Follow Up

Forth Chicago Favorites: Bakeries by Clare Johnson

Happy Friday! Today we're bringing you the second installment of our new Forth Approved map series. We introduced this series last week with our Forth Favorites: Coffeehouses & Cafes map. Today, we're talking about coffee's best friend - baked goods! Our intent for this series is to package all the incredible recommendations from our community and deliver them to you in an organized format that, hopefully!, inspires you to try a new place. The bakeries and cafes on today's list are geographically spread and gigantically delicious. Sweet tooth fans, rejoice! 

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5 Things You Must Do To Step Your Business Game Up, Legally by Patrice Perkins by Clare Johnson

We first met Patrice during our 2014 autumn salon, hosted at Workshop Chicago. We spent the evening discussing passion projects and creative endeavors and when it came time for Patrice's introduction, the entire table was floored by her enthusiasm and expertise as the Creative ESQ behind Creative Genius Law. Need top-notch legal advice for leveraging your business? She's your gal! After interviewing Patrice for our 4xForth series, we knew we wanted a follow-up post and lucky for us, Patrice obliged!

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2014: The Year I Decided to Go For It by Natalie Pavela by Natalie Pavela

Natalie 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.

January 2014

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.

February 2014

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.

March 2014

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!

spring 2014 forth salon

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.

yoga plus chicago

June 2014

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!

forth event detail prep

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.

July 2014

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.

September 2014

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.

Today

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.

The Takeaway

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.

kane county flea market forth meetup

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

5 Crowdfunding Myths Debunked by Sarah Burrows of Modern Sprout by Natalie Pavela

sarah burrows 2 Modern Sprout is a Chicago-based business that designs, manufactures and sells innovative hydroponic planters for the home.  In April, 2013, Modern Sprout launched via Kickstarter and debuted a stylish self-sustaining windowsill planter.  The product was well received; in 35 days nearly $80,000 was raised and 700 planters were pre-sold to backers across the globe. Following the campaign Modern Sprout has launched four product lines, secured over 140 retail partners and has garnered national media coverage.

Modern Sprout was founded by Sarah Burrows and her husband Nick. We met Sarah at our summer salon and she graciously offered to debunk five common crowdfunding myths for those of you who are considering raising money for a new product/project in a similar way. Read on to soak up learnings from her personal crowfunding experience!

Modern Sprout Planter 1

Someone will steal my idea – I need a patent first.

In general, the mentality of thinking everyone you tell is going to take your idea and turn it into a full-blown business is irrational. I say that with confidence now, but before launching Modern Sprout I was leery of sharing too much. Starting a successful company is so incredibly hard, and 99% of people aren’t willing to commit the necessary time, effort or capital and can’t stomach the risk. You need to tell people your idea because you need to get their feedback, get connected to someone they know, or get advise based on their area of expertise. Most people will havesomething to offer that will help advance you forward.

If I build it they will come.

Due to the low barrier to entry, crowdfunding sites are over-saturated…and mostly with mediocre campaigns. Even with a strong campaign it’s hard to stand out. You’ll need to drum up interest through social media, by pitching press, investing in advertising, forging strategic partnerships, etc. We created flyers with free seed packets and placed them in over 50 coffee shops around Chicago – and we had a few backers reference them!  If you don’t have marketing experience, find a boutique agency and hire them. Marketing is arguably themost important factor to running a successful campaign (disclaimer, as a former marketing professional I might be bias).

I need to have a huge social media network.

You don’t – we didn’t. I could hardly stand to look at Facebook when we launched our campaign. You do have to putyourself out there, and you will have to engage your family and friends (which was probably the hardest part for me).  We sent emails to our personal and professional contacts and asked them to help drive awareness throughout our campaign. We made it easy for people to help us by providing bulleted emails with pre-formatted images, copy points, and relevant links.

Modern Sprout Planter 2

I need to have the perfect product first.

I think some of the best entrepreneurial advice is to fail fast. It’s not realistic to have everything perfectly in place before you launch; your product will inevitably evolve and you should be prepared to pivot if need be. Unlike securing capital through traditional channels such as loans or investors, the beauty of crowdfunding is that youreally just need a solid idea and killer marketing.

I will have to spend a lot a time building a strategy.

You don’t, because you don’t need to start from scratch. There’s a ton of advice available online and even step-by-step crowdfunding hacks. Here’s one we used!

sarah burrows 5Thanks for sharing Sarah! Your story encourages and inspires, and we can't wait to watch Modern Sprout continue to grow!

