Dawn Speed

Embrace your curiosity

Maybe it’s dangerous for cats, but curiosity has certainly fueled my life. That, and being blessed with a loving, empowering mosaic of family and friends, has pushed this introvert to take risks and embrace change. Unlike those who wish they could turn back the clock (although the 20-something years were fabulous!), I’ve looked forward to each decade.

Dawn and husband Chris Bailey

Therefore, saying, “Enough!” to 30-plus years of 24/7/365 work-life demands was not so much a jolt – more the quiet calm of clarity.

I was 58 when the moment arrived. The morning sun sparkled peacefully on the waters of Florida’s Biscayne Bay. I was on a business trip and the final day happened to fall on my birthday. I’d gifted myself a morning stroll on the beach. Sounds lovely. But much like the graceful swan gliding across the water, underneath the surface the waters were dark and there was some serious churn happening.

The decision to make a change had been building for some time. I was very fortunate in knowing from a young age what career path to choose: communications. From being a reporter/photographer for my hometown newspaper in my teens to TV news producer to corporate communications, it’s been a wonderful life. Truly. I’ve had the joy of traveling around the world and have appreciated every moment – the lows as much as the highs. To quote Nelson Mandela, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.”

What I’d learned by the time 58 rolled around was that I was done sacrificing my health for things that, in the long run, don’t matter. As a wife and mother, my family has always come first. I have no regrets about putting my career on hold to be there during my son and daughter’s formative years. The 1990s were a blur of diapers, daycare, job shares and numbing exhaustion – and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Motherhood is the hardest, most rewarding job in the world.

Thankfully, the now-grown kids are happy college grads, independent and self-sufficient. I’m so proud of them. We navigated the scary teen years (ages 1-5 have nothing on 11-18!) and made it through the fire. Over time, I’ve divorced, remarried, and integrated family and work obligations, teaming up with amazing people, making lifelong friends, been a part of fulfilling projects. The flip side of all that are the late nights, chasing the last train out of Grand Central Terminal in the dead of winter, working until 3 a.m., back in the office by 7 a.m. – layered with stress that comes with the usual office politics. My health was suffering, again. Enough.

I spoke with my husband. We crunched the numbers and made a plan. I resigned my VP role in PR gracefully, never wanting to burn bridges, and embarked on a new path. If I was going to invest so much time and energy into work, I wanted it to be more purpose driven. Thankfully, the perfect transitional opportunity presented itself: a friend asked me to join the Board of a women’s empowerment organization as the Director of Communications. It was the perfect bridge to my new life.

That was 2017. In 2018, my husband, daughter and I moved from New York City to San Francisco. I will always be a die-hard New Yorker and it will always be home. But my hypertension and alopecia confirmed it was time to exchange the brutal winters and “move fast or get outta the way” Big Apple lifestyle for the warmer, laid back flow of the Bay Area. It was the right move at the right time.

Divine Intervention has tapped my shoulder too often to quote the many instances here, but a Bay Area recruiter reached out to me as I was contemplating what would be next. And that call helped our family make the transition from East to West Coast. Has it been easy? Ha! In the big scheme of things…yes. But not the process. We opted to ship our furniture and drive vs. fly to California to ensure our family zoo (2 dogs, 2 turtles, 2 parakeets) would arrive safely. After spending Christmas with NY family, we embarked on our cross-country adventure. From Dec. 27 – 30, we endured ice storms, jack-knifed tractor trailers, blizzards, subzero temps and Green Book-style hotel decisions. But we made it. The sun was just setting behind the Salesforce building as we drove over the Bay Bridge, arriving exhausted but happy in San Francisco. It was magnificent.

It has taken us some time to adjust to the slower pace – not to mention the loss of Brooklyn/Bronx pizza. We slept on air mattresses for a month waiting for our missing furniture to show up. But we have settled in nicely. Pacific Coast Highway drives, dogs running freely along the beach, winery visits, outdoor dining year-round w/Bay views – more than we’d hoped for! The biggest obstacle has been the distance from family and friends. Our son and his fiancé are still in NYC with blossoming careers, and we’ve just learned our first grandchild is on the way! COVID is keeping us apart and that has been gut-wrenching. But we make the best of it through Facebook Portal, Facetime and Zoom. The next dream: to, one day, have all the children (and grandkids) here with us in California.

Rebooting has its challenges, but the rewards faaaaar outweigh the risks. Trust your instincts, listen to that inner voice. Don’t ignore the red flags but lean into being uncomfortable and go for it. Would I change some things? Sure. Who isn’t wiser after life has scorched its lessons into our souls? But it’s those very lessons that have given my life its vibrancy and strength – the optimistic realism to face whatever lies ahead. Bring on the 60s!