Finding Meaning In Work With Tammy Gooler Loeb

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How do you find fulfillment and meaning in work? The answer is within yourself. Tony Martignetti’s guest in this episode is Tammy Gooler Loeb, an executive coach, and host of the Work From The Inside Out podcast. Tammy shares with Tony how she knew she wanted to serve as a child, but she didn’t know how she’d do it. After doing volunteer work, trying her hand in public policy, and becoming a grant writer, she settled on executive coaching. Today she helps people to engage in work that’s meaningful, fulfilling, and satisfying. Join in the conversation and discover how to find your meaning within yourself. You wouldn’t want to miss this episode!

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Finding Meaning In Work With Tammy Gooler Loeb

It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Tammy Gooler Loeb. She is an executive and career coach, facilitator, and speaker. Tammy inspires people to engage in work that is fulfilling, meaningful, and satisfying. She provides a variety of services to individual clients and businesses in a range of sectors and industries, including executive in career coaching, group facilitation, training, and speaking in her menu of options that she provides. This work focuses primarily on workplace communication, leadership strategies, and team development.

She is also a host of the podcast, Work from the Inside Out. It’s a fantastic podcast. Go check it out. It showcases inspiring stories and practical lessons from people who have transitioned to more satisfying and meaningful work. Her expertise has been showcased in many publications such as HBR Ascend, Forbes, Fast Company, The Boston Globe, Monster.com, and TheLadders.com. Also, in the book Stretched Too Thin: How Working Moms Can Lose the Guilt, Work Smarter, and Thrive by Jessica Turner. Welcome to The Virtual Campfire, Tammy.

Thank you, Tony. It's great to be here. I fired up the marshmallows, graham crackers, and the Hershey bars.

I love it. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. I'm so thrilled to have you here. Ever since I've known you, it's always been such a joy to hear your podcasts and hear all your wisdom through all the things you've shared. I'm thrilled to see what journey has brought you to where you are in this world right here.

Thanks. Tony, likewise, you were a guest on my podcast and we had a great conversation then as well. I would encourage your readers to check out your interview with me. That would be fun. They can hear your story.

To give people a sense of what we’ll cover and for you, Tammy, we go through what's called flashpoints. They're the points in your story that have ignited your gifts to the world. Most of the time, people have more than one. In that process of sharing those flashpoints, you can share what you're called to share. Along the way, we'll stop and pause for reflection and see what's coming up. Tammy, when you're ready, you can take it away.

My first flashpoint started when I was young as a kid. I started at a young age doing volunteer work and always wanting to help people working at a camp for developmentally delayed kids. I’m immediately feeling this sense of service and I could feel my heart filling up as a kid wanting to help other people. It’s always being about others and enjoying those relationships. I started from a young age wanting to do something that would help other people be at their best. Throughout all my younger years, I did a lot of different things that would put me in a position to be of service to people whose lives were challenged in some way. That was a starting point.

My parents were great role models for that, too. My dad was a school psychologist and my mother was a social worker. I came into that on my own as well. Those were early days and yet on my journey, I did find my way into some other places that didn't spark me quite as much. It wasn't until I was close to 40 that I then found coaching, which brought me back and brought the spark back into what mattered to me. I did spend a few years doing some other things that didn't quite do it for me, but I had to do that in order to get back to it.

The whole idea of coaching is to help somebody be the best of who they want to be.

It's interesting you bring that up because I hear that a lot from people that it comes to a certain point, usually around the 40-mark, when people start to realize, “I'm not doing what I'm meant to be doing. Enough is enough. I need to shift my gears into something else.” Almost always, there's something about childhood that you come back to. There's something about what we did as a child that is a clue that we need to come back to. I don't know why that seems to be a common trend I hear a lot of.

It wasn't one of those, “When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a nurse.” It wasn't a fantasy. It was a real thing I got to do. As early as age ten, I got to go somewhere and do volunteer work. My father took me places and had me do things. He had connections and put me in those places, so it was great. It never seems like there wasn't an opportunity to do that. All along the way, even in the places where I was doing things I wasn't as excited about, I could still see through those lenses of how what I was doing was of benefit to other people.

