Cutting Back and Starting Over
A couple of springs ago, shortly after my most recent post to this blog, I put my coaching business on hold. Still new to the profession a gentle voice inside was pushing me to re-evaluate a few things and take stock of what I was doing. So I took a moment. And a moment turned into a year and half while this re-evaluation worked itself out and while I continued to grind it out and search for a professional identity, which to be honest, had been lacking clarity for some time.
Coaching was supposed to be the answer–the path, of which I’d had many, that would anchor my career and get me rooted. It seemed logical; I am inspired by new projects (I’ve had lots of my own) and have an innate passion for talking though new ideas. So when I took the leap and launched my business, I layered coaching onto the list of career hats I was already wearing. But when people asked me what I did for a living I fumbled for an answer. “ I do a few different things,” I would say. I do promotions and events and other projects for chefs and restaurants, some PR and marketing….that sort of thing. I do some writing here and there” And then my voice would trail off a bit and I would say “……and I’m a coach.” The truth is I didn’t really know; I did maybe too many things, none of them were very clear and the title that had the least confidence behind it was “coach.” My effort to market myself as such, in a new city no less, was based in a weak pitch at best. But still I powered on. I had a website, a blog, an office, started following other coaches online for inspiration and even gathered a number of clients. For a while I went about my days making it work. But something wasn’t right. While I enjoyed the time I spent with my clients (they were amazing) it just wasn’t resonating. And so when people asked me what I did for a living, I didn’t believe in my answer. Problematic.
True I am great at delving into the details of a new project, business idea, travel plan, or any creative endeavor that takes building momentum to get from point A to point B. I want to immediately build a blueprint, scratch at the challenges and pull the thing apart until the right steps are taken towards action. After all, this is what I’ve always done for myself and it’s produced results. What I’m not as good at is letting things unfold as they are meant to. As it looks from the start of middle age this is quite possible my lesson of this lifetime. Again and again I have pushed to make things happen. And a lot has happened. I’ve done a lot of cool things, been to a lot of incredible places, ticked several “I want to do this” boxes but the majority of these big experiences were missing one thing. An organic unfolding that led to their happening, which more often than not leads to the experience being the right one for you at that time. And often without this unfolding, as I’ve found, it is just an experience. Not without value of course, but for me these experiences (changing careers, moving to another country, renting a cottage by the sea) haven’t taken me down a path that had legs where I was able to dig in and build something real. There has been a lot of stopping and starting over and rushing to the next big thing and this was a pattern that in my late 30’s was becoming obvious to me. If I couldn’t listen to my intuition and follow the path that was organically unfolding for me, how could I council others to do it for themselves? I felt a bit like a fraud so I took a break to sort it out.
Instead I took a job gardening. Gardening is work that I’d done plenty of in my 20’s back when I was a hippie and thought plants were my career path. Turns out they are not because I’m only an average grower of things, but the two days a week I spent with my hands in the earth taking care of plants with crew of stellar ladies reminded me of a few important things. Plants themselves offer unlimited lesson if you slow down to listen and approach their care with nurturing common sense. But the basics are these: Give a plant a comfy place to live, provide some nutrients, clear away what’s dead and unwanted, allow enough space for light and air to circulate, prop it up when it needs a little help, water it, and let it do it’s beautiful thing.
During these days I tended to other people’s plants giving them a bit of what they needed during the time I was with them. Weeding and pruning perennial beds I became reacquainted with the language of plants. Names like delphinium and lady’s mantle that had been lodged deep in my memory, came back to me with ease. I ended each day exhausted, but in the very best way possible. I was by no means a fully transformed being as even in this micro-environment I would catch myself rushing—as I am wont to do—to get to the next garden bed, to the next job, to the end of the day, to my couch sipping a tequila cocktail. I simply took note. Slow down girl—just do this thing right here with this plant.
