2014 has been my biggest year of growth; a year of saying 'yes' to one new opportunity after another. Yes to new jobs, new love, more flexibility and creative freedom, which also brought less income, security and stability. I've recently spent a lot of time reflecting on all of the big life changes that have taken place over this compact period of time. I'm documenting my journey below to hopefully provide inspiration to those of you who are looking to make bold moves in the coming year. Be forewarned, it's a lengthy post.
I'd been working in marketing research for two and a half years with a great creative agency. I was surrounded by insanely bright and witty coworkers, but found myself lacking the passion for brands and communications that I saw in each of my teammates. I was feeling burnt out - I wasn’t challenged in the right ways and my creative needs weren't being met in that role. I had been contemplating a big career change for over a year, but without a clear vision of what direction I should head down next I stayed where I was, feeling paralyzed.
Around this time, my roommate shared an internship posting she found on The Everygirl for a group called Forth Chicago. Forth was presenting an opportunity to aid in planning, styling, and putting on intimate 'salons' that brought together Chicago creative female entrepreneurs. Other internship responsibilities included spearheading content for the blog and utilizing multiple forms of social media - twitter, facebook, instagram, and pinterest - to connect and champion women who had attended past events. I could only imagine how inspiring it would be to work with this small community of bold, bright, risk-taking females.
Opportunities similar to this internship had come across my radar in the past, but in the end I would always chicken out, never submitting an application out of fear of not being qualified or selected. I did my homework before applying - as one should when there's an opportunity they really want - reading every one of their blog posts from the previous year and finding out as much as I could about the founders through a little internet research. I quickly learned that I shared some similar interests with Lisa, Julie and Kelly and decided to approach my application in a playful way - noting small things like how Julie and I share a love for trying our hand at Heidi Swanson recipies or how I was eager to recreate the fringe balloons they made for their first winter salon thanks to the tutorial they shared on the blog. It was refreshing to build a cover letter and resume that felt true to my personality. Lo and behold, a few exchanged emails and a hilarious Skype interview later, they picked me! I remember feeling a strong sense of pride in this moment - knowing I could channel all of my creative energies that weren't being met at work through time spent working for Forth on evenings and weekends.
I had yet to date anyone in my adult life, as I was too busy working and exploring every inch of Chicago with friends and family to have time for a relationship. But we don't pick timing and a man entered my life when I least expected it (hi Charlie!). Right from the beginning, there was such a strong sense mutual understanding, curiosity and eagerness to learn new things. This man has become my partner in adventures and is the love of my life, and while it was scary as hell to be vulnerable by opening up my heart, I trusted my gut that these new feelings were good. Honestly, I think my new role with Forth bred confidence and an openness to embrace new and unexpected experiences.
The Forth spring salon was a magical evening at Heritage Littles with such lovely ladies sharing their stories. I was honored to prepare a few items on the menu, help decorate the space, prepare takeaways, serve endless amounts of processo, and just be in the presence of their conversation for the evening. Bright women have such an amazing energy when you get them all in the same room!
Meanwhile, my younger sister Andrea (who works as atraveling healthcare consultant by day) was looking for a way to break into the Chicago yoga scene after moving back from New York where she got her certification and had been teaching a few months prior. Until she got plugged in with a local studio, we spent every other Sunday afternoon gathering a crew of 4-8 for a free class taught by Andrea. We met at a different friend's apartment each time and this roving apartment yoga class was one gathering I always looked forward to twice a month. A new adventure was about to unfold...
After a few months of those apartment class meet-ups, Andrea and I were dreaming of taking it beyond our own social circle. A bright idea was conceived over deep-dish pizza at Pequod's one night in March: Yoga+ Chicago. The idea was simple: a workshop series that always began with a vinyasa yoga class (taught by Andrea) followed by an educational or interactive workshop. We probably brainstormed a list of 20 different '+' workshop ideas and I ran home that evening and quickly reserved social media handles and a website domain. We'd spend the next month and a half building the website ourselves on Squarespace and finding partners for our first workshop: yoga + floral arranging.
