What the h*ll?! I must have asked myself that question a million times over the last year. Sometimes, I asked the question out of anger. And sometimes, I asked it out of fear. But now, I’m asking it with a sense of curiosity.
My journey to this point—the point where I’m writing my very first blog and launching my own business—has been filled with lots of twists and turns and ups and downs. That’s why I like this image so much. You can’t tell if the storm is coming or going. And, you can’t see where the road leads. But it is very clearly the beginning of something NEW. That’s exactly how I felt a little over a year ago when I learned my role was being eliminated after yet another post-merger department reorganization.
While we typically associate grief with death, according to WebMD, grief is a natural response to losing someone or something that’s important to you, including a job. Each person’s experience with grief is different. The time spent grieving varies from person-to-person. And there is no linear path to healing. Grief is often marked by feelings of fear, sadness, anger, and even acceptance. The sh*tty part is that, in order to heal and get to acceptance, there is no hiding from the fear, sadness and anger that goes along with grief. And let me tell you, I experienced it all.
To give you a little perspective, I am an Achiever. It’s what my CliftonStrengths assessment will tell you. And it’s the story on my resume. Academic honors in college and law school. Extracurricular activities out the wazoo. A legal career marked by successive promotions and increasing responsibilities. So when I lost my job, it really knocked me on my a**, even though I saw it coming. (The fact this all occurred when the world was in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic and the social justice reckoning is a whole other story.)
I grieved for months. I grieved my lost identity. I grieved my “secure” future (Ha!). I grieved the loss of wonderful co-workers from whom I learned many lessons. I grieved my lost independence. And I grieved for the world. What the h*ll?!
Acceptance… Back to Anger
Once I got past the initial round of grieving (isn’t it funny how grief comes in waves?), I started telling myself that this was MY CHANCE. My chance to do something different. I had known since early in my legal practice that I wouldn’t stay in law forever. But I didn’t know when I would leave or what I would do instead. After the merger closed, I thought I would “tough it out” a few more years. The sad part is, I was running so hard that I never stopped to think about whether the work actually made me happy. What the h*ll?!
Faced with my newfound “freedom” and no clue about the path forward, I did what any good lawyer would do. I started asking questions, to myself, to my friends, and to anyone else who would talk to me. I spent a lot of time thinking about the aspects of my legal work that I enjoyed. I analyzed the feedback from colleagues, who shone a light on my strengths and gifts in the form of their shocked and saddened goodbyes. I listened to the wisdom of people who had faced similar career transitions and had survived to tell the tale.
Several months into my fact finding, I had a flash of inspiration. Reflecting on how awful the culture can be in law and in health care, I thought to myself, “I should do something to change corporate cultures!” Armed with this realization, I began exploring careers in HR and management consulting, although the deeper I dug, the deeper my frustration grew.
I knew wanted to use my skills as an attorney and the lessons I had learned as a leader in Corporate America, but nothing felt right. I didn’t have the right legal background to make a transition to HR. I hated the thought of living out of a suitcase, working long hours as a management consultant in a culture almost as toxic as law. And established culture change companies I spoke with weren’t interested in me because I wasn’t a C-suite executive with a vast network of connections. What the h*ll?!
Unsure of what else to do, I continued networking, bouncing like a pinball from idea to idea without anything really sparking. By December 2020, my frustration had reached new heights. I had been soul searching for months and felt no closer to identifying my goal than I was when I lost my job. What the h*ll?!
Progress to Fear to Acceptance (Again)
Without warning, the dam finally broke. In the span of a few short weeks, several people suggested that I start my own consulting business. Not long after, a handful of prospective opportunities popped up, without me looking for them. Still not entirely convinced, I started exploring the idea with my executive coach, hoping she’d give me the validation I was looking for to pursue a different, “safer” path.
During this time, I was wracked with fear and self-doubt. I’ve never considered myself an entrepreneur. I’d even ruled out the idea of running my own business months earlier in my soul searching. And, even as the stars appeared to be aligning, I kept asking myself: Could I really go out on my own? Was I ready? What if no one hires me? Am I insane? What the h*ll?!
About a month later, all the work I had been doing with my executive coach finally came together. Like a neon sign in the shape of an arrow, it pointed me directly toward the path of starting my own company. That was the final straw. For as much fear as I had, for every reason I had to say NO, the universe was giving me even more reasons to say YES. At that point, I decided to commit to me and my business.
More Anger… And a New Realization
Even as I started to get more comfortable with the idea of running my own business, I felt something was missing. I knew I wanted to work with companies going through change. I knew I wanted to build on the idea of creating meaningful connections. But I was having trouble articulating “my story.” Even worse, I couldn’t figure out how to differentiate myself from the sea of other consultants who do culture change work. What the h*ll?!
That all changed the day I finally blurted out to someone, “I want to help people talk about their feelings at work!” And just like that, the missing piece clicked into place.
Throughout this entire journey, I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy. In the same way people hire a personal trainer to improve their physical health, I knew I needed the help of a professional to process everything that was happening in my life. Because of that investment in myself, an entire world has opened to me.
I’ve learned so much about the value of understanding your feelings, and how those feelings provide clues to what your needs are. I also learned how powerful it can be to share your feelings and needs with others, and how having those feelings and needs heard and validated creates really strong connections. Even when we say or do something that is hurtful to another, if we ground ourselves in our feelings and needs, and those of the people around us, connections can be repaired and made stronger in the long run.
So, there you have it. My mission is to bring my experiences from Corporate America and my lessons from therapy into the workplace so leaders and teams create a safe space to talk about the feelings and needs they are grappling with while dealing with change. By having these conversations, teams can (re)connect and engage in meaningful ways and align on shared values and vision. The end result? A team that is stronger and able to navigate change more effectively.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from therapy is the power of staying curious. To be curious about what you need, and the needs of others around you. To be curious about the possibility. As I begin this new chapter in my career, I now say with excitement and curiosity: What the h*ll!!! Let’s roll up our sleeves, and get sh*t done.
If you’re inspired by my post, or even a little bit curious about my ideas, then let’s talk. Click on the button below to contact me about scheduling. I look forward to talking with you soon.