Navigating the World of Volunteer Event Management

Event planning is a 5 billion dollar industry. It’s a beast, with lots of specialties and niches. One that I’ve become intimately familiar with over the last few years is the volunteer event planning niche. This experience came in the form of House of Genius, Startup Weekend and on a larger scale, PHX Startup Week. All of these events are entirely fueled by local volunteers.

When money and financial incentives are taken off the table, expectations and standards shift – everything is easier once you admit to that. However, getting the right people onboard can still the event the quality and volunteer dedication it deserves. As with anything, there are pros and cons.

Here are nine steps to successfully navigating the volunteer event management space:

  1. Define your event purpose. By clarifying the ‘why’ behind your event, you’ll be able to attract like-minded people to support you on your journey. When people aren’t being paid for work, especially over an extended period of time, they’ll need a sense of fulfillment to keep them committed and prevent burnout.
  2. Manage your event like a business. This means moving conversations and to-do’s from your inbox to project and event management tools. For example, use Basecamp or Asana for task management, Sched for schedule management and SignUpGenius or Slotted for volunteer or session registration.
  3. Outline clear role responsibilities. This is crucial. Don’t just say, “We need help. Join us!” This is setting yourself up for failure. With larger-scale or ongoing volunteer support, it’s important to be honest about the time commitment and pros and cons of taking on a specific role or task. That way, your team members can’t say, “Well I didn’t realize…”, because you clearly defined it at the on-set.people-party-dancing-music
  4. Perfect your pitch. Normally with volunteer events, unless you’re incredibly lucky or have a corporate sugar daddy, you’ll need to raise money. You’ll likely always be on the hunt for additional funding, so make sure you understand your external value proposition. While the fluffy feel-good stuff is great, most sponsors need to understand the real ROI from events to rationalize contributions.
  5. Set realistic expectations for yourself. At the end of the day, none of your volunteers really owe you anything. I’ve had a number of volunteers disappear off the face of the planet, only to resurface months later with exciting news about a new (paid) venture or opportunity. While frustrating, I get it. Usually, volunteer work helps open up future job opportunities. However exciting, you’ll likely be down a volunteer and scrambling to try to find a replacement. Mentally prepare for the worst case scenario and have a backup plan to support it.
  6. Show appreciation. For those who do stick around and put in the blood, sweat and tears, show your appreciation. Again, they owe you and your event nothing. It’s important to recognize those who do go above and beyond and help bring together a masterpiece, just out of the goodness of their heart.
  7. Accept your MVP. Even when building a paid product, it’s important to understand your limitations as opposed to pushing for those few small tweaks. When you’re working with a group of volunteers, this reality becomes even more important. Not only that, but is striving for perfection really the best use of their volunteered time?
  8. Be cautious when engaging your network. While you might feel passionately about your volunteer efforts, it’s important not to push it on your network and exhaust your resources. When you do reach out for support, be specific with your ask and generous with your thanks.
  9. Treat volunteer recruiting like hiring. Look at experience, check references and vet (formally or informally) before adding new team members to your team. One weak link when there’s so much responsibility can really impact the overall experience for the organizing team as well as the end result.

While volunteer events lack a more formalized sense of commitment, in my experience, the passion and sense of internal dedication is so much higher. In my experience, the community development and relationships created outweigh the lack of financial compensation.

At the end of the inaugural PHX Startup Week, an organizing member asked me how I thought something so large could be sustained in years to come. At the time, I didn’t know if it could. Now, almost a year later, I know that it can be sustained, so long as there are people in the community who continue to believe in our mission to connect, cultivate and celebrate the Arizona entrepreneurial ecosystem.

12 Months, 11 Countries & 1 Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

– Mark Twain

static1.squarespaceEver since I ran off to Girl Scout camp for two weeks when I was eight years old, I’ve loved traveling. I continued to travel throughout the years and I even had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain for a year in college.

