I learned a valuable lesson in the last several months: our stories aren’t for us, they’re for everyone else. I’m sharing this story because I know someone needs to hear this.
The last few years have been about a search for purpose. If I’m honest though, this search has been going on for much longer than that. I’ve wrestled with my calling and experienced a certain kind of low I didn’t know existed. I was just existing and didn’t feel like I was making a difference and I knew there had to be more. I got my first corporate job in 2010 -- it was a great role to get my feet wet because I wore so many hats. By the time I left, I had incredible experience for someone with no experience. I transitioned into the IT industry because at the time it seemed like a good move forward. I had moved up as far as I was going where I was, so the idea of going elsewhere making more money sounded like the right thing to do.
This happened four or five more times throughout my career -- I’d start a new job, but around the three- to six-month mark, I’d get the same creeping feeling again. The feeling that I wasn’t in the right place, can anyone relate!? It followed me everywhere I went; I thought if I found the right company or the right boss it would go away.
Flash forward to October of 2016 when I quit my job with no backup plan, something I’d never done before. This visceral feeling I had compelled me to start actively figuring out my calling and purpose and what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
What happened next played out in stages. Some much longer than others. I spent a few months toying around with starting a clothing boutique; I nannied for a family for a little while and put off the stirring in my heart. I was planning my wedding all the while, which filled up my days but in the back of my mind, I knew this feeling would still be there when it was all over. And it was.
I knew I had to confront it, but I had no idea where to start.
THE PROCESS OF REFINEMENT TAKES TIME, PAIN, GROWTH, JOY, FEAR, TRUST.
The same week I decided to begin working this whole thing out, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw an ad for a company in Atlanta that helps “women design a career with intention”. I went to their website and as I read over the testimonials, the women were all saying exactly the way I felt - “no real sense of direction, not knowing where to start, looking for fulfillment in work that mattered."
I felt like this was a solution I could get behind, but I struggled on whether or not to pull the trigger. The cost associated with their career coaching made me feel guilty. I wasn’t contributing financially in my marriage which was really hard for me because I’ve always been extremely independent. I felt the weight of investing in myself so I talked it over with my husband, Ben. It was a no-brainer for him. He instantly encouraged me to go for it and so I did. Within a few weeks I was meeting with a career coach regularly (shout out to my girl Tallia at Mavenly + Co.). We talked through a lot but the most helpful for me was making sense of my past work history and how all the seemingly random positions tied together. I finally had some language around what I was good at.
It took some time and a lot of inner searching to understand that there were a few common themes throughout my career. I learned that I’m most energized when I’m advocating for and helping others to find their voice. Speaking up for people who have lost their voice and making room at the table for them. My top strengths are empathy and communication. At first I was frustrated to learn that my strengths weren’t more concrete -- like teaching or something in the medical field. They were much more broad and I saw this as a limitation. Can anyone relate!?
I started to think through how I used these gifts in my everyday life and it became a little more clear: I used them both to connect more deeply with people. When I changed my perspective on how I viewed them, I was able to see the bigger picture.
Around the same time I was meeting with my coach, I connected with a woman at my church who helps people work through their calling. We met regularly and talked about where I was at (both in my career but also emotionally). We also worked out that my identity was in Christ, not my job. My favorite thing she said to me was, “there are no shortcuts when it comes to wrestling with your calling.” You have to go through it all -- the process of refinement takes time, pain, growth, joy, fear, trust. Without those things, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. So much of what she said overlapped with what I was learning with my coach. I started noticing some themes but still felt in the dark about what they all meant.
I decided to start trying out some different i enjoy doing to see if they were worth pursuing. I refinished furniture. I worked with people to redesign their space and make it more functional. Had it not been for this time of waiting and learning, I wouldn’t have known I enjoyed these things. I had to put myself out there and tell people what happening. I had to invite them in.
This was where I learned the next (and honestly, most important) lesson. Inviting people in to my struggle is a necessary part of moving forward.
