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the future of work for everyone, by everyone

October 9, 2020

How to walk away from it all to have more — a startup founder’s success story

How to walk away
Image Credit: Rosie - Derek Robertson
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Three years ago, after 12 months of thinking about it, I woke up, called the CEO of my company and quit my job. It was the most gut wrenching decision I’ve ever made. I was a year out from a horrific battle with postpartum depression, I was the breadwinner for my family, I had two babies at home, and I didn’t have a plan. All I knew was that the voice inside of me telling me to run free and live wildly and go after my own happiness had gotten so loud that I had to listen. 

There is a saying that goes “I had to make you uncomfortable, otherwise you wouldn’t have moved.” In my experience, the Universe, or God or whatever resonates for you, has a way of getting louder and louder until you heed the call to take action, despite how uncomfortable it may be. My decision made no sense on paper. I had achieved everything I set my sights on with my career and family. I was making more money in one year than my father would make in 15 years, completely transcending generational barriers to wealth creation. 

But inside, I was broken. I cried each Sunday before work. I satiated my sadness with food and things I didn’t need, surrounded in decadence that couldn’t fill the sadness I was feeling. I busied myself with any kind of busy-ness I could muster to avoid confronting the feelings of emptiness that I couldn’t shake. I worked harder so I didn’t have to think about it. Through my avoidance, the cosmic call of the universe got louder and louder. It manifested as my toxic boss, my lack of passion for the work I was doing, my 40 pound weight gain, and my ulcers. The call got so loud and I got so uncomfortable that I simply had to move. 

I was moved to throw logic to the wind, trust my intuition for one of the first times in my life (it gets easier over time), and quit my job with no plan ahead. The day I quit my job was the day I began to live fully for the first time in my adult life. It was the day I decided that I wouldn’t recreate the misery that my ancestors endured in refugee camps and war zones by accepting a life that wasn’t meant for me. It was the day I decided to use all my privilege to do something more, something better, something I could be proud of.

I can not overstate how good it felt to quit that job. I was a new person. I had just said goodbye to 80% of my family’s income in one phone call and I didn’t give a shit. I was free. Bra burning, wild-hair-don’t-care, dancing in the rain free. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have any goals to throw myself toward. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have anything I wanted to manifest other than just being me, and embracing a journey to find out exactly who I am. 

During the three months after leaving work, I was introduced to an array of incredibly talented and diverse entrepreneurs. I met people who, like me, had heeded the cosmic call to exit an unfulfilling work situation. I met people raising venture. I met venture capitalists. I met freelancers. I met executives. It was through all of this openness and connection that I realized that everything I had experienced in my career was just this tiny little corner of the world. There was so much out there I hadn’t explored yet, and the possibilities lit me up. 

A memory that sticks out from that era of my life is my husband coming home from work asking “What did you do today?” and I told him “Nothing really. I just talked to all of these brilliant and brave people who left their jobs like me to chase their dreams. They inspired me so much. But I don’t know what my dreams are.” Ouch. I felt like I should have figured that out after living for three decades and bringing two new lives into this world. I didn’t know where to start in discovering my dreams. No one teaches you this stuff, huh? I started intuitively by sitting down with pen and paper, making a list of my things I was good at. It seems so basic, but it was literally a start. And anything can be a start. I quickly realized that a lot of my gifts center around human connection. Connecting personally with people one-on-one, connecting people with others, and connecting people with ideas. This was the bedrock of a 10 year career in sales.

I then started a list of things throughout my life that brought me pure joy, that made me feel alive, and that lit me up. The stand-out on the list  was the work I had done in founding a Refugee Supper Club in Atlanta and the work I had done with women who also suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety. I realized that the common thread was that in these experiences, I was getting back to my roots, honoring my grandparents, my father, my family who had been marginalized so intensely that they had all of their wealth stolen from them before being placed in a refugee camp. I felt alive when I was using my privilege to help marginalized people. People who are overlooked and underestimated. People who are pushed to the fringes by systems that were never designed for them. People just like all of the brilliant marketers, freelancers, and small business owners I was introduced to over the past 3 months. 

Wow. This realization was my lightbulb moment. I had found my purpose: to create access to wealth and opportunity for all the people who have been marginalized by the way work happens in marketing (the only industry I’ve known). 

Alas, this is the origin story for my company We Are Rosie. If only the version of me from 3 years ago could see that today she runs a startup that supports 6,000+ independent solo-preneurs through community and access to opportunity, power, and influence. If she only knew she’d have 90 clients ranging from huge Fortune 500 brands to the biggest ad agencies in the world. She’d never believe it. She was a different person.

As I reflect on my journey from the past 3 years, it’s clear that I’ve already achieved more than any goals I ever would have set for myself, which is saying a lot, as I have always had big goals in life. I’ve been successful not  because I had a desire for money or prestige, but because my desire, with every beat of my heart,  was centered around living a life that lights me up. 

I’ve learned a lot along the way, synthesized in these four lessons:

  1. You can always go back: When you get scared, just remember, you can always go back to your old life (but trust me you won’t want to). We humans tend to make these things so binary in our minds. “If I quit my job, I could be destitute.” Instead of thinking about all the awful that could happen, think about the possibility- the upside. If you’ve been this successful working in a way that doesn’t resonate with who you are, imagine what you will be able to do when you step fully into your own power. 
  2. You are further along in this life than you probably realize. Make it count. This is your shot.
  3. The universe and good people will support you. You can’t even imagine the people you will attract when you start living your best life. You will become a lightning rod for others on a similar journey and path. You will carry a vibration that attracts people and ideas that are aligned with you, your goals, and all your dreams.
  4. Courage is a muscle. The more you use it, the easier it becomes. Use it often. Find something every day that makes you uncomfortable and do it. A life spent being brave is a life well-lived.

Joseph Campbell has said “we must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” To anyone hearing the loud call of the Universe, go forth through the fear. Go out and get what’s yours. 

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Stephanie’s Socials: LinkedIn, Twitter

Editor’s Socials – Kiana Pirouz: Linkedin, Instagram

Founder & CEO of We Are Rosie