Five years ago, I left my place of steady employment and took a leap into the “wild unknown” of the consulting world. As one of my colleagues at the time said to me, “You’re hanging out your shingle!” a phrase I found both charming and terrifying. Yes, I was putting myself out there in the world as a solo communications practitioner and business owner. But a hanging shingle evoked images of the roof of my home falling apart. Would my husband and I even have a roof over our heads when this is all said and done? How would we make ends meet? It was a big leap for me. And yet, there was something so invigorating about hanging out my shingle, my “open for business” sign, and seeing who might come calling.
At the time, I honestly didn’t fully know what I was stepping into. I just knew that I wanted to answer my longing to do mission-driven work and offer my communications skills and expertise in service to the issues I’m most passionate about — the environment, public health, education, the arts, human psychology and spirituality, and social justice. I also felt a strong call to find my voice somewhere in the midst of it all, a way to express myself, my perspectives and ideas, without getting in way of the larger message I was in service to.
These five years later, I have never been more certain that I made the right decision. I’ve had the honor of working with some of the most interesting organizations across a range of issues. I have grown exponentially in my craft. I have discovered a love of design, branding, and visual/audio storytelling and been able to apply that in my work. This past year alone, I’ve found myself working on some of the most meaningful campaigns and initiatives of my career with people and teams I hold in the highest esteem.
Still, in the midst of it all, I have many doubts that plague me daily. Am I answering my highest calling? Are my contributions unique enough and truly helpful to the teams I’m supporting? Do people enjoy working with me?
These doubts aren’t just work-related. I find myself asking similar questions in other parts of my life. How should I spend my days? What friendships and relationships should I cultivate or let go of? Where do I want to be living? How do I want to be living? What does it mean to be living one’s best life?
The past nine months have been filled with these existential inquiries at every turn. I’ve had one of my busiest consulting years to date, a situation that I am equal parts grateful for and exhausted by. At the height of my busyness, I was spending long days in endless Zoom meetings, crafting a myriad of emails to people, churning out deliverable after deliverable. When the weekends would come (and when I wasn’t spending them catching up on work or rebuilding this very website), I was immersed in hilariously hard physical labor, cultivating a garden and patio in our backyard alongside my husband. The contrast in mental versus physical work was a welcome one, but it left little room for variation. The two of us spent endless days digging 3-foot-deep trenches for bamboo, lining up cement pavers to perfection, trading truckloads of deteriorated dirt for piles of compost and mulch, all in the hopes that, once COVID subsided, we would have nice oasis to welcome friends. Monday would come, and I’d return to long days at the computer.
Every week was like this, over and over, a repetition reminiscent of Groundhog’s Day. At night, when I sought the refuge of sleep, my mind would awake from its zombie state and batter me with no shortage of anxieties and philosophical questions that, by day, were simply subsumed under the waters of each day’s responsibilities and deadlines.
Many people have commented how the pandemic — the ensuing shutdown of society and culture as we knew it, the endless days spent indoors, the life and death crises that encircled us — brought forth a great deal of introspection. It’s led many people to question why they are staying in jobs that are unfulfilling or don’t pay enough. Some have chosen to shift their home to places where they want to create life anew. Some have decided to leave relationships that were not feeding them or draw closer to people they fell deeper in love with.
Anyone who knows me (or has read any of my previous blog posts) knows that I’m quite introspective by nature. The past year and a half of pandemic-induced personal and cultural upheaval has only accentuated that part of my character and brought these inquiries to the forefront of my mind. How I spend my days has become both a question of interrogation and my life’s pursuit.
In her book, “The Writing Life,” American author Annie Dillard writes:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”
As I write this, the backyard oasis is complete, my website has launched, the intensity of the past several months of deadlines and deliverables is ever-so-slightly subsiding. As I look out on the horizon of the next five years of my career and my life, I am intent on turning my “Groundhog Days” into something more serene and rejuvenating. In the end, I suspect that’s what all of us wish for, to find ourselves on that great “lifeboat” of life, not so much striving as simply bobbing on a gentle tidal drift. Still living. Perhaps if we’re lucky, we may even find ourselves in the company of a few of our most beloved companions, gently bobbing alongside us.
September 29, 2021