I had been keeping this battle of searching for purpose and wrestling with my calling mostly quiet. I was fearful of meeting new people, knowing that one of the first things we ask others when we meet is “what do you do?”. I hated that question because it involved some combination of me making myself sound more important than I was, an over exaggeration of some role in my life, and the truth. I believed the lie that my worth was tied up in what I did (or didn’t do) for a living. I’d practice my response over and over if I knew I’d be in a setting where someone would ask, it was painful and brought on a lot of anxiety.
I learned that inviting people into it with me not only helped, it made me realize how many others were experiencing the same exact thing. I wasn’t alone. They weren’t alone. People wanted to help. I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to practice vulnerability.
I BELIEVED THE LIE THAT MY WORTH WAS TIED UP IN WHAT I DID (OR DIDN'T DO) FOR A LIVING.
The next part of my story was the most painful. It was the most waiting. I decided I needed to apply for jobs because honestly, I wasn’t really sure what else to do. I must have applied for over 50. I met with literally anyone who said yes to me. I wanted to share my story, hear theirs and if I’m honest, it made me feel like I was doing something productive. There were days where I didn’t get off the couch. There were days that were messy and full of anger and bitterness. There were days where I had it out with God. I remember a time specifically where I was angry, frustrated and felt like I'd reached my breaking point. I was in the kitchen physically shaking my fists into the air -- at God, at the circumstances. And you know what? That's a normal part of the process. Having moments of extreme emotion are a normal part of the process.
This lasted for several months. I’d have moments where I felt like momentum was picking up - either I’d hear back about a job I applied for, or someone would email me out of the blue telling me about a job they’d heard of. Then I had moments of really low lows, where I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted to better control my emotions, for them to be more consistent. I got so sick of feeling like I had no control over anything. Can anyone relate?
I probably went on five interviews. Each time, I was hoping to get “the feeling” you get when you know you’re where you’re supposed to be...and I never felt it. I wondered why I was saying yes to going on interviews when I knew deep down it wasn’t what I wanted to do. There were people close to me who questioned my approach and why I was so hyper-focused on figuring it all out. I knew they didn’t fully understand the place I was at AND THAT’S OKAY. I used to strive to get affirmation and approval from everyone around me. I felt anxiety if someone was critical of the way I did something. It wasn’t until I took the Strengths Finder and realized one of my top strengths is harmony. It made so much more sense to me why I’d feel so terrible when someone didn’t agree with me. I learned ways to process when met with opposition and while it’s not perfect, I understand how to control that emotion better. Not everyone in your life will understand or agree with the way you choose to process through things. Extending love and grace when you don’t understand is HARD.
Around the time the interviews were tapering off, I had this idea…
It started in February when we had an unusually warm weekend. I wanted to get outside and plant some flowers because that’s what you do when you’ve been stuck inside all winter. I don’t know the first thing about keeping plants alive, so I went online to see if I could find a workshop to learn the basics. I was surprised to find that there weren’t many options, so my next thought was to plan one myself. The planning process really energized me and took all the things I love and combined them all together. I wondered what other things people would want to learn about in a workshop setting. I felt like I was on the verge of something good. I couldn’t quite articulate it, and felt like I only had a few pieces to this bigger puzzle. It was frustrating to have this thing stuck in my head, not be able to find the words to describe it, but yet ... there was a stirring. It felt like excitement and anxiety all wrapped into one.
A few weeks later, social media played yet another pivotal part in my journey. Plywood People was promoting one of their programs which basically helps pull ideas out of social entrepreneurs. I had a gut feeling I needed to do it, and so I invested in myself again. I took this six-week journey and it’s really incredible looking back on it all now. The idea I only had a few pieces to really started to take shape. I got a lot of answers and direction that shed more light on this idea that had been buried in my heart. I had the makings of a project that would impact people in the community and allow them to connect with others in a more meaningful way through making and doing.
And so that brings me to the present. I’ve learned so much in the last several months since launching Make + Do. I’ve scheduled lots of workshops, been encouraged AND discouraged, met some incredible people and realized that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. The gifts God has given me have challenged me in the most beautiful ways. I’ve wrestled, fought, laughed, wept and celebrated my way up to this point. I want to create something that impacts people and allows them to connect with others and with themselves, too. To tap into a creativity they didn’t know they had.