When Your Inner Voice Says “Let’s Roll”

Miracle surgeries performed aboard the Mercy Ship transform thousands of West Africans

Everyone has “ahh-haa” moments in their career

Those times of profound revelation. Times where you approach that rare intersection of fate and providence, face into the winds of promise, then whisper “I’m taking the narrow road. Heck yeah it’s dangerous but I’ll always have regrets if I don’t try.” That’s happened to me on more than one occasion.

In my early adult years it happened when I pulled myself away from friends and family immediately after college. I said a tearful goodbye to the comfortable yet stagnant pace of Upstate New York’s rust belt and headed West to stake my claim of fame and fortune in the buckle of innovation and creativity–Southern California. After setting down roots in Redondo Beach I never looked back.

A few years later I left a lucrative commercial sales career to serve under the mentorship of Freeman Gosden, Jr and Bob Hemmings, two of modern direct market’s most accomplished pioneers. My curious intuition told me direct mail would soon become the forerunner of digital interactive marketing. My hunch paid off.

My biggest headfirst dive into the dark unknown, however, was enlisting in the service of Mercy Ships, the faith-based fleet of hospital ships that is redefining volunteerism and the modern short-term missions movement on a global scale.

Working with children in a remote village outside Dakkar, Senegal.

At the time it seemed like a mistake. During most of my eight years with Mercy Ships my family and professional friends kept bashing me with words like…“That’s just a dumb idea. Why would you ditch a promising career path to work for free for a religious order?”

What they didn’t know (nor did I at the time) was that there’s no such thing as a “promising” career path. I learned–and keep learning–that weird stuff happens to you. And by you. Neither did they understand I never worked a day of those eight years for free. What I got in return for my service was international travel and a million dollar education in global fundraising and public relations of the highest order–worth more than an MBA at Cornell and an unlimited travel pass at ClubMed. And a cool extended family on every continent.

Yes I was a volunteer. Yes our income was often cobbled together–month to month…hand to mouth–by sacrificial donations from friends, family, churches and businesses. But I discovered almost daily that you can never out-give the God who put you on this earth. That’s certainly been my story.

Fundraising in port cities around the nation with Mercy Ships founder and CEO Don Stephens

After helping to build a global fundraising, public relations and recruiting infrastructure (much of it still remains) I made yet another big move. This time heeding the call of the wild to one of the most ruggedly beautiful, pristine corners of the globe–the North Kitsap Peninsula, west of Seattle’s Puget Sound.

Ironically, I’ve discovered my eight years with Mercy Ships were not the end of my missionary exploits. Rather, that season of life was preparation for an equally important and altruistic mission: helping businesses protect their most important assets with robust commercial security services (my day job with ADT Commercial Division); and, helping sports and entertainment professionals prosper through innovative, cost-effective marketing strategies that bond their brands to customers and fans for life.

We all have stories of standing at a crossroads. More will confront us in the future. Will we ignore that still, small inner voice that says “This is the way, it’s hard and risky but you can’t afford not to try it?”

Before you answer, consider the mountain of data collected from interviews with senior citizens who were asked “What would you do differently if you could live your life over?” Nearly all of them said the same thing. “I would take more risks.”

So, the question…Are you approaching a crossroads?

Here are a few things I’ve learned from some of the seismic changes I’ve made in my life, and particularly my career.

  1. Listen to that inner voice. You won’t hear it very well if you don’t pay attention to its soft whisper. Get away for a half-day, frequently if necessary. By yourself. Take a few pieces of paper or notebook and a pen, get into a comfortable quiet place and listen patiently. Pray. Listen to music. Then start taking notes. Do whatever will surface your subtle inclinations from deep within.
  2. Talk to trusted peers. Share your hopes and dreams with them, but only those people you can trust to support and love you unconditionally–and give you tough love in return if your ideas are too off the wall.
  3. Do the research. Get busy learning about the opportunity that awaits. Keep in mind we’re talking mostly about career changes here, but it can also apply to hobbies, volunteer work, a sabbatical, travel, etc.
  4. Get your affairs in order. That especially includes your finances. Far too many folks approach big life changes without the financial resources to carry them through the transition period. On the other hand, financial shortages can often be the very catalyst to get you in motion.
  5. Think long-term. Remember that life is an unending journey. Over a lifetime of risky career experiments I’ve learned that there are no mistakes if you follow the voice and will of God. In the same way I’ve learned you can never out-give God, I’ve also learned that all things work together for good if you love your Creator and are trying to follow the path carefully set before you.
  6. Enjoy the ride. When you jump into the deep, fast moving current of opportunity, savor the exhilarating experience of trusting your faith when conventional wisdom runs counter. It won’t always be a smooth ride–sometime it’ll be anything but. But in the end you can look back and say “I did it.”

Phil Herzog is a senior consultant for ADT’s Commercial Division and moonlights as a sports and entertainment marketing executive as CEO of SmoothStone Partners.com. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

Who Is Your ESP?

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down*

There are a few men in my life I call my ‘best’ friends. Three of them, actually, and they know who they are.

How do they know? Because we occasionally remind each other — by words and actions — of that hallowed relationship. And because best friends share secrets. Not gossipy family, friend or co-worker secrets. But gritty details about our lives, the dark side of who we are—our penchant for addiction, financial excess, laziness, unkindness, selfishness, gripping fear. What most christian folk would call Sin with a capital S.

These three guys have been a lifeline to me literally and figuratively. And though our friendship hasn’t been tested to the extreme I’d like to say that if the chips were down for any of them—if they were at rock bottom—I’d do anything to help them out of the hole. Because they’ve done that for me. Not once, but many times over nearly three decades.

I mention this sacred bond between men—true brotherhood—because it’s been these guys who’ve rescued me more than any clergy or family member, counselor, mentor or psychiatrist (though all those people play important roles in my support system). And which has everything to do with a man’s mental health.

As I mentioned earlier in a post regarding people in the Northwest struggling with mental health issues during the winter doldrums, I touched on the topic I’ll call “ESP” and the vital importance of a trusted loved one to come alongside you as a temporary lifeline. To be an empathetic listener, a cheerleader, a team-mate in the rough and tumble game of life who can help you get back on your feet and stay there when the violent gusts of anxiety and depression run you aground.

One of those ESPs (Emotional Support Persons, and one of my three best friends) has been struggling for many months with an issue that’s shaken him to the core. For the purpose of anonymity I’ll call him Ned (which is my endearing secret acronym for his personality). And for years he’s been my ESP to the extreme. When I was unemployed (several times) he called me every day just to make sure I was getting out of bed before 10 AM (which wasn’t easy). He took me to lunch weekly–on his dime. And he played host on several occasions for overnight trips to the mountains to hang out in the deep snow of the North Cascades.

He was the bond of friendship that pulled me back into reality, into positive self talk, into getting back out in public and finding a new normal.

But in a curious twist of providence the tables turned…

(For more on my story about brotherhood, emotional support and a cheat sheet to get unstuck from a weeks or months-long bout of anxiety or depression look for my follow up post next week)

*Simon and Garfunkle; Bridge Over Troubled Water