Looking back, I know I made the right choice. Getting to that choice was nothing like what my past career coaches or “life transition” experts made it out to be. So many people likened changing careers to a “decision” or an event. Like you woke up one day and said “today’s the day I make a change”. It didn’t happen like that for me. The journey took far longer than anyone said it would in their “career coaching packages” or advice – something we need to consider normalizing so “career transitions” are looked at for what they really are: episodic.
In 2019, I was a happily employed SVP at a startup publishing house that was finally moving out of the backbreaking first decade. We were making it. We had money in the bank. I had equity that looked promising. As a team, we had happy employees and goals that were not only achievable but tangible and realistic. In hindsight, it was a bit too good to be true.
When the pandemic ushered in, we pivoted like everyone else. We hunkered down; we had zoom after zoom call. We had pay cuts and challenges, but it wasn’t as scary as I heard from my friends. As a Maryland-based employee at an NYC publishing house, I had worked from home forever. There wasn’t an adjustment or a learning curve, minus having the family at home during my “quiet” work hours.
For me, the wake-up call came in November 2020
One peaceful Sunday morning, while my son and husband were at hockey practice my then 7-year-old daughter had her first seizure. It was shocking and scary, and eye-opening. This little darling of a girl who was weathering all that 2020 threw at her started shaking and I worried that it would never stop.
But it did. 6 weeks and 15, or 18, seizures later, the medical geniuses at Children’s National Hospital had figured it out. Focalized epilepsy. Daily meds and watching, but to this date, she hasn’t had another seizure. She went back to school 2 months later. She was resilient.
I was not.
For the first time in my 48 years, I started to seriously question my priorities. As a career woman, it never occurred to me that I would ever want to stop being the executive I had become. My first Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) march was when I was 5 – I still remember the joy of dancing in the fountain with my mom to cool off after that super hot day.
I am proud of my career path; I’m a trained therapist and have helped many, many people with their businesses and SEO. My work has defined my essence and my identity. Helping my clients and co-workers has brought a joy to my heart that very few things ever have before. But thinking about my little girl in that hospital bed, or riding in the ambulance with a smile on her face pretending she wasn’t scared, rocked me to my core.
Who would I be if I let it all go?
For months it was too much to even think about. But as she stabilized and the seizures faded to a memory, I started to question why I wasn’t happier. My daughter was good, great in fact. My marriage was solid. Was this just anxiety or some trauma reaction that I needed to get a grip on?The fundamental question I took many months to discover was not a question about purpose or safety. It wasn’t a question of happiness or shedding bad habits.
Ultimately, it was a question of choice.
The question was, “what do you want?”
Not from a place of need or a place of pain, but from a place of joy.
The hardest question I have ever had to answer for myself was: if you could do anything with your career, how do you want to spend that precious time?
Choice is a double-edged sword. On one hand, too much overwhelmed me. Too little, caused me to feel trapped. Can you relate?
I had to narrow down my options
I looked at all the areas of my career and started to watch what brought me the greatest pleasure. It was my clients. The precious one-on-one with them working with their SEO; diving into their business goals and the words the world uses to find them.
I love helping people figure themselves out. That’s the therapist in me, but perhaps that’s why it was so hard for me to do it for myself.
Ultimately, I turned the process I do with clients inward. Instead of asking my clients how the world looks for their skills or services, I started to ask myself, who would look for me?What was my one exquisite skill set that makes my clients happy and helps them be their best? The answer then became very clear: I wanted to start my own SEO agency.
It felt like a mike drop when I said it in my mind.
At first, it felt like I had a big, bad secret. It was so precious that I was afraid to tell people. It was like the secret I wrote in my diary when I was 10 that said I wanted to marry Matt Gorman (He’s my husband 40 years later – true story!).
Little by little I gained the courage to explore starting my own business
Because of my values, I had to do it in a way that harmed no one if I could help it. I took a pay cut in July 2021 to see if I could financially survive with less. By November, I was clear this was what I wanted for the future.
I had no idea what it would look like. But I knew I didn’t want to leave my coworkers in a lurch. I shared openly with my boss my wishes to downshift my responsibilities. I knew this was a risk, and many people advised me against this. “She’ll fire you” was the most common response I heard, but I knew my value was to do this as close to “right” as possible.
I also knew that meant I had to put faith in her to show up for me in the same way that I was showing up for her. We never spoke about this mutual risk we both undertook, somehow it was understood. For years I’d been on the other side of “2-week notices” and critical staff leaving with no notice, so I knew that was not the memory I wanted to leave behind.
Choosing to do it differently
This choice to “do it differently” aligned with my values. I committed to an exit plan that was free from the fire drill of drama or chaos and this commitment created a vibe that felt aligned with the life I was starting. My goal was to exit with my integrity intact. I believe good endings make for good beginnings.
That meant listening to what my team needed from me in order to downshift.
It meant taking time to hear my co-worker’s worries and fears about “what comes next?”
It meant enduring times of silence when people were overwhelmed with the change or needed a moment to gather their thoughts.
It meant letting go of control and letting others do it their way, not my way.
It meant saying the hard things and not taking things personally.
And, it meant more than a few tears of both sadness and joy.
My choice to leave was just that, a choice.
It was a decision made by asking myself the hard questions and not quitting on myself. The identity shift from SVP to no title at all has been liberating. Today, I’m everything in my business. I answer the phones, I respond to the emails, I create the relationships, I find the leads, and I work with the clients.
It’s humbling and exhilarating all at the same time.
Just yesterday I shared with my husband that I feel closer to my kids. It’s the effect I wanted to create, but had no idea how to accomplish. I felt close to my kids before, but the depth that I’ve gone to figure this out has cracked open a part of me that lets in more light. I hear their voices differently today than I did a year ago. I know that is a result of listening to the inner voice inside of me that is tuned in more intimately than ever before.
Choosing your path is not easy. Nor is it fast. But the only way to get to the other side of your dreams is to dive in. There’s no shortcut, but I promise you, taking the time to listen to the voice inside of you will change your life in ways you can never imagine.
And if I can help you find your next great leap, please don’t hesitate to reach out.