I never lost sight of those things. I knew that how I was going about doing it wasn't fulfilling for me. For example, for several years, I worked in the field of fundraising. I was working on behalf of organizations that were doing amazing work and I learned a lot, but I did not enjoy sitting in a room by myself writing grants. I now say I'm a grant writer in recovery, but it was a great experience. I spent several years working in public policy and politics and again, amazing experiences. I don't regret them at all, but I didn't enjoy working in the political arena per se.

What do you think propelled you into that space? Was there something about that world that was about advocating?

Yes. I know exactly what propelled me into that world, especially the political world. Prior to that, my first job out of college was in community mental health. I was providing direct services to people who had been institutionalized for the better part of their adult lives in state hospitals. There was a movement across the country, but I know here in Massachusetts, the state decided, “It's inhumane to keep these people warehoused in hospitals. Let's put them up in the community and create all these programs.” They thought it was a humane approach to things, and it was. However, those programs weren't necessarily funded all that well. Those kinds of supports that needed to be put in place around all of that were also not necessarily funded all that well.

Also, the kinds of support people needed to then adjust and adapt to being in the community after necessarily living in an institution for 20, 30, 40 years of their lives. These were people who had serious mental health issues. I'm not saying that all the programs were terrible. I worked in one that I felt good about, but I got curious about who is making these decisions, who's funding them, and who's designing these programs or this coordination of services. I said, “I need to move to Boston and find out who's doing this up at the statehouse, who's making these decisions, and how are these decisions getting made.” I realized that was a public policy kind of thing.

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I moved from Western Mass to Boston and I decided, “I'm going to get a Master's degree in public policy and I'm going to figure this all out.” I got into a program and they gave me a scholarship and all this. Right before the program started, I said to myself, “I don't really know what public policy is. Why am I investing two years in a program?” Even though they're giving me money and it's a great program, I said, “I'm not going into two years of school for this,” so then I said, “I'm going to get a job in public policy.”

I did some networking and I got introduced to some people in the mayor's office in Boston. I found the exact job I wanted to the point where I felt it in my gut. It was one of those things that you can't even put words around. I got this job in the mayor's office and it took me six months to get the job. I found got the job. I learned so much about public policy, politics, and power dynamics. I was there for four years doing all kinds of great work and witnessing what goes on in a political arena, what goes on with elected officials, and the whole thing.

I thought, “I can't be a part of this in this way. The power dynamics were ugly to me and I did not want any part of it.” The experience was amazing. I met so many people and worked with so many great people. I learned a lot about how those decisions get made. I definitely accomplished my goal, but I realized then that I needed to go in some other direction. I ended up going to school and getting an MBA because then I wanted to figure out, “Who's running all these organizations? How do they run an organization? How does somebody successfully provide these services and make these things happen so that we can help people out in the community?”

I thought, “If I know how an organization needs to be run, whether you’re a nonprofit, for-profit, or whatever, it's a business. You have to know how to run a business.” I went and got an MBA. I did that and then fell back on my grant writing experience from working with the city. We used to have to write grants sometimes. That's how I fell into fundraising. I realized, “I got to get back to my roots of helping people.” That's when I heard about coaching, so it all came full circle in that way.

In some ways, those experiences that you had, make you into the coach you are for the reason that you're able to see the dynamics of being in an organization like that, which is quite unique in the fact that it's not like your typical organization. Seeing how politics come together in a political arena, but also getting all those experiences helps you to work with people who are going through the challenges of navigating their own organizations. Tell me more about how to make the transition to jump into the career coaching and executive coaching world.

I was inspired to jump into that from two vantage points. In grad school, I took some courses in organizational consulting. One of my favorite courses in grad school was called leadership. We read all kinds of great material from Warren Bennis, Peter Drucker, and all these people who spoke about what great leadership is. I also took consulting courses. At that point, the bug had bit me and I realized I needed to work for myself. It took me several years to then get to that point. Once I realized that I needed to get back to working more directly with people and helping people again and from my mental health days, more in a counseling role, I then heard about coaching.

