Redefining Having It All

Finding The Courage To Change When
"The Perfect Life" Doesn't Bring You Happiness


Sharon Allred DeckerIn Search Of The Spiritual

Sharon Decker’s wake-up call came sometime around the age of 40. It was the day she found herself in her closet, “under the clothes, on top of the shoes, sobbing uncontrollably.” Like the juggler on the old Ed Sullivan Show, Decker had become a master “plate spinner.” It looked as if she could easily spin the career plates, the family plates and the community plates in happy harmony. But, on that day, one of them dropped, and for Decker, the rhythm of the performance was broken forever.

“I don’t recall what had gone off balance that day,” she says. “But, I do remember sitting in the closet with the door shut, crying and asking myself, I have everything. I have all the things that everyone wants. Why am I not happy? The answer was that I had to rethink what I was doing with my time and my talent. There was just too much going on all the time.”

As a senior executive at Duke Power, Decker had a lot of responsibilities and many long hours. After giving birth to her fourth child, she wanted a better balance between work and family, and more control of her time. After “the plate-crashing day,” Decker went to see a Charlotte psychologist and started taking “baby steps” toward the life she wanted. “Making change is a day-by-day, step-by-step process,” she explains. “You also need help to make a plan.”

Decker, who holds a degree in home economics and consumer services from UNC Greensboro, began by creating her own definition of success. “For me, having it all is a life that includes family, work and building community,” she says. “My journey also includes spiritual growth, and I believe I’m very unique in that regard.”

When Bill Grigg, then chairman of Duke Power, asked Decker to explore strategies for saving the Duke Mansion, the Charlotte home of Duke Power founder James B. Duke, she was given a gift that didn’t reveal itself until the end of the fact-finding process.

Decker designed a business plan, and in 1997, started the Lynnwood Foundation, a nonprofit organization that oversaw preservation of the mansion. She served as president and CEO until 1999. In 1998, Decker also chaired the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and was named a Woman of the Year, positions that helped establish her as a high-profile player on the local business scene. Much to her surprise, the project also unveiled an opportunity for her to renovate her own career.

“Two years before I left Duke, I knew that I needed to make a transition,” Decker explains, “but I agonized over what other women would think. Will they think I have abandoned all of this? What will my mother think?

“Looking back, I worried too long and too hard over everybody else’s responses to change, as opposed to doing what I thought was right for me and my family,” Decker says. “I probably would have made the transitions in my life’s journey more quickly and with less of a struggle if I hadn’t had the desire most women have to keep everybody happy.”

Toward Transformation

While there weren’t fewer hours, Decker found greater flexibility and more control of her time at the helm of the Lynnwood Foundation. Decker and her husband, Bob, had also made choices that smoothed her career path and influenced future opportunities. In the mid-1980s, Bob Decker gave up his career in banking to become a stay-at-home dad.

“It was not an easy decision,” Decker recalls. “Bob was successful in the banking business. It was not what men were doing in the mid-’80s. It was awkward socially for a long time. Even our families didn’t totally understand what we were doing. At first, they thought it was kind of novel.”

Decker made her second transition in 1999, when Tanner Companies offered her the presidency of its Doncaster division, a direct-sales organization that features a high-end line of women’s apparel. The Decker family moved from Belmont, N.C., to Rutherfordton, N.C., the company’s headquarters, in 2000.

“Moving to one of the more rural areas of the state was about quality of life, cost of living and the choices we made so that one of us could be at home full time,” she says.“We also had a little more control over the environment that our children grew up in.”

Decker’s career continued up the corporate ladder, as she became president of the Tanner Companies in April 2003. Despite success, she yearned for an opportunity to integrate her corporate life with a spiritual life, and help others through her own experiences. In August 2004, she left Tanner, and a month later, started The Tapestry Group, a consulting company offering retreats, seminars and other support services to women in the midst of transitions or struggling with competing forces in their lives.

In October 2004, the Deckers also formed a real estate company, North Washington Street Properties, and made a significant investment to buy and renovate the former Rutherfordton town hall and firehouse, along with two other buildings in town.

As part of the effort, they created The Firehouse Inn at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today, the Deckers, along with their children — Rob, 19; Matthew, 16; Abby, 14, and Emily, 9 — can be found working at the inn, which also provides an attractive setting for the retreats and seminars presented by The Tapestry Group. >> (go to next page)

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