And I wasn't sure I could go back to NYC and just pick up where I'd left off, either. The startup life had changed me somehow. I couldn't go back into a job mindlessly; I needed to figure out what the next thing for me would be.
I fell into a default mindset that I must have developed when I was a child and told myself that if I just excelled in class (and later in life, at work) opportunities would start coming to me. The problem was there was no longer a class (or a job) to excel in. I would have to create an opportunity out of thin air. How terrifying.
My first meeting with Kimberly was a bit disarming. Rather than give me a game plan she asked me questions--lots of them. In my panic to create options for myself I'd started applying to business schools and was studying for the GMATs.
"So, why are you applying to B-school?" she asked.
My response, as memory serves, "It will make me more marketable."
"More marketable for what?"
I had no idea. Now, to be clear, Kimberly was not trying to persuade me to not go to B-school. But she was helping me to see a pattern. I was applying to graduate school for the third time--it was my default every time I was at a career crossroads. I chose a new occupational identity and applied to a graduate program as a way of appearing in-motion. Never did I explore what really motivated me.
After 90 minutes of questioning Kimberly got me to a new place that felt more comfortable than the one I was attempting to cram for. A new word emerged; one that felt good but that I hadn't accepted before: Storyteller. I don't recall how we got to that word, given I had moved on from my writing career (or so I thought!) And I had no idea what I would now do to honor this truth about myself, that I was, in essence, a storyteller. But it quelled the panicky voices in my head that told me I needed to reinvent myself again. It bought me time.
More than a decade later, I remain entrenched in startups (having started one myself in 2005 with two co-founders). But I still honor that word--storyteller--and realize it has helped me access my true talent within my chosen field. For a while I took the term quite literally and blogged and wrote for magazines, but later, after meeting my partners and seeing-through opportunities that came my way in partnership, I saw new ways to use my passion for storytelling.
For instance, in the early days of my startup, I and my partners needed to excite sponsors, advertisers and investors of the power of blogs and social media. Storytelling was the best way to capture their understanding. Growing our team, working with partners, and building the business required building and telling a story--a story powerful enough to recruit others into helping us grow. When seeking partnerships, I'm attracted to others' business stories, sometimes even more than I am interested in their actual businesses.
I'm asked all the time how I knew I was "ready" to be an entrepreneur. The real answer: I didn't know. I just knew what I could bring to the table as an entrepreneur. If you are considering an entrepreneurial venture, or any change in your career, consider your "passion" word; basically, what you take with you in every iteration of your career.
Obviously we all need to continue to learn and grow in order to take on new challenges. But consider the thread that remains intact throughout each chapter of your career--a compliment you continually get from co-workers; a type of task you love to take on, even if at a more advanced level with each job; the business stories you like to follow in your newsfeed that don't necessarily relate to your current work. These are clues to the next step. For me, my word helped me to better embrace the entrepreneurial life.