My love of travel can only be rivaled by my love of working remotely and the flexible lifestyle it provides. It was this passion that led me to start planning a solo 3-month trip around Southeast Asia. During my research, I stumbled across the program
Remote Year, which immediately piqued my interest.

Remote Year is a new program that takes a group of people who can work remotely to travel the world for a year. The first program, which started June 1, 2015, had an average traveler age of 30 with people from 15 different countries. Each month, the group lives in a new country with single-occupancy rooms and a shared working space. As a plus, I’ve heard there’s also stellar internet access.Cordoba

After doing some research into Remote Year and this seemingly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I knew I had to apply. Fast-forward a couple months, and I’m excited to say that come February 27, 2016, I’ll be joining the third cohort of Remote Year participants! It will no doubt be an amazing year of travel, exploration and personal growth. Our first stop is Córdoba, Argentina.

So what does that mean for my life here and what will I be doing for my remote work? I feel fortunate to work with an amazing company, Hopscratch, which I will continue to work with while I’m traveling. Sadly, I’ll be leaving some of my local Phoenix responsibilities, but I’ll be helping share the #yesphx word around the world during my travels.

So, let the countdown begin and stay tuned for more updates! To take a look at the itinerary for the 2016 cohort, appropriately named Cousteau after the explorer Jacques Cousteau, visit the Remote Year website.

For a quick look at some of stops, you can also take a look at the map below!

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The Startup Week Story in 9 Steps

To many people, Phoenix Startup Week 2015 appeared out of thin air. There are similar perceptions of many successful startups in the business world. In reality, there are hardworking, dedicated teams hustling behind the scenes from conception to launch and then: poof, the magic happens.

The story behind Phoenix Startup Week doesn’t have a multi-year long backstory. It’s more like a three-to-four month story—we had little idea of what we were doing (or what would eventually develop). To say we dove in uncertain into isn’t to discredit the amount of work that was put into the event; we just had no idea it would turn into one of the biggest entrepreneurial events the Valley had ever seen.

Arizona ValleyI personally was roped into the initial planning by my then-CEO, Zach Ferres, with the promise of, well, not much. “There’s this event happening that I think you could help out with,” was the pitch, if I’m not mistaken. This seems eerily familiar to the beginning phases of any startup, if you were to talk to any founder or co-founder. It’s one of those, “it just sort of happened,” stories.

So here’s how Phoenix Startup Week’s story is really just a startup’s story in disguise, and will continue to be as it grows, evolves, iterates and thrives.

Step 1: Find your team. It’s been proven time and time again that the team is the foundation for success of any startup. After Evo Terra took on the challenge of Startup Week from UP Global, he knew he needed to put together a team of rockstars to make it happen. Terra, who is now traveling the world, brought together key individuals last fall to create something awesome. What that awesome would turn into? At the time, no one knew.

Step 2: Figure out your ‘why’. Who is Phoenix? What do we want to see come out of Startup Week? Why do we want to work with this UP Global organization? For a community that had traditionally been incredibly segmented, which in reality was only a short year and a half ago, these were hard questions to address on behalf of an entire metropolitan area.

Step 3: Identify how you want to be represented. I remember one of the first meetings I attended for Startup Week we discussed how exactly it would look for Phoenix compared to the flagship event in Denver. Would we have one central location? How would we categorize content? What would our brand look like? We needed to figure out how we would take the framework of a previous event and make it ours—something we could be proud of.

Step 4: Organize the details. Once we understood what we wanted to achieve, we set out to plan the many, many fine details. Jonathan Cottrell, now known as the leader of all things #yesphx, took charge of this incredibly complex and widespread effort. After a number of 20+ receipt emails and team meetings, we mostly knew what we were getting into. As we got closer and closer to the week of the event, a number of hurdles popped up, but we figured it out, in true MVP fashion.

Step 5: Time to launch. The morning of February 23rd could only be compared to the first day of school; excitement, anticipation and a little bit of anxiety. This was an entirely new event being introduced to the Phoenix community, and hey, it could have totally flopped. After months of energy and planning, the team that had come together to bring this event across the finish line has given it their all, and had fingers crossed that would do the trick. I’m proud to say the week exceeded expectations, too. We had 2,500 attendees and a level of energy and collaboration never before seen in the Phoenix startup community.