The first Yoga+ event took place on June 21 - yoga + bloom arranging with Larkspur, hosted at Workshop Chicago. This was an experiment in and of itself - would people even buy tickets? Yet it seemed like there was a market for what we were creating, as we sold 35 tickets and had a packed house of eager ladies joining us that day! I will always be grateful to Beth from Larkspur and Ben from Workshop for taking a chance on partnering with two bright eyed twenty-something girls. Andrea and I might have been up until 2am cooking our snack spread and finalizing the custom yoga class and playlist, but in the end it was all worth it. While I entertain on the regular at home, I was now gaining experience hosting small gatherings with Forth gave me confidence in my ability to execute unique events.
June also brought the Forth summer salon, a chance to welcome 10 new women into the the growing supportive Forth family. I jumped right in with assisting the second event and made sure no small detail was overlooked. Kelly, Lisa and Julie really amaze me with their ability to create an ambiance that is so warm and inviting, and it's something I've drawn upon as I venture into curating my own events with Yoga+. Read Lisa's helpful post on 5 ways we create an intimate event!
I have to admit, it was difficult getting deeper and deeper into a community of women who had pursued their passions as careers, all while I hadn't taken any steps to pursue a career that I dreamed of. At the end of June something finally put me over the edge at work and I made the decision to put in my two weeks notice with no plan for the future set in place.
With big plans for the future of Yoga+, I was looking for a career path that gave me flexibility - say to meet up with a potential workshop partner at 11am on a Thursday - something a 9-5 couldn't offer me. I realized that outside of my career I had always been seeking opportunities to get involved in events during my free time. I had previously spent two years as the events chair for the junior board of Urban Gateways (a non-profit arts education organization) and now I was in the full swing of my year with Forth. Time spent working in these roles left me feeling creatively satisfied.
During my last two weeks at my corporate job, I confided in as many friends as I could about the career opportunities I was looking to pursue. One of my girlfriends pointed me to an instagram post where Dean Renaud of South Social & Home had announced that she was looking to bring on a part-time intern. Then Julie from Forth alerted me to two opportunities she saw on Facebook from women who I met at the summer salon - Jamie Davis of Greenhouse Loft was looking to bring on a Social Events Manager for her venue and Michelle Marchisotta of FIG Catering mentioned they were looking to grow their catering staff. All three opportunities were part-time and equally intriguing, so I applied for each position. I also thought to myself, 'Is this what the job world looks like these days?', with instagram, facebook, and blog posts publicizing new opportunities? In a way, it makes sense - why not spread the word to your own network first, in hopes that a potential applicant might be one that a friend can vouch for.
I was on a roll of being bold and going after what I wanted, and to my amazement, I was offered the chance to take on all three opportunities! Here's how my new schedule plays out: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays as well as some weekday evenings and most weekends are spent with Greenhouse Loft, I'm with SS&H on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I'll fill in my schedule with catering shifts from FIG and Yoga+ Chicago events on weekends.
This was a terribly exciting and terrifying time all at once. Leaving a steady job for a hodge-podge schedule that had me working 6-7 days a week, forced me to get my own health insurance (which took me three months to do...), and provided intermittent paychecks doesn't sound that glamorous. Would this new schedule drain me? Would I be successful in each of these roles? Would I make enough money to cover my cost of living? It was something only time would tell, but I was ready to start hustling and I had never been happier.
Between my personal life, Forth, and all the new jobs I was juggling I was now manning 4 email accounts, 3 blogs, 3 twitter handles, 3 instagram accounts, 2 facebook pages and a merging of at least 10 different google calendars. Yikes! I'm normally a lady that keeps myself pretty busy, but this was the first time I truly felt like I couldn't keep up with it all. A girl's gotta carve out some time for herself, as well as for family, friends, and this new relationship that kept on getting more serious. I was committed to more than I could handle and not everything was getting my best effort or attention.
