I was sitting on the beach in Waikiki the other day and I realized a shocking fact:
As of this year, I’ve been working for myself longer than I’ve ever worked for anyone else.
It’s been more than 5 years since I quit my full-time nonprofit job in DC. And to be honest, at this point I feel like I’m permanently unemployable!
I was only 27 years old when I left my job and made the decision to become self-employed.
And I don’t regret it one bit.
Of course, there have been ups and downs and twists and turns.
For instance, I had no idea that after 3 years, I would end up shutting down my first business to build a new one!
But it was the very best chance I ever could have taken on myself.
Today, I wanted to honor this milestone in my career by sharing the blog post I published on my old website the week I submitted my resignation, which was back in December 2009.
If you’ve been thinking about taking the leap, I hope reading these words from that pivotal time in my life offers some insight for your journey as well.
December 12, 2009
“Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.” – Kahlil Gibran
When I was 15 years old, I got my very first job at Pizza Hut.
I was so happy that I would no longer have to beg my mom for money to go hang out at the mall. Also, I loved pizza and thought it was the best opportunity for me to eat more of it.
I made $5.50 an hour for taking orders over the phone, assembling the various pizzas and getting them into the oven in record time. I was also responsible for mopping the floors and washing all the utensils at the end of the night.
I was so proud of myself for being self-sufficient. I filled out the job application all by myself as my high school guidance counselor had taught me and I smiled a lot during my interview so they would know I would never steal money from the register.
After school, I rushed to work because I was so excited to put together all the Meat Lover’s pies with extra care.
But after a while, my love affair with Pizza Hut wore off.
I still loved to eat pizza, I just got tired of making them. Besides, my clothes smelled like tomato sauce all the time!
This was my first workplace lesson:
You don’t have to stay in one place forever.
If you lose the love for what you do, it’s OK to quit and go do something else.
I started my nonprofit career when I was 19. I was an English major and a local nonprofit agency was looking for a grantwriter.
I had been volunteering to help kids learn how to read but I had no idea that people actually did this kind of thing for a living. I had no idea what a nonprofit was or what a grant looked like, but I knew I could write anything for anyone and besides, I liked the idea of getting paid.
So naturally, my nonprofit career has always been heavy on fundraising, especially on the grantwriting side. I got so good at it, and I loved using my writing skills to garner financial assets for the organizations I worked for.
But then I started to hate grantwriting. I grew tired of writing the same thing 16 different ways and trying to put a creative twist on each proposal. I coped by doing more and more consulting on a part-time basis through organizations that contacted me through my blog.
Then I realized that I enjoyed the consulting more than my day job!
I loved being able to get away from the technical writing and develop new ideas and solutions for some really cool projects with various organizations that were so different from mine.
I wondered if I could make this love into my full-time work.
So this week, I quit my job.
After almost four years of serving as Director of Development and Special Programs at the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington in DC, I am moving on to pursue a new chapter in my professional life. When I started at the Roundtable in 2006, we had a full-time staff of three.
We’ve since doubled our staff, grown our fundraising capacity, increased our visibility in the business community, and developed new programs to help nonprofit leaders during the economic crisis. I am most proud of the work I was able to spearhead to support emerging nonprofit leaders through our Future Executive Directors Fellowship.
In 2007, I was inspired to start this blog and in 2008, my internet radio show about nonprofits and leadership, and it has afforded me some amazing opportunities to travel around the country and consult with groups around how to approach intergenerational leadership issues, promote racial diversity, and tell their stories using social media.
As of January 1, I will be a full-time consultant with my own firm, Thurman Consulting; providing speaking, training, writing and social media services for nonprofits, foundations and socially responsible companies. I will also continue teaching nonprofit management courses in the graduate program at Trinity Washington University in DC.
I’ve already been consulting part-time for two years and though I’ve enjoyed it, my biggest fear was losing the financial cushion of a steady job.
But here’s what really happened.
As soon as I made that decision, I landed my first big client.
“Big” meaning if I never got another client in 2010, I would be OK. Not rich, but OK. I had really been looking for more opportunities to work on behalf of the black community, and there it was.
The universe responds.
Once you decide that your work will be love made visible, something will come along and enable that to happen for you.
Something will come along.
Seems like every other day, there’s some article in the news about someone who has started a business in the recession because jobs aren’t as secure as they used to be. Indeed, more nonprofit organizations are cutting staff during the economic downturn and outsourcing many programs and projects to people like me.
If there ever was a time to do something new with your career, it’s now, when the rules of the game are changing so fast that there’s no right answer.
It’s just like Rainer Maria Rilke said a century ago:
“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
By quitting my job, I’ve become what one of my mentors calls a “Free Negro.”
It’s scary and exhilarating and I do, in fact, feel free.
I feel like how I’ve wanted to feel for a long time.
And now that I think about it, I almost don’t want 2010 to come too fast because 2009 has been so completely awesome.
But then I realize that’s just scarcity thinking rearing its ugly head.
Abundance says there will be even more awesome in 2010. There will be even more clients and opportunities to learn and grow. There will be even more chances to live out my values and take leaps of faith.
There will be even more love.