What if a voice inside you is telling you to take a different path than the one you're on? Beth Davies has heard this voice many times and she always took action.
On this episode, Beth is taking her turn as the guest and sharing her career journey. She openly shares why she left law for human resources and how she eventually became the host of this podcast. She tells her story hoping to inspire you. As you'll hear, inspiring others is how she defines success.
Meet the Guest
Beth Davies is typically the host of Career Curves but this time, she's the guest.
For over 25 years, Beth Davies has delivered cutting-edge talent management and learning solutions as an employee of Tesla, Microsoft, Apple, and Gap, and as a consultant for clients like LendUp, Livongo, Visa, Oracle, Breakthrough Group, Coaching Right Now, and Tommy Hilfiger. She has acquired expertise in culture-focused onboarding, leadership development, sales and product training, manufacturing training, compliance programs, media-enabled learning, and new learning technologies.
Currently, Beth hosts the Career Curves podcast and teaches at IE University in Madrid. Recognized as an industry expert, she’s also been a featured speaker at conferences in the US, Singapore, Austria, Mexico, Colombia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Beth earned a bachelor’s degree at Indiana University and a law degree from Stanford University. In 2016, IU named her a Luminary as a distinguished Alumna, an honor bestowed on just 12 people before her.
Beth lives in California with her husband, Kevin. On weekends, she often can be found doing jigsaw puzzles while he watches something with balls and athletes on television.
Beth Davies: Welcome to Career Curves where we talk to people who have interesting careers and explore how they got where they are.
I'm your host Beth Davies, and we're doing something a little bit different today. Today I'm sitting with my executive producer and partner, Dan Henkle.
Dan Henkle: Great to be here.
Beth: So Dan, a few weeks ago we were planning for this episode, which is our first episode of 2020, and you wanted to do something special and, in fact, you proposed a particular idea.
Dan: One of the things that we've been hearing from our listeners is they want to hear your story and they want to know a little bit more about who you are. So we thought we do that today.
Beth: All right, so this time we're switching places and I'm on the guest side of the table.
Beth: And with that I'm game. Let's do it.
Dan: Let's jump in. So obviously I want to start from the beginning, Beth, but before we go there, I just thought this is our last episode of our first season and I thought our listeners might be interested in hearing a little bit more about what inspired you to launch Career Curves.
Beth: About a year ago, you and I started talking about doing a podcast and we were throwing around a couple of different ideas. And, what's interesting, is we worked together at the start of our careers 25 years ago and then took very different paths and really came back together with this idea of doing a podcast.
We were playing with some other ideas, but we kept going back to sharing the journeys we had had since we first started and finding it really interesting to tell these stories. And we would talk about other people we had worked with and telling their stories.
I just got, and I think you did too, really inspired by this idea of sharing these stories and really starting to say, "How much could we help other people who might be feeling stuck, get unstuck?" And so I just, with you, started getting really excited about this idea and really recognized that for where I am in my life, this was the perfect next project.
Dan: With that, I want to actually go back to the beginning and hear a little bit more about the early days. So tell me a little bit about your childhood, your family, where you grew up.
Beth: Yeah, certainly. So I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and I'm a middle child, so I've an older brother and a younger sister. My father was an attorney and then my mother had been a school teacher. She taught kindergarten and she gave that up when she had kids, and then went back into education administration when her kids were in school and she could resume her career. So I had the types of parents who were career-oriented and had professions.
Dan: So tell me about some of the early messages you received from your parents about the work that you were going to be doing, career, that kind of thing.
Beth: So I don't think either of them gave a strong message of "shoulds", like I should be any particular thing. I think I got some societal messages, so somewhere I picked up a message that I needed to have a lifestyle equal to or better than what my parents had.
Dan: And that was just coming from yourself or…?
Beth: I don't know where it came from. It's really interesting. I don't know if it was of the time. So I was a teenager in the 70s. People were doing better than their parents did and there had just been this trajectory of one generation doing as well, if not better, than the one before. And so I picked up that message, but I don't think it was something my parents said to me. So that was one thing going on in my head.
Another thing that was going on was my parents got divorced when I was about 12 and there was a constant struggle for child support in the house. Sometimes my father would be coming to pick me up for a visit and my mother would say, "See if he has his child support check. See if he has the check."
So I also got this message for myself that said, "I will never be dependent on another person in this way. I am never going to be in this position." And so when you put those two together: I am going to do as well as my parents, but I was going to do it on my own.
Dan: Got it.
Beth: And so I think that was a big career message for me: that I had work I needed to do and that I needed to be successful.
Dan: Talk about formative messages kind of in your early childhood that have stuck with you for the rest of your life.