At this time, Lisa, Kelly, Julie and myself decided to put feelers out for the Forth 2015 intern, with hopes that they could start in September, train along side me through the end of the year, then take the reigns into their own hands in January. There were so many lovely applicants but two stood out above the rest - Clare Johnson and Katie Kenney. I had met Clare a few times through a mutual friend and knew she would be the perfect fit for this role. Katie attended a Yoga+ event this past summer and we spent about 20 minutes chatting about Forth; I new she would be a great addition too. As I began to phase out of the intern role, I knew that I was leaving it in good hands. These two ladies are killing it and I'm so excited that they have this chance to interact with our founders and this community of rad Chicago women that they're building.
So where does that leave me? I'm proud to say that Yoga+ continues to thrive - we have hosted 7 unique workshops to date, with 2 more planned before the end of the year, and about 50 new ideas for future workshops. Yoga Plus Chicago is an LLC and my sister and I are in the thick of creating contracts, making sure we're squared away with our taxes, and other things I never imagined getting to gain first hand experience with. I've been so amazed by how much we've grown as business owners over the past few months - we're making more strategic decisions, delegating tasks, planning further in advance, and are much better about negotiating with our partners and standing up for ourselves. We've also been so grateful to have creative friends support us, whether it's with the rental of their space for an event, their talent for leading a workshop, or their skills in documenting each event on camera.
And my new jobs have allowed me to get involved with events from all different angles. At Greenhouse Loft I'm a tour guide and the main point of contact many of our clients, handling all the details for weddings and other social events. Working on-site for the duration of the event and building relationships with caterers, florists, DJs, bands, photographers and other vendors has been a rewarding process. With South Social and Home I'm getting hands-on experience with event production, wedding planning, interior design and styling. I feel confident crafting minute-by-minute plays of the important moments in a given evening to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch. With FIG, I've been exposed to the catering side of the event world, and let me tell you, that's a hard working team!
In my opinion, gaining experience in different pieces of the event puzzle all at once has proven much more valuable than what I could have gained with a few months in a singular role a full-time job. Working for all small businesses, I've been fortunate to gain ownership quickly and have very hands-on roles due to the small teams at each place.
I’ve always been adventurous in life, but not in love or in my career until this year. I can't imagine what life would be like if I hadn't taken a leap and pursued these new opportunities this year. I'll forever be grateful to Forth Chicago and Julie, Kelly and Lisa for the chance to play with event planning and production, social media management, and blogging in a safe environment that brought love, feedback and support. While my new lifestyle and unorthodox schedule might not appeal to a given individual, I've learned that I function well as a jack-of-all-trades and like having my hands in multiple roles.
There are the hard parts in a career transition like mine - adjusting to a drastic decrease in salary, being responsible for my own health and wellness benefits, and other sacrifices. A month before I left my research job I moved to an apartment where my portion of the rent was half of what I had been paying previously. I adapted my lifestyle and drastically cut down on luxuries like entertainment and dining out...and I am completely comfortable with all of those decisions. I'm not saying that working multiple jobs and keeping my schedule straight and finding time for me all in a given week isn't tough - it IS hard. But that's what I want - a challenging adventure and the chance to soak up as much knowledge as possible. Ultimately, I don't care to compare myself to friends who are quickly moving up the corporate ladders in their respective fields, we each have our own path. I've been blessed by new connections and friendships, and am excited when I get to support other friends who are just trying to get after it too. I’m unapologetically pursing my passions through my career choices these days and I'm not looking back.
It’s been a beautiful year of transformation and I encourage anyone who made it to the end of this long essay to challenge yourself to go after something you’ve been wanting to for a while, but have put on the back burner. I'll be cheering you on from afar - go chase your dreams!
And if you're looking for a good read to inspire you, may I suggest checking out an interview with Elle Luna for The Great Discontent.
All photos by Kelly Allison Photography, with the exception of Greenhouse Loft photo, by Steve Ewert, and Yoga+ Chicago photos, by Carolina Mariana or John Philp