Oyauma Garrison used a "charge-hard" attitude to build a successful career in insurance, leading regional sales teams and working as a vice president at some of the nation's most reputable firms. His work took him away from his family, but after his son asked him "exactly how many hours" he would be home between business trips, he decided to rethink his career.
In October 2016, just a few months after the discussion with his son, Garrison watched his 14-year-old daughter collapse while cheerleading at a local high school football game. She was rushed to the hospital, where she would flatline for almost 10 minutes. It remains a medical mystery; no one knows what happened to Garrison's daughter that day. She was, however, resuscitated by the medical staff at the hospital, re-entering the world and changing her family's life along with it.
"If I were with my other company at the time, I would have literally been somewhere else on a business trip and not home that day, which was a Saturday, which simply would have meant I would have felt like I was a million miles away while this was happening," Garrison said.
Thankfully, Garrison was there, and he shuttled his daughter to doctor appointments for weeks afterward.
After volunteering and serving as a board member for some nonprofit organizations, Garrison had always been inclined to lead his own nonprofit. He went back to work in insurance at a new company where he had a better work-life balance, but just 45 days into his tenure, he was contacted by A Kid Again and decided to leave his insurance job to lead a nonprofit.
A Kid Again provides unique outings and experiences to children and the families of children suffering from serious illnesses. By organizing sporting events, visits to the zoo, amusement park outings and other adventures, A Kid Again provides experiential relief to children and their families, Garrison said.Garrison poses in a go-kart with a child at an event for A Kid Again. The nonprofit's events provide recreational experiences for children with long-term illnesses and their families. Credit: Image courtesy of Oyauma Garrison
Garrison's story is unique, but the career challenges he's faced aren't too distant from what many entrepreneurs and business owners alike consider: How does one completely change careers? For Garrison, his discussion with his son and his daughter's incident inspired him to take a different path. But that doesn't mean the decision, or how he went about switching careers, was simple.
"You really need to evaluate where you are in life," he said. "You need to evaluate where you are financially. You need to evaluate where you are emotionally. You need to evaluate where you are in your career. Because … I knew that leading a nonprofit would be hard, but I'll be the first to tell you now, sitting on this side of the table – I did not realize the intensity of the work that was required."
Once he'd decided to lead a nonprofit, he had to get to work on the "how" of it all. This included speaking with mentors, learning about this new industry through listening and prioritizing action.
Working with mentors
Throughout his career in insurance, Garrison built up an extensive network of mentors and connections to help him further his career. He continued to tap into this network as he made the transition to the nonprofit world.
In addition to his own network, Garrison connected with other professionals and nonprofit organizations so he could set up a foothold in the industry and better understand his role as the leader of A Kid Again.
"I went out and asked a few – I will call them seasoned tenured nonprofit leaders – who would be good coaches for me," he said. "I joined an organization called Vistage; they have a small nonprofit consortium recommended by the Columbus Foundation … These are all key avenues."
Finding a mentor or connecting with seasoned professionals in your new industry isn't always easy, but Garrison stressed the importance of making the effort to connect and learn from everyone.
Learning through listening
As an accomplished executive, Garrison came into his new role at A Kid Again with a lot of experience and ideas on how a company should be run. Instead of jumping into action, he took the majority of his first 100 days as CEO to listen to others within the nonprofit industry. This was crucial in allowing him to blend his experience in his past roles with the goals of A Kid Again.
"I would say the challenge was around me listening and better understanding how the nonprofit world operates from this side of the table, and then being able to integrate and weave in those business practices that will help us continue to be even more successful," he said.
This focus on listening also allowed Garrison to better learn the industry and understand what would and would not work.
The biggest piece of advice Garrison has for people looking to switch careers is simple: You have to act.
"It's easy to be inactive and almost get into analysis paralysis," he said, "because they're constantly trying to get it perfect. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to get to nirvana right out of the gate. It's a learning process. Take the first step; move forward."
Garrison spoke a lot about "putting the energy out there" and moving in a direction. This could be as simple as reaching out or visiting with your favorite or most inspiring startups. It could mean cold-calling or contacting people within the new industry that you respect and want to learn from.
Regardless of what you plan to do, you have to actually take that first step to reap the benefits of your convictions. As Garrison says, inaction won't get an entrepreneur or business leader where they want to be in life.
As the CEO of A Kid Again, Garrison is working hard to build the company from a regional nonprofit into a nationally recognized organization. Based in Ohio, A Kid Again recently opened a chapter in Indiana, which is growing by leaps and bounds. As for Garrison, he now has more time for his family and is even able to bond with his kids over the work he's doing. Instead of having to be "on" all the time at work, he feels normal and that he is doing something meaningful. For other professionals looking to make a switch, or those facing a challenging situation or difficult odds, Garrison said to never lose hope.
"You've got to have faith, you've got to have hope, and you've got to have courage. When you have those three things, nothing is insurmountable."