Beth: Yeah, and then even as a child, I started getting jobs early on. At age 13, my friend Robin and I wanted to get jobs but couldn't. So we got volunteer jobs and we were candy stripers at a local hospital and we would transport patients to physical therapy. And that was at age 13.
Probably at about age 14 or 15, the place where I took gymnastics or tumbling classes, asked me if I wanted to become a spotter and an assistant teacher. And then in high school, I also got a second job at a movie theater. For all of these jobs, I had to get myself there. Working at the dance studio where I taught gymnastics, that took two buses each way for maybe an hour and a half's worth of work and then I would go home. But there was always something for me about, 'I'm going to work. I will do what I need to do to get to that job and to have that job that I want.
Dan: It sounds like there was some real work ethic that was built early on in your life, so I'm kind of curious a little bit about where did that come from? Was it self-driven or do you think there were other things going on?
Beth: I don't know where it came from. External validation has always been important to me and that's not necessarily a good thing. I always wanted the good grades so that the teachers would say good things about me. And so I think I always wanted as well to do the good job so that my boss would say good things about me. I think there's that kind of work ethic of, "I will be reliable. I'll be dependable. I'll work my tail off for you so that you then will like me and be proud of me."
Dan: Before we move away from your childhood, I'm just curious, did you have any sense of what you wanted to do in your work life later on?
Beth: I had no idea. I had no idea. I will say that my father went to law school, he was a lawyer. My mother had a degree as an educator, she was an educator. So I definitely believed that there had to be a direct tie between what you study and what you do, and I was thinking heavily about that.
Dan: Got it. So, what was your plan as you were finishing up high school?
Beth: I didn't have one. What was really important to me after high school was making a move to become more of my true authentic self. I had gone to elementary school, junior high, and high school with the same group of people and, as a result, they thought of me the way they always thought of me. Whoever I'd been at five years old was kind of still who I was as a high school student. But I knew when I was in high school I wasn't that person anymore. So one of the important things for me for college was to go far enough away that I could create my new identity, that was more who I was.
So I went to Indiana University and I chose Indiana because I thought, "Well business school is practical. And (again with that direct line), if I go to business school, I can go into business. Indiana has a great business school." So I went to Indiana University.
Dan: So, business school. I'm listening to all the things that you did during your childhood, what your dad did, what your mom did. Business school. Tell me a little bit more about that.
Beth: Like, where did that come from?
Dan: Yeah, where did it come from?
Beth: I think it just sounded practical. I don't really think I knew what it was or what it would would be.
I did not end up majoring in business. What happened there was I was taking the required accounting class that all business students are required to take – hundreds of students in each class – and I did really well, but I hated it. And I just thought, "I don't want to do this. I'm here at school…" And I would look at the course catalog and I would see Deviant Behavior & Social Control or Crime & Social Impact. And I'm like, "Ooh, that sounds much more interesting."
I just really thought that while I was at college, I wanted to study things that I couldn't get exposed to otherwise. So I switched my major. I left business school and I went into liberal arts and I got a major in criminal justice and a minor in sociology. I had no idea what I was going to do with that degree, but I knew I was going to study things that really interested me.
Dan: You know what's really impressive to me, Beth, is a lot of times people until they're well into their career to start to figure out that, "Okay, I'm going to pursue more of my passions, do less of the stuff that I really don't like." You are already doing that a lot in college and trying to figure out what actually sparks joy in your own life. That's pretty impressive.
Beth: Yeah, I think somewhere in my life I've always been fatalistic. And what I mean by that is I've always known, or thought, that as far as I know I only have one life to live and if this is it – and boy I love life so I really would love to later discover that there's more than one – but if this is it and this is my only chance, then what am I going to do to make it my life and my chance.
Dan: That's great. So tell me then, what did you do after you graduated?
Beth: I was naive when I graduated because again, I had this idea that there has to be a direct line between what you study and what you do. I initially started to look for jobs in criminal justice and I actually took a job at the Clerk of Courts Office in Cleveland, Ohio, and I worked there for one week because it was a clerical, paper-pushing job and I just couldn't do it. I needed to be creative and solving problems.
I decided at that point I'm going to go to law school, but I'm still going to take a year off between undergrad and law school. I decided not to worry so much during that year about what I was doing instead, just take the break. And so I worked as a waitress and I also worked at Stanley Kaplan Educational Centers doing SAT preparation classes.
It was really the right thing to do. To my surprise, when I started in law school, one of the first things they said was that they really preferred students who had time between undergrad and law school. I had no idea that that was the case. Even this break which was not about having an internship in law was still a year off and still actually helped me get into law school, I think.
Dan: That's so interesting. And again, I just to point out that there's this myth that even when you're in your career that you can't take any time off in between jobs. In fact, we know that that's actually not true. If you need a break, maybe you need to take a break. And so you took a little break before you actually went back into school and it ended up being a good decision.