I thought maybe I was even going to go towards a Master's in counseling or something like that because counseling was in its infancy at that time. People would talk about life coaching. You didn't hear about career and executive coaching. Those things didn't exist in that form. Those things have developed quite a bit over the last twenty years or so. What I heard about coaching that grabbed me was this notion that you take a look at, where are you now? Where do you want to be? How can you help somebody get there? The person you're working with is a whole human being, or as we say in co-active coaching, creative, resourceful, and whole. I love the idea that from a coach's standpoint, you're not working with someone who's broken and that you're trying to fix them. The whole idea of coaching is to help somebody from where they are and help them be the best or better of who they want to be. You're starting with them from a strengths-based point of view and I loved that.

In my undergraduate days, I used to work in the career center. As part of my financial aid, I had work-study hours. I loved working in the career center. I used to help people with their resumes, thinking about what they might do for grad school, and making decisions about where they were going with their lives or what they were going to do for an internship. Combining those interests, I was always interested in the kinds of choices people made about their work. I always thought about that and always thought about that for myself. It was a natural fit that once I got the coaching training, I immediately started talking to people about their careers and their work lives. I never wanted to be a life coach and work with people around the more personal side of things, although I think of work and life as being personal because who you are at work, you should be a whole person at work.

When people get lost, it’s usually because they’re looking for the answers outside of themselves.

When you're not challenging yourself to be the person fully at work, then you're not being fully a person at home either. There's always something that's missing in both places. It's interesting. I'm hearing all the dots that got connected through all these different places. You're one of those puzzles that soon, all come together at the end. You had to keep on trying new things and seeing where things lead. It wasn't laid out for you. Nothing's ever laid out for people. You kept on following your instincts as they evolved and that's a powerful thing that you finally realize who you are. That's what makes you a great coach. Being able to help people to see what are the clues that are laying out in front of you and what are the clues that are behind you, too.

Also, to acknowledge that they're all within you. That's why I call my podcast Work from the Inside Out. When people get lost, it's usually because they're always looking for the answers outside of themselves. If they could start with what's inside and check-in with themselves first, they're going to find a lot of the answers there. From there, they can then maybe find resources from the outside to help support them. What happens is a lot of people find all those shiny bits outside of themselves like, “Maybe I should go do that or go do this. That looks good. I'll grab on to that.” They're not combining it with what they bring to the table from the inside, so they lose the grounding and they're not connected to what they're doing.

People do that all the time. People grow up being told, “You're so good at this. You should be a thus and such.” They grow up, they become a thus and such, and then they wake up one morning. They're 40 years old and they realize, “I don't like this, then who am I?” Hopefully, it's not a big crisis for most people. It is about paying attention to all those little whispers and voices in your head that are telling you what you want and what you like. It's not about all the education, skills, knowledge, and things you know. It's a less tangible thing, but you have to pay attention and listen to it, combining that with what you know and what you've learned. That's a good combination that will help propel you forward.

I'm having this visual of a game of Whac-A-Mole that people go through. People tend to knockdown. They're like, “I'll hit this and keep on going.” They’re picking up skills and doing things that are in front of them without having the internal vision. It's great to be trying different things, but it has to be in service of something that is inside of them.

There's nothing wrong with trying lots of different things. Go ahead and hit the things on the head, but then take a moment and say to yourself, “How'd that go? How'd that feel? What did I think about that?” Take a moment to reflect on it. Don't just keep hitting them. That's what I love about coaching. It gives you a chance to partner with somebody like a thinking partner. That's the way I think of myself as a coach. It's not about me knowing everything. Some people come to me and say, “Have you worked with a lot of people in my industry or my field?” They think I know everything there is to know about every industry, where the job market is at, and I have my fingertips on the pulse of every potential profession and field. I'm clear, “No, I don’t but I know people and I know about motivation. I know enough about what's going on in the job market and the economy to be able to have those conversations with people.”