Connect with Modern Sprout on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Pinterest, and Instagram. Checkout their full line of products on their online shop, or locate a retail partner in your area that sells Modern Sprout planters!

My slow, difficult shift away from Facebook by Keidra Chaney by Natalie Pavela

keidra 1  

We met Keidra Chaney at our summer salon a few months ago and she is a total gem. While we spent the evening chatting about social media, how we utilize it for our business and our personal connections, we couldn't help but feel that Keidra was ahead of the curve with her tips on how she tries to handle it all (her past career experiences may play a role). So when she mentioned that she's begun to shift her focus away from Facebook, we were all ears. Read on to hear more about why this trailblazer is aiming to take meaningful relationships offline, phasing away from the dominant and sometimes overpowering social network and loosening the hold it has on us all. 

My relationship with Facebook has been a constantly evolving, quite often frustrating one, much like being in a relationship with a really entertaining, but needy, intrusive and annoying person. I’ll cop to the fact that my perspective has been largely colored by having a mostly transactional connection to the social network, not long after I joined I was using it on a professional level, working as a web content manager, and then a social media community manager at a Chicago university.

Too old to be a part of the original cohort of Facebookers who created their first account as college undergrads or high school students, I was still mostly ahead of the curve. (At the time – roughly 2005   – one could only get a Facebook account with a verified college e-mail address.) Living a dual life on Facebook for so long has been a blessing and a curse. Facebook has reconnected me with old friends and former co-workers and it’s helped me maintain real-life friendships with people who have moved away. I’ve even met awesome new people thanks to Facebook (though Twitter’s been way more fruitful when it comes to making new real-life friends.)

But the new social order that FB has created has its own headaches– intrusive updates to the algorithm where you see posts from friends of friends that you don’t care about, getting ugly pictures at cocktail parties tagged, dumb political flame wars with crackpot exes, passive aggressive fights about party invitations. And when you work in social media marketing there’s  more headaches -  accidently posting a personal update to a business page, moderating other people’s dumb political flame wars during your day off, constantly using the word “engagement” for things that have absolutely nothing to do with anyone’s impending marriage.

Until very recently, I’ve had little experience with Facebook solely as a personal network. It’s long been such a necessary part of my career that I never really thought about what it would mean to choose to leave, for good. But now I can.

After several years of working as a social media community manager, I’ve recently shifted my career focus back to my original career goals of writing and editing, meaning for the first time in years, I have no Facebook business pages to update, no ads to buy. I’m able to leave Facebook at my own choosing without it majorly disrupting my work life.

And yet it’s not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. I’m hardly some Facebook social butterfly; I have 600 Facebook “friends” and I would say only a quarter of them are people I see in real life terribly often. Yet as I started to weed down my Facebook friends list, and plan a hiatus for myself, I found it was much more connected to my personal life than I gave it credit for.  Casual friends and acquaintances that I primarily connect with on FB, will I be able to keep up with them? Those Facebook groups I moderate, who can I hand them over to? Where will I go for my daily updates about the Dillinger Escape Plan? What if I miss an awesome event because FB is the only way I’d hear about it? And it actually annoys me to admit that Facebook is so much a part of the meaningful connections of my daily life that I would actually miss it if I left. But I still want to loosen the networks hold over me. I want to eliminate a lot of noise and focus more intently on the real-life relationships that FB helps to maintain, and perhaps move FB away from being the nexus of those relationships.

BUT IT’S SO EASY TO STAY. I know that’s the appeal of FB and why even as other networks come and go, FB continues its dominance. I’m still figuring out how to change my relationship with FB and the people on it and how to redefine my relationship to social media now that community isn’t a part of my professional identity. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

keidra 3

Thanks for sharing, Keidra! We look forward to hearing an update on how it feels to be bound less by social media! In the meantime, you can connect with Keidra on Twitter and InstagramCheck out her work too!

How to Juggle Work and Home Life More Effectively for Moms and Business Owners by Natalie Pavela

sarah drake 1 Sarah Drake has been running a boutique graphic design studio - Sarah Drake Design - for nine years, specializing in custom wedding invitations, family crests, corporate invitations and business branding. Sarah is also the mother to two boys. Juggling small business ownership  and being a mom can be tough! We compare ourselves to others, and run ourselves crazy trying to achieve perfect balance (does it even exist?). Luckily, Sarah offered to open up and share honestly about tips she's found helpful to stay sane and feel productive through it all. From compartmentalizing, scheduling, and cutting yourself some slack, Sarah's tips are valuable for today's multi-tasting busy mother or woman. 