Beth: It did. I'm a real big believer in reflection time. So long as you're on the treadmill and in the grind, you don't have time to think about who you are and what's important to you. And so if you don't have any of downtime to stop and reflect, how do you get to know yourself and then make the right decisions for yourself?
Dan: Let's talk a little bit about law school and I'm just interested in why law school? Where did you decide to go and what were you thinking at the time that that might lead to as far as career?
Beth: I had heard horror stories about law school. I thought it was going to be horrible. I got accepted to Stanford in California and basically said, "Well, three years in California. That can't be bad. I'll go there."
Probably within the first six weeks of law school, I realized I was in the wrong spot and that it was just not right for me. I felt that my peers valued things that were very different than what I valued. There was a competitiveness to them that I didn't share and I really thought about dropping out of law school.
Then I did a personal assessment and I said, "Okay, if I drop out now, I'm still going to carry this first semester of debt of law school. And it was pretty heavy. So I will be a law school dropout, former waitress with a lot of debt." And I thought, that's not the story I want to tell about myself.
Whereas if I finish law school, then I always can say I'm somebody who finished law school even if I decide not to practice. And so I just felt like that was a point of strength that I preferred.
Also, people said to me, "Oh, Beth, the practice is different, the practice is different," and I held onto that. I'm like, "Okay, I'm going to make it through law school and the practice will be different." The problem was I didn't ask the followup question, "Will it be better?"
When I started practicing, it was in fact different, but for me, it wasn't better. I ended up practicing law for 13 months and 22 days and then I quit.
Dan: (laughing) Do you have it down to the minutes as well?
Beth: I don't, but 13 months and 22 days. What happened there was I came home on a Friday night and I was just like, "Oh, I'm so glad week is over. So glad this week is over."
And then I stopped and said, "Why this week? You didn't have any deadlines? You didn't have any conflict. It had to be the most copacetic week you can have and you're miserable."
I just thought, "You know something, you need to quit. You've been thinking about it now for a number of years."
I had not adapted my lifestyle to the new income. So even though as a first year lawyer that was a nice income, I hadn't gotten a new apartment. I hadn't gotten a new car. I was in a position where if I'm going to quit, now is the time.
I went in that next Monday morning and I resigned, but I didn't know what I was going to do next.
Dan: That's really interesting, and again, the myth out there is you should always have a plan. Many people would say, "Don't quit a job unless you have another job," and you're saying, "No, I've decided this is not right for me." And you made a big decision.
Beth: That conventional wisdom of have the next job lined up before you quit is one that has never worked for me. And the reason it hasn't worked for me is when I'm in a bad place, it's not my best place to think about what my right next move is. What do I want, what makes me happy, what motivates me? For me, I've had to step out of a situation.
Dan: So Beth, before we move along in your career I want to dial back to law school just for another moment. I've known you for a number of years. I know something very traumatic happened to you during law school…
Beth: It's very true.
Dan: …And I know it's difficult to talk about, but I think all of these things that we deal with in life are oftentimes pretty impactful on our overall trajectory. So can you talk a little bit about what happened during law school and the impact that that had?
Beth: My first year of law school I was home for spring break and it was a Monday. I remember it well. Three o'clock the news comes on and they say, "Plane crash in Mexico." Seems like the news, except I thought, "Wait, my dad's in Mexico and isn't this the day that he was supposed to travel from Mexico City to Puerto Vallarta?" Within a matter of 40 minutes, I was able to figure out that, yes, my father was on that plane and I lost my father on March 31st my first year of law school. And it was horrible. Obviously, a tragic, tragic accident.
Dan: And you went ahead and finished up that semester.
Beth: I did. Yeah, I did.
Dan: That's also pretty impressive. Well, thank you for sharing.
Just one additional question for you. I'm curious about the impact of going through that very traumatic event in your life and what you learned from that, how you grew from that and how that impacted the rest of your career?
Beth: It had a strong impact on my career. You already know I quit law and that my father was a lawyer. About three years after I quit law, I was back on my feet career-wise. I was working in Human Resources at the Gap. I was doing Learning and Development, and had really found my footing. And I had this moment where I thought, good comes out of bad. And what I mean is, had my father still been living, I don't know that I would have quit law. I think it would have highly disappointed him or I would have had to at least negotiate that with him.
So his passing at that stage of my life enabled me to be my true self probably at a faster rate than I would have otherwise. And it freed me up.
When I realized this about five years after he died, I felt horribly guilty because I had this moment where I thought, "Am I saying that I'm grateful that my father died?" And I had to kind of talk myself through that and go, "No, no, no. That's not what you're saying. These are two separate thoughts." Given the opportunity to bring him back, without a doubt, I would have done that, but I didn't have that opportunity. So this is completely separate and the ability to say "Good comes out of bad" and to recognize that was super powerful and, frankly, that's something I've seen many times. In fact, since then I've had this trust that good will come out of bad.
