Since publicly announcing that I would be leaving my VP of Customer Advocacy role at Influitive in order to team up with my former colleague and long-time peer, Deena Zenyk, to start our own customer engagement consultancy, I’ve gotten quite a few raised eyebrows about the timing.
Because, who is crazy enough to start a business in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and leave a corporate role two months before cashing in on an ample maternity policy (for a fourth child, no less)?
Apparently, that person is me. Since I’ve had a few brave souls ask me, I thought I would write a brief explanation for all the other curious individuals who have been too polite to ask: why this and why now?
There’s usually an instinct - a feeling - for passionate, driven people that sounds an alarm when you realize you are not maximizing your full potential. You know this because you’ve had months or years where you’ve felt the fulfillment of innovating, creating and growing. Sure, there will be many times where you need to talk to your manager to find outlets, shifts in focus and new responsibilities to fill these needs. But sometimes there comes a time where you know what you are searching for is no longer here but elsewhere.
When you feel the alarm sounding, you can do one of two things: One, talk yourself out of it. Tell yourself you don’t need all that “fulfillment” stuff. Weigh the pros and cons and conclude that stability, comfort and familiarity are worth their weight in gold (hey, I’ve been there several times). Or two, get to a point where you know the security is no longer worth stifling your inner desire to move onward, push yourself forward and extend your professional journey off the path you see in front of you.
I chose “two.” The more you begin to know and understand yourself - your skills, your passion and the value you bring to the table - the easier it is to recognize what you need to do and when.
Once you have decided to take that journey, it could absolutely be the opportune time to land another corporate job in an exciting company, and there are a lot of those great opportunities out there! But while I was taking the time to think through what I wanted the next part of my uncharted trail to look like, it gave me the opportunity to really analyze what it is I value. Not just what looks like an upward trajectory, but what fulfillment looks and feels like to a constant innovator, relationship enthusiast, and mother of four.
I received some wonderful perspective recently from long-time Silicon executive and growth advisor, Jill Rowley (whose next calling should be motivational coach and speaker) who urged me to now begin the journey of redefining success.
Those of us who have spent the last ten to twenty years in the corporate world have been given a definition of what success looks like - more titles, more money, lots of recognition. And as much as we give lip service to the “more important things,” we still find ourselves running the rat-race to succeed by corporate-world standards - striving for peer or leadership recognition, lobbying for that next title or pay grade and then the next and then the next.
But by accepting this narrow definition (particularly as women or mothers), we have given up much of our ability to define for ourselves what success actually means. We’ve been given a blueprint and we find it hard to mentally break free from it.
Leaving a job can give you some wonderful insight into what success really is. For me, it’s been realizing that the impression and impact you’ve left on the customers, employees and peers around you is ten times more valuable and fulfilling than the title you left behind.
Fighting for that next position might equate to temporary success, but what comes next? Making more money is fulfilling, but until what threshold does it mean more happiness? Is success always more and higher? Ask yourself if that’s your definition of success or someone else's. Or maybe it was your definition of success five years ago and it isn’t any more.
For me right now, success is waking up and feeling excited about starting my week. It’s working until 1am because I can’t stop myself, I’m having so much fun. It’s being able to manage my schedule to let more things and more relationships into my life. It’s getting to work with a badass partner whose ideas resonate with my own. And it’s creating and growing something from the ground up because that’s what I love to do and know I (we) can do.
Yes, we are in the middle of an unusual and uncharted global crisis and no one seems to know for sure how this ends. But if you can (and many of us can afford more than we think), it’s good to take risks, even when things seem their riskiest, in order to move toward our definition of future success.
As marketing expert and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has said, “Life shrinks and expands on the proportion of your willingness to take risks and try new things.”
When all this unforeseen craziness hit, I definitely spent a few anxious nights uncertain about taking a leap right now. I wondered if it would be better to play it safe for a bit longer. But one of the inevitabilities in life is that change is always just around the corner. If not today, tomorrow. If not in the economy, with your family. If not regarding your salary, then with changing leadership or new competitors or unforeseen customer issues. We can’t control the inevitability of change, but we can respond with thoughtful courage and allow ourselves to not just be worried about the challenges change brings but also excited about the opportunities and innovation it always drives.
(Besides, what better time to go all-in on customer relationship, engagement and advocacy when it’s exactly what businesses need to prioritize right now?)
So, why this? Why now?
Because I know myself better today than yesterday - what drives me and grows me and brings me fulfillment. Because I’m redefining the definition of success so it fits my narrative and values at this time in my life. Because in bold risk there can be great rewards, great innovation and a hell of a lot of fun.