Joan Ryan of iPEC: “Every single person I’ve ever known has played a role in my journey”

…Oh, this is an easy one! All that goodness you’re talking about lives within every single one of us. If I could inspire a moment that would inspire the most amount of good, it would be movement of self- discovery and deep awareness. Once we remember who we always were, we can create a life […]

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…Oh, this is an easy one! All that goodness you’re talking about lives within every single one of us. If I could inspire a moment that would inspire the most amount of good, it would be movement of self- discovery and deep awareness. Once we remember who we always were, we can create a life of true alignment — one full of passion and purpose.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joan Ryan.

Joan Ryan is an 18-year veteran in the learning and performance industry who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Joan is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner (ELI-MP) and leads iPEC’s overall strategic direction and transformative mission. Prior to her time with iPEC, Joan quickly climbed the ranks at PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP, where she spent the span of her career developing deep expertise in instructional design, curriculum development and Human Performance Improvement. In her time with iPEC, Joan has managed and enhanced key areas of the business including student support services, trainer and mentor involvement, information technology, employee relations, staffing and budgetary controls.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Interesting. That’s the first word that came up for me in thinking about my childhood. After sustained physical and emotional abuse directed at me and others in my family, including my mother, my parents divorced when I was very young. We survived on food stamps and most people who saw or knew of that experience had nothing but sympathy for us. And yet, that was not my experience.

I felt that I was surrounded by love… the love of my mother, brothers, friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, and especially my grandparents. I knew the pain, but even in the deepest of it, the love was my protector and I learned that no matter what happens, I could always count on love to protect me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The story of love is not important. What is important is that we are capable of love — it is perhaps the only glimpse we are permitted of eternity.” Helen Hayes.

I read this as the “quote of the day” in a local newspaper when I was in college and it always stuck with me. For me, this reinforced my belief system, not just about love — but about life itself…that our existence mattered, and that we were always in control of how we experience life.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Faith: Since the time I was a little girl, I’ve always believed deeply that despite how I grew up, my future would be bright. Very bright! It wasn’t something I hoped for… It was simply something I believed deep inside.

Integrity: Look — at the end of the day if you can’t look yourself in the mirror and be proud of what you see, you likely have some work to do. For me, integrity isn’t just about saying what you mean and meaning what you say, but walking the talk with a pure viewpoint about the purpose and your purpose in life. So to me, my actions are in integrity with my beliefs.

Being competitive with myself: I’ve always considered myself a competitive person… But not necessarily with others. I grew up constantly asking myself how I can be better than I was yesterday. By eliminating the notion of competition with others, I’ve allowed myself to more fully focus my energy on my own development. I have a saying: “Today is the worst day of the rest of your life.” I feel that I keep a self-competitive edge by constantly seeking how I can improve my life and the lives of my loved ones, every single day.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

After completing my Master’s degree, I joined PwC (at the time it was Coopers & Lybrand, LLP). I spent 18 years at PwC. You might say that I grew up there professionally. It was a wonderful and very reciprocally rewarding experience. I dedicated myself to contributing to the firm’s needs and the firm invested heavily in me. I received formal training in instructional design, performance consulting, and an array of other skills that filled my tool box. I worked with brilliant people who challenged my thinking and provided incredible professional opportunities for those hungry enough to pursue them.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

My reinvention started when I took the firm up on its offer for me to hire an executive coach. I hired the then President and CEO of iPEC (The Institute for Professional Excellence) for a 3 month engagement. At the same time, I also enrolled in iPEC’s Coach Training Program. Although I didn’t know what the misalignment with PwC was, it was something I felt was telling me to prepare for an exit strategy from the firm.

Part of the “how” included simply finding the courage to face my fears. Not easy to leave a cushy job, and one that I was very familiar with. The coach training program provided me a lens through which to see the world, a new possibility, and once I looked through that lens, I knew I would never go back to seeing my life the way I once did. During the coach training journey, I went through a process of deconstructing and reconstructing who I was to create who I was always meant to be. It was a journey of deep awareness, at a time when I was ready, open, and willing to take that journey, even if I had no idea that it was indeed that time for me.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

