Emily Culp | Crain's San Francisco

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Emily Culp

Background:  

Keds' rubber soled shoes have graced feet since 1916. Headquartered in Lexington, Mass., the company is owned by Wolverine Worldwide.

The Mistake:

[When] I was vice president at Clinique, which is part of Estée Lauder, ... I learned [that] health isn't something that you can follow-up later on—or for that matter, control. What happened to me was I had a severe case of viral vertigo as a result of basically running myself way too hard on an innovation project. As a result of being focused on delivering this innovation project that should have taken a year I only had about five months to do it—and that's because I was also four months pregnant.

I hadn't even told my boss at Clinique that I was pregnant. And so I missed multiple different doctor appointments and frankly, the ones I did go to I didn't listen to the stern warnings from my doctors. I'm a crazy ambitious person, but when you're pregnant you really have to listen to your body.

Some things of a viral nature cause you to have vertigo. How it played out was I was having dinner with my husband on the Upper West Side and all of a sudden I started to see bright white lights and it got spotty and things started to get black. I lost sight and then I started to get violently nauseous and ended up hospitalized. It's very scary.

My husband had to make some really hard choices to ensure that I would recover. I'd lost my sense of balance, so I actually couldn't walk. I probably was out of work for about three weeks or a month or so. We worked on the 30th floor and the elevator took me a while to get used to because of the pressure in my ears. The mistake was simple—I overworked myself.

My son's seven now and he's healthy. We weren't sure until he was born, but everything was fine.

It's important to give people the benefit of the doubt.

The Lesson:

One of the most important things out of this whole experience is I really did start to appreciate things. Relearning to walk is truly one of the most humbling experiences you can go through. It has made me more empathetic to people that I manage, and understanding that people go through different things and it's important to have empathy throughout. Some people wondered if viral vertigo was even real. So I think it's important to give people the benefit of the doubt.

If you're hard-charging in your career and also want to have a family life, I think the most important thing is to realize that you can do all of those things but you have to understand what the tradeoffs are. And it is important to listen to people in your life, whether that's a doctor or a spouse or what have you, but you do need to heed advice.

There's a bit of a mentality where you think you have this super power, where you can power through fatigue or power through doctors appointments. [But] there's a point where there are no medals given for those things—and it's important to understand that you can still having an amazing career if you just listen to advice.

Follow Emily Culp on Twitter at @emilyculp.

Photo by Douglas Levy.

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