149. On Drive and Staying Relevant in a Changing World with PwC Partner Donald Christian


“I may not be naturally welcomed in the room perhaps because I’m different. But that doesn’t shake my inner sense of belonging or confidence to be in the room. It just shows me there’s an opportunity — and a need — to build relationships. That’s all it signals to me.” — Donald Christian

This episode is part of Season 5, a short series where I share conversations I’ve had with my heroes and role models. My hope in sharing these conversations is that you’ll pick up something that inspires and motivates you. More importantly, I hope these chats move you to sit down and have similar chats with your role models and heroes.

Ep. 149 Donald ChristianDonald Christian is a senior partner at PwC. He sits on the Board of the firm and currently leads the US East Region Advisory practice. If I remember correctly, he’s one of – if not THE youngest ever admitted to partnership. Since his admission in 1997, Don has served in a number of roles in the firm, served on several committees, and is an active and visible leader in PwC’s efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

I have had many mentors and heroes over the years, but he is the one single individual who has had the most impact on my work ethic, how I navigate my career, how I think about relevance and making an impact. Every now and again, I still catch myself thinking what would Don do?

We haven’t worked with each other for more than a decade and yet his is still one of the voices I hear in my head. Talk about impact.

In this episode, we talked about how he defines and measures success, the habits that have helped him the most in his career, the principles that guide his choices, and how he stays relevant in a changing marketplace.

 

Links From the Episode

Connect with Don Christian on LinkedIn
Briefing Notes
Follow Second Breaks on Instagram
Connect with Lou Blaser on LinkedIn

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

We sometimes over-index and think a lot about the outputs that we’re trying to achieve defined by how many hours we work or how much money we make or all those different measures. But oftentimes, we forget, all the roles that we need to play and if we have the capacity or resiliency to perform well in all of those roles.

Are we really acknowledging all the inputs and taking care of those inputs that provide us the energy — and the sustainability — to perform all those different roles well? The goal isn’t just to exist, the goal is to thrive, have fun, and live life.

About follow your dreams, I usually balanced the idea against somebody worried about the pragmatism of life existence. So they may have a fair concern for you. The question I would start with is what are their fears and concerns? So before you superimpose yours on them, let’s explore what theirs are. What you might find perhaps that person is willing to trade off a lot of things because they define their success in life very differently than the person who’s asking that question.

We often hear, when you’re the first of anything — a minority, a woman, when you think about entering a boardroom or any executive suite, typically it’s white male-dominated, right?. For whatever reason, I never had this imposter syndrome. The imposter syndrome feeling that I’m not sure if I belong in the room. I notice the differences of the people in the room, and sometimes depending upon the compliment of people in that room, I can feel isolated. I may not be naturally welcomed in the room or greeted warmly perhaps because I’m different. But that doesn’t shake my inner sense of belonging or confidence to be in the room. What that just shows me is there’s an opportunity to build relationships and that there’s a need to build relationships. That’s all it signals to me. Then I have to be thoughtful about what I do.

This concept of a compass clock, which for me, my metaphor is two spinning plates. So think of a plate being spun on a stick, one at a faster rate and one at a slower rate. The one at the slower rate representing the direction that you’re going and the one at the faster rate representing kind of that more day-to-day clock time. My view is, how do I make sure synchronicity and harmony exist between those two activities constantly?

We’re at a point now where we’re starting to take care of other people. And it’s very easy to use words like burden, obligation, responsibility. And those words come with effort, tiredness wear and tear, right? So when you’re faced with a challenge like that, what are some words and ways that you can start to think about that opportunity differently. Words like, wow I get to spend some of the last times. I get to revisit history. So how do I change my view towards what I’m gonna have to go through from seeing it as something that is just all negative to something that can be positive?

You go back to the knitting. What’s the one thing we got to do in our business? You gotta be relevant to the clients. You gotta be relevant to the market. And so you go back to that knitting and you reinvent yourself as you are required to do.

You have to recognize you do have to change. I think for a lot of people, there is just a lack of acknowledgment and recognition that there is a need to change. So the first thing is to pause and acknowledge that, Hey, things are changing.

If things are changing, why not look at it as an opportunity to go do something or be something or explore something that might be fun to me. And how do I, maybe whether that’s a hobby as it starts in that may convert to a profession? Those kinds of things are where that, you know, impetus starts.


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