Interview with Jesse Reeder
Author of The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks (2006 Independent Publisher’s Best Self-Help book), and best seller The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too.
I met Jesse Reeder at a writer’s conference in the mid 1990s. She told me she was beginning to write a self-help book based on what she had learned from some powerfully transforming life experiences.
In 1978 Jesse was living in Eugene, Oregon. Her children, ages 5 and 8, were both in school, so she decided to return to college to finish her masters degree. She graduated two years later and started working for the Eugene Water and Electric Board, a mid-sized electric utility. Her technical background, skills with people, and constant motivation to learn, led to series of promotions. In 1985 she was selected to be the general manager and chief executive. Still in her 40’s, Jesse was the only woman CEO in the US of a generation and distribution electric utility of its size. She says, "I loved my job, I was dedicated, and I worked long hours. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else."
Jesse was an excellent CEO, but at a board meeting in 1990, three of the five Board members held a surprise vote and fired her. They told her to clear out her office before 8 o’clock the next morning. It happened so fast, she says "it seemed unreal." When reporters swarmed around her immediately after the vote, she vividly remembers "separating from my body into a peaceful observer’s role." The reporters were expecting a distraught woman but instead Jesse answered their questions with calm self-confidence.
The impact of the evening’s events triggered Jesse into an altered state of high consciousness. She recalls feeling fascinated with being a highly aware, peaceful observer with complete understanding of everything that was happening. She knew that her best course of action was simply to tell the truth. She told reporters that she had been encouraging Board members to carefully consider their decisions. She expressed concern that this decision had not been fully considered. She reassured the press that the utility employees were highly skilled and that they would continue to do outstanding work.
Intense public scrutiny of her record in the days that followed showed that her management of the utility was outstanding. Four months later, the three board members who fired her were removed from office under threat of being recalled. Soon after that, the new Board of Directors reopened the application period for the CEO position to make it possible for Jesse to apply for her old job.
Jesse felt torn. She loved being CEO at the utility, "but the impact of the way I was fired," she says, "opened me up to new ways of thinking and being." Her memory of how she reacted to the crisis awakened within her a way of being that she didn’t know was possible. She declined the opportunity to be reinstated. She chose, instead, to reinvent herself. "Being fired," she says, "the way it happened, was an epiphany. I learned that I was a survivor. Before that I was terrified of being fired. That experience made me realize that if I can live through that and handle it fine, I can handle anything."
A ten year process of inner exploration and working as a consultant has led Jesse to develop ways of teaching others how to skilfully handle difficult challenges and avoid getting stuck in negative states. She founded Leadership Dynamics, a company that offers highly effective "Self-Mastery" workshops. Read more about her journey in her book Black Holes and Energy Pirates.
Jesse is very happy with her new life. She says it took a long time to get over being fired, but adds "It was the best thing that could have happened to me." She retired in 2008.
An article about how Jesse reinvented herself is in the January-February, 2000, issue of Modern Maturity magazine (Now known as the AARP Magazine). Ask about back issues of magazines at your local library. Note: The same issue of Modern Maturity (picturing Sean Connery on the cover) has some related articles including "25 Ways to Reinvent Yourself."