The most important thing is to help people to understand themselves and what's going to work well for them, and then we look at that against the lens of what's going on in the markets and what's realistic in the situation they’re in. We have to look at all of that. I don't have to be an expert in every field. For over twenty years, I've learned a ton about different industries. If you're a vice president, for example, in one industry, it means you are high up. If you're a vice president in banking, it means you're in the middle somewhere. There are different terms and things you have to start to understand.

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I feel like there's so much we could cover here and we're scratching the surface around your journey and coaching, but there are so many great insights that are coming up. Before we shift gears to another bigger topic, I would love to know what was the hardest part of your journey so far, especially around the coaching business.

The hardest part was getting over the hump of separating myself from the business in a way. What I mean by that is there was a point where I realized, “This is not about me, even though I'm the coach and I'm the business.” It wasn't like, “I had to work hard to get over it.” It was more like, the more I got out of the way, the more business came in. In the earlier years, I wanted clients and I was hungry for clients. Sometimes if somebody didn't hire me, it would hurt and I would feel bad. This has gone on for years now where I learned to be unattached to the outcome of any prospect conversation or anything. The more I don't make it about me, even though I am the business, the better it is. What I say to people is, “I care deeply, but I really don't care at all.”

It’s a beautiful paradox.

You have to get out of your own way in order to go forward and succeed on any level. The coaches I see who struggle are the ones whose egos or identities are so wrapped up in their identity as a coach. They take everything so personally that they can't get out of their own way. They can't build a good book of business because they put themselves in front of it all. It's all about them. It's been so liberating to say, “This isn't about me. None of this is about me.” It's been completely liberating. I got through that years ago and it's been wonderful.

It lands so squarely and I can feel it. Having gone on the personal journey myself, this is something I can understand and I'm sure people will also understand. No matter what industry you're in, that's something people can feel and understand that you have to separate yourself from the business a little bit because if you don’t, you struggle.

You offer more value that way, too. I feel like I can be far more creative. I can offer a whole lot more to people because I'm not so heavily attached to everything that I do that I'm worried about what they will think and all those things. It's like, “No. Just put it out there.” You have to believe in yourself. It's not about having absolutely no ego. It's about placing your ego in the right place.

There's an element of letting go and that's important. We've covered so much ground and there have been so many insights. I wanted to leave you with space to share at least one insight that you want to leave the audience with that has been the big a-ha for you on your journey.

I have to drill it down to one.

People break rules all the time on the show. I try to rein them in, but it's hard. If you wanted to say two, that's fine, too.

I do have two, but the one that I have to remind myself of all the time and has come up in my interviews on the podcast all the time. The more you stay open and curious as you go forward, the more that opens you up to an opportunity to experience life and everything around you more fully. I had a conversation with somebody about the whole notion of luck and the fact that when people say to you, “You're so lucky,” as if they're not lucky. The whole notion of luck is the people who look lucky are the people who are wildly curious and open. They show up and they are open to what's right in front of them. They step into it when something shows up. That's how they get to be lucky.

The more you get out of the way, the more business comes in.

Occasionally, there are other kinds of luck. For the most part, if you stay open to what's in front of you, you're going to experience things that you never would have experienced otherwise because you were so busy worrying about what other people are thinking or about the what-ifs. If you notice where the what-ifs are going or what you think other people are thinking, which you can't because you're not a mind reader, then you can stay open and curious. Whenever you feel yourself shutting down, remember to be curious, “I wonder what.” “I wonder about this.” “I wonder about that.” I'll leave it at that.

It's creating luck. You don't get that. You create it.

If it shows up, you’ve got to step into it. The only time I had true luck was when I bought a scratch ticket and I won $1,000 on it. I stepped into buying the scratch ticket, but beyond that, I did not create getting $1,000. That was luck.

