I still remember vividly what it felt like to park my company car for the last time. But as I turned the keys in the ignition, I knew there was no turning back.
I had a job that I enjoyed with a company that I loved. My salary paid the bills and on top of that, I could earn as much commission as I hustled or had time for. Looking back I’d like to think that it was a brave move but the freaking truth is that it was both stupid and irresponsible. There I was, a single parent with 4 kids at home. Two biological from my failed marriage and two that I had been fostering for the last 3 years. I didn’t have another job lined up, all I had was the hope that I would get accepted into the college program I had applied for on a whim an hour earlier. Well, that and the hope that my GI Bill payment would at least be enough cover our basic expenses. But I stupid as it was, looking back I know that if I had not made that bold move at that moment… and experienced the ensuing struggles and events I propelled with that decision, I would not have the freedom I have today and I would not be the person that journey created.
At the time my goal was to finish the degree that I had started 14 years earlier. And maybe go on to get my masters, an MBA. That’s why I kept failing, right? That’s what kept holding me back… not having a college degree? That’s what kept me from climbing the ladder, from making more money and finally stop being so damn broke and living paycheck to paycheck. If I could finally get my degree then all my problems would be solved.
Have you ever heard that Albert Einstein quote about a fish climbing a tree? “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” That was my whole life. I never felt like I fit in. I always felt like I was trying to squish myself into a mold or somebody else’s expectation of who and what I should be. Up until that point my entire life had felt like an out of body experience. It’s totally surreal, looking back. It’s pretty pathetic considering the fact that I had just turned 35 the day I quit my job. But I just wanted to feel like myself for the 1st time ever, ya know?
So fast forward two years… not only had I FINALLY finished my bachelor’s degree but I had gone on to get my MBA from an amazing university. Not only that but I completed the program in 11 months. Pretty freaking amazing, right? Here I was, a single mom juggling four kids (3 with special needs), graduate school, rocking it all out and kicking ass all over the place. Now I could be on top of the world, right? Wrong! Little did I know, I was about to enter one of the most difficult periods of my life.
So there I was, finally a big bad MBA. I had started a fairly successful independent consulting business a year prior (around the same time I started my master’s degree). Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t breaking any records but the bills were getting paid. And now that I had my big fancy degree I could move on with taking over the world. Because, of course, that’s what was holding me back.
What makes this whole thing even funnier is that I stood there with the false belief that I had gotten through the most difficult part of my plan. Finish school, start a business, take over the world. And once I took over the world and started to make a crap-ton of money… then I could go back to doing what I really loved which was serving people. Giving people a hand up not a handout. Teaching. Loving. Inspiring.
I always joke that God must have a great sense of humor. We all know that Depeche Mode song about that? No? Am I just aging myself? Here, I’ll sing it for you… “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumors but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor and when I die I expect to find him laughing”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a hopelessly stubborn person. This wouldn’t be the first humbling experience in my life, nor the last, I suspect. But I’m a woman of faith and so I’d pray for signs that I was on the right path and it was always the same. I would pray for a sign, God would give me a sign… giant freaking stop signs sometimes and there I was treating them like a game of Mario Kart. Weaving a bobbing around them, dropping bananas, throwing turtle shells at them while still doing whatever the heck I wanted to do along the way. Eventually, He got through to me, though. You see, we are all born for a reason and with a purpose… every single last one of us walking on this planet and let me tell ya… God’s gonna get his way every single time. For me, it meant giving me 4 flat tires so I could notice that I was going the wrong way on the track.
This is what happened next… 47 days, that’s how long I lasted on my high horse from the date of graduation. 47 days after I graduated, after a really long day of work, I gathered up the kids and headed home. When I walked inside a surprise was waiting for me… it was raining! That’s what the kids said… Actually raining, inside of my home, and not just a little. It had been raining in my house for roughly the last 12 hours. It was a Friday night. What the heck was I going to do? Trying not to panic I called my homeowner’s insurance (who connected me with the loss mitigation crew), quickly called the Foster agency to find a temporary place for the weekend for two of my kids… and took my other two to stay at a friend’s house while my home was being gutted down to the wires.
What I would find out the following Monday is that my mortgage company had outsourced escrow payments… and THAT company had accidentally short paid my homeowner’s insurance 6 months prior by quite literally missing a keystroke. I was standing with a completely gutted home down to the wires when I found out that I had no homeowner’s insurance and all of a sudden no place to stay. The saddest part of it all was that the previous Friday night would turn out to be the last night that I would ever see my foster kids that I was eventually hoping to adopt. Turns out you can’t foster kids if you have no place to stay. My boys and I then spent the next 6 months staying between a couple friend’s houses, I guess basically qualifying as homeless, fighting a big bank (et al) to admit their error, sliding into a deep depression, not being able to focus on my business and losing most of my “friends” because I “wasn’t myself” anymore and thus overstayed welcomes along the way.
By the time it was all said and done and the escrow company admitted their error, I was so behind on life. I hadn’t been paying my mortgage that entire time because I was paying friends to stay with them and now my house was now going into foreclosure. I still owed that emergency mitigation company thousands of dollars and I was down to a fraction of my clients because I could barely muster the energy to get my kids to school, much less physically show up to my client’s offices for the ones I didn’t support from home. By the time I was done paying everything and everyone back from those 6 months of hell, all I had left from the settlement was enough to pay first and last month’s rent for a shitty apartment for me and my 2 boys.
You wanna talk about humbling. I was literally starting all over.
That experience sucked majorly. It has taken a lot of work to climb out of that period not only financially but also mentally and emotionally. But I’m so grateful for those experiences because I have never been in a better place in my life. I learned so much during that time period. I learned where I should focus my energy, I learned that I don’t have to separate my passion and purpose from how I make a living. I learned that I can effectively combine the two successfully.
I often joke that I could never settle on one thing that I wanted to be when I grew up so I’m just going to do all of them. Now I get to help other people be what they want to be when they grow up… And through that process, I get to be all of those things while helping others along their journey. I still don’t have it all figured out and I probably never will but that’s OK. I will never stop learning, I will never stop growing and I will never stop challenging myself.
And as much as that situation sucked, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. It changed to me to the core and made me who I am today. I now believe that there is literally nothing in this world that I can’t overcome. I’d gone through some pretty hard shit before… probably even worse, but that experience specifically put me along a path that is more aligned with my purpose. Now, my children know that there is nothing that they can’t overcome. And as I continue to help people along their journey, I can teach them the same.