My reinvention was triggered by what many people’s reinventions are triggered by… a setback. After being at the firm for 17 years, I received my first average rating. For me, this was devastating as I had never received anything below above average in the 17 years I was there. I immediately knew that the rating was indicative of something deeper than just a performance dip. Had I been more in-tuned with my intuition at the time, I likely would have seen that there was a deep misalignment between who I was and how I was showing up in the world. But having spent most of my adult life developing my intellectual side, my intuitive side was sorely under developed. Upon receiving the rating, my Managing Director told me that the firm wanted to again invest in me and hire an executive coach to help me uncover the root cause of the performance dip. I immediately said yes and my journey with iPEC began.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

What I discovered was much deeper than a skill set. Yes — I’ve been able to leverage all the wonderful skills and experiences that I gathered during the prior 18 years, but it was my shift in creating more balance of my whole self that has become my superpower. This was a concerted shift to focusing on developing and trusting my emotional and intuitive side and opening my awareness to the possibility that as technically adept as I was, I was only living at the tip of the iceberg.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

In the past 6 ½ years, I moved from Director of Training to the CEO of the company! But in general, and more importantly, I experience more joy in everyday life. I have deeper connections and feel I do much more purposeful work (for me), and that I am now expanding my idea of the power of love to a much larger family, including iPEC’s employees, it’s graduates, and the world at large.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Every single person I’ve ever known has played a role in my journey. And I am full of gratitude for all of them. I spent my life surrounded by strong-willed women — from my mother to my grandmother to my aunts. So if there is one entity to which I am grateful, it’s the collective will of the women who raised me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Interesting? I can tell you the most rewarding…which was interesting because I didn’t expect it. My children have noticed a huge shift in how I show up. At their young ages of between 6–10 years old, they’ve each acknowledged on various occasions that I’m happier and more positive than I’ve ever been. The first time one of my sons told me this it kind of took my breath away. I think when we’re just trudging through life, we’re not very aware of how much rationalizing we do in our world and in our lives, but it’s apparent to those around us. Sometimes we think we’re actually helping ourselves and others around us by justifying the things in our life that we tolerate — telling ourselves and others, “It is what it is.” But this can be draining and unsustainable, and our loved ones can begin to feel the effects of our lives being only partly-lived.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Oh yes, of course I did. Once I joined iPEC, the culture was very foreign to me. People were very open, and they didn’t shy away from being vulnerable. In the beginning of my journey, I didn’t realize the true value and power that came with having the courage to be vulnerable in life. It’s a continued journey for me and one that is wrought with all the expressions of humanity… from deep fear to absolute passion. It’s recognizing the purpose and beauty in every life experience — and expressing gratitude for it. What a journey!

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

This was a tricky one because I couldn’t really explain in logical terms why I was making such a huge change in my life. It came down to being very clear and honest with those around me. I acknowledged that the leap I was taking didn’t make much sense logically or financially, but I had absolute faith this new course was going to bring me deep, inner joy that, at the time, I could not explain to friends and family, mostly because I didn’t understand it myself. Ultimately, I had to ask them to have faith in me and my decision.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

My assimilation into iPEC was extremely uncomfortable because of my formal, corporate background. During my first week, I attended a business meeting where I was asked what my greatest fear was — AND, I was expected to actually answer that question in front of everyone around that conference table. That level of discomfort continued for quite some time as I slowly became aware of how I was showing up in the world.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. If you really choose to fully commit to transforming your leadership style, you will be forced to face your deepest fears
  2. You’ll need to truly assess the narrative you’ve been telling yourself about who you are
  3. Be prepared to fail and fail often
  4. Check your ego and let go of attachment
  5. Learn to be still in the moment in order to truly connect with your team

I suppose I wish someone had told me these things, because I had no idea what I was really getting into when I ventured on this journey. But that’s what faith is, isn’t it? That “knowing” that no matter what we encounter throughout the journey, we know that it’s purposeful and worth it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Oh, this is an easy one! All that goodness you’re talking about lives within every single one of us. If I could inspire a moment that would inspire the most amount of good, it would be movement of self- discovery and deep awareness. Once we remember who we always were, we can create a life of true alignment — one full of passion and purpose.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

Well… my honest answer is young adults. Imagine what the world would be like if young adults (high-schoolers, college-age, young 20-somethings) began to think about some of these concepts. If, globally, people at a younger age understood the power of vulnerability & deep awareness as I only came to embrace them in my 40’s….WOW…. what a world we could create. There would be a global shift in consciousness.

I’d love the opportunity to meet Brene Brown. I have a deep respect for her work and I can see how much of it supports the work we do at iPEC — the work I believe in.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow the work of iPEC, and our graduates around the world, at

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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