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Why I Had to Walk Away from my Career to Align with My Values

A difficult family truth was the key.

If you were to look at my life now, as a Work/Life Transitions Coach, you’d notice how I live my life in alignment with my values. 

I make my own schedule. I choose who I want to work with. I have time for family, friends, workouts, mindfulness, all the things most important to me. And I feel like I’m actually helping people.

But guess what? It took me years to realize I wasn’t living the life I wanted. When I took a step back to look at why, I was shocked that it had taken me so long to align with my values.

You see, of my 25 year career in the marketing and branding industry I worked for 10 years in the alcoholic beverage category. 

Here’s why I left that business and that old life behind.

My dad was an alcoholic. 

Alcohol is essentially what killed him.

The part of his battle with alcohol I want to talk about today is the part tied to my career.

This particular story starts about 12 years ago, when my dad was told he’d need a new liver and he stopped drinking so that he could be eligible for a transplant. Finally scared himself enough to do it.

Coincidentally, right about the time he was finally eligible for a liver transplant — 10 years ago — my career in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry became focused on working with clients in the alcoholic beverage category. 

At first, I thought it was fun, more interesting than working on toilet paper or baby food brands, right?

Yes, a voice in the back of my head told me it was weird, since I was an adult child of an alcoholic. At least I’m not working on tobacco, I told myself, no I would never work on tobacco.

And hey, I could keep that separate, it’s just work, right?

While I’ve never had my own drinking problem, I admit those first couple of years working in the industry had me drinking way more than I ever had. For work and for fun. Market research! Product testing! Learning the industry!

Throughout those couple of years, my dad waited to be called up for a new liver. It was touch and go many times. 

I’d think, “Keep it separate.”

In 2010, my dad was fortunate enough to receive a liver transplant. He’d likely only have had a couple more days to live without it, so it was in the nick of time.

I jumped back and forth from working with my vodka client to visiting my previously vodka-loving father who was recovering from the damage that vodka had caused. 

Keep it separate.

My family and I then got to have 5 good “bonus” years with the new non-drinking, new-liver dad. A total gift.

My career continued to grow, working in the alcohol industry.

What am I doing? Oh well, it’s just work. And dad was recovered anyway, right?

Almost 5 years after dad’s transplant, I found out my dad had cancer. 

I was 4 days in to what I thought was my dream job at the most world-renowned alcoholic beverage branding and packaging design agency. I loved my job, I thought. I loved my dad too, and he was dying.

Dad died of that cancer 5 months later.

Wait, didn’t I say alcohol killed my father? 

The thing is, the cancer started in his liver (and lungs…don’t get me started on his smoking addiction). They tried to treat it with chemo and radiation. The problem is, someone who’s had an organ transplant no longer has an immune system. So he couldn’t handle that chemo and radiation and we had to make the gut-wrenching decision to stop treatment.

So if not for the drinking, maybe he would have been able to fight the cancer? Or perhaps not even gotten the cancer?

In 2015, my dad passed away. As my career flourished. 

The thing is, I continued to work in this industry for a few more years, despite losing my dad to the very thing I spent almost all my waking hours on.

I became an expert in the alcohol category. I’d help clients create new brands that would appeal to consumers and make them want to choose to drink their brand of whiskey, of tequila, of rum.

I was making the most money I’d ever made before. I was leading the NYC studio of this global agency, and I was working with clients all over the world. Traveling to their distilleries, tasting their products, advising them on how best to brand themselves to make people want to drink.

In looking back, I was struck by the unusual reverse trajectories my dad and I took during those years. His health faltered because of alcohol, while my career flourished because of alcohol.

However I noticed that during those years, I got to a point where the only time I’d drink was if I had to, for work. Whether that was taking clients out to dinner, or visiting their distillery for a meeting and having to do a whiskey tasting. 

Then one day I hit my breaking point. I was on yet another distillery visit and was tasting their range of whiskies. At 10am on a Tuesday. Every sip began to make me feel sick. I could barely choke it down. I wanted to be anywhere but there.

I thought, I. Can. Not. Do. This. Anymore.

Seriously I never want to taste alcohol in the morning again.

Think about that: I’d drink because I had to, for work*. 

(*To be clear no one I worked with forced me to drink, but I felt I wasn’t fully committed to my job if I didn’t).

I’m not saying that no one should work in the alcohol industry or drink alcohol — I’m only saying what I realized was true for me.

And what was true for me is that I needed to walk away from that career.

I wanted to stop doing work that had the potential to harm people, and start doing work that helped people.

And so I did. A few months after that I’d defined my values, identified what I most wanted to do with my work/life and started on my journey to become a coach, and embraced my true calling.

Best thing I’ve ever done.

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