Step 6: Evaluate how it went. No matter how awesome any product launch or event is, there are always opportunities for growth and improvement. Given that we went into the first-ever Phoenix Startup Week essentially with a blindfold, we immediately identified pain points where we could improve the experience for volunteers, planners, speakers and attendees.

Step 7: Time to iterate. Yes, there was a team crazy enough to immediately jump onboard to help plan round two of Phoenix Startup Week. I feel honored to share the task of planning the largest recurring entrepreneurial event in the Phoenix Area with such a stellar team. This includes Jonathan Cottrell, the Community Lead, Andrew Knochel, the Venue Lead, Beth Cochran, the Marketing Lead, Kunal Laroia, the Sponsorship and Volunteer Lead, Matt Simpson, the Jack of all Trades, and lastly myself, the Programming Lead.

Step 8: Yeah, this is awesome. One of the important milestones we encourage at Hopscratch is celebrating success when celebration is due. Given the year-long volunteer commitment that comes along with planning Startup Week, I like to think that each of our planning meetings (frequently found at Lux around happy hour) is an opportunity to celebrate our hard work. Because honestly, what better time to celebrate than the present?

Step 9: Handoff the reigns, repeat for years to come. We understand that to continue to develop and grow Phoenix Startup Week, we need to have new, fresh perspectives and people leading the charge.

Moral of the story, Phoenix Startup Week 2016 is going to be epic, and luckily, you don’t have to just take my word for it. Take a look at the community supporting the movement and you’ll know this week-long event is bound for greatness.

Originally published on www.phxstartupweek.com.

Learning to Relinquish Expectations

Expectations; or what I like to call seeds of unhappiness, I believe are the root cause of an overwhelming amount of dissatisfaction within our society. These seeds can be found in friendships, relationships, work or even just small day-to-day experiences. By surrounding ourselves with expectations, we remove the opportunity to be completely and totally happy with the present moment and what we’ve been given.

A fact that I find incredibly interesting is the pure frequency of how often the word ‘expectation’ can be found in English writing over the last 200 years. Since 1920, the appearance of the word ‘expectation’ has increased by more than 6 times and is trending upwards. What does that say about our development as a society?girl

With each expectation, we create a measuring stick for our potential for happiness. Instead of embracing an experience for exactly what it is, our capacity for happiness is based on how the results measure up against our preset expectations. It becomes a linear scale for each and every experience we have. By opening up our minds to accepting whatever may come, we allow ourselves to accept new things into our lives that we may otherwise not have even dreamed of.

So how do we learn to remove expectations and embrace the present moment and be grateful for things as they are? I believe a large part of it begins with self awareness regarding how we react to situations. From there, it’s a matter of making a conscience decision on a daily basis to keep an open mind with every encounter we have.

Here are a few ways that I’ve discovered to help rein in expectations:

  1. Self-awareness. We can’t create positive change in our lives without being aware of why we feel the way we do. Personally, I’ve discovered that I have a very physical reaction when my mind becomes resistant to an experience. I’ve become aware of the signs of this resistance, so now when I feel it, I take a step back and analyze the situation. In many cases, it stems back to a seed of internally set expectations.
  2. Presence. The ability to just exist, as opposed to thinking about the future or dwelling on the past, gives you the power to appreciate each detail for exactly how it is. The ‘now’ is such a powerful moment that many people are quick to speed through so they can move onto the next big thing. Our assumption that we will have more time than this exact moment is an expectation entirely unto itself, because we never really know.
  3. Detachment. While this might have a negative connotation to it, the idea of having a relative amount of detachment allows you to look at a situation objectively. It allows you to be open minded to new or different options that may deviate from what otherwise would have been a set ‘expectation’ regarding a certain experience or desired end result.
  4. Communication. Sometimes, especially in relationships, it’s takes discussing an expectation in order to realize the harm that it’s doing. The ability to talk openly, and honestly, about any preconceived expectations will allow you and your friend, partner or colleague to better understand where it stems from and find a way to resolve it.
  5. Patience. Through practicing patience, we allow ourselves to be more open to things as they happen. Instead of living through preconceived expectations and quickly drawing conclusions, we’re able to be objective and open minded. I recently read in the book, Patience, by Allan Lokos, that most problems or moments of unhappiness people experience would otherwise not have happened if they would have just practiced more patience.
  6. Gratitude. Practicing conscience gratitude removes expectations and replaces them with a positive outlook on any given experience. By embracing each moment as it happens, a conflict turns into a learning lesson, a break up into a new beginning and many other similar transitions, all through a change in mindset.
  7. Breathe. When you feel an encroaching expectation rearing it’s ugly head, I find it most beneficial to quite literally remove myself from any given situation and just breathe. Through my yoga practice, one technique I find especially helpful is focusing on my breath and counting the seconds breathing in and breathing out, removing the focus from a given stressor and allowing yourself to recenter and reevaluate a situation.
  8. Self-reflection. While this includes the self-awareness component, I believe that intentional and thorough self-reflection is an important part of personal growth. For me, writing is my outlet of self-reflection. I’ve had a journal for as long as I can remember, and many times just jotting down a few ideas or emotions allows me to realize where there are stressors or areas I need to address.

Unfortunately, the practice of letting go of expectations is not something that comes naturally for most people. Even with continued practice, I don’t know if it ever really becomes first-nature, but it can become easier. While practice may not make perfect in this case, it is an important part of the journey towards increased overall happiness.

“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.” – Michael J. Fox

Intentional Authenticity & Your Company Culture

A few years ago I had a discussion with a friend regarding personal transparency and the impact it has on your professional appearance. The specific item in question was, what I considered to be, a less-than-classy keg stand photo.

“What if customers saw that picture? What if your employees saw it?” I asked, exasperatedly. “That’s me,” he said. “If people don’t like it, so be it.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

At the time, I wholeheartedly disagreed with his perspective. I felt that my presence, both in-person and online, needed to be in pristine condition. I needed to remove all traces of that one night out on the town or a silly comment made by a friend.

It's all about the team.Since then, I’ve started to consider the shift in how we build an authentic culture within an organization. Based on a survey done in 2014 by the American Psychological Association, 1 in 3 employees feel their employer is not always honest and truthful with them, let alone feel they have an authentic relationship. How can we expect to create a successful, transparent and thriving culture if we don’t encourage leadership and team members alike to bring their true, authentic selves?

I’ll be the first to say this is especially applicable in the tech and startup world. If you want to create something truly revolutionary, it requires more than just a transactional workplace. It requires building relationships; real, genuine relationships, with your co-founders, team members, community and customers. This isn’t a presence you can fake. It needs to be real in order for it to truly grow.

The trend towards personal transparency and acceptance is something we’ve seen in more than just the workplace. There’s a societal trend towards eliminating judgement and unequivocal love and acceptance. So how can we continue this movement in the workplace? Here are some first steps to consider:

  1. Lead by example. Any enduring change or movement within an organization requires leaders within the company champion the cause. That means CEOs, Directors and VPs need to take the time to show their authentic, real selves to their team and customers.
  2. Show compassion. When you spend 8+ hours a day with someone, you can usually pick up on a shift in mood or demeanor. It’s not a faux pas to ask a team member if they’re doing okay. Frankly, they probably just need someone to lend an ear or be a sounding board. We’ve all been there, so don’t turn your back on a team member in a time of need.
  3. Encourage social interactions. It’s important that team members get to know each other outside of the office environment. Even just a weekly lunch (outside of the office) allows people to let down their guards, have fun and start bonding.
  4. Hold the judgement, please. No one is perfect, and we need to learn to embrace people for their wonderful, unique qualities that make them such an asset to an organization or a community. Each person brings something to the table, and once we learn to embrace those differences, we’ll be able to see the alignment between them that much more easily.
  5. Keep lines of communication open. This encourages team members to feel more empowered, speak their mind and share honest opinions. What good is having a huge team of talented people if you don’t source the solutions to problems and encourage continual innovation, anyways?
  6. Be your wonderful self. Don’t censor who you are in order to appease a certain audience. I don’t suggest you should drop a long series of F-bombs in front of your brand new boss, but that also doesn’t mean you should say ‘yes’ if your gut is telling you, ‘no’. Stand up for your thoughts, opinions and perspectives.

