As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Meredith Stoddard.
Meredith Stoddard is currently Vice President, Life Events Planning at Fidelity Investments, a leading provider of investment management, retirement planning, portfolio guidance, brokerage, benefits outsourcing and other financial products and services to more than 26 million individuals, institutions and financial intermediaries.
Ms. Stoddard assumed her current position in 2019 and is dedicated to building a program to help people through the functional, social, emotional and financial aspects of some of their most complicated life situations and events.
Ms. Stoddard joined Fidelity in 2004 and has held a variety of positions throughout the firm, including phone and branch management, strategic initiative launches, training for field associates, leading a squad in Wealth Management and better supporting female investors. Prior to joining Fidelity, Meredith worked at RBC Dain Rauscher, Trillium Asset Management, at a startup, in resort sales, and teaching snowboarding.
Meredith received her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Boston University and has done MBA coursework at the University of Vermont. In her free time, Meredith enjoys getting outdoors, travel, nonprofit work and investing in real estate.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My journey has had a number of twists and turns and involved several career changes. I’ve started over a few times and jumped on some really interesting opportunities along the way. I have always known I wanted to make the world a better place and help people to be their best, but that has taken many different forms over the years. Sometimes it’s required patience and a lot of creative thinking to find the next opportunity that was right for me, and sometimes I tripped across something that piqued my interest. My full background is far too lengthy to get into, but let’s just say it’s been anything but boring!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
One of the more awkward stories was after I started my first corporate job. I had been riding my bike over the weekend and fell off of it, breaking my nose and giving me two black eyes. So there I was, 23 years old, trying to prove myself and transcend my age with coworkers, most of whom were at least a decade or more older than me, walking around in my brand new skirt suit with two black eyes and trying to act like it wasn’t a big deal. In fact, it actually wasn’t, but it certainly didn’t look great! I ultimately learned what seems epic in the moment is actually not a big deal at all when you look back on it. It still makes me laugh to think about how ridiculous I must have looked.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
While I’ve read a lot of business books over the years, I’ve found the books and podcasts that foster introspection, perspective, self-awareness and connection with who I really am and the world around me to be the most impactful. I find it incredibly important to pay attention to the world around you, take in a variety of perspectives and experiences, and to lean into what makes you uncomfortable, so you can try to learn from it. I find people and organizational/societal structures fascinating and try to understand where they’re coming from and what makes them the way they are. I also make sure that I follow a very diverse range of people across social media so that my news feeds don’t become echo chambers. Some examples that pop to mind are: The Choice by Edith Eger; A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit; The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
**Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started [working at] your company what was your vision, your purpose?**
I was probably a bit naive when I started out in the business world many years ago because I assumed that, of course, companies would look out for not only their profits, but also the greater good around the communities they’re in, the employees they hire and the environment they benefit from. It wasn’t until I crossed paths with a few shady characters and learned about some of the implications of poor business practices that I realized that this was not necessarily a baseline standard. I have to say I learned so much from a woman named Joan Bavaria (now deceased) who I was fortunate to get to work for back in the early 2000s. I saw her on TV and wrote to her that I’d love to work for her someday, and a woman from human resources reached out to me to let me know they were hiring. The work that she did at Trillium and CERES was so eye-opening to me. I often think of her, the people I worked with back then and her legacy and have followed the relevant trends and corporate practices since. I feel like the world has evolved a lot in the last 20 years and a lot more companies are open to the types of concepts she advocated for, and investors are actively seeking them out. The other thing that’s important to note is that the 40 years after she started this work, the numbers are really starting to bear out on the long-term sustainability of businesses that align their interests with that of the world around them. Some of the studies I’ve seen show they outperform over time, which is exciting to see years after it was just a concept.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Perhaps it’s because I’ve started over a few times, but I do think that it’s important to have a multi-faceted plan that can handle a variety of business cycles and trends. Granted, not all businesses start out that way, but you’ve got to pay attention to the wind and be ready for when it shifts. This applies not only for business owners, but having an understanding around how your skill sets can translate to jobs other than the one you’re doing now helps you to be nimble when there are changes in business strategy with your employer and not so afraid of change. And change is a constant for most people these days!
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Working remotely with a 3 and 5 year old in the house has been relentless — I’ve been on back to back Zoom calls while the kids were getting into everything (my partner works out of the house), and I couldn’t even get upset with them because I was leaving them unsupervised. My youngest one came out naked behind me on more than one call and, at one point, emptied a whole bottle of hand soap into his room and tried to clean it up with toilet paper during the TP shortage (I laugh about this now). We also have a rental property that we own that we gutted in January — then construction was shut down for 6 weeks and we kept running into issues (structural, electrical, plumbing) with the 110-year-old house. To top that off, we had a summer full of rentals lined up. I have to say that I thought the stress would break me sometimes. I kept my sanity by sticking to my 5:30–6:30am workouts before the kids woke up, I started getting up at 4:45am to meditate, and I stopped having a glass of wine with dinner. I also make sure to laugh at the absurdity of it all, lean on friends for solidarity and make the most of the weekends with the kids. We were saved in July by preschool/summer camp re-opening (with shortened hours) and it makes a huge difference that my partner handles the bulk of the laundry, grocery shopping and school pickups/drop-offs, so it all seems much easier now by comparison (even though it is still not simple or easy!).
