The most powerful woman in television, Anne Sweeney, President of the DisneyABC Television Group which also includes ESPN, hundreds of cable channels around the world, a chain of eight local TV stations and some of Hulu and A&E networks, left her job to become a TV director.
What? Impossible! To give up all that power and influence to go be a-a-a TV director? Nah!
As reported in the New York Times: "Executives of the Walt Disney Company and Ms. Sweeney emphasized that she made a voluntary decision." But then the article goes on to say that "Hollywood instantly read her decision as an acknowledgement that her 18 year rise... had ended." And that she lost her place in line and was no longer at the top of the list to succeed the outgoing CEO.
In our now standard power-hungry climb-to-success model, it's no longer possible that there would be any other reason for her to leave than failure. And to become a TV director? To voluntarily take such plunge from grace? What other reason than failure would there be?
Like -- maybe she had had it? That it was enough? That here was someone who hit the top, got all she strived for and took a good look around in that rarified environment and said "Bravo, Anne. But enough. It was really great. I had a ball, learned a lot, accomplished a lot and yet -- I'm 56. Isn't there something else I'd like to try in the world? Some new areas to explore and use my talents? To discover who else I am and what else I can do? To choose other ways to spend my life? And if not now, when?"
Moving on to CEO would indeed be prestigious -- bigger office, more money, but also more of the same. Same field, same people, same challenges, same bitter pills, soaring heights and deadly battles. But where in our present societal structure do we make room for folks to think "Is that all there is?" To legitimately check out their life choices, to stop and consider trying something else? Something to discover, for sheer pleasure, for adventure or for another kind of fulfillment?
Look, I'm hardly a naïve dreamer. Folks have responsibilities and the further along in life, the more there are. So the choices aren't always forthcoming. But here is a woman who made it possible, whose responsibilities, whatever they are, will clearly all be met and taken care of if she decides to find out something else about herself.
We leave so little room for that re-think. And how cruel that is since the choices we made in college, the first jobs that set us on a path, the early opportunities or options we settled for temporarily are often such an entrapment. Look back on yourself. How much have you changed since you started on your career or job path? What else did you learn that made those early choices in which many of us are now so committed that the chance to listen to our later, inner voices must be squashed since we can't do anything to change courses now.
So, here's this story about a woman that was given such a chance. Who was as likely to re-think her choices with some positive pleasures in mind, instead of just shuffling along as a failure, leaving her office with her head down and eyes averted. Why do we automatically think that the only reason to ever leave a prosperous, public, powerful position is because you got forced out?
How about looking at the strength she had to not only make her reason public but to choose such a different and seemingly lower level position. And because she wanted to try something new, to explore her own creativity.
She knows all about wielding power, the aggressive moves, the thumb up/thumb down kind of power she was given as president. You know, that can get pretty tiresome, let alone lonely. And not too gratifying if you have enough soul left showing that says, "Hey, I did that already. I think I'm more than this. What else? I always dreamed of being a TV director. How about it?"
Anne Sweeney deserves praise and, yes, some envy, as she sails off into a more instinctive, artistic and personal world. And the guys who are fighting each other for that CEO's job? What thoughts will the ones who lose have.