On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Hilarie Viener discuss how to successfully pivot toward purpose. They share their own stories on how to look inward, discover your purpose, and embrace it in all aspects of your life and legacy.
Ep 89: The Purpose-Driven Pivot
Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive, your agency resource. I am really excited because I have Hilarie Viener with me today. She's the founder of Viener & Partners and the Interim CEO of the Genius 100 Foundation. Today, she's going to share her evolution story with us, which is really inspiring to me. I know it's going to be inspiring to a lot of you who after last year, you're maybe starting to think, what do I actually want to do? Do I maybe want to think about some kind of purpose-driven pivot? That's what we're going to talk about today. So Hilarie, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really excited to talk to you again.
Hilarie: Thank you. This is really exciting for me to be able to talk to you today.
Kelly: It's so fun to share our stories, right? I'm sure you do a lot of interviews like I do and you're kind of telling your story. And I feel like in some ways, it doesn't get old because you learn different ways to tell it. And some of those things land with people, and they're really inspiring, or they really resonate pretty deeply. So I want to know a little bit more about your story from the stand point of I feel like your background from what I know is that you've always had this blend of commerce and conscious awareness. But what were the circumstances that kind of led you to enable you to pivot at the end of 2020?
Hilarie: Well, the circumstances kind of bubbled up. I've talked about this offline before. All of us are always seeking what’s next, even if whether it's overt or kind of quietly; generally thinking, if I didn't do this, what would I do. And sometimes you don't really have the time to explore that. And in this past year, there's been so much around us that has changed, and so many people seeking out answers. So this pivot for me into kind of the Interim CEO role in a nonprofit as well as running the agency has come out of having lots of conversations, really. And that's what everyone had told me when I really want to do something with more purpose. And I always kept- which will probably end up talking about- half of my business is focused towards helping nonprofits and half their commerce. But this opportunity really came out of having conversations with the people that were running the foundation, and needed kind of new vision, new leadership. As you know, things have evolved from a very steady good growth economy to a very weird time.
Kelly: So I feel like the way that this interim position came to you was, like you said, really based on your network- your deep meaningful relationships with people. Their trust in you, all of that, accumulates, and when they needed a leader, you stepped up, and it wasn't even a decision for you. For most people, there's fear when it comes to making a change, especially a pretty big change, like the one that you've made. So, why do you think that is? What holds people back from kind of breaking out of their comfort zone and getting to that next level?
Hilarie: Oh, there are a lot of things. I think one of it certainly for many people, is financial. Think about the circumstances that you set yourself up and you work so hard for. And I think, again, we've talked about this before, that most of us are very focused on what's the next thing. How do you build the next part of your career? How do you stay in this particular track? And I think a lot of people, myself included, get in a trap. I thought that being in the agency world, I’ll work my way up in becoming the president of one et cetera, et cetera, started my own, and you just stay in that agency model. And then you're like, okay, I'm at this place where I'm in senior leadership, and I have my own team, etc. There's nothing else. I think, all of a sudden, if you start to have conversations and see there is something else, then it's giving yourself the permission to let go with that really tight grip that you have. And I think that's difficult. I mean, I'm not saying that it was easy for me to see, but if you let yourself see it, you can see that there are opportunities that you can use your experience and your value in other ways.
Kelly: Yeah, I think that's so true. I mean, I definitely resonate with that. Having owned an agency for 14 years and then feeling like, is this all there is? How can I leverage my expertise, my passion, all of those things, and have greater impact and have more fulfillment? That's kind of where we're all going. I feel like if you think about it the way that you and I talk about it, sometimes, what was fulfilling to you as a leader or as a person, as an individual 5 years ago, is definitely not the same as what it is now. So thinking about this next iteration or this next chapter, in the context of, it's not the last thing that you're going to do, it's just the next thing. It's having that mindset is super important.
Hilarie: I also think it's really important to recognize that there comes a time in your career where you feel like, if you're looking at it as I checked all these boxes, I'm supposed to get here, no one tells you. I think our generation of female leadership is different in that way, but at least when we are coming up, no one tells you what's on the other side of the mountain. You just aspire and work and do the long hours and do all the difficult stuff. I know in coming up, we live through ‘me too’. We live through all of these things. I didn't ever really take into account that there was gender bias or any other kind of bias. I just thought it was in a tough industry. And you work really hard. You work as smart as you can. Deal with as much as you can, and keep trying to focus your eyes on the prize and keep moving forward in the best way that you can. But no one explains to you when you get to a certain point. There's a whole another army with slings and arrows coming at you from the other side of being in that leadership position. But it also creates a whole another level of experience.
Kelly: Right. I love that you use the mountain analogy because I'm in the process of writing my first book. So one of the ideas that came to me was exactly this. You kind of reach this elusive summit. You are at the top of the mountain. And where do you go from there if you're at the ‘top of the mountain?’, or ‘the perceived top of the mountain?’
Hilarie: It's was a perception.
Kelly: It's a perception. And so, my contention in that was it's not about reaching another summit. It's actually about, at that point maybe diving inward, maybe realizing that you don't need to climb another mountain. You need to go inward and realize that you are the mountain, right? Because that's a whole another chapter.
Hilarie: You are so right on, because what happens is, you do get to the point where you reach inward, because you say, okay, well, all of the optics of this look fantastic. I was just talking to a friend of mine the other week. Somehow we got on the conversations with percentages of females versus males and all these different ways. And when you look at percentages of female CEOs, for instance, on average, it's about 5%.
