How I am evolving into who I need to be


A little-known fact is that I have a master’s degree in applied behavioral sciences (basically, industrial psychology) and I wrote my thesis on how your family of origin is your first work group.

In the confines of your family, you learn about authority, consequences, collaboration, and conflict. The lessons you learn as a child show up in powerful ways in your work style today. Some of these lessons are healthy, and some of them are not. The trick is recognizing the lessons so you can amplify the good and negate the bad.

As I look back at my own life and career, I realize I’m transcending some of these historical constraints and evolving into who I need to be. Somehow my career is meeting up with me and answering my call.

It took a long time to get to this place and the path was bumpy, but things are finally coming together. I thought I would write a little about my tumultuous journey. Maybe it will help you too.

Early Mark

If I were to define the teen-era characteristics of my personality it would look like this:

  • I was a writer. In high school I was a paid reporter for our local city newspaper.
  • I was endlessly curious — a voracious reader and learner.
  • I was focused on others. As the oldest of six kids I was always caring for little ones. In high school I started several charitable efforts in my community and school.
  • I was a teacher. Even as a teen, I volunteered to tutor young kids in rural areas.
  • I was an actor. I had the lead role in several plays in high school and college. I was actually a paid actor in a dinner theater when I was in college.

Evolving Mark

If you look at these core characteristics, it’s impossible to miss the fact that these traits have perfectly manifested themselves in my current career:

  • I am a writer who is focused on nurturing others.
  • I teach at a university and I actively mentor young people.
  • In many ways I am still an actor. If you’re familiar with my Marketing Companion podcast, you’ll know it’s a show. And I realized early on that giving a speech is a performance. When you hear me speak, it’s not a lecture, it’s an event!

But it wasn’t always this way. For much of my career I was a square peg in a round hole searching for something better. It took me 30 years to evolve into this inevitable role, a role that arguably was my destiny from the beginning.

Why did it take me so long to get here?

The long and winding road

I’ve been thinking a lot about this — Why was I in so many unsatisfying, mis-matched jobs for so long? Why did my personal evolution take decades to come together?

Here is my introspective answer:

1. My first priority was money, not personal fulfillment

As a twenty-something, I’m not sure being self-aware and optimizing my career satisfaction was something that was even on my radar screen.

I was really poor through my college years and I was dead-tired of being broke. I wanted to make some money so I could start to live a little.

I had never traveled, never owned a car, never had any new clothes. It was time to make bank — so I chose a job with a big company that paid me the most money. It was the right choice for the time.

2. Then the kids came

I had my son when I was 25. I loved kids and having children was the greatest blessing of my life. I have no regrets whatsoever about being a young father.

But having this new responsibility, buying a house, and saving for college added another dimension to the focus on money, benefits, and paid vacation instead of self-fulfillment.

Kids come first. This is not an old-fashioned notion. Whoever you are and wherever you are, I hope your children are your priority. That is your true legacy on this earth.

I wanted to provide my children with the opportunities I never had. I wanted them to experience as much of the world as possible so they could have a broad view of their life options. So, my personal self-fulfillment was put on the backburner. Totally my choice at the time, and I still believe it to be the right one.

3. I didn’t know what I didn’t know

The great thing about being in jobs that don’t fit your personality is that you quickly learn about what you hate, and then you adjust and don’t look back.

For much of my career, I put my path in the hands of others.

When I was in the corporate world, I was being “groomed” to be a top executive. This meant playing a game that kept me on a pre-determined path to bigger and bigger jobs. It also meant going into a variety of positions that were not a great fit for me.

Back then, a corporate career was like the reality series “Survivor.” You were given harder and harder challenges to conquer to make it to the next round.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I took more direct control of my career. I made a decision to exit the executive fast track in favor of jobs that would give me more flexibility and family time. I also chose to focus on marketing exclusively, the best fit for my personality.

This was a huge decision. I knew I wouldn’t ever be the president of the company. I was committing to a more narrow path, but it was a major step toward “happiness” instead of “power.”

This also proved to be the right decision at the right time.

4. The internet gives you options

Here’s a hard, cold fact. I couldn’t be where I am today, I would not be known, I would not be having this much fun on my job, without the internet.

When I was a college grad, there was no internet. There wasn’t even email. We barely had computers (word processors for the win!).

We live in the most amazing time. With the internet, everybody has the opportunity to grab their share of influence in the world by creating content. I lunged at that chance and held on for dear life.

Everything in my “second career” started with the blog.


I am living in the right time!


Today I am in a dream job. It is not perfect, and it is not always easy being an entrepreneur, but it is right for me.

Some people look at my work and want to be like me. But this was not a short or linear path! It took me more than 25 years to start morphing into my current “second career” and the transition is ongoing.

I need to emphasize that I have ZERO regrets about any part of my career and the stumbles along the way. I learned from every single experience — good and bad — and it forged me into who I am today.

I made the right decisions for my particular time of life, even though I was often unhappy and stressed in my corporate career. It was a rumbly life path but I would not trade it for anything. The lessons I deliver through my blog, podcast, and books are an echo of that long rumble.

I am where I need to be because of the bumps and bruises along the way.

Evolving, and you

What lessons can you derive this?

  • Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to grow.
  • It takes time to discover yourself. If you’re in your 20s and 30s, you’re still becoming.
  • Sometimes self-actualization takes a back seat to caring for others. That is a worthy calling, a worthy life. Your time will come.
  • Big things start with small steps. Every year, make one small move toward where you want to be. It all adds up.
  • It’s never too late to start. I wrote my first blog post when I was 49. I was very late to the game. It didn’t matter because it moved me toward the path that I love. As long as you’re still breathing, it’s not too late to start.
  • You’ll be most appreciated, and most happy, when you let your true self shine.

Having self-confidence is not just “believing in yourself.” It represents an ability to take a step forward away from the familiar.

In a way, finding the right path takes self-confidence because it requires a succession of small steps away from the familiar.

There is a strange, almost spiritual side to an evolving career path. After doing what you’re supposed to do, or what others expect of you, you eventually move into this area of purposeful abstraction. The more you progress, the more you realize you’re free to devise your own game. And every day you just keep growing with it!

That might sound a little scary, but it’s worth it. Is this the day you take one small step toward who you were meant to be?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.


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