On March 15th of this year, I woke up crying. Nothing was “wrong” per se, but something felt off. Trying to meditate, I thought, “There's so much fluid coming from my eyeballs, am I just crying at this point? Does it still “count” as meditating?”
(The latter is a very grade-conscious, people-pleasing teenage Lelia kind of question…and one that's totally irrelevant. What was I worried about? That the meditation police would give me a B? What needed to come out did. Also, for the record, my beloved meditation teacher/beach buddy Natalie informs me that yes, it still totally counts.)
Three hours into my day, my one remaining consulting client texted, “Can you call me?” Well, I have enough dating experience to know precisely what that means, and turns out, my intuition is excellent.
Nine months prior, I'd concluded all my other consulting contracts to focus on this new business supporting women in navigating their careers. I'd kept this consulting client because I loved the work and my team. Also, for an average of ten hours per week, my client was essentially bankrolling this business because it gave me sufficient financial stability to be deliberate about how I expanded.
When I called, my client shared that she wouldn’t need my services moving forward. She was very saddened by this, but as I told her, I would’ve advised them to make the same choice, given the circumstances. We affirmed how joyful it had been to work together for the past 18 months and even laughed a bit before we hung up.
That’s when I started sobbing. This was terrifying! I didn't have a team. I didn't have a surefire way to pay my half of the mortgage. I had to be in charge all the time, my brain whirling.
I comforted myself by saying this would be good for me and for my business. I knew it would've been difficult for me to leave work and colleagues I (still) love dearly…and super hard to walk away from that sweet, sweet stable income. I also knew, whether or not I knew-knew it, that while it was only an average of ten hours per week on the clock, this contract was taking up a lot of valuable brain real estate that could otherwise be used for the new business.
While I had all of these silver linings bopping around in my mind, I was simultaneously sad and scared. I felt lonely and vulnerable. Uncomfortable as it was, I had to be present with those feelings, at least for a minute.
The Rest of the Day
Puffy eyed, I left the home office an hour after the call to lead a workshop that had been on the calendar for months. No crying in baseball, right? (I feel certain that adage is inaccurate.) Afterward, the person who hired me for the workshop wrote, “I found Lelia's optimism infectious and her ideas empowering. I left the workshop feeling much more confident about the prospect of achieving gender equity in the workforce.” To me, that's a helluva endorsement, particularly considering the circumstances.
I got home a bit out of it, but validated by the immediate reminder that even when I wasn’t at 100%, I created a dynamic and rich discussion that was fun for participants and for me.
In another beautiful moment of the universe providing, when I returned to my inbox, I had an email waiting for me from the incomparable, hilarious, and clever Kelly Williams Brown. Her New York Times bestseller, Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, is one of my favorite books. For years, I have shared her playful but spot-on iceberg of you with clients struggling with professional confidence; used her thoughtful thank you and condolence note templates; and giggled at her graph showing that toilet paper consumption is static over time, so we should all be buying in bulk.
Kelly was writing to introduce herself and ask if she could interview me for her new book on graciousness. Might I be interested in discussing how to advocate for yourself and negotiate graciously?
Y'all -- if this unexpected note from one of my favorite authors had happened on any other day, it would've made my month. Instead it happened on this weird and magical day, the Ides of March, when it was precisely what I needed to tell myself I was going to be ok.
The Next Three Weeks
Still, even with countless joyful developments that day and over the next few weeks, it took about 3 weeks -- and more than one tearful conversation with friends and parents -- for me to feel fully like myself. As I lamented my new situation at my dining room table, a fellow entrepreneur told me, “no one said entrepreneurship was easy.” It was grumps-inducing at the time but legitimately helpful overall when I felt like I was doing entrepreneurship all wrong. I could tell myself, nope, entrepreneurship kinda just sucks sometimes.
The Next Three(ish) Months
Trite and cringe inducing as it sounds, getting pseudo fired was such a gift. Once I was able to recalibrate, things started moving at light speed. Since the 15th, I've hired my own absolutely-f-ing-amazing team of women who I can't imagine running my business without. We’re cooking up exciting new products and shifting the business model to better reflect what y'all have been asking for. I'm getting big new contracts left and right, and while I may not be able to make it rain on the daily just yet, I'm in good shape in the short term and business development is blowin’ up.
This wouldn’t have happened, or would’ve taken a whole lot longer, if I’d continued working with my beloved client. Instead of providing me with consistent cash, the financial ambiguity lit a fire. With all of my newfound time and mental space, I’m ready to take this business to the next level.
So thanks to my former client for kicking me to the curb. I needed it.
I share all of this not for sympathy or celebration, but because clients have been surprised how something “awful” or “big and scary” in their career can end up being kind of wonderful. I hope sharing my own whirlwind of tears, giggles, and joy over the past few months helps you give yourself permission to feel however the heck you feel the next time you’re going through a professional transition. It’s all a legit, healthy part of the process.
So what about y’all? I’d love to hear about your own "aha" moments (or experiences) in “scary” times of career transition! Leave ‘em in the comments.
A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes