Our world is experiencing “the imminent transformation of our firms from stable hierarchies to fluid networks.” These words come from Arjan Van Den Born, who declares in The Fuzzy Firm that the project will become the dominant form of organization, and that innovation will become more important than organizational loyalty. I don’t know about you, but for me this premise resonates so deeply, I feel it in my bones.
Indeed, my career mimics this trend. In 2016 I made the painful choice to walk away from a job I loved for nearly 15 years at the Minnesota History Center, a major museum in St. Paul. While there, I found a calling developing curricular materials that encourage critical thinking, shatter stereotypes, and provide multiple perspectives. Over the years I made lifelong friends and forged an identity as an educator who adored her job. I relished my roles in inventive programming, and the museum’s national reputation ran deep as a breeding ground for thought leadership. (It still does, btw!) Indeed, I was captivated by my employer’s emphasis on bleeding-edge tech and 21st-Century teaching methods. I even got to attend–then later become a panelist at–a conference on gaming in education.
As you might imagine, leaving this environment didn’t come easily. It took me two years just to envision another option, and a third to make it happen. Not to mention the fact that walking away from stability, surrounded by meaningful work and colleagues I deeply respect, was scary. But I’d come to an indelible conclusion: I could make a greater impact on my community outside of that hierarchy than within it. In fact, for me–at that time in my life– it was the only way.
My journey then followed a few slow jumps from there to here. Looking back, I spent the next year and a half shedding my employee mindset. After all, it was all I’d ever known. I grew up in a traditional way, you see, believing the path to success involved putting my head down, following the rules, and not being too much of anything. Perfectionism was a badge of honor, and making mistakes was to be avoided. You guys, how could I have been so wrong about something so fundamental–for four decades?
My story began to shift when I started a blog in 2015. Intended as a space to showcase my craft projects, my blog ended up playing a much bigger role. First I discovered it was really about telling stories. And after two years I came to a more unexpected conclusion: The process of hitting send on my work–repeatedly over time–helped me find my voice. The feeling was powerful. It seeped into my psyche, and refused to let me live small in other ways. Around this time my boyfriend introduced me to the wonder of podcasts, and I stumbled across what would become a favorite: Good Life Project from Jonathan Fields.
I listened to Jonathan’s interviews while riding my stationary bike, in the dead of winter. I’d crank the stereo, stare out the window into backyard blanketed in snow, pump my legs, and cry. Yep, hearing him interview these people brought me to tears. The fact that they’d found new ways to combine work and fulfilment–while owning their voices and using modern tools–overwhelmed me. One day I came home from work, grumpy about something or other. I focused on it till 2:00 am, when I was remained wide awake. Desperate for a hit of happy, I got up and went to the computer. I searched for the podcast and discovered a gathering called Camp Good Life Project. After cursed my inability to attend such a luxurious gathering, I noticed a call for volunteers. I then spent the next two hours crafting my application.
And that’s how I found myself surrounded by the community that would transform my life and work–slowly, over time. Though I didn’t know a soul at this New York event, I overcame my fears. This community of podcasters, writers, and changemakers showed me possibility. For two years I followed their stories online, drinking their ideas like a glass of morning water.
Fast forward to now: I am fully self-employed and ready to combine my longstanding education skills with my newfound love of entrepreneurial thinking. My journey has included three Camp GLPs, a half-year stint at a corporate headquarters, and another half year at part-time gig. Each step put me in an unfamiliar space and taught me, “Oh, this is what growth feels like.” I got to share space with people who broadened my perspective, supported me when I felt alone, and taught me cool new skills.
Inspired to help others, I published my first online course this summer, on Skillshare. “The Empowered Presenter: From Hesitance to Confidence” give tools and voice to those whose fears hold them back.