The single word that changed my life

Mark Schaefer
5 min readNov 13, 2023

The headline for today’s post is not sensational or exaggerated. There really was one single word that changed my life, and I’d like to tell you that story today.

When I was in my 20s, I was brimming with ambition and determination. I was smart and a hard worker, so my early career successes were constantly rewarded. In fact, my company was aggressively pushing me forward with promotions and weighty new responsibilities.

I thrived in this environment but it was highly stressful. I was moving up the company so fast that I was almost always the youngest person in the room. At one point, I was managing a $1.5 billion account before I was 30 years old. Every day I faced a situation where I wondered “What am I doing here?”

The confidence the company placed in me was motivational and exhilarating. The sky was the limit and I was happy to be zooming up the company organizational chart.

But this furious pace of progress took a toll on me. Having so much responsibility at such a young age forced me to work harder to compensate for my lack of experience. By the time I was 35 I was in one of the most stressful global marketing jobs in the company and struggled to find moments of happiness. It seemed like I always had to be “on” and with the advent of mobile technology, there was no escaping work and endless customer demands.

The Crosby Effect

I had the great fortune of being selected for an extraordinary management training program that introduced me to Robert Crosby. Bob became one of the most important influences in my life. He had this inner glow and mesmerizing presence that made an impact on all who met him.

He had a fascinating background as civil rights activist in the 1960s and later, he was ordained as a Christian minister. When I met him, he was in the business world teaching classes in organizational development intended to propel my company’s next generation of leaders.

The training program involved tearing deep into our personal family backgrounds to uncover subtle dysfunctions that might limit our leadership potential. I was uncomfortable with this “touchy-feely” stuff and had a hard time expressing anything close to vulnerability at that point in my life. I wanted to be…

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Mark Schaefer

Keynote speaker, marketing strategy consultant, Rutgers U faculty and author of 10 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Belonging to the Brand!