How to Step Back, But Not Step Away – Five Tips for Juggling Work, Family, and Your Life’s Passions


I wouldn’t be where I am now – an author of a bestselling book and in a meaningful job I enjoy – if I had simply followed the blueprint I mapped out for myself in college. Some of the greatest stumbling blocks I have ever faced have helped me become who I am today.

I first learned this lesson in 1999. My husband Jim and I were happily pursuing entrepreneurial dreams in Silicon Valley and were blessed with the adoption of a daughter. On the day a venture capital firm transferred funds to Jim’s startup, he was on the operating table removing a massive tumor which resulted in multiple surgeries and long-term medical challenges.

As a mom, board member, and business owner, I had to step back from my career, although I was determined not to step away from all I had worked so hard to build. It was time to make some personal decisions. The key was finding ways to maintain my professional and philanthropic profile while not having to be physically present nor noticeably absent. In the pre-Zoom days, that was a conundrum! I learned a few tricks along with way that may help you, too.

Identify your core competency, the special sauce that is unique to you. Then, embrace that as your brand. I recognized that my ability to apply process engineering to solve problems in business, government, and nonprofit settings made me unique and efficient. When people thought of me, I wanted two adjectives to be top of mind: “smart” and “credible.” I built a premium price point for myself by providing my clients with fact-based, actionable advice very efficiently and effectively. I controlled the variables by being direct about my time constraints and designed a methodology that delivered results. The quality I identified in myself so long ago, remains true to me even today.

Take the opportunities around you and make the most of them. I leaned into and sought out radio interviews as I could do them while sitting in my living room. Today, I power use LinkedIn by creating a series of consistent thought leadership blogs and accept podcast interviews that are requested due to my heightened profile. I regularly publish articles around the topics that are important not only to me, but which will reinforce my brand and my goals.

Work “smart. When life doesn’t go as planned, your end goal is highly leveraged engagement with fewer obligations. Commit to time limited projects. You can add more time to an project, but it is very difficult to extricate yourself when life is less than predictable. If you are the kind of person who likes to give their time to causes, accept only volunteer roles with organizations that have strong governance systems and professional staffs. Otherwise, you may need to give more time than you have to offer.

Develop a best of class team to serve as resources in whatever project in which you involve

yourself. Find people who think like you do and more importantly people who manage like you and understand you. You want people who can make decisions quickly as time is your challenge. Mentor them and learn from them.

Learn to say no. Regularly, rank and rate your commitments. Analyze opportunity costs and your personal capacity. Involve yourself in professional environments in which you are most successful and rewarded and say no to those where you aren’t. When your time is constrained, culture and personality fits become even more important.

Life never seems to follow the perfect plans we define for ourselves. As we move through stages of our lives and careers, successful people develop that unique ability to accept whatever is thrown at them. No matter what the challenge, you too can stay on track, appear unfazed, and find your way to the top.

About the Author

By Lisa Gable, CEO of FARE and author of Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South. Lisa is a former US Ambassador, UN Delegate, White House appointee, and advisor to Fortune 500 companies.

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