Dan: It's so true. Oftentimes when people talk about their careers and some of the most important aspects of their careers, they oftentimes reflect on how they learned from and grew from something really difficult, whether in their personal lives or in the workplace itself. So it sounds like you did that.
I'll just also call out Beth that a lot of what you're describing is a lot of self reflection, a lot of self awareness. So, just understanding who you are, what's motivating you, what's motivating you to make decisions. I think that it's a really important trait for people to have as they're trying to get into that perfect job for themselves.
Beth: I think I've always been that person. There are times that it's been really, really tough, particularly say in my teen years and even in my twenties. Those are years where there's a lot of pressure to conform and sometimes being true to myself means not conforming. This might be in even some of the smallest ways, like I've never liked beer and yet in high school there was tremendous pressure to drink beer. People would say, "Drink it and you'll like it, you'll get used to it." And I'm like, "It's disgusting. Why do I want to get used to it?" And so I didn't drink beer and I felt to a certain extent ostracized for that, but I still felt like that's not who I am and I need to be me.
So I think there has always been part of me that's been wired to that. It is so much easier now at this stage of my life and at this stage of my life a lot of people will say to me how much they admire and respect that in me, yet it was there before too, but it was almost a point of pain when I was younger because I may not have had as many friends because I wasn't conforming and I was being myself.
Dan: Got it. That's really interesting.
So we'll get back in to the career track here. You made a big switch. So you quit the law firm and then you become a Human Resources trainee at the Gap.
Beth: I did.
Dan: So tell us about that curve.
Beth: A 50% cut in pay to take that position as well.
What happened was when I left law, like I said, I didn't know what I was going to do next. And so I took some time to reflect on things I had done previously that I'd really enjoyed. In college at Indiana University, I was very involved in an organization called Union Board, which was the student activities board, and I would lose all sense of time on those days. I'd suddenly go, "Wait, it's six o'clock at night. Did I eat lunch? I forgot to eat lunch." And I started to think, "How can I get that in my job? How can I get a job where I lose all track of time?"
So I started doing a lot of informational interviewing and for me "informational interviewing", the emphasis is on the word information, not interview. I'm going out and saying to other people, "What do you do? How did you get into this? What is this work actually?" So I started doing informational interviewing to find out about event planning, those kinds of things, and through the informational interviewing, I was actually finding that that wasn't going to be a good fit for me. But other people started suggesting, because they'd say, "Well tell me more about you and what have you done?" and people started to suggest, "Well have you thought about Human Resources? I think you'd like human resources."
And I said, "But I don't have any background in that." Again, this direct line; I don't have any direct background. And they said, "But you can come in at an entry level and learn it on the job."
I had no idea that businesses work that way. That you could have a liberal arts degree, go into a company, start at an entry level job and they would teach you the discipline that you were in. So that sounded super interesting to me, Human resources.
I saw that the Gap was having a job fair. I went to the job fair, I met some people at the Gap and they said, "We'd like you to come in as an HR trainee." And I remember even saying, "You know, I don't have any experience in this," and then the guy looked at me and he said, "But you're smart and I can teach you the other parts. I can't teach you to be smart but I can teach you the job." So I said yes and I came into the Gap as an HR trainee and cut my teeth there and for the next six years.
Dan: And that's where I got to know you.
Beth: That's where we met.
Dan: It's interesting, Beth. What you're talking about is a lot of time with hiring either you're hiring for experience or you're hiring for potential, sometimes you're hiring for both. And in this case Gap was saying, "We see the potential in you and we're going to actually bring you in and then we're going to give you this training." And you were extraordinarily successful.
Beth: Thank you, yeah.
Dan: So, let's talk a little bit about that. Now you're in the world of Human Resources and it sounds like the job at Gap was a better fit for you.
Beth: It was a great fit for me. First of all, going back to this idea that I liked events and activities planning, what I found was that I was doing a different kind of event planning. What I was doing was I was designing learning experiences and there was this crazy opportunity to be creative, which is to say, if I want to teach people to be better communicators, if I lecture to them, that's going to be boring. But if I could create some activities, if I could create an experience, if I could create interesting simulations and role-plays. So I got an opportunity to be really creative.
I also found, too, that the work I was doing had a direct impact on the business. If you're training salespeople to be better salespeople and then you have better sales, the business thrives or if you're teaching managers to be better managers, the business thrives. This direct connection to the business was also super exciting to me.
And, frankly, I loved retail. It was super dynamic, fast paced, forward looking and I loved the peers I was working with. Most of the people I was working with were about my same age and so I found this fabulous group of creative colleagues where we got to invent what we were doing and I loved it.
