It all started when I won the lottery.
Well, sort of.
You see, I didn’t literally win the lottery. But you know how people say “You just won the lottery, now what will you do with your life?” (Or is that the Super Bowl?)
Anyway, I won the lottery like that.
I’d just had a baby, and my salary as a social worker barely covered the cost of daycare. It didn’t add up for me to go back to work, and my husband made enough for me to be able to stay home.
So I didn’t really have to go back to work.
It was fun for a while. I’d wear my apron and play Suzy-homemaker, and send my husband off for the day.
But it didn’t take long for me to get bored. Goodbye kisses followed by baking cookies was soon replaced by long, long hours of boredom.
Maybe you’re so busy right now in your life that you can’t imagine what it would feel like to be swallowed up by the abyss of too much time on your hands. But maybe you can feel it – like there’s no ground beneath you but just a giant, gaping hole of nothingness. . .
And then the Big Questions started coming.
- What was I going to do with my life?
- What did I really want to do?
- What was important to me? What did I have to say? To give to the world?
I wrestled with these questions. I tried to give shape and direction to that void.
And I’d love to tell you that from that soul-searching came a neat little answer tied up in a bow.
But that’s not how it happened.
I did come to some answers. I figured out that what was at the core of what I wanted to do with my life was related to this concept:
The world would be a better place if we all gave what we love to give.
My background as a social worker and my time working with homeless, mentally ill and substance-abusing people taught me a lot about what it meant to show kindness and to give to those who literally had almost nothing.
The idea really resonated with what I had been doing and what I wanted to continue to do.
My first attempt at nailing this idea down was starting a consulting business that helped wealthy philanthropists make giving decisions that were aligned with their values.
In other words, I took people through a process that helped them feel confident that when they gave their millions, they were giving them in a way that really resonated with what they cared most about.
It seemed like a good idea to me.
I was emboldened by my background in charitable work, and the idea that maybe I could be changing the face of philanthropy by helping people not just write another check, but to really think about their giving decisions and the ways in which giving gave back to them.
Maybe I could make giving so rewarding that people would want to give and not just feel obligated to do it.
But it was a huge risk for me personally. Here I was, a housewife and new mom with zero business experience and someone who never had a great head for the “hard” stuff like math.
Actually, the truth is, if you ask me to count higher than 12, I might faint from anxiety right on the spot.
Instead my strengths were in “softer” skills, like connecting with people, writing, and helping others see and articulate their own strengths – so who was I to be starting a business?
Still, I did it.
I stepped out on a limb and started the process, made initial investments, landed my first client, talked it up to all of my friends and family . . .
But I had a dirty little secret.
Soon after I started, I realized I didn’t love it. In fact, I had a pit in my stomach, and when I finally stopped long enough to listen to what it was telling me, I realized I didn’t even like it.
I sat with that secret longer than I should have.
You see, I was afraid of change.
I was afraid of what it would say about me that I was giving up on my business so quickly.
Was I flaky?
Was I not cut out for business at all?
Could I ever face my friends and family again? Would they all think I was stupid?
And worst of all – NOW what was I going to do with my life?
I resisted facing the truth that I didn’t love my business because I just couldn’t face what it meant to let it die.
I think when some people resist change or hang onto something for longer than they should – a relationship for example – they believe it’s because they still love the thing – the person, or in my case the business idea.
But to me it was crystal clear that the love was gone.
The problem was what it meant to “break up” with my business and move on.
Who was I going to be after that?
In a moment I count as a blessing, instead of having to wrestle this resistance to the ground and again dig deep to understand what I wanted in my life, something interesting happened.
After I finally admitted to myself that my business was dead, but before I had the guts to admit it to anyone else, I had a conversation with a friend of mine that left me intensely jealous.
She is a life coach, and she was telling me about some of the wonderful things she was doing in her work.
In retrospect it seems obvious, but at the time I was truly puzzled by why I would have such an intense reaction.
It took some time for the clouds to part, but I realized I was envious of her work because it was work that I wanted to be doing.
The helping she did really resonated with the therapy and clinical work I had done in my social work days.
I also realized that the core idea of each person giving what they love to give wasn’t about giving in such a literal sense. It wasn’t just about philanthropic giving, it was about how we give ourselves to the world every day.
What I really was called to do was help people recognize what they love to give to the world – their passions and gifts, and bring them to the world through work they love.
I had to pick myself up and start again.
I had to not only announce to the world the failure of my first business but the birth of my second one, and I had to reinvent my professional self.
It wasn’t easy to do. I dealt with the embarrassment, but I knew I was doing the right thing.
Looking back, I realize I almost missed the boat.
Resisting change nearly held me back from doing the work I love.
I resisted change because I thought it meant that I wasn’t cut out to be in business – because I thought it was a reflection of who I was and who I wasn’t instead of a reflection on whether I was on the right track.
But looking back, I realize change was the very thing that prepared me to be in business the most.
Because without going through this process, I wouldn’t have the depth of experience to know what it’s like to search for a calling and to find it.
I wouldn’t understand what it means to have a pit in your stomach that’s telling you something is off, even when the compass is pointing at true north.
And I wouldn’t have the guts to tell you I can help people pinpoint their mission, their meaning, their passions and gifts and help bring them into the world in a way that makes perfect sense to them, because I’d never have done it myself.
Whatever change you’re facing, allowing change to happen is all about having faith that what’s on the other side for you is better than what you have now, and that you’re enough handle it.
Photo by Tess Mayer