I returned to Pittsburgh from Athens when I was 45 (with a Greek husband and 2-year-old child), and I had not anticipated that I would be coping with significant reverse culture shock.
I had grown more than I could have thought and, when I came back, I was sure that things had remained about the same in the lives of my family and at work. I was wrong, of course, and Children’s Hospital was a very different place than when I left it with new leadership and new economic challenges in the healthcare industry.
My problem-solving skills and creative thinking had taken a leap––living abroad is like having a new education altogether. I had seen the way others thought about America, and it developed some genuine confusion about my future. I also brought greater cultural intelligence back with me. But I was homesick for Greece (sometimes crying in bed at night under the covers, missing my friends). No one could relate to my experiences. I spent a great deal of time in self-reflection. Expectations within my family also changed—we spoke Greek at home and had trouble dealing with a new culture within our established language and way of living.
When the opportunity arose to move to the Hillman Cancer Center seven years later, however, I took it for the chance to move on and launch a brand-new fundraising program there. I had learned that growing new programs or taking an established program a big leap forward was an area of great strength for me. Getting too comfortable was my own recipe for boredom. I loved Children’s, but a new cancer center was a beacon calling to me. I was again in a new culture, working to understand adult medicine and launching a new program. This was a very exciting time and there was more ahead.
After five years there I began to work throughout the medical center in many areas related to clinical development—Neurosurgery, Cardiology, General Surgery, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Brain Institute, Vascular Medicine Institute, etc. I loved doing this and got to know so many physicians, scientists and their programs. I have always enjoyed science and research, so this was in my fundraising sweet spot. I admired our research teams, their zeal for finding answers to difficult medical questions and their own enthusiasm for the work underway.
These physicians and scientists made me feel that I was a true partner in these efforts, and I was reinforced every day, working in this environment for more than 15 years. I had learned all that I could and one day I announced my departure. I planned to launch my own fundraising consulting business—Gayle Tissue Strategies.
Sometimes something you love can begin to strangle you a bit. You begin to realize that passion for your work can overtake your life and it is time to change that, just to live a more normal day. That’s what happened to me. I needed to stop and start again in a brand-new environment. I needed to pursue my dreams. And I was in a place in my life where I could have a softer landing with such a change. I had developed a good reputation for fundraising with many successes over the years, my daughter was almost done with law school, we had moved to a smaller home, and we were all ready for adjustments to our lives. Time to jump to the next phase. Of course, leaving was not without regrets.
Gayle Tissue Strategies has been up and running for about six months. I’ve learned so much about what I want to do. There are definitely challenges. Working from home with all the distractions is something new. However, things seem to be right where I want them.
In the last six months I built my website; secured a number of very interesting clients, which have real positive synergy with my own background; I did not accept consultancies with other prospective clients when I felt my experience didn’t fit their culture; I joined in with an associate, Rosalyn Markovitz, with whom I have luckily worked many important times in my career––besides being a strong development professional, Roz is one of the best individuals I know; I became an active member on LinkedIn; began volunteering with several organizations; ran for office and joined a board (I am their first female board member since they formed a board about 20 years ago); and created my blog. I network now with many new people in the city and beyond, people with ideas that are quite fresh to me.
I miss my previous work and the wonderful people, donors and teams of staff members with whom I worked, but every day I relish the joy of working on my own. And I listen to the music of my life's independence. And many days, I wish I could have done this sooner.
Each of these junctures has been a major change in my life. While I prepared in advance for each of them, no one can prepare completely for what is to come. I have had real joy in being able to reinvent myself at each turning point and I have had a great deal of trust in my own capabilities. I have been grateful to the people who have supported me each step of the way, who listened to me when I was worried, who helped to celebrate my successes, who helped me to correct my mistakes—I stood on their shoulders and they balanced me. They were important to me over the years and I am grateful every day. I have been grateful to the staff and colleagues with whom I have worked over the years, I continue to treasure those relationships and every day I whisper a litany of thanks to so many.
I created a culture of change throughout my life, I just couldn’t stay in one place. For me, there is nothing more exhilarating than letting go and moving on in a calculated way. I had a passion for all that I have done and will do in the future.
"Leap, and the net will appear." John Burroughs, American naturalist.