Put Fear Aside and Unlock Those Golden Handcuffs
By choice or by chance, we all face the prospect of reinvention at some point in our lives. As heads of households, women, mothers, sisters, and friends, at some juncture we will look ourselves in the mirror, delve deep into our souls, and consciously choose to redefine who we are and how we choose to show up in this world.
Our stories of reinvention can include career and relationship changes, raising children or deciding not to become a parent, and changes in health conditions and illness. Regardless of the causes, the outcomes can feel gut-wrenchingly similar: scary, like being in a dark room that’s closing in on you, with no clue as to who you are, where you are, or how to navigate time and space.
My “reinvention” call came on a Friday afternoon. I remember some of the words that were spoken: “The company lost a major client … drastic cuts … your position is eliminated, effective immediately.” I got off the phone in a daze and went downstairs, my heart pumping fast. I was overwhelmed with nausea. I looked my partner in the eye and said, “I just got laid off.” For the first time in 10 years, this head of household and mother had no job, no health or dental insurance, no severance package, and no clue as to what to do next.
In the past, this immediate loss of income and work safety net may have been catastrophic, but this time it felt like a cosmic blessing from the universe. It was my opportunity to lean into adversity, honor my truth, and actively create my new future.
During the next several days, I surrounded myself with the truest blessings I have: my family and friends. Those who know me best helped me remember my passion and to re-identify what made me the happiest personally and professionally. They loved me unconditionally and challenged me to stop and truly listen to my inner voice. It was then I realized that I didn’t want to work for “some boss” for the next 30 years of my career. I wanted to unlock the golden handcuffs of corporate comfort, complacency, and status quo thinking. The opportunity to grow and leverage my career successes might never come again. So, I leaped off the cliff and went into business for myself. Never have I loved my boss, my clients, or my work more.
Making a Plan
There’s a certain comfort that comes with profit-sharing, a steady paycheck, a 401(k), life insurance, and short-term disability. In the absence of these benefits, control enthusiasts like me can go straight into panic mode. In my situation, I actively decided (sometimes multiple times a day) to focus on what I could control: my plan, my goals, and my future.
I knew what was most important to me: creating relationships with clients and empowering them to reach their most ambitious goals and boldest dreams; being physically, emotionally, and spiritually available to my son and family; and financial security. Once I knew what “good” looked like, I could focus on the “how.” I spent countless hours researching, making lists, and reflecting on “value-add” contributions, target audiences, budgets, pricing matrices, marketing materials, and educational content. Every time I started to get overwhelmed or lost my focus, I would stop, breathe, and think, “What is the most important thing I need to do right now?” and then prioritize according to that order.
Every day, I commit to growing my business and enhancing my brand. I time-block and color-code my calendar, but despite my best efforts, life happens! Sometimes the biggest lesson of the day is simply: Be flexible and cultivate an attitude of grace. To achieve that end, I use compartmentalization. I define it as the ability to place a problem or worry in a box, put that box on a shelf, and walk away. Don’t open or even think about opening that box until the time is right. This is something I’m still working on. There have been challenging times while navigating the choppy waters of relationship changes, financial hardships, and career change. My brain is seemingly hardwired to go to the worst possible outcome and continue to worry from there. So, when I feel myself slipping into the “dark side” of doubt and negative self-talk, or spending today’s time and talent worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, I tell myself, “Shut that down, Cally! Stop putting monsters under the bed!” If that doesn’t work, I go to the gym.
Be Present: The Journey is Our Destination
One of my biggest challenges as a working mother and business owner has been to feel truly present, and there never seems to be enough time in the day to get both of my “shifts” 100 percent covered. When I think about work-life balance, I remember my dad always being on the road working 80-hour weeks and what that did to my parents’ marriage. I don’t want that. Some days, I feel that I’m giving more attention to my career than to my family; it’s always a dance. Ultimately, I can be OK with my son’s messy hair and dirty dishes in the sink if we’re laughing and spending quality time connecting as a family. We live in a house that would never pass a white glove test, but if we are healthy, happy, and have compassion for others, I can sleep at night.
An immediate loss of income like I experienced adds clarity and perspective about what a family needs and doesn’t need. We came together and made decisions based on compromise and conversation, and we talked through our wants versus needs. There’s a beauty and simplicity to living on a budget, and I find gratitude daily for what I can provide for my family, the adventures we create together, and the memories we’ll cherish for a lifetime. We are safe and have food to eat, we have a roof over our heads and love to share with others—this makes me grateful! I also cultivate gratitude daily for the little signs and nudges from the universe to reassure me that I’m on the right path, at the right time, moving in the correct direction.
Growing and Leveraging Your Network
Speaking of the universe, I believe that people come into our lives for a reason, although in the moment we might not know it. As women, we are inherently good collaborators, and now we need to increase our professional “social capital.” The people in our network who we build relationships with are our tribe … our community. Within our trusted circles, we find our friends, mentors, and references. Let’s network to share our strengths and experiences!
Cally Christensen is principal performance consultant and executive coach for Christensen & Company Consulting LLC, where she helps clients create frictionless consumer experiences in care delivery. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.