Dan: What was happening with Gap's business at this time, the six years that you were with the company?
Beth: It was actually in high growth at the time and, boy, does that give you tons of opportunities. We almost could try anything because if we made a mistake, the business was having enough successes in other things that a mistake was, "Fine, we'll learn from it and move on."
Towards the end of my time there, the business was starting to struggle a little bit more and the business started to say, "Oh, we need to be a little bit more cautious. We need to have more discipline. We need to have more discipline around our decision making."
I also will say the company had grown in the six years that I was there, so it went from about being $2.5 billion in business to $10 billion, which also meant that the size of the team significantly grew.
This is another theme for me throughout my career. I do best in organizations where we get to wear a lot of different hats and be really creative. And, of course, what I'm trying to do is grow the business. The downside to that is that once the business grows, it takes more people and the roles get more specialized. You don't get to play in as many sandboxes and you also have to get the buy-in from a lot more people. So it becomes much more bureaucracy and I just don't thrive as well in that type of an environment and organization.
So after about six years with the change in the business and the growth in the business, it frankly wasn't a fit for me any more.
Dan: It's just really interesting. And so you decide it's the right time to to leave Gap. What was next?
Beth: This is another one of these where I left cold turkey. I did not have the next job lined up. I started off just by saying I need to re-find myself. What is it that I want to do next and who am I?
At that point I became what I will call the Accidental Consultant. While I was trying to figure out what to do next, other people started to come to me and say, "Well, while you've got this time on your hands, will you do this project for me? Will you do this work for me?" After probably about a year of that, I thought, "You know, I think I'm a consultant," and I became a consultant.
The interesting thing is I was a consultant for about six years and my largest client was the Gap. So I still worked for the Gap for six years. I mean there were some executives who didn't even realize I had left the company because they kept seeing me.
Dan: What's amazing, Beth, is that obviously you did something right as far as building relationships. The way you exited was the right way for the company to still say, "We want to work with Beth even if she's not an employee."
One other question just about this quitting cold turkey. You mentioned when you were in the 13 months and 22 days – did I get that right?
Beth: Exactly right.
Dan: …in your law practice, you weren't a big spender at the time, so you had a little tiny nest egg that allowed you to have the ability to actually quit cold turkey. I'm just curious, was the same true after six years at Gap? Because for a lot of people that are listening right now, they may be saying, "I just can't do it financially. I just can't do it." So what's going on there?
Beth: I still had student debt. I think I probably also just had a belief that I would land on my feet. It probably also is why I took the consulting jobs when they came around because it does create anxiety to say, "Where is this next job going to come from?" But with a consulting job it's like, "Oh, well, that will bridge me a couple of months."
Beth: So I think some of it was, I just had to. Again, I was starting to feel more miserable and I can't be in that state. And so I was just willing to take the risk.
Dan: Got it. So you're in this consulting role now which is completely different. You're your own boss and building your own business. Then you pivoted back. So why did you leave consulting and go back into business?
Beth: The relationships that I had at the Gap have been essential really throughout my career, including the fact that you and I now are working together and, like you said, we met at the Gap.
I started to be recruited into Apple by some people that I had worked with at the Gap, and for about six months I told them, "No. Nope, nope, nope. I'm not interested. I'm perfectly happy." At that point, frankly, I'd moved back to Ohio where the cost of living was significantly less than California. Back again, close to family. So I'm like, "Nope, Nope, Nope. I'm not interested."
But then I had had this real peak period in consulting where I had four projects all at the same time, and I realized that as a consultant, I was being hired to do what I already knew how to do. So people wanted to say, "Look, you're already good at this. We need it. Can you come in here and knock this out for us?" And I realized that if I stayed as a consultant, that was going to be it. There wasn't as much opportunity to learn and grow and expand my skillset. Whereas if I went back internal, I could get mentors, I could get projects that I hadn't done before and I could really start growing again.
And this was now probably 2002, 2003. Apple was coming back from death, so it was an interesting company and I really liked these people that were recruiting me. So I finally, after six months, said, "Yes, I will come and join you."
Dan: Tell us a little bit about the Apple experience.
Beth: So the Apple experience, I would sum it up as saying that that was the worst job I had. Apple's a great company. You and I are sitting together and you can see that I'm recording this onto a Mac and you can see I've got an iPhone and so I love the company. I love the products.
My personal experience working there was not a good experience and there are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that the two people who brought me in, one became my boss and one was my boss's boss, so that was my chain of command. For about nine months, I was working with them and we were building and creating and being creative and supporting one another. And it was fantastic.
Then unexpectedly, the boss boss, the two levels up, had a health crisis and he had to leave the company. The person who came in and replaced him… Oftentimes senior level people will come in and they want their own people.