Hilarie: So you think that's really very rare. But at the same time, it's like, well, what do you do with that? What do you do with that platform? And what does it mean to me? At some point, you have to say, what does it mean to me personally? I'm one person and I have one life. When I keep talking about this bell curve, that's my newest. The thing I keep talking about is like, can you get to a point where here's the top of the bell curve, and you're like, we're right here. So what do you do once you get here and for the rest of the time, you're at that place and forward? Because at some point, you also put into how many years you've been in the industry working in, etc. What's the next half? To me, it's under the halfway point. So what's the other half look like?
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It's so interesting. I mean, we're kind of saying the same thing, just using like different terminology or different analogies. I feel like at this point, we're sort of let's call it the halfway or midpoint of COVID. Maybe a little bit ahead of that, who knows? But this whole last year has really provided an opportunity for a lot of people to go inward, to pause, and to reflect. To look at what is my legacy? What do I want to contribute? How about the rest of my career? What does that look like? Maybe I own an agency but the way that I lead that agency or maybe our philanthropic efforts are a little different as we go forward. Whatever the situation may be. I just feel like this has been such an opportunity for us to really look at things from a completely different perspective because we had that time. Was that the same thing that you were saying on your end?
Hilarie: I think opportunity is the keyword in your explanation. I think a lot of it is the way that you perceive things as well, and giving yourself the opportunity to perceive things differently and to make a different reality for yourself. Because if you were, like I said, on that track and your track got derailed, for anyone a variety of reasons. At this point, the opportunity is to see what you can do with everything that you've learned and all the knowledge you’ve accumulated, and to not discount yourself because of the environment that we're in.
Hilarie: I think it's been a great moment for people too, if they can take stock of what they've already done, and figure out within that huge amount of work, and hours and time and effort. What are those things that made you the most happy? Because the things that have made you the most happy are the things that you're the best at. It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's like positive reinforcement. But it's kind of true at this point. We spend a lot of time mentoring, and I always talk about that. What is the most fulfilling? What are you getting the best positive response out of is really the way you can shine. And I think it's a good time – if you can - to take a break and look at what's made you shine and what's made you happy because that's what's going to be the most beneficial to everyone around you and yourself.
Kelly: Yeah. I'm curious to know what impact it's had on you, personally. With this kind of purpose-driven pivot, what impact has it had on you personally to take over this Interim CEO role and become a mentor? How does that change you?
Hilarie: It is still in the semi-beginning phases. Definitely, the beginning of anything, it looks one way, and then you get under the covers, or under the hood, or whatever those terms are, and it's totally different. So I think how it's changed me is, you use the same skill sets, the skill sets that we've learned in the agency world. I don't want to be self-aggrandizing from agency role point of view, but if you came up from there, in the big agencies, you have enormous war chest, tool chest of skills, because you genuinely live with your head on the swivel every day. You never know what's coming next, you never know what's going to change, how it's going to change. So that elasticity and that kind of sharpness of being able to operate under those circumstances is enormously beneficial when coming into a new organization. There were certain things that were done very differently than I would have set them up or done them and then there were other things that I was like, well, that's interesting learning how this works. So it's really kind of blending my business background. Someone with a business background and creative background that goes into a nonprofit is a tremendous advantage. So it's been really interesting, because I'm also now setting a new course for how the organization operates. Because every nonprofit is also trying. At the end of the day revenue is revenue. So there's just different ways of explaining it. It's a different language. But it's applying that to a different type of entity.
Kelly: Yeah. This is so great. So as we start to wrap up, I'm curious also, what's been your biggest takeaway from the whole process of the pivoting and stepping into sort of your next level of leadership?
Hilarie: Well, there's a couple of things. I think one is, I'm used to working in a global brand capacity, and to now step into a global philanthropic capacity is extraordinarily eye-opening. Of hearing people's stories from different parts of the world, and the impact that they want to make and what drives them to do it. And that collection of information is so powerful and so motivating. That is a key difference. And when you're working with a brand, when they are truly looking at revenue, they're truly looking at profitability, they're truly looking at sales. When you look at something from the point of view, right now, I still have the agency still up and running, and that's going. But when you look at it from purely from an impact standpoint, of how you can actually help other people and how you have the ability to do that, it's extraordinarily rewarding in a different way than it is from a purely business for profit way.
Kelly: Yeah. And I think we're actually seeing a ton of change from that perspective. The brands are leaning in more. They realize that consumer demand means that they have to have some type of give back initiative, and not just for PR sake, but like to actually change their impact on the world, their carbon footprint, whatever the case may be, whatever their cause is. And maybe it's not an org, maybe it's not people or planet. Maybe it's both. Hopefully, it's both. But I think that that's the direction that almost everything is going in. I mean, I see that with my agency clients, I'm sure that you see that with your agency clients.
Kelly: So that gives me a lot of hope. Right?
Hilarie: Yeah. And it's really interesting because this is just coming from the other side of it. And like you said, to hear from different parts. We also get kind of stuck in our geographies in a way. And to see this every day, instead of talking to different clients in different parts of the world, I'm talking to different people that are running these incredible nonprofits in different parts of the world. Starting my day off, yesterday, with people in Bahrain, and the day before someone in Afghanistan, But these are people that are actually grassroots, doing things that are making incredible humanitarian education change.
Hilarie: And it's so commendable. I feel blessed to just be in the room to even hear, to be on the inside track of what's possible.
Kelly: Yeah. It's really such a beautiful evolution. So I want to thank you for sharing it with us. And really wish you all the success in the new role.
Hilarie: Thank you so much.