worked in the past wasn’t working anymore. I started teaching and continued consultation work, but other challenges I never expected—medical issues, family loss, a car accident—started to come into play. These were the roughest years in my life, but I come from a family of resilient Lithuanian women. You just keep going, right? Still, for the first time I think I understood my vulnerability and it threw me for a loop.

Around this time I put together a Press Pause Now retreat for women, which was all about reinvention and transformation. I thought by getting my MFA I had already reinvented myself. But now, as I advised other women, I found myself thinking, “What should I do next?”

You have to write your professional life like it’s a book series and not a chapter.

The Lesson:

I’ve learned that as I search for new opportunities I have to get out of my own way and let go of some of my accomplishments. I’m rethinking what from my past still has value and how to focus that in a way that meets the needs of the marketplace today. 

All this made me realize how important the fundamentals of communicating our stories are. We call it engagement now. You really need to know how to persuade and motivate, skills I am emphasizing as I look for my next career opportunity and launch Press Pause Now as an online virtual retreat. The interactive program brings together a community of women who are looking for what’s next in their lives, whether it be a career move, starting a business, retiring and volunteering, running for office, or something else.  The platform walks them through what I continue to explore for myself: how to assess where their values are now, what they hope for five years from now, and how to create an operating plan to make it happen.

Photo credit: Tobey Sanford

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jfisher@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Connecticut.