Have You Ever Had a Dream? Part 1

Santorini is the perfect backdrop for a dream.

When I was 22 years old, I sat on the cliffs of Santorini, Greece, under the blazing sun by day and a galaxy of stars at night with my friends, Mary and Kathy. We dreamed of our futures. I remember that I told them I wanted to live in Greece. I wanted to do something important with my life that would have an impact on others. And I wanted to have my own business. For me these dreams were my destiny.

In one of my earlier posts, I talked about how I got into fundraising—the Accidental Fundraiser. I was so fortunate to be able to work with gracious, wonderful people throughout my employment at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in my early years. I started as a research assistant, became Director of Development and by the time I was 35, I was Executive Vice President of External Services. Change dominated my life.

During this period I secured an MBA and read all of the business books that I could find on organizational behavior. I studied hard, made mistakes every day, but none were earth-shattering. I shared these mistakes with my team—we all analyzed the situations, learned from them and built our careers with more knowledge and experience, reaching higher every day. The most important thing was that I had the support of my own supervisor.

With my team, I raised significant research funding, established a number of endowed chairs and funds, helped to create an effective development department, public relations department, marketing department, government affairs program, etc. We celebrated the hospital’s centennial with more fundraising, special events and friend raising. I talked with those who were more experienced than I and kept reading about the topics that emerged.

Our teams were carving new territory. I surrounded myself with some of the best people in the business. My whole theory was to recruit outstanding staff, trust them, provide a platform for their success, let them do their jobs, support them through their own mistakes and help them become successful. I felt then as I do now…this process helps everyone to rise and creates a great deal of positive feeling and sense of well-being.

Although I loved my work, I was yearning for something else that would take me in new directions. I decided that I would change things up, find work in Athens and fulfill part of my dream––living in Greece. Even searching for the job was a challenge. But I was supported by a generous Greek businessman in America, as well as friends in Pittsburgh and Athens. Although it took a great deal of energy, multiple trips back and forth from Pittsburgh to Athens, fueled by determination, I secured a job and when I was 40, I moved to Athens.

I worked at Health Care International, a consortium of American companies (including Harvard and Children’s Hospital of Boston) and Greek companies (Babis Vovos Industries and Constantinos Constantacopoulos Enterprises). The goal was to build an American-style hospital in Athens and bring a new type of medical approach to Greece. The hospital was to be called Fronditha, meaning care.

While this was an exciting adventure, the work was very challenging in a new culture: a different language, a different mentality, and social and cultural differences. I didn’t know many people and everything was novel. Even things that are typically easy were difficult for me––buying wood for the fireplace, finding out where I could buy gifts for friends, buying meat in different cuts, making phone calls to America––I was essentially starting over, working to understand my own situation while trying to build trust and loyalty. The cultural differences between the American and Greek owners of the project on which I was working created another layer of challenge since they disagreed on every step forward and solved problems in very different ways.

No amount of preparation could have helped me at this point, but I trusted my judgement as well as my experience and certainly sought advice from new and established friends. I worked hard to learn Greek, began to shop at the local stores, rented an apartment, called advisers to get their take on the situations with which I was confronted, and I used my new-found language any time I could. No matter what, my heart was in the right place, and I remained earnest in my attempts to reach the goals we set.

When the project imploded due to the owners’ internal strife, I shifted to work with the parent company and sent complicated, complex patient care cases to Scotland, the hospital headquarters. My work propelled me to travel to Scotland and France and challenged all of our Greek contingency to the max. When someone asked me a question in French (a language in which I used to be fluent), I could only respond in limited Greek. When we were in rainy Scotland, we missed the sun and warmth of Greece. Resistance to change was a major issue for the staff in all locations.

While our office was quite successful, doing creative things, establishing a platform for many people who benefited from new health care developments—regrettably, it was soon time to come back to Pittsburgh. The economy in Greece was being tested, and I didn’t want to be one of the first victims of a downturn.

I could not know then what I knew soon enough—the next change would be the most difficult of all.

Changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens.

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