But it was also what was going on outside the world of flora and fauna that gave me some pause and helped me restructure they way I approach my contribution to life. This was the small group of creative, gutsy, grounded gals that I spend my days with. For none of us was this job a career. We all liked plants a great deal and being outside, but we had other pursuits that this job was supporting. Music, sculpture, plant propagation, sitting by the wood stove in winter. And then there was me who not quite sure, but probably not a coach.
During the hot (and then cold) days out on jobs and meandering around town in the company truck we talked and laughed and built friendships. I will add, if you’re into that sort of thing, that the majority of us fell under the sign of cancer so the camaraderie and unspoken understanding was magnified. I learned from these women (in varying decades of life: 20’s, 30’s and 40’s) what it meant to be committed to your craft and watched as they plodded through their days patiently while their worlds as artists, plant lovers and humans unfolded. Something I hadn’t done much of as of yet. I observed how gracefully they approached their lives; at least it seemed that way compared to my track record of tumbling down different roads that weren’t quite right. With plenty of space and time to ponder under the summer sun, we certainly talked about our hopes and dreams for the future but so long as the bills were paid and we were happy at the end of the day, no one seemed in a rush to make them happen until the pieces were clear and the time was right. I was starting to pay attention to this approach.
And while gardening has been a grounding constant the last two seasons it wasn’t quite all that I needed for a full re-evaluation of my career path. In the same span of time I have also quit two jobs; quitting not something I have a lot of experience with either. In my pursuit to make part of my living as I so eloquently described “doing events, promotions and other projects for chefs, restaurants and food businesses…that sort of thing,” I signed up for two jobs, one right after another in this realm that were ultimately a mismatch. Not only was I underpaid but there were much larger issues of communication, trust and value. You see, I’d seen this kind of mismatched situation before and it’s caused me total physical and emotional anguish. Perhaps if I’d listened to that gentle voice a little closer, I would have recognized it. I did not and here I was again. With both of these jobs the work itself was exciting and always changing but the relationship failed because I was not in environment that gave me the space, air and light to flourish. Yes, not every job is going to be perfect, I understand that. But what was happening (finally) was my ability to recognize this type of situation, and particularly the type of management that creates it, was getting stronger. The first of the two jobs was another internal battle before I walked away, the second a cleaner break. And hopefully the next time the voice will be loud enough to just not get involved in the first place.
That is not to say I wasn’t incredibly humbled by this series of professional false starts I’d had since moving to this city, my coaching business included. Even my culinary career, which carried me a long while was sputtering. Projects didn’t last and money fell through in a way that hadn’t happened in the past. I knew I was smart and successful at things; I’d been successful in the past, but here I was 39 years old, barely making a living, feeling stripped of everything I’d once believed to be possible. I started to doubt myself.
And then I would return to the girls and the flower beds and I could breath again. Right, this is how it’s supposed to feel. There was trust, value and creativity. And sometimes a plant that’s growth patterns are all out of wack and is struggling to flourish needs to be cut way back and encouraged to start over. I wouldn’t say a light went off one day but slowly I finally stopped chasing down opportunities that didn’t have the right foundation. Trust, value, creativity. And with all the junk cleared away, I could actually hear what been whispered to me for thirty years. “You’re a writer.”
Today I am closing up my second season of gardening with the same crew. Simultaneously I am closing up a big culinary event management project run by a team of women who trust in each others’ talents. I did not chase this work—it came to be organically. The project took a while to take shape and I was patient while it did, and when it was go time, I immediately jumped into an intensive environment and felt like I was home. The foundation was there.
At the same time I am busy writing articles that I am very proud of. Over this stretch of re-evaluation time, without much effort to acquire assignments, I have published a number of pieces of writing and am receiving praise and gratitude for my contributions. This my friends, has unfolded without my really noticing and in the process my identity as a writer has finally become the strongest on my list of professional hats. I have a long way to go to become the writer I know I can be, but the path has cleared for me and I am heading down it.
Today when people ask me what I do I have a clear answer.