Always Ready To Become

When life throws in some unexpected twists...

I was two months away from getting married to the father of my girls when the tech bubble burst, and I was laid off. I had a bull-market contract in a bear market, so my firm chose to pay my golden parachute and take the loss. I was utterly devastated. My solar plexus crumpled as if into a tight ball of aluminum foil. Despite the sizable amount of money in my bank account and imminence of the wedding of my dreams, all I could focus on was the loss. My reaction surprised me.

Books can challenge us to stretch outside our comfort zones, reconsider our assumptions, and inspire us to choose alternate paths. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck did all that for me. One passage in particular really resonated with me: “Becoming is better than being.” Why? I rarely sit still, and when I do it’s because I am meditating and creating what’s next for me.

Several years after the publication of her watershed book, she wrote an article for Education Week titled “Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’ ” in which she offers that she and her colleagues take a growth-mindset approach to their research and findings and admitted, “Maybe we talked too much about people having one mindset or the other, rather than portraying people as mixtures.” That, too, resonated with me. I strongly identify as a growth-mindset person, yet when I feel insecure or trepidatious, I hear fixed-mindset messages in my head. Those with a growth mindset believe that the more you try, the more you expand your capacity to learn and that making mistakes is the best way to learn. Conversely, those with a fixed mindset believe that effort is pointless as intelligence is static, and making mistakes is to be avoided at all costs.

In my youth, the “becoming” manifested as my overt and external journey—learning, doing, and achieving. As a student, I was taking the hardest classes and excelling in them, practicing hard at basketball, practicing harder as a pianist and vocalist, being a student leader, accepting philanthropic roles and responsibilities, reading for pleasure late into most evenings, maintaining a part-time job, and sleeping very little.

As a young professional, I was working long hours, seeking out mentors and learning from them, changing firms, and even careers, to attain a better position for advancement and more remuneration. I was also sleeping very little. In a twelve-year span, I worked as a corporate securities associate in two law firms and then as an associate, vice president, director, and ultimately a managing director—co-running a department— across three technology investment banks.

And then the tech bubble burst, and I had no job for the first time since I was ten years old.

In the days and weeks following my dismissal, my fixed-mindset reaction to this professional setback cast its shadow on me as fear and shame. Maybe I wasn’t good enough to maintain my place in the big league of technology investment banking. Maybe I’d never find another opportunity that lucrative again. Maybe people I cared about, including my fiancé, would think less of me because I was unemployed. The downward spiral of negative thoughts pulled me into a vortex of darkness and despair.

During a yoga practice, I forced myself to focus on one positive thing in my life. And in the practices that followed, another and then another. There were so many, of course. I had lost sight of them during my freefall. I vibrated with gratitude. I told myself to enjoy getting married. And I gave myself permission, for the first time in my life, to not know what was next.

With new respect for this part of myself, I charged forward again. I bought several buildings in San Francisco with a silent partner, took them down to the studs, and managed the renovations (while pregnant and wearing a hard hat). After the birth of my second child, I got divorced and sought the security and stability of a job. I joined one of my former colleagues as he launched his boutique M&A firm, and a few years later, I jumped at an offer to start an early-stage fund for conscientious retail brands—newly re-married and pregnant with my third child at the time.

In the wake of the rush of getting our first deal closed in record time, my business partner and I met to discuss terms. Unfortunately, we were many miles apart on our comparative equity participation in the fund. And so I left. Having lived through a few recessions, I could feel the capital markets shifting, so I began to sell my real-estate holdings— closing on the last one the month before the start of the Great Recession. Was history repeating itself? If so, I was prepared, embracing the experience of not knowing what was to come.

This time, the specter of my fixed mindset didn’t overshadow my growth mindset. Likewise, the “becoming” manifested as my covert and internal journey—synthesizing my insights and reconciling them with my experience, reflecting on my many mistakes and learning from them, listening to my inner voice, and aligning my thoughts and actions with my purpose.

I focused on my blessings and turned my attention to my children, my pregnancy, my yoga practice, and my creative writing. Shortly after the birth of my son, I founded my first children’s media company, which published my own works first to test the market and business model; in the spring of 2019, my second company acquired it. I’m off on my next adventure, taking on an industry in need of much change with a purpose-driven approach and emerging technology. Thankfully, I’m built to become.

DiOrio ’88 is the founder and CEO of Creative Mint Inc., which launches purpose-driven brands in children’s media. She also attended Vanderbilt University School of Law (J.D. 1991) and lives in San Francisco with her three children.

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