Asking Not Asking #16: Searching for Fulfillment
TINA ESSMAKER / Creative Coach
I saw your Instagram post about coaching and decided that I need to write to you. I saw your 2018 talk at HOW in Boston. It was my “this is why I’m here” moment. I strive every day to be content AND ambitious. Thank you for making me feel that it’s possible.
What I am struggling with most recently is trying to figure out what will truly fulfill me.
Abbreviated backstory: I graduated in 2010 and moved to Minnesota with my husband. I’ve been working for the same company since then as a Marketing Specialist. I do in-house marketing and design. It’s great. I've learned SO much. Something is definitely missing.
Options I am considering: 1) Go back to school to get an MBA in Marketing and do…marketing?…somewhere? 2) Leave and start my own photography and design studio.
Options I’m definitely NOT considering: Staying where I am. I’m so ready to jump that I can feel the wind in my face.
But to where? When I think of money, I instantly choose the MBA route. But can one truly have a life while working in a corporate marketing setting?
I should mention that I have the sweetest one-year-old twins. It’s extremely important to me that whatever I decide, I can still do my #1 job and be their momma. This makes me think having my own studio would be a dream. But all the work… all the clients…what if they don’t like me? Then there are all the decisions…So. Many. Decisions. What if I fail? I will fail the twins. I can’t fail them.
I don’t expect you (or anyone) to have the answers. I know that only I have them, which makes my indecisiveness even worse. I guess I just hope to have some sort of ah-ha moment. Until then, I am sort of stuck in my thoughts.
So that’s where I am. Although, to be stuck right before attending HOW is probably the most ideal time, if such a thing exists. Hoping that a week of inspiration and contemplation will be what I need. I cannot wait to hear what you bring to the stage this year.
Thanks for what you do!
Searching for Fulfillment
Dear Searching for Fulfillment,
I am going to begin with a poem from the beloved Mary Oliver, entitled “Moments.” Her words are more sufficient than mine in reflecting where you are:
There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own
Your heart is beating as you think about making a decision and moving forward on your path. Will you make the “right” decision? What if you fail? What happens if you regret the path you choose? When we are making decisions about our lives that feel big, like this one, we often want to know for sure that we are choosing wisely. We want to feel 100% certain before we commit.
You will never feel entirely certain, but you do feel ready, and that’s the first step. You can feel the tension between where you are and where you want to be. It’s pulling you forward. Let that feeling help you build momentum toward committing to a decision and seeing it through.
I’m curious about your reason for wanting a change in your career. And why now? What was the catalyst? I’m picking up on a few possibilities: money, security, fulfillment, building something you are proud of, doing work that gives you the ability to parent your twins how you choose.
When you write about money and the option of getting your MBA, I don’t sense the same enthusiasm as when you write about starting your own studio. In February, I was feeling stuck myself in relation to money because I owed more in taxes this year, like many people, and I was feeling anxious. I wondered if I should consider working a full-time job versus one where the revenue ebbs and flows.
I mulled it over with my partner who pointed out that if I worked full-time for someone, my salary would eventually be capped; however, if I continued to build my own business, there would be no limit to what I could earn. He advised me not to “follow the money” because that would take me on a detour, away from work that aligns with my values and what I want to contribute to the world.
Then a mentor also gave me sound advice about money when he pointed out that what I seemed to really be looking for, which money represented to me, was a sense of security. But he notes that what I saw as security was merely consistency. He suggested I think about how to create that same consistency for myself, which I have been working on over the past three months. It has made a big difference because it’s put me back in the driver’s seat.
My partner and my mentor were right—if I had given into my fear and made a decision to chase money so I could have a sense of safety and security, it would have taken me off of the path I’m on and I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m here to do, like coaching and speaking and helping others take action to create the lives they want. I share this with you so you know that we are all figuring this out. These are challenging decisions and it’s important to weigh all of the options like you are doing.
If you go back to school to get your MBA, how much money will you spend? If you start your own studio, how much runway will you need to give yourself? Will you save while in your current job to lessen the pressure on your studio at the start so you can grow it in a way that aligns with what you want to build versus saying yes to projects because you need the money? It sounds like both options will require a financial investment and both will certainly require time.
I’m a fan of lists. Have you written out a list of pros and cons? I did this when I was considering taking a full-time job during the first year I was divorced. I was about six months into rebuilding my life and I was anxious about whether or not I could run a business or provide for myself, not to mention the admin—spreadsheets, receipts, taxes, and legal questions. I felt overwhelmed.
A friend recommended me for a job and they made me an offer that seemed great on paper. I did a few rounds of negotiations and every time I thought I might be ready to say yes I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. It wasn’t the right fit for me, which I realized after I made an extensive list of pros and cons. I considered everything: money, time commitment, schedule, freedom, flexibility, investment of energy, what I would give up and gain. I’d recommend making your own list of pros and cons for each option.
Now, let’s dig into your fears. You said, “This makes me think having my own studio would be a dream. But all the work… all the clients…what if they don’t like me? Then there are all the decisions…So. Many. Decisions. What if I fail? I will fail the twins.” No matter what path you choose, you will have moments of failure. There will be times when you are disappointed in yourself. Sometimes you will worry that you’ve let your children down. There will be a lot of decisions to make and you will wonder if you are making the right choice. All of this will happen regardless—so I urge you not to let these worries deter you.
If you fail, you’ll try again. If you feel disappointed in yourself, you’ll remind yourself that you’re in process and take the lesson and move on. If you let your kids down, they’ll know that their mom is human and imperfect and they’ll love you all the same. If you make a decision you regret, you can make a new one in the future. The real question is how will you feel at the end of your life if you have chosen a path for reasons that don’t resonate with you?
Finding a path that resonates with you is how you find fulfillment. What do you want more of in your work or life? How do you want your days to feel? How much money do you want to make? What kind of contribution do you hope to make to your family and to the world? When those things align, you will know your path. If getting your MBA is truly what is calling you, go for it. If building a studio is your dream, explore that possibility. If you don’t take the leap, you’ll never know what’s possible.
To taking the leap,
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Asking Not Asking is a bi-monthly column written by Tina Essmaker, a New York City-based coach, speaker, and writer who helps others live into their possibility. To be considered for the column, send and email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a short note about where you're at and where you want to be, and make sure to include the following:
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