Beth: And my boss wasn't on this person's radar as one of their own people, so my boss quickly left.
Now the two people who brought me into Apple, nine months after I started, both had left the company and I was working for somebody who I wasn't "their person." Probably two months after I started to work with her (so now I'm at Apple for 11 months maybe) she says to me, "I just want you to know as soon as I find your replacement, I'm going to be moving you out of the company."
I was like, "Why?" I could not get a reason for this other than, "You're just not the person I want in this role." At this point, I'm 11 months into this job, I've moved back to California. The cost of living here is sky high. My husband and I – I had gotten married somewhere along the way – we'd bought a house, we had a huge mortgage. Took on a bigger mortgage than we really wanted to just because you have to in the Bay Area.
So I was not in the position I was in previously where I could just quit. I remember even saying to her, "Are you firing me?" And she said, "No, no. But when we get your replacement, when I find that person…", and so I set out to make sure that she had no reason to fire me. I was not going to make a mistake. I was going to do the best work possible so that if she considered firing me, it would be cutting off her nose to spite her face.
So for the next three years – I actually stayed at Apple another three years – the entire time this cloud was hanging over me of this very senior level person very clearly telling me that their sights were to get rid of me. And so I was in a fear state for the next three years. I did some amazing work. I didn't give that opportunity to let me go, but also, I had people reporting into me and I was a horrible manager.
One of the things that I found is when I was in a place of fear, instead of being my creative self, what I was doing was I was trying to be a mind reader. I was trying to say, "What solutions are going to please my boss and keep me in my job?" Not what do I think are the best solutions or what do I think are the right answers, right? It was all about how do I just keep other people happy. And it also meant, too, that I was micromanaging my team because I was afraid that any mistake my team made was going to give them that reason to let me go.
So I was a horrible manager and I was in a place of fear and it was a really bad experience for me.
Dan: So question for you, was it another cold turkey quit or what happened?
Beth: It was a cold turkey quit at this point. Because three years had passed by, I had gotten the financial security that I didn't have when I first should have left Apple. Now that opportunity was there.
I also had the knowledge that I've been a consultant before. This idea that I can make it on my own. So I left and I didn't know exactly what I was gonna do next, but I knew that I could reach out to people and let people know I was back in a solo business and pick up some projects really quickly. And so I did that.
What ended up happening next was some other people who had also left Apple, had moved over to Microsoft to help them start their retail business. My last two years at Apple, I was working in the retail side of the business. They knew I was out on my own and they said, "Hey, will you come over to Microsoft and help us start these stores?" I started that first as a consultant and ultimately became an employee there. So they converted me.
What I discovered from that project was how much I love startups. I didn't know that this idea of me being creative and being able to wear many hats and create from nothing, that there is this ripe environment of startups to be able to do that.
Now most people wouldn't say that Microsoft is a startup, especially in 2009 which is when I started working with them, but the retail part of the business was absolutely a startup and Microsoft handled it that way. I worked with a small team of people who in a really short amount of time, came up with the concept for the stores, opened the stores, and it was just a fabulous, fabulous experience.
What was interesting, too, about that experience is about two years after I left Apple, I'm sitting there at Microsoft and really enjoying my Microsoft experience. I had this moment again of "good comes out of bad" because I realized that as horrible as an experience it was for me of working at Apple, I never would have been eligible for this position at Microsoft had I not had my Apple experience.
Beth: I wouldn't have known the people that I knew to get this job. The fact that I'd worked in the retail side of Apple's business made me qualified to help on this project. And so it allowed me, two years later, to look back and say, "Okay, I appreciate that experience."
Dan: Sure. And again, a through line for you is you're leveraging relationships along the way. You'd got the job at Apple because of relationships you had at Gap. You got the job at Microsoft because of relationships you had made at Apple.
Dan: And so leveraging those experiences and those relationships… That's actually another good lesson I think in your career.
Beth: Yeah, and it's exactly how I got the job at Tesla. I moved from Microsoft into Tesla. The difference in this one was I had the job at Microsoft when I got the job at Tesla. It was the first time in my life.
Dan: So no cold turkey?
Beth: No cold turkey. The first time in my life.
What happened was I'd had my eye on Tesla. Here was this new company in the Bay Area doing something really interesting, which was electric vehicles. A guy I had worked with at Apple, so another contact at Apple, who was on the recruiting team at Apple, had moved over to Tesla. We had kept in touch and he reached out to me and said, "I think we've got the right opportunity. We're looking for somebody to do manufacturing training," which I had never done before, but he had said, "We don't want somebody who does it the traditional way. We want somebody who's going to think creatively and think in new ways, and I think you should come in and talk to the team about this job." And so again, it was the relationship that took me from Microsoft into Tesla.
Dan: So, Tesla. That's actually another theme in your career is that you've actually worked with some of the best known brands.
