Lessons learned along the way

Guest Correspondence

There are milestones that mark the beginning and end of eras in our lives.  Births, deaths, new careers, children and retirement. They all represent some type of marker in our life journey that signify an impending change.

This week, I reached one of those milestones. I had the good fortune to announce that after 14-plus years at an amazing organization, I will retire in 2023 as President and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation. It has been an incredible journey.

Work has never seemed like “work” no matter what I job I was doing.  My credo was “whatever I am doing, do it well for at least one year.”  I was often surprised how sticking with a job through ups and downs could turn into an adventure that led me to new skill sets and incredible opportunities.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that everything I did since a child led me to Gulf Coast Community Foundation in 2008.  It all started when I began working as a paperboy at the age of 14 years.  From there I worked as a cook, restaurant manager, steel mill worker, tutor, counselor, dean of students, researcher, lobbyist, and many more occupations that could easily fill this column.

My career introduced me to working with customers, clients, custodians, union members, scholars, business leaders, nonprofit leaders, Governors, Presidents, philanthropists, elected officials and ambassadors to name a few.

And some skills stay with you.  I can still fold a paper newspaper (if they still exist), tap a molten steel furnace, cook or prep in a kitchen, work the front line with customers, prepare a research proposal, analyze a bill or law, compose a book, scrutinize a P/L or balance sheet, raise money for great causes or lead a team of high performing professionals.  

But what lessons have I learned along the way of this wide-ranging career?

Well, here are my top three lessons plus one bonus insight.  These lessons don’t represent everything I’ve learned, but they have been essential for me to achieve a fulfilling work experience.

First, no matter what the job is, knowing how to navigate relationships has been the foundational skill for achieving success. If you positively nurture authentic relationships, then work is a fulfilling experience.  The keys to positive relationships are treating everyone with dignity, assuming the best, actively listening, empathizing, and respecting differences.

Second, it is okay to admit that you don’t know it all.  It’s a big, complex world.  One of my favorite lines from the bluegrass group Nickel Creek is, “only the curious have something to find.”  So be curious, acknowledge that you need to learn more, and you will probably make some great discoveries in everything you do.

Third, assume 100% responsibility in all that you do.  When you hold yourself accountable for a result, you empower yourself to do everything ethically possible to succeed.  Don’t build in “escape hatches” or pre-planned excuses so that it is easy to blame someone else when things go awry. That’s a lose-lose scenario which sows the seeds of mistrust within your team, organization and customers. 

Finally, a bonus from the actor turned philosopher Mickey Rooney: You always pass failure on the way to success.Fear can be debilitating.  Fear of failing can thwart innovation and future success. We will all fail sometime during our careers.  The sooner we accept failure is part of the journey, the better chance we have to succeed.

I invite you to work with our team at Gulf Coast now and into the future.  You can count on us to treat you with dignity.  You can count on us to be curious. We will always be accountable.  And together we will learn from our failures on the road to success for you and our community. 

Mark Pritchett is President and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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