When is it time to shift gears?

Images-1The other day I bumped into someone I had hired for a variety of projects.  She wasn't the easiest person to work with because she was tough and didn't love being flexible yet she taught me an incredible amount about the art of interior design.  How to think creatively about putting a room together, how to pull it together, how to be bold when mixing and matching and how it is all about the nuances.  I believe she was one of the best in the business. 

I wasn't her typical client.  I wanted to understand how she did things and how she looked at a project.  Over time we spoke the same language which is the key to a working with a designer.  She knew what I wanted with very little explanation.  I got involved in each decision whereas my gut is that the most of her clients just gave her carte blanche.  Not my style.  I like to be part of the process and I know what I want. 

On our last project together she seemed overwhelmed.  There were a variety of mistakes made that wouldn't have been made ten years prior.  Even though there were mistakes that had to be fixed, I learned from those mistakes.  Now that I am working on another design project, I have the ability to go through each room picking up small things that make a huge difference such as a pocket door in a bathroom vs a regular door.  It makes a huge difference. I see things differently.

We didn't finish the last project we worked on because of a variety of reasons but it upset me how it ended.  When I bumped into her this week she told me she had retired.  I was so happy to hear that.  I said to her that she was working like she was 35 when she wasn't and didn't have the support system to do that.  She said she finally came to that conclusion herself now working on a personal project and continuing to work for one client who has a hotel that is always in need of a tweek or two. 

I have been thinking about our chance meeting all week.  We had an interesting relationship as I know she had never had a client like me and I had never worked with anyone quite like her.  She probably doesn't realize this but the education she gave me was priceless.  Mentors can come in strange places.  I have really have had such a plethora of experiences in different industries and each of them have helped me get to where I am and to be able to look at things in a certain way.  She pushed me to think about design, fashion and art differently. 

Her impact was pretty significant and she probably has no idea.  I feel like I learned from the best.  Thrilled to see that she finally realized it was time to shift gears and move in to retirement.  Made me start thinking about where I am and balance.  Loving what I do yet still want to make time for seeing my friends, getting to the galleries and museums and taking vacations.  Knowing when it is time to shift gears is not that easy for anyone passionate about what they do.  I like the saying that we should all go out at the top.  Trying to figure out what the top is doesn't come easy. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Phil Michaelson

    Funny, this is one of the hard things about startups too.  Knowing when to pivot on an idea is really hard.  I like to use a metrics approach, similar to Vin ( http://viniciusvacanti.com/… ).  It sounds like if your designer was measuring the frequency of errors/oversights or client departures, she’d have known it was time for a change.

    1. Gotham Gal

      She was definitely using the frequency of her mistakes. At one point you have to say to yourself, I can’t do what I used to do. Or this isn’t working.

  2. Rebecca Healy

    I’m stumped as to why you wouldn’t tell her about her impact on you, but you would tell hundreds of strangers on your blog… go tell her. She’s the most important person that needs to know.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I had that conversation with her as we were going through the last project. I told her when I saw her that I was thrilled for her that she finally retired. I had told her many times that I learned from the best and what she taught me was invaluable. I hope it stuck. Some people are just not that open to compliments or tough love.

      1. Rebecca Healy

        Oh, okay. Phrases like “she probably doesn’t realize…” and “…she probably has no idea,” had me confused!

        1. Gotham Gal

          i bump into her from time and time. i will do that next time.

      2. Rohan

        You could send her a thank you note..handwritten of course. 🙂

  3. Jim B

    Really insightful post. Even amongst all the chaos and conflict you took away a very positive learning from the experience. Not a lot of folks can do that. I had a “baptism by fire” working for a mercurial boss a few years ago but after it was all done I realized how the experience really helped me raise my game. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      Negative outcome never works. All experiences are learning experiences.

  4. EllaDyer

    Dear, you learned those priceless lessons because you were open to them despite having already accomplished so much. Thanks for setting that example!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Ella. Never looked at it that way.

  5. Janet Hanson

    Great stuff. “Shifting Gears” is a nice way to phrase decelerating one’s career while accelerating one’s life.  Retiring sounds more like you’re exiting both. The cautionary tale is to make sure you don’t overshoot the runway and stay in the game too long.  Easy to say, sometimes extremely hard to do!

  6. CCjudy

    Let her know her contributions J