Beth: But I didn't join them when they were that way. When I joined Apple, it was coming back from the brink of death and people even said to me, "Why are you going to Apple?" I think they had just released the iPod and was having some success, I think iTunes had just come out, but I just sort of felt like I think some right things are happening here. And so I took a risk and I made a bet on Apple and it paid off.
When I went to Tesla, Tesla was 800 employees, which may sound like a lot of people, but that's not a lot of people when you're making and selling cars. I was at Tesla for six years and when I left it was 33,000 employees. When I started at Tesla, people were like, "Electric cars? No, seriously. Do you think electric cars are going to be something, Beth? Like, really. You're joining that company?"
But this was just another one where I just thought, "I don't know. I think there's something exciting going on here. I really admire the people that I would be working with. And I'm going to take the risk." And so I did.
Dan: And you ended up being there I believe six years.
Beth: Six years. Yup. Yup.
Dan: So tell me a little bit about that experience and also why you ultimately decided to leave that job.
Beth: It's an interesting thing because if you look at my job title during the six years that I was at Tesla, I had the same job title the whole time. But the work I was doing was fundamentally different every year because of how the company was growing. The first year and a half, I was really focused on manufacturing and helping to get the manufacturing plant for Model S up and running.
Beth: And then sales really needed attention, so they moved me out of manufacturing and put me into sales, which brought me back to retail in many ways. I was heavily working on sales training and that team. The whole time, by the way, I was reporting into HR and I also had company onboarding and I was responsible for the culture.
Then, as time went on even more and roles got more and more specialized, I actually had the onboarding and learning systems being the main part of my job. So, as the company grew I was flexing based on the needs of the company, but also then becoming more specialized as we got more and more roles.
At a certain point, again, at 33,000 people, I'm not getting to wear a lot of hats. I'm not getting to play in a lot of sandboxes. My role becomes narrower and…
Dan: So very similar to your Gap experience actually.
Beth: Yeah. Very.
Dan: Almost identical, as you kind of describe it. Different jobs, but the same kind of motivations.
Beth: Exactly, yes, 100%. There was a pattern there and there was another part of the pattern too, which is while I was at both of them for six years, the signs that it was time to leave – the sign that the tide was changing, the culture was changing, the bureaucracy was changing – those signs probably started showing up 18 months before I actually left.
I loved the Gap, I loved Tesla, and this idea of stepping away from them was painful. I don't have children and so my work has always been a big way I identify myself. It's been my family. I was crazy proud of the things I built and the people I built it with at both of these companies.
So the signs were there, but I just ignored them, and by the time I actually left, there was some pain around it in the sense that I could tell I no longer belonged there. If they were hiring now for the roles I was in, I'm not the one they would have hired and it was painful to leave.
But yeah, in both cases, that was the pattern.
Dan: It's interesting, Beth. What you're saying is that, "I may have been the perfect person when they hired me and six years later, because of lots and lots and lots of different changes, maybe I'm not the perfect person anymore." And it doesn't mean that all of a sudden you've become not a great employee, but it's just not the right environment.
So as people are going through their own careers, I would imagine lots of people have these kinds of thoughts and what you've demonstrated throughout your career is when you've made that decision, you've said, "Okay, now's the time to move to next."
Beth: I really do wish that I had paid attention to the signs earlier because by staying there longer and being a misfit, all kinds of negative self-talk creeps in where instead of being able to just objectively recognize that this is what happened, I start to think negative thoughts about myself. "I'm not good enough. I no longer am smart enough. I'm no longer right." Like something is wrong about me. My confidence then starts to take a hit. Had I left when those signs were first there and had I been better able to say, "You know, look, it's been a great ride. You've had tremendous success here. This is what happens when you're in successful organizations that are growing fast. Take this for what it is. You've learned a ton. You can leverage this. Go fly." And instead, I have had it hit my psyche a little bit too much.
Dan: So that's another great lesson. So, the Apple experience basically, "You're not going to do your best work when you're operating out of fear". Now you're talking about Tesla, "You're not going to do your best work if you're not feeling really confident."
Beth: Yeah, that's a great point.
Dan: Those are some interesting things for all of our listeners to be thinking about as well.
So what's happening now?
Beth: When I left Tesla, I started thinking, "Should I go and do another corporate HR type job?" But my heart just wasn't in it anymore. It was one of these, "I've really done that. I've done it at some great companies" and it was time for me to do something new, but I didn't know what that new was going to be.
I started doing some consulting because for me at this point, I can always fall back on that. At the same time though, I was really trying to figure out the next. I really tried to tap into what is it right now that is fueling me and driving me.
