Michigan Nonprofit Association Blog

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CEO and Professor Lives Life on Purpose

By Sarah-Grace Battles, MNA Communications Manager

Why am I here? What is my purpose? These are questions we’ve all asked ourselves at some point or another. These were questions pondered by Rita Fields when she was 17 and homeless. “I spent a day panhandling and got $1.25 in various coins after an eight-hour shift of sorts,” she says. “I remember not understanding why I was even there.”

After running away from a life filled with pain and suffering, she became homeless at 17 and worked hard to push past hardships and challenges that would eventually shape the life she lives today. “I had to make time to be intentional living my life. I wanted to live my life on purpose and made deliberate changes in order to do certain things,” says Fields, who will be the keynote speaker for this year’s Talent Strategy Summit, organized by MNA and scheduled for Aug. 27 in Royal Oak.

Six years ago, Fields gave up her “big job with a big title” and quit her life in the corporate world after becoming dissatisfied with the life she realized she was living. While she is no stranger to pain, coming to this realization wasn’t easy. “I had stayed up for nearly 24 hours straight working on a big project where all eyes were on me. I had a migraine, I was hungry. I leaned down to get cheese and crackers that had fallen into the floor of my car.”

That’s when the impact happened — a large truck sideswiped her car and completely shattered her side mirror. With glass shards covering her face and neck, she refused medical care and went straight to her office. “I went to work, and people thought I was wearing glitter all over my face and neck, and that’s when I realized something was wrong. I didn’t want to live a life where I was putting my life at risk over a job.”

Fast forward to now, when Fields is a dual CEO of both 313 Industries, a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining and milling corporation, and Copper Phoenix Consulting, LLC, where she offers expertise on talent and operations management. She is also on the faculty in the school of management at University of Michigan, in health care administration at Central Michigan University, and a dissertation adviser in the Ph.D. program in Organizational Development at Assumption University in Bangkok, Thailand.

Her “labor of love,” as she affectionately refers to teaching, is an area where Fields truly feels she makes an impact. “I love my students, and they love me,” she says. “When I teach, I show up. Whenever I have the opportunity to water someone’s garden, I do it.”

When asked about what concerns her and gives her hope, she mentions the millennial generation because of the fear and crippling anxiety she observes in her students and some younger people. “Sometimes something happens that you don’t see coming, and I don’t imagine I’d be far in my life if I were focused on being anxious all the time,” she says. “There’s no way I would be able to reap the rewards I experience today if I hadn’t taken the risks I did then.”

Managing teaching at multiple universities as well as running two of her own businesses with 10 email addresses might sound overly ambitious to some, but not to Fields. “My days are all over the place,” she says, “but what I’ve learned is I really benefit from intellectual diversity in my work, and I have that in spades. I like having to switch gears, and I do it very well.”

She has what she calls her “formula for professional satisfaction,” which is to not voluntarily spend time with annoying people. “The ability to pick and choose meaningful work is what motivates me and I do that deliberately,” she says. “I am very intentional when I connect with and work with or for other people.”

Fields acknowledges that she has a personal “justice league” — a handful of trusted people in her life whom she connects with when something really big is happening or she needs advice. “I know they love me and will be honest with me. I like to keep my justice league close,” says Fields.

While Fields may sound like a real-life superhero, she, like all of us, has rough days. “Every year I commit to wake up in a different country on my birthday. On rough days, I always get to imagine where my next trip is going to be.”

Fields has been to six continents and plans to check the seventh, Antarctica, off of her list soon. She recently got back from Cuba and will spend her birthday in Amsterdam this summer. She says some of the nicest people she’s met were in Cambodia. “Cambodia is a really heartbreaking place in many ways, but the people are some of the nicest people I’ve met in the entire world,” she says. “They’re so grateful and aware of how grateful they are.”

Fields is the epitome of gratitude, and you can hear it in her voice when she speaks. And investing in your authentic self is something that she believes in. “You’re doing a disservice to the world when you try to be like someone else,” she says. The Talent Strategy Summit at which Fields will be speaking is a premier MNA event for nonprofit leaders who have an influence on employees’ performance in their organization. “Your people is where your success is,” says Fields. 

Join us for this event to discuss and learn how to work with and motivate people to thrive in inclusive and equitable ways within your organization. Find more information and register here