How I Got From There To Here

2013 March 5

I started a business. It’s called Secret Agent Research. This is how it happened.

A few months ago, I was sitting in my windowless office in the middle of nowhere. I had just received a stellar annual review and my boss was going to recommend that I assume more management duties, but he warned me not to get my hopes up – our company had exactly one female senior manager and only six female employees on the white-collar side. I had just finished almost single-handedly negotiating a $5M+ supply contract that was going to put us back in the black after a year of our facility standing idle and I knew this wouldn’t be reflected in so much as a dollar extra on my pay check. And I was dealing with the fallout of a break-up that came completely out of left field. Oh, and I had just fired my first therapist after he told me that my biological clock should be my biggest worry. Something snapped. I realized that I was hiding out from life and that the longer I continued to do so, the more difficult it would be to re-engage with it when I finally decided I was ready. I realized that I was too damn ambitious to put my future success in someone else’s hands or to pin my hopes on the possibility of a bigger, better job that I needed to convince someone to offer me. In addition to Forbes, I’d been doing client consulting/copywriting on the side for a few years and I decided that if I was ever going to take the plunge to be my own boss, there was absolutely no time like the present. It was never going to be easy or safe or pain-free and I was losing precious time waiting for it to be. I bought a domain, got a lawyer to set up my LLC and consulted the most pedantic tax accountant in town. And then I gave my notice. No drama, no hard feelings. It was just time.

I’m writing this from Montreal. After I left my job, I decided my life could use even more risk, so I embraced location independence. I found a cheap sublet in the most European city in North America, packed up what I could fit in two suitcases and haven’t looked back. It’s difficult to overstate what a difference working for myself makes in how I see my career. I walk a little taller and when someone asks what I do, I’m proud as hell to say that I run my own business. I’m happy to work outrageous hours and network like a fiend, because I’m working on projects that I’ve chosen and I’m connecting with amazing, like-minded people. No longer am I a petitioner, I’m a peer.

Not that I’m not scared out of my mind by times. Like when I saw what looked like a huge tarantula skitter across my living room floor and into the spare room (I locked the door and haven’t gone in there since and that was six weeks ago). Or when I can’t fall asleep at night because I’m alternately fretting about someone being able to shatter the glass in my front or back doors and walk right into my apartment and the possibility of growing old alone. Or when I realize that I have no idea where in the world I’m going to be after April 30 when my sublet is up. And not that I’m not really, really lonely by times. My French can charitably be described as cavemanesque and being unable to use words to conduct the basic interactions that lead to human connection kind of sucks. A lot. But the fear and the loneliness is manageable and it’s sort of the point. I feel it, it doesn’t kill me, I get up the next morning knowing that the next time I feel it, it probably won’t be as bad and even if it is, I survived it before and I can do it again. Lather, rinse, repeat. If there was a way over, under, around, or through something that didn’t involve just doing it, I would have found it long ago. There isn’t. There is only doing. Doing what you want to do, doing what you have to do, doing what will make you happy, doing what you know will hurt. That’s it.

Fundamentally, this whole process isn’t about breaking free from my cubicle life (I actually had my own office) or embracing my true destiny as a captain of industry. It’s about building trust in my own judgment and faith in the fact that I’m capable of knowing and implementing what’s best for me. And right now, what’s best is launching a market research firm from the comfort (well, relative comfort; this place doesn’t have a couch) of a Montreal apartment, going to yoga in the middle of the day and working on projects and brainstorming ideas with other smart, funny, accomplished women (like her, her, her and her). And being okay with having a giant spider for a roommate (still working on that part).

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