It wasn’t the 9am to 5pm part of my 9-5 job that didn’t work for me.
Nope. Despite what many “creative types” often lament about…for me, it actually wasn’t early morning status meetings or even the ceremonial closing of the laptop at night (hoping I wouldn’t get an after-hours email).
Those are actually things I had hoped and prayed for…not that many years ago.
Early on in my career, I had gotten far too used to late (and I mean late) hours and borderline living at my office. No one ever saw me.
So when I got a more standard 9-5 kind of job in my late twenties, I truthfully rejoiced. The first stage was complete! My first step towards figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
See, that’s what most people (especially privileged people) disregard, because it’s not as sexy or interesting:
Sometimes you need stability, safety, and mental space first to unleash the creative, exciting, spontaneous day dream you’ve been suppressing.
Yet too often the “story” on the internet is that one day someone up and went and quit their job. With drama and flair (and sometimes even video footage!). And that might work well for those people…
But for a woman like me, with self love & self compassion. That was never how it was going to go down when I made the leap to entrepreneurship.
It was a slow and steady pace towards a big life change for me. It’s not that I didn’t want to believe in my work or in my potential. But it’s because so much of my life had been traumatic, surprising (not in a fun way), and confusing. I needed this change to not completely disrupt my central nervous system.
And I had so much to learn before I was ready.
For my journey. It was going to be my way.
I knew very early on that something wasn’t right for me in the corporate world. I felt like there was a memo that everyone else got that I didn’t. I felt like a martian. Like there was a very masculine (and patriarchal) handbook that I missed at orientation, and that any sign of empathy, free thinking, or ingenuity was wrong or weak or silly.
I suppressed these feelings every day for years.
Cut to: me crying in the bathroom at 22, having panic attacks at 25, and burning out by the age of 27.
So why did I do it?
I’ll be honest. Money.
I had never been financially independent. And with the drama that had ensued in my childhood and family (like so many people out there)…well, I wanted it to be different.
I wanted my money to be my money. No matter what. Sink or swim.
Not a very abundant outlook on life.
They say money can’t buy happiness. And that’s accurate. But in my early 20s, it brought me a hell of a lot of peace…for a short while at least. Peace from the familial drama-rama. Peace from chaotic relationships.
Until I found myself in a new toxic relationship: work.
Like any narcissist, my early jobs gaslit me. Into thinking I was a part of something bigger (I usually wasn’t), into thinking the work we did was meaningful (it was sometimes harmful), and into believing that “work hard, play harder” was a personality trait (a huge red flag for burnout).
So I sought refuge elsewhere. In volunteering. That was my one and only boundary with work. Using my extra time to help others. (Note how my free time was not for me…)
That was my life. Work for the man. Work for others.
“Work work work work work” in the words of Rihanna.
Now you might say: “Rose why didn’t you just manage your mind differently around this? Ignore the bullsh*t. Stay focused.”
And you’d be right. There’s probably a powerhouse Client Services VP version of me in an alternate universe who figured all of this out from the beginning, and became the best in her field. Who took her early and unexpected promotion at 25 and never stopped the trajectory. Who found balance and boundaries and chose to love the work she did.
Maybe that even sounds like you. And if that’s true, that’s amazing.
But it wasn’t me.
So in effort to normalize how different we all are…let’s get back to what wasn’t right for me about “settling” for an amazing, successful corporate career.
Before I got my first “big girl” job, before I even turned 18, I picked a major in college. I chose Marketing (within Business Administration) because of one thing: the opportunity for money.
We’ve established that money equated to freedom for me when I was a young person. So money it was…especially since I’d be graduating in a recession (Class of Spring 2010, baby!). In fact, before I started at my first gig, I almost took a third unpaid summer internship…just to keep building my experience.
At the time, I didn’t recognize my own privileges – going to college, receiving opportunities, and the safety to even take something unpaid. As I reflect now (albeit with a heap of grace for my younger self), I was frustrated and scared and wanted a job for a lot of questionable reasons.
A breeding ground for lowering one’s standards.
Especially, emotional standards.
I remember being openly mocked at work many times.
The one that stung the most was one of my first interviews where the boss ran down the hall and shouted “oh boy, we’ve got a feminist here!” – mocking me as he read “Vice President of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance – College Chapter” on my resumé. It was an accomplishment I was really, really proud of – more proud than I was of being on the boards of other clubs at school, writing for the paper, or even my GPA.
But here I was. Openly mocked.
You think that would have been a sign for me to run, but didn’t know how to run yet. Because I didn’t think I deserved to run. I thought all I deserved was to settle.
Which I’d go on to do for most of my twenties, telling myself I was excelling in a “man’s world” or “becoming a boss babe.”
But in these “former lives,” I was actually…settling for verbal abuse at work, dealing with someone throwing an object at my head in a meeting, and being called an “idiot” in front of an entire conference room of colleagues. Settling for an environment that discouraged bathroom breaks (my direct report once even got a bladder infection!), encouraged drinking alcohol during the day, and told me every day that my work wasn’t as important as the person next to me.
If you know me now, it’s probably hard to believe I settled so much.
“Settling” is an interesting word as it applies to this situation. I want to be clear that my “settling” came with a ton of privileges and blessings. And I truly felt selfish for a long time being so miserable in such a good life when so many others had it so much harder.
I’m sharing because many women are caught in this situation. Assuming it’s “the way it is.” Assuming there’s no other options. And silently suffering.
When instead, they could be using their intelligence and education and empathy to make the world better. MANY WOMEN ARE AN UNTAPPED RESOURCE.
The real “good life,” the real freedom, for me was in following my zone of genius. My passion. My fire. The stuff we’re told to suppress in order to be more responsible, sophisticated, and smart (in other words, a “good girl”).
In an entrepreneurial world, I could seek the life I dreamed of AND help others AND make the world better. Not just one or two out of the three.
I have always been someone with personal responsibility for my mindset. When I felt out of control as a teen, I found a therapist. When I was having trouble with life transitions, I found a counselor who specialized in just that. When I needed relationship help, I found that too. And eventually when I wanted accountability and advocacy, I found a coach.
So it’s no surprise that when my office gig no longer fulfilled me. When I stopped showing up the way I should have. When I had the space to realize what I really wanted. When the so-called “social issues” I cared about (emotional intelligence, empowerment, and equality) mattered more to me than any meeting or work politics or diplomacy…
I took responsibility again.
A new kind. I realized my purpose could be founded upon empowering others to make the world a better place. I started a business. Slowly experimented with it. Tried it out. Felt into it with abundance. And received abundance in return.
And I eventually quit my day job when the time was right for me.
It’s not the job that’s broken. It’s not the corporate world (well…actually maybe more on that another day – ha!). It’s not the people I worked with (so many made such a difference in my life – shout out to the badass women I encountered at my last job!).
It was the knowledge that what was meant for me was going to be a lot more gray.
A lot more emotional. Wild. Unknown.
No playbooks written by others.
Only me. Exploring. Experimenting. Failing. Succeeding.
Motivated by service and passion and empathy. Working for myself. Keeping my standards high.
And so, as I’ll probably close my laptop around 5pm today, this is a reminder that it’s not the 9am start, or the 5pm end. It’s not the job description. Or the organization.
It’s what’s right for you. What’s always been right for you.
At your own pace. In your own way.
Knowing there’s no deadline on realizing your worth…only possibility for more of it the sooner you find it.
Here’s to taking responsibility for less settling and more living.
Whatever that looks like for you.