Seek to Grow Outside the Comfort Zone

Calpine’s Stacey Peterson brings her best in and out the financial department, where she’s taking charge of work-life balance at the Fortune 500 company

The saying “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable” could be Stacey Peterson’s creed, if she ever finds the time to develop one. Right now, she’s the vice president of finance and treasurer for the electricity-generating giant Calpine Corporation, and she’s also a mom of three. In other words, her days—and nights—are packed.

Stacey Peterson, Calpine
Stacey Peterson, Calpine

But they’re a testament to the risks that come with stepping out of one’s comfort zone, as Peterson did when she first came to Calpine in 2007. It was enough that she was shifting from a career in consulting—where she worked with businesses of all different kinds—to a specific role within the energy industry. But upping the ante of challenges, her new employer was on its way to emerging from bankruptcy. What might scare away some, though, seemed to have the opposite effect on Peterson. “Calpine was rebuilding their internal capabilities at the time, so I saw that as a huge opportunity to come in and put my mark on something,” she says. “It’s amazing to look back and see how far we’ve come as a company.”

Initially, Peterson was part of a minuscule structured pricing team at Calpine, operating from the trading desk. The team eventually grew to seven people. “From the ground up, we rebuilt all the models and tools for analyzing and pricing deals,” she recalls. “It was pretty exciting.”

Peterson has also served in other roles, from running Calpine’s financial analysis group to running the southeast power desk—another job she viewed as light-years from her comfort zone, but says, “It gave me a totally different perspective of the commercial side of the business.” Since 2013, she’s been back to finance, doing what she calls “a really great combination of commercial and support” as Calpine’s treasurer. “I do realize that, at some point, you’ve got to pick a major,” she says with regards to her varied history. “And I am getting to that point. But right now, I’m still having fun in this role—still learning, still growing.”

Learning and growing are absolutely paramount for Peterson; her “live outside the comfort zone” mind-set is a testament to it. But she doesn’t see nearly enough of it in the work arena in general. The problem, she maintains, is not with employers as much as it is employees. “On a daily basis, I see many incredibly talented people adding value to the company,” she says. “But when it comes to managing their career, they take a back seat. It’s because they don’t want to ask for what they want. They wait, instead, for that opportunity to be handed to them. But at the end of the day, everyone is accountable for the path they take, and where that path ultimately leads them.”

“I think when you take ownership of your work-life balance, there is a sense of contentment, confidence, and professionalism that follows.”

In Peterson’s case, managing her career means delicately integrating it with her responsibilities as a parent. She has two children in grade school and a toddler in daycare, which adds hours of meal preparation, homework supervision, bedtime rituals, and endless other accounts of quality time in addition to her full-time commitments at Calpine.

But as most working parents know far too well, declaring family as the number-one priority and living that declaration day to day can be the ultimate challenge. While Peterson never misses “the big things,” as she puts it, she’s well aware of all the little things she’s unable to experience first-hand.

“Throughout my career, I’ve had to make sacrifices,” Peterson says. “And I have struggled balancing it from time to time; I’d be lying if I said I haven’t. I love Calpine; I love what I do every day. But I love my family, and I do struggle. It’s a constant reevaluation of the tradeoff.”

Still, the professional dividends keep coming. The latest is a new Calpine initiative, spearheaded by Peterson and two other women, which hones in on diversity and inclusion.

“I think this is something that could be pretty transformative to Calpine’s culture,” Peterson says.

And the personal dividends? She gets them every time she feels like she’s shown her daughters they can be whatever they want to be—and a mom. And be great at both.

“People are afraid to set boundaries,” Peterson says. “But I think when you take ownership of your work-life balance, there is a sense of contentment, confidence, and professionalism that follows. The impact will be evident not only in your work life, but in your home life as well.”