While making a conscious change towards transparency isn’t easy. The long-term benefits far outweigh any initial obstacles an organization may face. “Either proactive or reactive can be a short term solution, but only bold, intentional transparency will succeed over the long term,” Andrea Learned said in a recent Huffington Post Business article.

As a friend of mine, Jonathan Cottrell, recently said, “If you want to change your life, you have to have your whole life in mind.” This embodies the idea that in order to truly make a change, it needs to be a wholistic change. By empowering employee authenticity, you lay the groundwork for a successful company culture, which ultimately will help create sustained greatness for the organization as a whole.

What I Learned From Building a ‘Trust Fall Community’

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed an abundance of people looking for a new job, quitting or being let go. For most people, this is an incredibly stressful time and trying to find a new job can be a long and arduous process. Looking back at those people who left their job just a few months or even weeks ago, though, the majority of them have found success and are relatively unscathed, and many are doing even better.

pexels-photoSo what did these people all have in common? They all had what I like to call a ‘trust fall community.’ Do you remember doing the trust fall team exercise as a kid at summer camp? This is a very similar and real-life example of the concept; one that I personally exercised just a month and a half ago.

When I was in a job that I knew wasn’t a good fit, I didn’t have time to wait around for the perfect job to find me before putting in my resignation. While leaving a job without another one lined up isn’t usually considered best practice, I decided to take the leap and have faith that my trust fall community would be there to support me. Boy, did they deliver.

Within three short weeks, I was back, as a full-time contractor with a wide variety of projects that I was ecstatic to be working on. How did this happen? Referrals, introductions and people in my community helping to lift me up in my time of need. Looking back, I can’t say I’ve always had such a strong community, so I wouldn’t suggest everyone pick up and quit a job their unhappy with just yet.

That being said, here are 8 keys I’ve found to building a trust fall community so when the time comes, you can take the leap of faith, too.

  1. Make time for face time. This is huge for me. I think in order to really solidify relationships, it’s important to be there, in person with people. It may not be all that frequently, but when you can, make it count.
  2. Volunteer for causes you believe in. Not only does this provide a great outlet for exploring your passions, it also gets you around like-minded people. House of Genius and Phoenix Startup Week are two great outlets for me personally. For those looking to make a leap, this can be a great way to explore a new career path.
  3. Be genuine. No matter how many hands you shake or people you meet, it won’t matter if you’re not being yourself. Just be yourself! Even if at times it might seem intimidating, when you act like your normal wonderful self, you’ll attract people who appreciate you for who you are.
  4. Build relationships, not just connections. Don’t approach meetings or new introductions with the ‘what can they do for me?’ or ‘what can I get out of this?’ attitude. Be present and first focus on building a relationship. If there’s a potential for something more later on, the opportunity will present itself.
  5. Use your ‘asks’ sparingly. Every once in a while it’s necessary to ask for help, which is totally okay! Just keep the, ‘boy who cried wolf,’ anecdote in the back of your mind. Asking for too many favors might deter people from wanting to help you at all.
  6. Return the favor. Don’t forget the people who helped you along the way and that you owe them, sometimes tenfold, in return. It’s important to never feel that you’ve outgrown or are better than those who took the time to help you early on.
  7. Never ‘expect’ anything. At the end of the day, no one owes you anything. The key to appreciating and making the most of your trust fall community is to give to it without expecting anything in return.
  8. Be grateful. Be it for a business introduction or the time to pick someone’s brain over coffee, be grateful for people. Let them know that you appreciate them and that you don’t take their generosity for granted.

