By Stef Tschida
“What do YOU think?” Up to that point, Sara Lebens hadn’t been asked that question often in her life, and she was surprised to be asked it now. She was just out of college and inexperienced—in fact, she’d found this job by cold calling people out of a phone book right after graduation—so why would her boss wonder what she was thinking? But every time Sara came to Wendy, her supervisor at Hyatt Hotels, with a question, this was the response she got. Wendy was always interested in hearing Sara’s perspective.
Sara learned early on what a difference it made in her career and life to have someone invest in her and see what she was capable of, even when she couldn’t. It’s why she chose to dedicate her career to human resources, where she could focus on a larger scale on investing in others the way Wendy had invested in her. With Wendy’s guidance, Sara went on to have a 23-year career with Hyatt, successfully transitioning from a young intern to a global director, leading large teams and special initiatives. Sara had grown up in her personal life, too. She was now a wife and a mom of four kids, including a daughter with Down syndrome.
In 2013, Sara went on an important business trip after caring for a sick child all night. She didn’t feel well herself but was supposed to lead the big presentation and didn’t want to let anyone down. Once at her destination, Sara’s symptoms got worse. She was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and severe dehydration. Lying in a hospital bed for five days forced Sara to start asking herself some serious questions. She realized she just kept adding things to her plate—both professionally and personally—and she couldn’t do it all anymore.
Sara got a ton of support during that time from her personal and professional network, and from Hyatt, which granted her a leave of absence and professional coaching on how to manage her life more in accordance with her values. Sara benefited from that coaching so much, she realized she’d just found the next chapter of her HR career. Less than a year after that business trip, she left Hyatt to start her own company with her husband.
Today, Sara and her husband run Lebens Advisory Group, which combines Sara’s background in HR with her husband’s background in financial services to provide a range of professional services to companies of all sizes. Hyatt remains one of her largest clients, proving that choosing this new path didn’t have to be an “either-or” for Sara.
The decision to leave a place that provided so many experiences and opportunities wasn’t easy. One of the questions Sara asked herself and others during that time was, “Am I good enough to leave Hyatt and do this on my own?” Thankfully Sara had a chorus of supportive women—and men—who didn’t hesitate to answer that question with a resounding yes. Now she’s committed to paying it forward by providing that same support to others. She’s an owner and partner of Women ON Point, an organization dedicated to professional development and networking for top performing professional women. She also gives back by mentoring young professional women at various stages of their careers. And she helps other parents of children with Down syndrome through a group she and her husband formed that helps them focus on what their kids CAN do, not on what they can’t.
Owning her own business has also given Sara the opportunity to restructure her entire life to be in accordance with her new, clearly defined values, which include more bandwidth to invest in her family. She still juggles a lot more than the average person, but she says it feels completely different these days. “Everything used to be a ‘yes,’ but now I make decisions through the filter of whether it advances one of my values,” she said. “The more intentional I’ve become, the easier life has gotten.”
Photo: Lebens Advisory Group
About the author: Stef Tschida is a former corporate communicator and lifelong storyteller. Stef’s WHY became clear when she worked at her daily campus newspaper. She realized she didn’t want to ask tough questions as a reporter—she wanted to help organizations answer those tough questions. She’s been doing that work ever since.