How Painful Experiences Changed the Trajectory of a Fortune 300 CEO

Being fired changed the trajectory of a former CEO of Campbell Soup Co.

Doug Conant walked in and got unexpectedly fired from his job as the Director of Marketing for Parker Brothers. Doug said, “I hadn’t done anything wrong. But I hadn’t done enough right.”

Being fired isn’t the end. It’s a beginning.

The question is, “How do you get the most from painful experiences?”

The dark side of painful experience:

When painful things happen, intrusive thoughts beat you down. You experience anxiety, distress, anger, or bitterness. Researchers call this “post traumatic depreciation” (PTD).

Painful experiences devolve into intrusive problem-centric thinking. But “post traumatic growth” (PTG) is another option.

Painful experience as growth-opportunity:

How painful setbacks changed Doug Conant.

When you lose your job, you lose some of yourself.

You naturally obsess over negative experiences. But PTG happens when you get a grip on your thinking.

Losing yourself is an opportunity to find yourself.

Neil MacKenna, an outplacement counselor, asked Doug to handwrite his life story. The process of reflection changed the trajectory of Doug’s leadership.

Doug Conant on the power of writing his life story:

Painful experience is an opportunity to think about yourself, others, and leadership in new ways.

Intentional reflection answers intrusive thoughts.

Life story exercise:

Write your life story and talk it over with a trusted advisor or colleague.

  1. What memories come back most frequently?
  2. How have highlights and lowlights shaped you?
  3. What were some of your biggest goals?
  4. What parts of your story felt most fulfilling?
  5. When were you selfless or courageous?
  6. When do you wish you had acted with greater courage?

(Adapted from, “The Blueprint,” by Doug Conant.)

Doug’s work is deeply connected to the practice of self-reflection. But the Blueprint process includes six steps.

  1. Envision.
  2. Reflect.
  3. Study.
  4. Plan.
  5. Practice.
  6. Improve.

How has painful experience changed you?

How might leaders help others get the most from painful experience?

Purchase, The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights.

Doug on twitter: @DougConant

Doug on Linkedin: Doug Conant