Freefall. Fog. Fear.
I made a freefall into the unknown.
I landed in a fog that still hasn’t lifted.
And the fear? Well, that I’ve learned how to be with.
365 days since I last collected a consistent paycheck, had subsidized health insurance, or proudly held the title of “Googler”.
One year ago this week, I jumped off the cliff – and straight into the fog.
I left my 12-year career at Google, even though I was still drinking the kool-aid and loving the company and the culture. I left, not because I didn’t like it – I did – but because the reason I was staying was for comfort and security, not purpose and fulfillment.
I truly had all the reasons to stay.
I was at the top of my career: I was a high performer and successfully leading a top global partnership with a very promising trajectory.
I liked my job and loved my leaders: People say you don’t quit companies, you quit managers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth for me – I worked at the best company and for the best leaders in the world, and my direct manager is truly one of the best people I know.
I am a single mom with 2 little kids: My kids were only 5 & 6 at the time I left and I get no alimony or child support.
My rational mind came up with all kinds of reasons why I should stay. And I had plenty of people telling me how lucky I was to have landed where I did; that I was nuts to even consider walking away – that it was akin to ripping up a winning lottery ticket.
I tried so hard and for so long to convince myself to stay because it felt like the safe and responsible thing to do.
But the truth is that if I had stayed, it would have been out of fear.
I had a lot of fear to work through – fear of failure, fear of mediocrity, fear of giving up my lifestyle, fear of going bankrupt and living under a bridge, fear of making a mistake, fear that I was leaving the best I’d ever have and it was all downhill from here, fear that I’d never be successful at anything else, fear I could never go back, fear of risking my kids’ futures…
And yet, I jumped anyway. Not because all the fear went away, but because the fear of not taking a risk on myself and making a run at my dreams with all I had, became the most powerful fear of all.
My dream is to serve; to have the greatest impact for the greatest good. And by staying, I would miss out on sharing my story and inspiring audiences of thousands. I would pass by the opportunity to publish a book that could inspire change in people’s lives and in the world. I would lose the chance to model believing in myself and my dreams for my children and my children’s children.
I left because I was tired of not believing in myself – I’d done that my whole life. I didn’t want to get to the end of my life, look back and wonder what could have been… What if I’d been brave enough to trade in the comfort and security of my title, paycheck and health insurance for the fulfillment of daring to go after my dreams?
So, what has it really been like to jump off the cliff and go after my dreams?
The honest truth is…it’s been hard. Really hard.
But in ways I didn’t expect.
I thought by the time I left, I’d already worked through all my fear. I thought I’d done the brave thing by jumping off the cliff and leaving what I knew and loved and the rest of the hard stuff would be in figuring out how to work in a new industry and build and own a business.
What I was much less prepared for was the deeper work that started basically the day after I left and hasn’t stopped since then.
When I first left, I thought I would love getting up each day with an empty day in front of me – getting to do what I wanted, when and how I wanted.
But I didn’t.
I was in freefall and I was floundering. I felt like I’d been stripped down. You know that satisfying feeling you get when you shuck corn and rip off all the husks and silk at once to expose the corn on the cob? Very satisfying when you’re doing it to corn; much less satisfying when it feels like it’s being done to you…
Without the routine to tell me what I needed to do, I didn’t feel productive.
Without OKRs and big team goals to achieve, I didn’t feel valuable.
Without constantly being busy doing something, I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything.
In an effort to get out of the fog of the unknown, I kept trying to create order and certainty in an experience that was anything but.
I was completely caught off guard to realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in what I did and where I worked.
What’s hardest to admit was the biggest surprise of all: without being able to say I worked at Google, I didn’t know who to say I was anymore.
I truly had no idea how much my title and my company were indicators to me of my worthiness and value.
I had to face the hard reality that, in my mind, what made me worthy of being respected and admired was based on what I did and where I worked.
After months of putting agonizing pressure on myself to have everything figured out, to do things in order to show I had it all under control, I put myself in what I called “temporary retirement” to give myself a break from all the self-imposed pressure and expectations.
I finally accepted that my life was going to be foggy for awhile and the only way to stay dedicated to my dream was to change my relationship with fear. Rather than ‘doing’, I began undoing.
Undoing the need to define who I am by what I do.
Undoing the idea that my value is based on how much value I add.
Undoing the attachment to praise, recognition and validation as a means of measuring my self-worth.
Undoing the belief that I need to do more, be more and achieve more in order to be enough.
Un-Doing. Literally. Learning how to stop the habit of doing and learn how to just be.
The real truth is that the jump off the cliff made me come face to face with some of my deepest fears.
This year has been one of the most unnerving, uncertain years of my life. And yet, hands down, the most rewarding.
Because this is the year that I’ve redefined my relationship with fear. Learned deeply that I can have fear without letting fear have me.
While I can’t say I’ve made friends with fear, I have accepted that it’s my travel companion and it’s going to walk alongside me in the fog of the unknown as I forge my new path every day with every step I take.
The path I’ve chosen isn’t easy and isn’t certain, but I’m so fulfilled knowing that it is mine – fear, fog and all.
The reason I decided to leave Google was because my dream was to inspire and serve people. Ironically, it turned out that it was the act of bravery in leaving Google that became most inspiring.
It has been my struggle since leaving Google that showed me my purpose, made it clear how I’m here to serve. I believe what we are intended to teach we must first learn, and it has been in learning how to undo that enabled me to develop and begin teaching others the Art of Undoing.
In my year of undoing, I have learned how to be and what it is I’m truly here to do.