Thermoforming Report

My Story: “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?”

by Keith Brown, President & Owner, Siena Group.


“What do you want to be when you Grow up?”

It’s a simple question that adults ask kids all the time. 

Honestly, it isn’t a fair question, but it does lead to some great answers! The fact is, depending on the conversation I have with the many talented people I work with, it’s one of the first questions I ask.  Why? Because I had to ask myself that very same question over 9 years ago! 

So, in that light, I thought I would take the time to share some of what I went through to get me where I am today. 

My story. Here goes…

the journey

One day, you are working. The next day you are not. You were impacted. Now you’re trying to figure out what to do next. The reasons really don’t matter – it could be any number of things. What matters is that you are a professional and in the unlovely position of looking for a new opportunity with a renewed – albeit forced – sense of urgency. You have responsibilities. Family. Mortgage. Bills. Your budget likely can’t take much downtime being out of a job. Lots of thoughts and questions are churning through your mind. 

This is exactly where I was. I had some big decisions to make. That’s when the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ question kept coming up. All.The.Time. At any given moment – even as I was sitting in the lobby waiting to be called back to meet with a Senior Director for an interview! A very strange time to have that silly question come to the forefront of your thoughts! 

When you have or take time to ponder life, love, and liberty – and I mean really ponder things – you start to get real with yourself, maybe even in ways you haven’t in the past.

 [On a side note, this type of thought process is similar to what someone would do at the onset of a sabbatical. Check out the featured article in May’s Thermoforming Report on the topic.]   

When I was faced with these very real reflections, I thought about where my career had taken me, what I really enjoyed about my work, the things I was good at & why I was good at them, and considered opportunities and roads not pursued for whatever reason. This was a great exercise that really allowed me to think long and hard about my next step. I believe it was the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard that said that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” 

At this point – and because it wasn’t my first rodeo with a career transition – I reached out to several friends and colleagues to gain insight and advice. When faced with a life-changing transition, this is something you MUST do! It is humbling to be sure, but it is so productive… and encouraging. 

It’s surprising the things you learn about your friends and colleagues through this process because you start to see yourself through their lenses. Stressful situations tend to bubble up levels of seriousness that you may not have thought was possible with some people. Again, I cannot recommend enough that you seek out and pursue people whom you trust, those confidants who will offer up differing perspectives and guidance. We all have our own paradigms and experiences that have shaped us over the years. They are unique to each of us and provide a valuable perspective to pull from and leverage at critical points in our life. I know this sounds overly dramatic, but trust me, it is not! Making a career change or even just choosing and landing a new opportunity in the same function and industry is not trivial.

 [Want to dig deeper into job transitions? Visit our previous blog where we unpack the considerations, the struggle, and the benefits of change: “Letter for those in Job Transition”.] 


So, back to my story. 

Here I am interviewing for various roles, locally and those that would require another relocation, weighing my options, and pursuing roles that I believe aligned. But something wasn’t working. Having endured back-to-back high-stress roles, investing significant time and energy well beyond what would be assumed to be normal, I realized that I was a proto-typical burnout. I enjoyed the work – I did – but the thought of jumping back into another stressful operation was hard to swallow. Plus, I did not want to relocate again. I’d moved around a lot over the course of my career – it just is the nature of being in manufacturing. And yet, this time it just didn’t feel right. 

So, now what?!? 

I began exploring ways to work remotely. I thought about a career shift, again seeking to take advice from several leaders over the course of my career to try my hand at Technical Sales, leveraging my technical expertise and my ability to quickly gain respect and rapport with people at all levels of an organization. Some things aligned and some didn’t; some were intriguing and some were daunting. Nothing really sat well with me.   

In one of my many conversations, I spoke with a friend who had made the leap into recruiting. I won’t get into his story but essentially, he had an opportunity to give recruiting a try, and he was very successful. The more I worked through taking this leap away from what I knew and into a whole new world, the more and more it appealed to me… even if the leap was big and the risk was scary!   

My options were simple:

  • #1 Find a similar Operations Leadership role that aligned well and would likely mean a relocation.
  • #2 Find an Operations role that would enable me to stay put, where I would travel to the manufacturing plants I supported.
  • #3 Change careers but stay in manufacturing and learn an entirely new skill set by trying Technical Sales.
  • #4 Start over completely and buy into a recruiting franchise.  