This concept doesn’t just apply to finding a new job. It can be applied to any hurdle or time you need to turn to others for help. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to build a ‘trust fall community’ so when the time comes (because it will) there are people to turn to.

How have you developed your trust fall community?

5 Reasons House of Genius Really Is Genius

One piece of feedback I continue to hear in the startup community is that the networking events are redundant. With so many of the same types of events happening in Phoenix, we end up splitting attendance and reducing quality across the board. That’s why when I heard about the unique experience House of Genius offers, I knew I wanted to be part of the team.

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Photo credit www.pexels.com.

House of Genius is a monthly event where three startups have five minutes to present their business and an “ask” to an anonymous panel of professionals. The ask is any question or problem they want feedback or advice on from the panelists. After each presentation, the panelists pose follow-up questions and then go through a round of general feedback. As with any successful event, we supply food and drinks throughout the evening.

When I joined the team, the Phoenix House of Genius chapter had just celebrated its one-year anniversary. Nima Jacob Nojoumi, the Co-Founder and CEO at Sourcely, founded the Phoenix House of Genius chapter in April of 2014 and it’s currently one of only 25 chapters around the world.

“Arizona is fortunate to have an emerging startup ecosystem,” Nojoumi said. “It’s exceptionally promising, but needs resources to develop and mature efficiently. House of Genius provides these resources, offering an opportunity for our community to meet and, more importantly, collaborate in ways that deliver real results to entrepreneurs.”

So what really makes House of Genius awesome?

  1. We value quality over quantity. The purpose of the event isn’t to get as many attendees as possible; it’s to create an environment where people can engage in deeper conversations. This allows people to build real connections and go beyond the superficial, ‘what do you dos’ and ‘who do you knows’ normally exchanged.
  2. It’s anonymous, and no work talk allowed! Attendees only share first names and can’t talk about anything work-related until the reveal at the end of the evening. This allows us to keep bias at the door and work on an equal playing field.
  3. We promote candid, actionable feedback. The goal of House of Genius is to help entrepreneurs and startups make real improvements to their businesses. In order to do that, they need quality feedback. That’s why we encourage people to be honest while being respectful of each other’s ideas and opinions.
  4. Genius begets genius. That’s why House of Genius builds its community through referrals. After attending an event, we ask the Geniuses to refer at least one person who would be a good addition to a future event as either a presenter or a panelist.
  5. Attendees can’t rely on the ‘Buddy System’. While attendees are referred to our events by a friend or colleague, the monthly panels are hand-selected. Between this and the anonymity enforced, we ensure people can’t pair off or buddy up with people they know.

“I’ve had the opportunity to hang out at House of Genius twice now and it’s been great,” Zach Ferres, the CEO at Coplex, said. “The event provides a great platform for local startups to pitch, make a simple ask and gather feedback from over a dozen experts from all different backgrounds. Not to mention, there’s also free Chipotle!”

Other national chapters include Seattle, Austin and San Francisco alongside international chapters in Madrid, Hong Kong and Amsterdam. For Phoenix to be one of the first cities in the U.S. to open a House of Genius chapter speaks volumes about the community and the entrepreneurial spirit we have here.

“House of Genius serves as an excellent, unique, and confidential forum for you to gain valuable feedback at any point in the process of building your company. The quality of people in attendance and feedback gained highlights yet again why Phoenix is quickly becoming the most generous community for entrepreneurs,” said Jonathan Cottrell, a serial entrepreneur.

Think this sort of event is up your alley? Learn more about our monthly event here or email us at phoenix@houseofgenius.org.

The Post-Employment ‘Oh S***’ Moment

Over the last few months, a number of friends and colleagues have either resigned or been let go. It doesn’t matter if leaving was your choice or not, the change is still incredibly stressful. Quite literally, work-related life changes are some of the most stressful events a person can experience. They account for five of the 20 top stressors along side imprisonment, divorce and the loss of a friend or family member.

