I have spent the last 27 years of my career, first as a lawyer and later as a consultant, giving advice. I’m a natural born fixer. Yes, I sweat and fret and sometimes even sulk, but my natural inclination in difficult situations, whether in my personal life or in the lives of those around me, is to look for a solution, a Plan B. But what happens when you realize you can’t fix it; the Plan A version of your life involves sharing your days and nights, your work and play, and every inch of your heart and soul with one person, and that person dies?
I struggled with whether to make my first blog on the new website for Symphony Advisors personal by talking about the sudden death of my husband, best friendand business partner, Matthew Ohrnstein. Speaking openly has never been hard for me, but the exposure that comes with the death of a spouse who was also a business partner in a professional environment where so many people knew and admired your husband, is different. I doubt anyone would have asked if I planned to continue with the law if I were still practicing, but after Matthew died, many people asked if I would carry on with the business we shared together. (By the way, I considered this to be a totally fair question.)
For those who asked, I was more open than I have ever been. I shared my feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty with little reservation. I asked for guidance and accepted help. Although a fixer, I learned to unapologetically say, “I’m not sure” or “what do you think?” The ego gets tamped down at times like these, all for the better. In many ways, the process was (and is) unexpectedly liberating– a template for how to live a life that will always be filled with change.
There was also something surprising and beautiful that came from this. It was almost as if my openness gave others permission to be open too. Not just in the way they expressed their feelings about Matthew, but in the way they talked about change, especially change that was difficult or painful. With this mutual sharing came trust and a kinship that is affirming and continues to inspire me.
What I have come to realize is that none of us needs “permission” or a tragedy to feel or talk about fear or uncertainty in the face of change. (Think about bringing your newborn home from the hospital or the day you opened the doors to your business.) Unfortunately, in business, this kind of transparency is too often viewed as a sign of weakness. After all, smart business people are supposed to have all the answers, right?
I am reminded of more than one business journal article I read during the height of the financial crisis in 2008. The story wasn’t about laying-off people or shutting down a location; the story was the rare CEO who got in front of his people when this occurred, and with unfiltered emotion spoke openly about this difficult time in the company. These were leaders who along with their employees mourned the loss of the way things used to be, and didn’t minimize the trepidation of employees who were lucky enough to still have a job. They showed resilience and expressed optimism, but they were also honest about what they could and could not “guarantee” for the future. In doing this, they engendered trust, and people continued to follow these leaders, even knowing more change was likely to come.
The author Nena O’Neill wrote, “Out of every crisis comes the chance to be reborn, to reconceive ourselves as individuals, to choose the kind of change that will help us to grow and to fulfill ourselves more completely.” Continuing Symphony Advisors, flipping the switch on a new website, and even writing this blog (especially since I hate the word “blog”), are all things I am doing with absolute clarity, resolve and the humility that comes with a respect for the unknown. This is what change looks like and I embrace it.