I also did one other thing that was a bit unusual. Because I have some big companies on my LinkedIn profile, I have a lot of people who will reach out to me just to LinkIn and connect with their network, and I typically say yes. Then people started to say to me, "Can I talk to you for 30 minutes? I'd love your feedback on my product. I'd love to get your thoughts on X." I had the space and time that I basically started saying yes to everybody.
What I didn't tell them was there was going to be a price that they were going to have to pay for this 30 minutes of my time. And the price was that at some point I was going to ask them "Why me?" But the reason that I was asking that is I wanted to get some feedback on how did other people see me, what were some unique talents or perspectives or just ways that I could be in the world that were in fact unique and I couldn't see them for myself. So I would talk to people and oftentimes at the end they would say, "Wow, the advice you gave me is unlike others that people have given me or your perspective." And I would ask them about that and they'd say, "You have an authenticity. You have a voice that's really inspirational."
I heard that and said, "That's kind of crazy and kind of cool. I didn't know I was that person." I used to be criticized for being different. I used to be criticized for not being the conformist. Now I'm having people tell me that they value the fact that I'm not the conformist. It was weird for me to hear that, but I loved it. I loved it. And I thought, that's exactly what and who I want to be. I want to be somebody who, at this stage of my life, is inspiring others to be their best selves, their authentic selves. To be creative, to think out of outside the box. And so I started to say, "What are the ways that I can do that?"
I realized that I'd been invited to teach at IE University in Madrid. So I'm like, "Yeah, I'm doing that." So I teach one week a year.
I also get opportunities to be a keynote speaker at conferences and be up on a stage and influence a room of a thousand people, and I love that.
And then I get to do things like this podcast and it's the perfect place for me to be at this place in my life, which is giving back and inspiring others and I couldn't be happier.
Dan: That's so great. And I think very clearly you're leveraging everything that you've accumulated along the way. All the life lessons and experiences and so it's really, really fun to hear.
Beth: Thank you.
Dan: So as you know, we do a lightning round. First question, what is the smartest career move you've made, whether intentionally or unintentionally?
Beth: Quitting law. I really think it was quitting law. It was recognizing that I was in the wrong place and having the gumption to just say, I can't do this.
I actually want to take a moment too and give a shout out to my mom. I got the job offer at the Gap six months to the day after I left the law firm. The reason that I know that is when I called my mother to tell her that I got the job offer, she first let out a big exhale of relief and then said, "Oh honey, you are so brave. You are so brave to make this move. And you know, it's six months to the day." So she'd been keeping tabs, but I hadn't. And I'm really grateful by the way, that she didn't tell me I was brave before that point because if somebody had said to me at the start, "You're brave," I would have gone, "No, I'm not. I'm not a brave person," and I don't know what I would've done. So she acknowledged my bravery after I'd used it.
Dan: I have to say it's kind of amazing about your mom. There are a lot of parents that probably would have looked at the move as a step back and I think your career has shown that it was really a step forward.
Beth: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Dan: So if you could have one do-over, what would it be and why?
Beth: Probably also not a surprise based on the things I've said. I would have left those other jobs sooner then than I did because when I left them, because they had taken a toll on my confidence, I think some of my next moves required some recovery time as well as reflection time. S o I really wish I had had left those jobs at the earlier signs that it was time to leave.
Dan: Yup. So what's one piece of career advice that you would have given your younger self?
Beth: When I started my career at the Gap and I was with a large group of peers that were about my same age, that cohort has really propelled everything else. I lucked into that and so, if I could go back in time, I would actually more consciously say to my younger self, "Start your career. Find a group of people, even go someplace that's going to be a bit of a larger company, because the people you meet early on are going to play a role for you forever." I think that first peer group is really, really important.
Dan: Last question, how do you define success?
Beth: It has changed for me over the years. At this stage, for me, success is when somebody comes up to me and says, "You've inspired me. You've made me think differently about myself and what I can be." Having that kind of legacy on others is for me, it's just everything. That the success.
Dan: That's fantastic. And Beth, it's been really quite a pleasure to flip the switch here a little bit and be on this side of the table. And thank you so much. I think our listeners are really going to enjoy listening to this episode.
Beth: Dan, thank you for doing this. This is a lot of fun.
Dan: It was great.
Beth: We've reached that point where it's time for our epilogue and there's a couple of things that I want to say to everybody who's listening.
First, is thank you. You've helped us learn and grow, and we're really grateful for all of the feedback that you've shared.
We do have a couple of requests. The first is please tell others about the podcast. We really want to grow our audience and we need your help, so please share.
Second, is keep the feedback coming. You can comment on episodes on our website, careercurves.com, or you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, we love reviews so please leave a review on Apple Podcasts.
That's it. While this marks the end of Season 1, we aren't stopping or taking a break, so look for a new episode in two weeks.
As always, thanks for listening and we wish you much success in 2020.