From Smiling Spouse to CEO
Jul 13, 2017
On April 9, 2009, I was transformed in an instant from smiling spouse and gracious hostess to executor, trustee, CEO and client. I am not sure that anyone had confidence in me. I certainly had none in myself.
Through the years, Lev repeatedly told me that I did not need to know his business because “they will be here for you.” They were not. He said, “Everything you need is in the four-drawer locked file cabinet.” It was not. Shortly after his death, the family met with Lev’s attorney and accountant to begin the whole big process of filing for probate, settling the estate and finding new financial advisors. I summoned the courage to tackle Lev’s office.
Each day I made the same trip that he enjoyed so much: To pick up mail at the downtown post office, a haven for the homeless, and then to the parking garage, service stairs, crosswalk to his building, elevator to sixth floor and down a long hall to Suite 600. I felt like an intruder searching through his space. I dreaded what I might find when I opened a drawer or a file. I dared not throw away a scrap of paper without examining it first. I had no cause, no suspicion to think he might have lived some secret life; but still I feared the unknown. This was work I had to do alone.
As quickly as I could, I hired an assistant, converted a bedroom to a home office and closed the downtown office. In my fear and anxiety, I made many mistakes. I had no clue how to deal with bankers, lawyers and accountants. I was reminded of that period this morning when I found a link to 6 Bad Habits That Undermine Women’s Own Success—and What to Do Instead.
Those bad habits that undermine women’s success apply to widows who suddenly have to step into our husbands’ shoes. Few of us are prepared to serve as executors of their estates. How many of us understand the full meaning of fiduciary obligations? Even fewer are equipped to run the family business. Yet there we are, in the midst of our grief. And they do not give us time to mourn.
Looking back eight years and evaluating my performance then, I give myself a F:
- Since I had no confidence in myself, I could not project confidence. I could not promote myself.
- I did better in stepping into leadership, only because I thought I honored Lev’s memory by assuming the responsibilities he left me with.
- Not so good on decision-making—I definitely wanted to take the time to gather all available information and points of view before acting.
- A on this one. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t have trouble expressing my opinion.
- A miserable F—too often, I was shrill and upset, not at all calm and confident, in dealing with legal and financial issues.
- I accepted my power, but I did not embrace it. I was suffering from imposter syndrome—all too common among women. I did not believe I belonged in this place. I did not feel qualified. I felt like a fraud. Until Lev’s death my best was generally good enough. No more. I could not do all Lev had done. I had to rely on others’ advice and direction.
Gradually, I have become more comfortable in my new role. I have managed to reduce my responsibilities, and I have more realistic expectations of myself. But it did not come quickly or easily. In 2015, when I decided to blog, I sought images of myself that projected my CEO image. I had more confidence in business and professional meetings when I dressed the part—“fake it until you make it.” Now at last I’m ready for new pictures.