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
It’s been really hard to accept that I can’t just make up for lost time by putting in extra hours and have had to be really focused on being as efficient as possible during the day. I have to just let go and not be involved in so much all the time. It’s been good for me to let go and I’ve had to get better at not feeling guilty for not being able to take on everything I’d like to (this is still a work in progress!).
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
First, you are far from alone if you’re feeling this way. I think it’s imperative to have a way to ground yourself and keep perspective. How you accomplish that varies so widely for different people. It can be anything from connecting with a friend, finding an online support group, taking time away from work, downsizing expenses, squirreling away money, getting aligned with a partner, leaning on family, setting a boundary in your life, etc. It’s also a good idea to know when you need to disconnect from the news and take a long-term view. No matter what is going on right now, it doesn’t preclude you from starting a little notebook of some general dreams for the future for yourself, your work, your family or society. Having hope is a strategy and taking small steps forward when you have the energy and inclination can make a big difference in the long run.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-COVID economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-COVID economy?
I truly believe that COVID-19 can prove to be a time of great resilience around the globe. I think this is a time where people everywhere have had to overcome struggles they hadn’t previously imagined and that they’ve had to pivot their original plans to evolve to this new “normal.” I can’t make promises about what the future will look like, especially knowing that we are not out of the woods yet, but I think this could be an opportunity for many to lean into financial planning, take up talents or interests they hadn’t previously explored and begin planning for a 2021 they hadn’t anticipated. While we can’t see the future, we can plan for what we think that future might look like.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
After nearly every trying time in history, there is a renaissance where structures, lives, careers and more need to get rebuilt, restarted and reimagined. I do take the optimistic view that people will come out of this over the long term with far greater perspective, appreciation for what we do have and find really creative ways to reinvent their lives and careers in order to survive and create a new normal. Obviously remote working, climate issues, the college landscape, the economy, racial issues, the deficit, and more are all taking center stage.
While I don’t claim to be able to accurately predict how it will all turn out, when things seem really dire, it often motivates people to think differently and act to change things. I see a lot more people who are receptive to learning and seeing what they hadn’t seen before. I also think a lot of aspects of the economy are cyclical and sometimes what can seem epic is a natural (and sometimes painful) way of rebalancing and resetting. Just as the tide doesn’t come in forever, the good and bad always evolve over time. It’s up to each of us to do our part to envision the world we want to see and help to bring it into focus in whatever way we can. I think it’s really important to let go of what was and what we thought things were supposed to be and embrace the new reality — even if it’s one we wouldn’t have wished upon ourselves (i.e. job loss, divorce). If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that we’re collectively not going back to “normal” as it was before. “Normal” is getting redefined all around us and it is up to us to figure out how we’re going to adapt.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-COVID economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-COVID Economy?
I’m fortunate to be in a part of a business that is extremely customer centric, so I am thankful for the opportunity to be able to look at the feedback we receive and learn from the people we’re trying to help. My focus is on helping people through the events in their life in a way that is impactful and meaningful, whether that is a job loss, a new baby, caring for an aging loved one or going through a divorce. I do think the need will continue to be there to do more than help people with their surface needs and really dig deep to make sure they get substantive help in a way that works for them. For our internal teams, like many others, I think how we work together will continue to evolve to open up possibilities to redefine the workplace and how we interact.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Change can feel really scary if it is not one you initiated. Loss of control over certain aspects of life is hard to adapt to for many. Fighting, rather than accepting reality, can expend energy that could be better used by planning your next steps forward. One of my favorite quotes is “the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step” and finding ANY step forward can be really empowering. When you look back years later, it’s amazing to see how things can come together if you harness your energy in the right direction.
If you have a skill you’ve been wanting to freshen up or learn, there is no time like the present to get started. Take time to document your accomplishments, reflect on your interests and be introspective about what really motivates you. Stay curious; don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and take the time to ask questions.
This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind: the more you can know yourself and trust yourself, the more you’ll be able to make good decisions for yourself. It can be tempting to look for answers on the outside, but not even an esteemed economist or a predictive astrologer or a historian can tell us with certainty what exactly the future holds. And even if they could, figuring out what that means for you is deeply personal. Even when your road is hard for people to understand or see, the more clear you can get on what you bring to the table and what you’d directionally like to see unfold in the future, the better you’ll get at making decisions that align with your best life, regardless of what others are doing or saying.
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships were built for” has always been one of my favorite quotes. I had no idea in my 20s just how poignant and relevant it would be at so many junctures since then. It applies to my life philosophies in so many ways including my aspiration to keep myself honest about always making decisions about going toward something rather than making decisions out of fear or running away from something. I have gained so much from the strategic leaps of faith I took and, while jumping into something new, I learned to get comfortable being vulnerable and admitting what I don’t know. I learned to bring my whole self to all aspects of my life. I learned how to fail, often publicly, and pick myself up and start over. I learned that I’m capable of more than I knew possible when I was younger. I learned that all of these leaps that I took taught me so much and made me stronger.
How can our readers further follow your work?
To continue following our work at Fidelity, you can browse Fidelity’s Life Events hub (Fidelity.com/LifeEvents) where we offer digital tools and resources to help people plan for and react to a variety of moments in their lives. This goes beyond financial advice, sharing tips for daily life including navigating logistics and managing emotions.