Nearly a year ago, I left my corporate job to go out on my own. I had known for a long time that my stress at work was due in part to the fact that my career was not in alignment with who I was as a person.
At work, as a communications manager for a Fortune 100 company, I’d assign a story to a writer and think, “Wait, I want to write that!” But I had very little time for writing, and plus that wasn’t my main role anymore. My role was to lead a team. But I wanted to DO the work, not just oversee and edit it. I wanted to brainstorm. I wanted to craft communications. I wanted to solve real problems strategically and creatively.
I didn’t love all the meetings, the bureaucracy, the HR issues. I didn’t like the feeling that I was putting out fires all day but never really moving the needle or accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish. I found myself working very early in the morning and late at night because those were the only times I was free to focus on bigger projects, strategy, and writing (i.e., the things that really mattered).
I also struggled mightily with balancing work with being a mom and wanting to be very present in my teen daughters’ lives.
For a long time I didn’t allow myself to listen to the voice inside my head that was telling me this wasn’t sustainable and that I needed to make a change. I kept getting promoted. I was on the leadership team. And I was learning. “As long as I’m learning, it’s okay,” I’d tell myself. I let myself be pulled along by leaders who saw potential in me and liked the work I was doing. Other people defined my path, and for years I was fine with that. But each promotion took me further away from my core skill set, and suddenly there I was, managing instead of creating.
Eventually, my need for creativity, autonomy and a less-structured environment began to eclipse my lack of clarity and fear of change. “I’m not really a corporate person,” I would say to my friends. “I’m a little too loose for corporate America.”
I began listening to podcasts on my daily commute. Don’t Keep Your Day Job, Goal Digger, The Copywriter Club and Online Marketing Made Easy are a few that inspired me. I filled up notebooks with ideas. Should I start a blog? A podcast? I’d had some success being published on a popular parenting site. Should I focus on writing about motherhood and raising teens? I’d helped several high school students with their college application essays. Maybe that should be my entire business!
I had so many different writing and communications interests and ideas that I didn’t know what to focus on. I was all over the place. And yet, thinking and brainstorming about what I might be able to do made me feel more alive and excited than I had felt in years.
I began confiding in my former boss, whom I had become good friends with. I mildly but regularly talked about leaving. Finally she said to me, “Nancy, you’ve been talking about this for a year and a half. When are you going to actually do it?”
It was time. It was time to stop researching and start doing. It was time to take full control of my career. It was time to believe in myself and to bet on myself. It was time to start doing what I was really good at: writing, creating, editing.
And so I did.
I created my LLC, I worked with a design team to build my website, I clarified my messages and my services, and I set goals and made a plan. And then I packed up everything in my corporate window office and moved it all to my new office – at home.
Now, several months later, I have found my focus and my people – and by people I mean clients: corporate clients (including two former employers – have I mentioned how important it is to nurture good relationships at work and to never burn bridges?), design firms and agencies that need a professional, strategic writer or communications guide.
I’m also accepting a small number of students and coaching them on their college or grad school application essays, simply because I love doing it.
It’s been rewarding. It’s been stressful. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve had some big wins. I’ve had late nights, early mornings, weeks and weeks of intense output, and here and there open stretches of time where I worry about not having enough business. And yet: I exceeded my 2019 revenue goals by 35%. I feel like myself again. I’m happier, I’m more focused and relaxed, and best of all, I know the work I’m doing is providing real value to my clients.
All those years in corporate America were not wasted. I needed that knowledge and experience in order to build my own business. Now I can help other companies because I’ve worked for some of the best and with some of the best. Guiding companies on communications strategy? Yes. HR content? Yes. Leader messaging? Yes. Feature stories? Yes. Employee communications? Yes. My many past writing lives have merged and are informing everything I do, and it’s thrilling. I have purpose.
Do I wish I had made the leap earlier? Probably. But it was worth the wait.