To the outside world Lisa J. Whaley seemed to have it all. A successful career as a sales and marketing executive after a 22-year climb up the corporate ladder at IBM, a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and several properties. But at home, things were actually spiraling out of control. Whaley’s whole world revolved around her career and people’s expectations of her. “My oldest daughter who was 13 got hooked on drugs. My marriage was on the rocks. My father was extremely ill. And I was sick with a blood disorder,” says Whaley.
In 2002, Whaley did the unthinkable. “I picked up my car keys, went to my car, closed the garage, and cranked up the engine. And that was the most defining moment of my life.” The thought of her youngest daughter finding her limp body so sickened her that Whaley turned off the ignition. After determining that the struggle to maintain a “perfect” life had led to thoughts of suicide, Whaley turned inward for healing.
Whaley represents many of this nation’s working women who are proud of their successes but tired of what it takes to achieve them. Nothing comes without hard work, drive, perseverance, and often burnout, or in Whaley’s case, depression. No longer wanting to fall prey to the “superwoman” syndrome, Whaley decided it was time to stop saving others and save herself. First, she focused on her life mission. “I felt like I had been blessed with a wealth of experiences … my purpose in life was to take all of these experiences and go out and share them with other people so they could be inspired and learn from my successes and my failures.”
In 2004, she departed IBM and formed her own company, Life Work Synergy L.L.C., a personal and professional development company in Woodbridge, Virginia. She also put her thoughts into words by self-publishing the book: Reclaiming My Soul from the Lost and Found.
Leaving IBM wasn’t easy. Whaley, who was 43 at the time, wasn’t eligible for retirement. Though some people believed she was throwing her career away, she didn’t care what others thought anymore. “I said to myself if this doesn’t work out, I’ll just go find a job.”
It’s been two years since making that big career transition. Though now a divorcee, she has found love again. Her oldest daughter graduated from high school a year earlier and her youngest is an exemplary student. Business is doing well: a client list of Fortune 500 companies and a six-figure salary. And Whaley no longer defines success in terms of external approval. Instead she has found inner peace.
B.E.’s Successpert Speaks
Muriel Maignan Wilkins, an executive coach with Washington, D.C.-based Isis Associates, offers the following tips for creating personal and professional fulfillment:
Find your sweet point. Determine your ideal working conditions, duties, and subject you want to engage in daily. When you get the intersection of all three, that’s the sweet spot of a career.
Put it in perspective. Don’t define yourself by your career. Let your career be