I have one last question for you. What is one book that has had an impact on your life or on your thinking that you're willing to share?

There are a few books that I love, but one in particular that I've been sharing with a lot of clients and there's a passage out of it that's in particular to me. It’s called The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Unfortunately, we lost Randy. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon. He died too young. We lost him to cancer. When professors retire, they give their last lecture. Randy knew he was dying, so he gave his last lecture. It's on YouTube. He also wanted to leave a lot of wisdom for his kids.

The book is his last lecture, but it's structured in these tiny little chapters. They're all these little bits of wisdom that he left for his kids. There's one called Be The First Penguin and I love it. I read it to people all the time as if it's like reading hour at the library, so I'm going to share that passage with you. “Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want. That's an expression I learned when I took a sabbatical at Electronic Arts, the video game maker. It stuck with me and I ended up repeating it again and again to students. It's a phrase worth considering at every brick wall we encounter and at every disappointment.”

“It's also a reminder that failure is not just acceptable. It's often essential. When I taught the Building Virtual Worlds course, I encouraged students to attempt hard things and to not worry about failing. I wanted to reward that way of thinking. At the end of each semester, I present one team of students with a stuffed animal, a penguin. It was called The First Penguin Award. It went to the team that took the biggest gamble in trying new ideas or new technology while failing to achieve their stated goals. In essence, it was an award for glorious failure and it's celebrated out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way.”

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“The other students came to understand First Penguin winners or losers who were definitely going somewhere. The title of the award came from the notion that when penguins are about to jump into water that might contain predators, somebody's got to be the first penguin. I originally called it The Best Failure Award, but failure has so many negative connotations that students couldn't get past the word itself. Over the years, I also made a point of telling my students that in the entertainment industry, there are countless failed products. It's not like building houses where every house built can be lived in by someone.”

“A video game can be created and never make it through research and development or else, it comes out and no one wants to play it. Video game creators who've had successes are greatly valued, but those who've had failures are valued too. Sometimes, even more so. Startup companies often prefer to hire a chief executive with a failed startup in his or her background. The person who failed often knows how to avoid future failures. The person who knows only success can be more oblivious to all the pitfalls. Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted and experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.” I love that.

It’s truly amazing. I've taken back by that because it's full of so many great insights. It's a great reminder of how we need to be in the world.

The book is full of things like that, but that's the one that jumps out at me out of the book. You could just pick up the book, open it up in any one spot, and get huge gifts out of it. It's one of my absolute favorite go-to books because it hits you in the heart but it brings about great thinking at the same time.

I don't even know where to begin, Tammy. This has been such an amazing journey because it's been a wild ride to hear all of your amazing stories and insights. Thank you for coming on.

My pleasure.

I want to make sure people have a chance to know where to find you. Where can they reach out to you?

They can reach out to me at my website, TammyGoolerLoeb.com. That's a mouthful. There's no other Tammy Gooler Loeb out there. Keep your eyes open because probably at the end of the first quarter of 2021, I'll have a book coming out as well. I’m excited to be working on that. Tony, thank you for having me.

It's been my pleasure. I'm so thrilled to have you here. I want to thank all the readers for coming on the journey with us because this has been so enjoyable. I'm sure you're leaving with so many great insights. Definitely check out Tammy's podcast. It is absolutely brilliant. You’ll love that. Thank you again, Tammy.

Thank you.

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About Tammy Gooler Loeb

TammyExecutive and Career Coach, Speaker and Facilitator, Tammy Gooler Loeb is passionate about working with clients to achieve growth and deeper satisfaction in their careers and work relationships. She does this by providing individual coaching, training, speaking programs and team facilitation in a wide variety of industries and professions. Tammy brings over 25 years of professional experience to her work and is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach by the Coaches Training Institute, a graduate of the Co-Active Space Leadership Program and holds an MBA from Boston University. She is a licensed partner with the Motivation Factor® Program and Indicator.

Selected as one of the Top Ten Executive Coaches by the readers of Women's Business Boston, 2008

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