Defying Age in the Workforce

Spotlight on Vanessa Tennyson

Past Participant Vanessa Tennyson

We recently sat down with Vanessa Tennyson, founder and CEO of Capitalize Your Humanity and a recipient of our Certificate in Business Excellence, for an open conversation about how she’s embraced an encore career, moving from human resources to entrepreneurship. Vanessa shared her journey, focusing on what it took for her to defy age in the workforce and accomplish her professional goals.

What prompted you to embrace a new career path?

After 38 years of pursuing the traditional measures of success, the concept of retirement didn’t ring true for me. I felt that the word itself meant I was “all done” and yet I had this nagging feeling that I was just beginning. Instead of ignoring my gut instinct (which is all too often the advice given — go with the facts, not your gut), I leaned into it and started to research opportunities for learning more about encore careers.

“I discovered dimensions to leadership that immediately resonated with me and became embedded almost instantly.”

What mindset would you suggest helps professionals approach an encore career?

A few years ago, I attended a fellowship at the University of Minnesota that introduced me to the concept of an encore career — the Advanced Careers Initiative — directed by Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Kate Schaefers in the Life Course Center. Phyllis stated in the first meeting of my fellowship cohort that “there are two words that are banned from any conversation, ‘old’ and ‘retired,’ for neither have the same meaning that for generations has defined them.”

An encore career is whatever motivates you away from monetary success and toward a more global concern for societal issues. Having spent many years working hard, earning money, raising a family (or not), had its own built-in rewards in terms of how we traditionally have measured success — wealth, fame, accumulation of material possessions, etc. We spend our lives in mainly two stages: the first is being cared for by others and the next is caring for others. During an encore career, we are given the opportunity for the third stage — caring for ourselves. Driven with purpose for the greater good can become the most compassionate self-care of all.

“An encore career is whatever motivates you away from monetary success and toward a more global concern for societal issues. ”

What does it take to defy aging in the workforce?

Aging in the workforce is being redefined on a daily basis — in part due to COVID-19 and the delayed retirement (for a variety of reasons) of the baby boom generation. Reverse mentoring is starting to be embraced by the GenZ population, whereby younger adults are mentoring with older adults to engage in conversations around skill sets that can be shared backward and forward, redefining what a multi-generational workforce looks like. Staying engaged by being open to new opportunities, ideas, and creative thinking are all ageless concepts.

What advice would you give other professionals who are thinking about transitioning to a new industry?

My advice would be to make the difficult journey into yourself, be honest and candid about what motivates you, and identify what you are truly expecting from the journey forward. Keep still and be patient for results, reminding yourself that this is not familiar territory. Listen deeply and with intention to what is coming up for you. Then move forward without fear, opening the doors of opportunity that are all around you. You will discover new dimensions when you explore without fear of failure, understanding that everything comes with some risk and the greatest loss is in not trying.

“We spend our lives in mainly two stages: the first is being cared for by others and the next is caring for others.”

How has continuing your education helped you grow as a leader?

Columbia Business School was the door of opportunity that I opened. I was filled with trepidation and fear initially, but as I learned to trust my instincts and have patience for the process, I embraced my desire for being a lifelong student, quenching my thirst for knowledge and education. Here I was at age 60, suddenly thrust into Ivy League academia with young adults less than half my age, and to my great surprise, I was energized in a manner I hadn’t been in years.

My skill set was challenged and tested by the professors, and as I found my experiences enhancing the concepts both theoretical and practical, I began to see things differently. I discovered dimensions to leadership that immediately resonated with me and became embedded within me almost immediately. I felt a surge of energy to “get back in there” and continue on my journey, wherever it was leading.

What inspired you to complete your Certificate in Business Excellence?

Columbia Business School stands out among top universities. The opportunity to explore a top-tier education with an emphasis in leadership was another door of opportunity that I wasn’t going to close. While the Certificate in Business Excellence is designed to be completed over a few years, I was so motivated by the energy and knowledge I was absorbing that I completed it (including 144 hours of classroom work) in just seven weeks. The professors, the participants, the academic rigor, and the curriculum all contributed to my inspiration and thirst for knowledge. Without hesitation, I can say that completing my Certificate in Business Excellence has given me a new lease on life and one that I have enthusiastically embraced since the first day of class. To this day, I am still in contact with a handful of professors as we engage in collaborative dialogue about a diverse subject matter of interest to both of us.

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About Vanessa Tennyson

Vanessa is the founder and CEO of Capitalize Your Humanity, a consulting firm providing executive and leadership coaching in the greater Minneapolis, Minnesota area. In her practice, she focuses on creative thinking and helping others to discover innovative solutions. As a transgender woman, Vanessa has spent the last 40 years in a myriad of roles within the public, private, and nonprofit business communities. She offers a unique perspective of operating in business in both male and female roles, and in her research, she developed the The Triad of Discovery, which focuses on important issues of self, allowing a safe space for judgement free communication, which leads to enhanced performance and diversity of thought.

Programs Vanessa Attended