My business has steeped me in the sacred. Over the years it has released more nuance, complexity, and flavor (or wait, maybe that is my tea) than I ever could have imagined. The afternoon of my 35th birthday I called my parents and told them I had left my job at a prestigious university to go out on my own as a solo consultant. I distinctly remember thinking that they couldn’t possibly get mad at me; it was my birthday.
To my parents’ credit, they were not upset. Apprehensive, yes, as evidenced by the sweeping silence that followed my news. It helped that I already had clients: two schools that had essentially defected from the university. I’d been terrified to ask them if they’d hire just me, by myself, that is. The thought of it made my hands sweat. But once I did, the divine responded. Both of my soon-to-be clients smiled and said the same: “We want you.” Stunned, I launched my business right then and there.
Equally unaware that I had an entrepreneurial spirit inside of me, I quickly learned how to navigate my way through the early days of a business license and separate bank accounts, contract negotiations and legal fees, hourly rates and liability insurance. I focused mostly on the work in schools and watched as word-of-mouth grew my client list to capacity. The real compensation, though, came in the days I took to write. That and an enduring sense of freedom which whispered ever so softly, as only the divine does: “There is more to you than this. Come.”
So I heeded it. My first book debuted in my third year of business. A second one quickly claimed my heart that years later would morph into this column. On my fifth anniversary, I ventured out into the world of spiritual direction and found myself at home. By year seven, I no longer wanted to consult in schools, but I did not trust that I could write full-time for a living. When I finally ended my last school contract and no writing contracts appeared, I swallowed my pride and worked as a private reading tutor, sitting at other people’s kitchen tables and aching, aching, aching for a family of my own.
Many nights I argued with God: If there is more to me, then why do I have so few clients? In the absence of a direct reply, the kind that I prayed for, I learned to wait, to trust in what needed time to emerge. The more I steeped myself in what outwardly appeared to be my failing business, the more radically honest I became about what I most wanted to do with my life. New clients started to trickle in, and with them, the full-time equivalent of a writing portfolio: proposals, curricula, position papers, speeches. By my tenth anniversary, my son (at age 3) and I adopted each other.
Being in business for myself was just what I needed to be a mom in the way I wanted. I missed the first three years of my son’s life, and I didn’t want to miss another minute. So as a single mom, I sent him to school three days a week, and we played the other two. I can’t say that I got a lot of sleep. I had to work late most nights to keep up. But thankfully, as a writer, none of my clients saw how bloodshot my eyes were or how stained my sweatpants were by day three. I let the adrenaline (and anxiety) of mothering carry me through the next two years of my business.
But once my son finally started sleeping through the night, and I did the same, I could hear the sacred whispering again. “There is more. Come.” My business slowed down precipitously. But this time as I steeped, I did not do so alone. I reached out for help, believing that somehow my needs would be met. And they were. My parents were unwavering in their support. A trusted colleague and friend served as my thought partner. A former coach listened patiently to my fears. And a whole network of friends ushered in the full-time position that would eventually sit down on my living room couch.
Accepting a full-time job has been humbling, no doubt. Working for myself had been a point of pride, a sign of my independence, and how I kept my commitment to what makes my heart sing. And yet I know, hidden in this career move, is an invitation to relinquish my need to do it all on my own. Whatever the more is that the sacred calls us to, it is bigger than how we choose to get there. It’s bigger than the identities we embrace. Sole proprietor, unemployed, CEO, or full-time parent, the sacred still whispers to us. All that matters is that we heed the call and trust in what is yet to be.