Any and all of these options were solid and viable choices. Each would bring its own set of challenges, but all were acceptable. 

I realized that I couldn’t nibble around all of my choices at the same time and move forward successfully. 

It was time to commit to a plan and go for it. It was time to choose


I took a leap of faith and chose Option 4: the most unknown choice for sure. Please understand that I am not advocating or selling this profession to you! That is not my intention. And it’s hard – like most good things we all do in our jobs. I’d be happy to dig into the details with anyone as desired, but this is about my journey and, as I’m now a small business owner, it is what I know and what I can share. 

So, I jumped… and it was absolutely scary!  I had a family to take care of, responsibilities to fulfill, and bills to pay. Could I do this? Could I be successful in this new venture? 

Although these doubts and fears are very common for anyone taking this kind of leap, they are no less formidable! And, even if you weren’t making a full-blown career change, you’d still have doubts and fears, right? 

  • “Is this company a good one?”   
  • “Is my new manager really what he or she seems to be?”   
  • “What about the team?” “Am I going to get along?”   
  • “The new location seems to be great from all that I’ve researched and read, but are my kids going to like their new school?”   
  • “What about finding a new church?”  

I could go on and on with questions that we’ve all faced when making a transition! But, at some point, we all need to trust and take that huge first step. 


I have been truly blessed on this journey. I took that first step, and I am still standing. I was able to stick with it and get through the tough first few years. And it’s been fun! I’ve had tons of help. I’ve had friends that have come alongside and encouraged me. I’m still part of a manufacturing industry that I love; it is and will always be a part of who I am. I work with amazing people. I’m always learning and trying to grow and be better. I work hard. I have a strong work-life balance with flexibility. I know what I do makes an impact, on both the businesses and people that I get the privilege to support. And I know that I am really just starting this journey. 

I believe that we all need to have that perspective – it is about the process and the ride versus what we perceive as the endpoint. 


Change is hard. Learning new skills is hard. Being humble is hard. Asking for help is hard. 

I knew all of this but living through it is quite a bit different. You can stand and watch a rollercoaster from the ground and fully understand what to expect, but only when you actually get on it and strap yourself in can you truly experience – and appreciate – the power and thrill of the ride. This is exactly what I felt! If I had chosen to stick with Ops Leadership, the ride would not have been so chaotic. But it is very much what most people feel when a big career shift is experienced. There is satisfaction in the journey, no matter what struggles it brings along the way. 

One piece of advice: If you are going to make a big career change, make sure that you have some financial runway to see it through. You hear all the really great stories on social media about how someone made it big. Those are RARE. Small businesses fail all the time… because it is hard. Making a huge shift is tough to do. Allow yourself time to learn. Connect with a mentor who is an expert in your chosen new world to coach you and encourage you. Make sure you have support from your spouse. Surround yourself with great people and work hard. Surviving is part of the overall journey, and the journey is part of the reward.

Ok, one more appeal: Burnout has its own set of results, consequences, and side effects – most of which cannot be easily addressed by quoting platitudes and taking deep, calm breaths. If burnout spills into other parts of your life besides work, avoid the “suck it up” aphorisms and seek professional counsel. Ask for help – from family, from friends, and from the health community. You are not alone.

Wrapping it Up

When you are facing a career change, you really do need to ask yourself those age-old questions: What DO you want to be when you grow up? What are those things that you really LOVE? Are you able to incorporate those things into your JOB? 

The familiar saying (attributed to either Mark Twain or Confucius) is truly spot on: “Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. 

Invest the time to think things through and challenge yourself to really dig deep. Then, trust your instincts and go for it

Have you been on a similar roller-coaster, life-changing, paradigm-shifting journey? Reach out! I’d love to talk! 

 Looking to make a change and need advice from someone who’s been there, done that, and has the scars to prove it? We’re here to help in any and every way possible! As a talent recruiter, we represent clients AND candidates! We can help with resume facelifts, job searches, client introductions, interview tips, and resignation strategies. Let’s Strengthen Your Search!

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