My ‘Oh S***’ Moment
Once the initial shock subsides from leaving a job (assuming you don’t have another full-time gig lined up already) you will most likely have an, ‘Oh s***, what am I going to do with my life?’ moment. I experienced this moment one week after leaving my previous job, while I was huffing away on the stair master.

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Photo credit www.pexels.com.

I frantically reached out to one of my best friends who told me, “Paige, you chose to leave your job. You’re fine.” Not surprisingly, this didn’t really soothe my anxiety. I called another friend who had recently been let go who said, “It’s going to be okay. It’s not easy, but you’ll get through it.” While neither response really put me at ease, they both had good points.

I had made this choice, and no matter how things felt at the moment, it would all be okay.

The Incredibly Uncomfortable Zone
The more I’ve thought about this ‘Oh s***’ moment, the more I think it’s a crucial component to personal growth and staying true to yourself. It’s so easy to just exist in a unfulfilling job; just riding the wave of complacency so long as the money keeps flowing into your bank account.

A colleague of mine recently said she admired me for having the guts to leave a job because I knew it wasn’t right for me. She had experienced something similar, only she stayed with the company for a year, dreading going to work and crying on almost a daily basis. I couldn’t fathom this being a reality for someone, especially a strong woman like the one sitting in front of me.

While financial stability is a huge driving factor behind why many people stay at an unfulfilling job, I urge those who can, to take a break; to re-center before charging ahead blindly. In the past, I’ve moved directly from one job to another, without even a day in between. At the time it seemed like the right approach, but looking back, I should have taken time to myself.

Understanding My Core
While contemplating a recent transition, a colleague of mine, Joanne Flynn, gave me some invaluable advice. Knowing that I tend to spread myself too thin, she said, “Always remember, don’t get too far from your core.” At the time, it made sense, but didn’t totally blow my mind. As time passed, I continued to come back to what she said and soon realized that I didn’t really understand what my core truly was. This meant that staying true to it was, well, basically impossible.

Despite not entirely knowing what my core was, my gut still tells me when something isn’t a fit. Listening to my gut, which I swear is the only way to exist, forced me to leave the financial comfort zone of an unfulfilling job so that I could start to explore what my core is and what my next step is in my professional career.

My goal during this period of my life was to embrace being outside of my comfort zone and really try to understand what I’m passionate about, where my skills are and how I want those two things to come together in my professional career. So far, I’ve stitched together the following pieces: copywriting, project management and event planning. How they look in a future job? I have absolutely no idea.

Being Comfortable ‘Doing You’
Now that I’m back on my own, people keep asking, “What do you want to do?” My response? “That’s what I’m figuring out. In the meantime, I like X, Y and Z, so let’s start there.” To many people, they find this sort of response alarming–it’s as though I’m doing something wrong or I’m lost in the world. I spoke with a friend of mine who also recently left her job and we were discussing how we tell people what we’re up to these days.

“I used to walk into networking events with confidence. I would say I do X for Z organization. Now, I don’t have the same confidence as I did before. I’m still me, but I don’t know how to explain what I’m doing,” she said.

It’s as though no longer being with a big reputable organization takes away the validity of being an accomplished professional. Breaking out on your own requires you to own and champion your personal accomplishments. There isn’t going to be the reputation of a larger organization to hide behind and support you.

One of the biggest hurdles that I deal with working independently is my tendency towards the Imposter Syndrome: The feeling that my accomplishments to date have been due to outside influences, and that at any moment someone might realize that I actually have no idea what I’m doing.

This is not an uncommon phenomena for people who work in the grey area of contracting, partnerships and part-time gigs. This fact should not however devalue a person’s confidence in their abilities, what they’re doing or what they want to do in the future. If someone chooses to take time to travel or to re-focus, good for you! Own it. It’s you doing you, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So, I ask you, what is your core? Can you say you are honestly staying true to it? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?