Experts POol

Live Your Life by Design, Not by Default

It wasn’t until I left my company of 17 years that I realized what I had been missing. I fell into being a technical recruiter after graduation in 1989 and never knew recruiting engineers for 6-month contract jobs was an industry. Fast forward, I moved into executive search.

Then a colleague backed out of a project and I was asked last minute to take her spot. This was outside my recruiting comfort zone and into internal assessment and development. I found my new calling in this leadership development and consulting space.

After 8 years, I realized I had been in the passenger seat, raising kids and not really looking up. I decided to get into the driver’s seat.

I found my passion in life really is to help others find their “highest and truest expression of themselves” (a phrase I borrow from Oprah) and I needed to start with myself.

From my experience, below are my top five career principles:

  1. VISUALIZE your north star. It could be the C-Suite or a goal 5 years out. Dream Big. My daughter wants to major in nutrition. I’m thinking, “Is that big enough?” She said, “Mom, I can be the nutritionist for the Cubs”. I said, “Ok”. Sorry Brewers fans.
  2. It’s NEVER TOO LATE to course correct or change careers. Founders of Coca-Cola, IBM, McDonald’s were all over 50 when they created their companies. Finding out what you don’t want to do is just as important. Then don’t look back.
  3. Learn from ROLE MODELS. Colleagues – up/across/down; formal or informal mentors, learning from someone for a specific competency/skill, etc. Always be learning. Note: strong self-awareness is a pre-requisite.
  4. Build your BRAND and CREDIBILITY. Hard work, results and reputation speak loud and clear. Now advocate for yourself. “It’s NOT who you know, it’s NOT what you know, it’s who knows what you know.”
  5. Go with your GUT and live OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE. You can weigh a page of pros/cons, talk to 20 people, it’s about you and what feels right. With decisions big and small, move forward and “punch above your weight”.

We all have a finite amount of time on this earth and there was something about turning 50 that made me realize I needed to start living my life by design and not by default. I want to share that message with everyone I meet both professionally and personally.

Maribel Langer, Bus Ad '89Maribel Langer, Bus '89, is a principal at Korn Ferry Hay Group in Chicago. She can be reached at




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