I recently worried aloud/admitted to a friend that for the first time I feel ambition-less. The last ten years I’ve pushed myself steadily up a mountain of ever-rising responsibility, always taking the job that’s slightly out of reach, moving closer and closer to my assumed destiny of even greater leadership and success.
Then last month, I jumped off this familiar pathway to enter the ranks of the self-employed, leaving behind a fairly glamorous and definitely well-paying job to launch myself as a major gifts fundraising consultant for social justice and grassroots nonprofits. A few months ago I was on fire: relentlessly brainstorming what to call my new venture (I eventually abandoned my cutesy/horrid early ideas — Danamite and Majorette among others — for the perhaps bland but unquestionably solid Dana Textoris Consulting), mapping out a scope of offerings, and gobbling up domain addresses to keep up with my revolving door of possible company names.
Now, as suddenly as the regular, reliable paychecks stopped hitting my bank account, all I want is to look up recipes on Pinterest.
I guess it’s not true that I’m just doing nothing. I completed a nine-week small business course through the fabulous and feisty woman-operated-small-business incubator Bad Girl Ventures. I’m logging hours as a contract grantwriter for another local consulting firm while I pursue clients of my own. I’m meeting with a string of colleagues and mentors here in Cleveland and (next week!) in San Francisco to gain their guidance and pointers.
I suppose these are all justifiable steps for responsibly growing a new business. It’s just that I’m not spending as much time on these things as I probably should; I keep waiting for fears about paycheck uncertainty to put a fire under me, but so far I can’t believe how many hours I can whittle away each day simply taking care of myself and a one bedroom apartment. (I mean, I don’t even have a pet fish.) Do you have any idea how many errands you can run when you are no longer expected to show up for work at 9am? Who knew I could be such a slacker!
I sought self-employment because I craved more flexibility and autonomy. I decided that the ability to choose my own clients and design my own schedule would afford me a freedom that was more valuable than the security and perks of full-time employment. Work from home or a coffee shop? How dreamy! Stay up late to finish a project? I’ll just adjust tomorrow’s schedule and sleep in. The life of the small business owner — why didn’t I do this sooner?
But it turns out I’m already unsure how sturdy a tolerance I have for uncertainty. It was sobering and destabilizing to purchase private health insurance and realize that I am giving up the reliable employer-funded health coverage I’ve gotten used to over the last decade. Forget going to the doctor unless I’m ready to pay for it, given that the only plan I can reasonably afford carries a $5,000 deductible that I’ll never reach. Not to mention how expensive I’ve learned my sheer fertility turns out to be. “Is it possible you could become pregnant in the next six to twelve months?” Ummm. Biologically speaking, yes. Pay many hundreds of dollars extra a month for the optional maternity waver? No thanks. Guess I’ll have to hope things go according to plan, because it turns out you can’t just obtain maternity coverage when you need it.
Of course, the fact that I have an insurance plan makes me much better off than the 20% of U.S. women without any health coverage at all. Especially at this moment, as the media fawns over Angelina Jolie for revealing that she underwent a preventative double mastectomy, it’s vital to acknowledge and address the challenges and realities of women without health coverage or the means to afford even life-saving care.
Through this new period of uncertainty, there’s been one constant, and that’s my awareness and realization of how absolutely privileged I am. Privileged that I can decide to quit my job just because I want to. Privileged to have had the financial surplus to build up a savings account, not to mention add to my retirement and mutual funds. Privileged that I have had consistent access to quality reproductive health care and birth control, enabling me to choose to remain childless and in control of my career and life choices. Privileged to live in a country — and, given the density of small business resources I’ve discovered here in Cleveland, a city — where I can test my entrepreneurial ideas, and privileged to have the education, experience, and professional network to reenter the traditional marketplace if I choose. Privileged and grateful.
The friend I worried to about my lack of ambition suggested I’m being too hard on myself, and that I am only directing my ambition in a different direction: inward, rather than upward and out. Time and experience will reveal the fate of Dana Textoris Consulting. For now, I really need to wrap up this blog post. For goodness’ sake, I’m supposed to be working.