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The Two Moments That Gave My Life Meaning

The Two Moments That Gave My Life Meaning

How long does it take to make a difference in someone’s life?

My answer: about a minute.

I’m in high school. A cheerleader. Taking typing lessons after school, since most of the women I know who work outside the home are “secretaries.” I’m dating the cool, often-drunk guy in the senior class.

One day my guidance counselor grabs me by the arm as I walk by her — she literally grabs me — and waves my SAT scores in front of my face. She wasn’t kind. She wasn’t nice. She was pretty shrill.

“Do you see these scores? Do you know how much you can accomplish if you want to? Are you planning to be a cheerleader your whole life? You shouldn’t be cheering for the game; you should be in the game.”

[Related: Learn How to Stop Hiding and be Your Authentic Self]

Life changed Part 1. I am living a different life because of that one interaction, when I decided to “go for it” in my career. Thank you, guidance counselor.

And so I spent the next three decades running as fast as I could, moving up through the ranks on Wall Street.

Life Changed Part 2. I’m running Merrill Lynch, having been brought in to turn it around after Bank of America acquired it. The charge was to stem Financial Advisor attrition and get the business back on track in the wake of the financial crisis. The business has been turned around, it’s growing, it’s beating plan, it’s gaining share.

And my life changes again in a minute, when I’m reorganized out of the company. I’m given 20 minutes from the time I’m told to seeing it announced on CNBC; that’s how my father hears about it.

Important insight: I don’t want to spend more time with people who give me 20 minutes notice of a massive life change than I do with my family.

Thank you, Bank of America CEO.

I am living a different life, now again, because of that interaction. Still charging ahead, but making sure it’s on a topic I deeply care about and that can make a difference in people’s lives: helping women close their “gender investing gap” through Ellevest. Different than any other place I’ve worked, one of our core values is that we also prioritize our personal lives. I’m not sure I’ve found “balance” in my life, but I’ve found something closer to it; and I’ve certainly found “meaning.”

[Related: How to Prioritize Positivity in Your Daily Life — And Why it Matters]


Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, an innovative digital investment platform for women. She is Chair of Ellevate Network and the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund. She is former CEO of Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

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