"Nothing is more fun than work when it's right"
-- Francis Ford Coppola
On Friday, November 21, 2003, I was an executive headhunter whose book, The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers, became a bestseller.
That very same day, I was fired.
Less than 12 months later, I would be chatting with Francis Ford Coppola as he poured me wine from his private cellar; I would sit with Senate leaders Bob Dole and George Mitchell, debating campaign strategies for the upcoming presidential election; I would get a call from Robert Redford inviting me to his ranch at Sundance to think through some business issues; I would discuss leadership with Jack Welch, social activism with Bono, and the economy with Alan Greenspan; I would have dinner with the CEO of a major corporation and discuss the sudden success of my new business. And he would offer me millions to buy it.
This blog is the result of my quest to understand what the hell happened to me. How it relates to what has happened to other people who experienced a similar roller coaster ride throughout their careers -- many on the way to monumental achievement -- and how what I've learned can benefit you.
So let's begin in the middle. In that fall of 2003, at the age of 36, my life was at a crossroads. I'd had a moderately successful career as both a management consultant and an executive recruiter. But extensive travel had forced me out of consulting (my two-year-old daughter woke me one morning with the greeting, "Daddy, thanks for coming to visit!"). And after several years in executive search, I'd seen the writing on the wall: I was most likely to remain average. I was competent, but clearly not a stand-out.
As such, I was no different from the great majority of middle-class working stiffs who don't know where they are going and are working like hell to get there.
Lacking fulfillment in my day job, I set out to write a book, toiling away on nights and weekends. Like millions of other professionals who aspire to see their name in print, I was completely naïve about the challenges of actually getting a book published, but I needed this dream in my life to give me respite from my disappointing daily reality.
I convinced a friend and fellow recruiter, Jim Citrin, to join me in the project, and sold a book agent on the idea.
Our book was published in August of 2003. My employer, Spencer Stuart -- one of the world's top executive search firms -- was mentioned glowingly in the book and, due to the potential for good PR for the company, our CEO asked me to take a leave from my search work and pursue a book tour and promotion efforts. I did radio, television and magazine interviews, published articles excerpting the book and spoke in front of thousands. And not once did I think, 'Boy, I can't wait to get back to headhunting.'
One day the CEO called me up. "This has been great for the firm," he said. "In return, we really want to take care of you. Come see me and we'll discuss where to take your career next."
I was thrilled and excited. Here was the CEO praising my work, calling me for a private meeting to discuss my career! As I flew from Atlanta to the company's New York headquarters, I couldn't help but wonder what was in store. A raise? A promotion? What if he asks me to run a small part of the business...like Europe?!
I arrived in his office and he immediately asked me, "Rick, what have you liked most about the last several months of your career?" I launched into an excited description of my new life as a successful author. Forty-two minutes later he cut me off. "Wow, Rick, your passion is amazing. This clearly seems to be your calling. But," he hesitated, "I must note that not once during this conversation did you ever mention headhunting." He paused for a moment and then picked up one of the firm's recruiting services brochures, sliding it across the table in front of me. "And if you haven't forgotten, Rick, that's basically what we do."
My heart started to sink. Had I played this one incorrectly?
"But you know, Rick, we really want to be supportive. You seem to have some very innovative ideas. I'll tell you what, if you can put together a plan that makes sense, we may be your first sponsor company. And if you need to reach out to someone whom I know, I will be happy to make a personal introduction for you." I was beginning to feel reassured. The CEO continued, "In fact, we are so supportive, that we will even give you severance."
As the meeting quickly ended, I was still excited. The firm will be my first sponsor, I thought. I have access to the personal Rolodex of the CEO! This could be my big break!
But as I boarded the elevator, just as the doors were shutting, the CEO's parting words suddenly resurfaced. SEVERANCE!
By the time I reached the first floor, it finally had sunk in that I had just been fired.
I had co-written a bestselling book on career success and my own career had just crashed and burned.
Fortunately, I had an idea; a small idea that would soon become a very big idea, catapulting my life from ordinary to extraordinary. I launched World 50, Inc., which in three short years would become one of the most influential networks in the world, bringing celebrities, business and world leaders together for private and meaningful collaboration. I became host to a party to which I would never otherwise have been invited and had the opportunity to mingle with celebrities in business and in life -- many of whom are among the most successful icons of our time. And now I invite you to join the party.
How will you unlock your true potential?