All the stuff in Beth Fitzgerald’s life that was going wonky, all the mistakes, all the misdirections and maybe-tomorrows — that’s all on her. She will be the first one to tell you that, too. And the moment she owned up to it, all that stuff got a lot better.
It’s called the Law of Awareness, one of “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth” as written by John Maxwell in his book of that name. It’s Fitzgerald’s favorite law in the book because it’s about ownership and, she says, because it’s the root of so many other laws in the book.
Fitzgerald is a certified trainer and coach of Maxwell’s laws. She will present “Exploring the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth” on Friday, December 7, from 9:45 a.m. to noon at the Princeton Public Library. The workshop is free and part of the Professional Services Group of Mercer County’s continuing series of events for businesspeople, job seekers, and those in transition. Visit www.PSGofMercerCounty.org.
To be fair, Fitzgerald wasn’t living a bad life when her epiphany struck. She was just living a remarkably unfulfilled (though sensible) one, in the business sense. She had spent her career in the finance sector, mostly as an offshoot of her upbringing.
Fitzgerald grew up near Cherry Hill in a lower-middle-class family. Her father worked for GE in Philadelphia, and her mother was a floral designer. When it came time for college, she says, “the only option was to go in-state. I put myself through Rutgers in New Brunswick.”
Fitzgerald studied economics. “I chose that because I truly didn’t want to be the poor kid on the block anymore,” she says. Also it was the 1980s, when getting a job on Wall Street was the biggest merit badge for success in business one could get. She graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s in economics and English. Then she went a half-hour north to Wall Street.
Fitzgerald landed a job “crunching numbers in portfolio management” at Aegis Capital Management Corp. and then about a year later at Prudential. She knew pretty quickly that she wasn’t going to find the pilot light in her life while she was slumped over client records, not talking to anybody, and looking at numbers all day.
She did, however, find the love of her life in Doug, her husband of 26 years, who still works at Prudential — still, in fact, crunching numbers in portfolio management and, she says, loving it.
She did not love it. But she found her way to Oppenheimer Funds and started working in sales. She got to talk to people, guide their paths, and help them figure out what they didn’t know. Now she was on to something. She was still in the wrong job, but this one gave her her first big-league epiphany: she liked helping people and had always found a way to do so.
Fitzgerald left work to raise her family with the attitude that she was not going to take just any job. She found life coaching through a course she was supposed to take with her nephew (who never showed up) and realized this was where she needed to be.
In 2014 Fitzgerald opened Beth Fitzgerald Life Coaching. After she became certified to teach John Maxwell’s laws of growth, she knew she had the right niche.
The thing about Maxwell’s book and philosophy, she says, is that it centers around the idea of personal acceptance for life. Whatever has happened, in other words, you have a say — the say, actually — in how to deal with it. Which brings us back to:
The Law of Awareness. The definition of this law, in Maxwell’s book, reads, “If you want to change and grow, then you must know yourself and accept who you are before you can start building.”
That doesn’t have to be as cheerleadery as it might at first appear. For Fitzgerald, it was the simple acknowledgment back in her Wall Street days that she was just bobbing around in the water, no particular direction or thought as to where she would drift. It expanded when she was with her kids. She realized she had been inadvertently sabotaging herself by just letting life happen to her. That revelation, she says, “really blew up my mind.”
The implications of self-awareness, Fitzgerald says, touch all aspects of life — school, work, relationships, even faith. What makes it so powerful is that it’s ultimately about ownership of what happens to your life. Say, for example, your boss is a jerk. “Perhaps he is,” she says. “And we can’t change your boss. But we can change you.”
Changing you isn’t about adopting a sunny attitude and a happy whistle while your boss is eating away at your soul. Changing you, Fitzgerald says, can also mean recognizing you’re in a bad spot, admitting you’re in really in it deep, and dealing with it. And dealing with it can be as simple as knowing you want to go do something else, somewhere else.
Sounds basic, right? Well, Fitzgerald says, it’s surprising how many people can’t open up to themselves about what they want and what they don’t.
“I ask myself something, probably once a month,” she says. “What am I tolerating?”
That alone, she says, is a level of awareness most people, fittingly, aren’t aware of. It’s actually okay to be unhappy if something’s making you unhappy — even if, as in her own case, everything on the outside is going great. She had a roof over her head, a great family life, food in the fridge. She just didn’t feel she was living the life she should be living. Turns out, she was tolerating coasting through life, doing the sensible thing but not the fulfilling thing.
The Law of Awareness, Fitzgerald says, is the skeleton of the remaining laws in Maxwell’s book. And the laws of reflection, consistency, and systems are especially rooted in awareness.
Reflection is a big one for her. It’s about what she calls “thinking time,” which you might think of as quiet time, prayer, or meditation. But try not to confuse something like prayer with static quiet time, she says. Silence is not actually silent.
“My answers are always in the silence,” she says. “But prayer is not sitting in silence; you’re very active in prayer.”
In the business world, there isn’t much time for quiet, active reflection. So Fitzgerald physically blocks some out on her calendar. Once a week, one hour of her day is dedicated to distraction-free thinking time. And it’s in this active silence, just thinking over what to do about work, that she always seems to find her answers.
This has worked for her husband as well. That job he loves at Prudential comes with a glass office. And though he has told people not to bother him during one particular hour, “nobody honors that,” Fitzgerald says.
Doug, however, listened to his wife and now relocates to another floor one hour a week. There, she says, he figures out how to approach a problem back behind the glass, thanks to some deeper thought than the knee-jerk reaction time he is afforded in his own office.
Taking some reflective thinking time, Fitzgerald says, has made her a much better businessperson and, really, a nicer person overall. The trick is to be aware that you need to take that time to just let your thoughts work themselves out.
“There’s something receptive about sitting in silence,” she says. “Some form of receiving [an answer] and realizing it was there all along.”