Notice I don’t say how to juggle work and home life? or how to balance work with home? It’s because I don’t believe it’s possible. Not that things can’t run more smoothly - I just think that trying to achieve that perfect syncronism is something that you can run yourself ragged trying to achieve, and then beat yourself up when it doesn’t occur.

I had been hearing the word balance for years. Trying to achieve. Literally crying with my girlfriends who are moms and also hold full time jobs or their own businesses that life never felt in balance, and things were hectic and overwhelming all of the time. I was tired, forgetting appointments, and then feeling terrible for failing. If work was going smoothly, home life was suffering, or the opposite. The following three tips are definitely things that have helped, but I have to mention, also have taken me a long time to achieve. My sons are both old enough to do a lot of things themselves, and i’ve been in business for 9 years, so I’ve had some time to work this out. These suggestions may not work for new moms, or mothers of five, or single moms with no help. But they might. I feel lucky that my husband has been a super active parent, and that his job at night (while certainly has it’s disadvantages) has allowed him to be with our boys every day, pick them up from school, and be part of their lives fully.

Compartmentalize

Establish regular office hours at an area that works for your lifestyle. This may be a corner of your living room, remote office (like a coffee shop), or actual office/studio outside the home, but the most important thing is that from 10-2, or 9-5, or whatever hours work for you, you are present to the task at hand. This frees you up to be present at home too, able to attend to a crying baby or make dinner without trying to answer emails or hop on a conference call. This really only works well when you have childcare or your kids are in school, for me at least. I found it next to impossible to get much done at all trying to work around a nap schedule. If you can afford to have even one day where someone else is looking out for your kids, you can start to do this incrementally, and work up as they get older. If childcare isn’t in your budget, try childcare sharing with another parent who might have a similar situation, so you both get a few hours to work or sleep or read a magazine uninterrupted.

Schedule

I learned this from my good friend who was going through nursing school with a brand new baby. She literally wrote down everything she had to do to get through it, from nursing the baby from 4-4:30, to blocking out time to study. Now, on my good days, I prioritize the things I need to get done, and assign a block of time to get them done. I take her advice and write down everything, so a sample day might look like this:

9-9:30 Check Email

9:30-10:30 Seymour Proofs

10:30-12 Kennedy Production

12:30- 1:30 take walk (Listen to Podcast)

1:30-2:30 research new product line

2:30-3 Check Email/Social Media

3:30-5 help boys with homework

5:30-6:30 soccer practice

Home

Choose Three

I pick three things I want to accomplish that day, using a guideline that I have implemented from living and learning about how I work best, and from teachers and guidance I seek out.

CREATING (this would have to do with work)

PRESERVING (my home, my family, gratitude)

TRANSFORMING (removing obstacles, changing perspectives, etc)

Discipline

In a perfect world I would do this every day, but I’m not THAT disciplined. This is great for when things start to get too one sided, if I start to forget things, or I’m noticing I’m not exercising or having any personal time. I might go through a yoga schedule at my favorite studio and write down two classes I want to get to that week, and then assign work and home around that, so that I get what I need too. This is really important so that your to- do lists aren’t all work!

 Distractions

 When the inevitable happens, and you remember an email you have answer, or you want to check your social media stats, jot it down, and get to it later. Remember you have a time for that in the day, and try to stick to the schedule. Not only will you feel more productive, you won’t be left wondering what you did all day.

sarah drake 2

Go easy on yourself

Above all, know that you are doing your best, and these, along with so many other ideas, are just guidelines. It’s so important to figure out what works for you. Maybe one week you'll get sick, and nothing will get done. That's okay. Sometimes, maybe you'll just need a day to do nothing at all.

I’ve listened and learned from friends, coaches, podcasts, and developed my own systems from learning from others. Some great resources:

Jess Lively Podcast: The Lively Show

Marie Forleo

Design Sponge Podcast: After the Jump

 

Let Go 2 by Paige Worthy by Natalie Pavela

paige-worthy This is Paige. We met her at one of our 2013 salons and fell in love with her bright personality + positive energy. While early career days brought her from Kansas City to New York to Chicago, she explains that those were all calculated risks with job security. Then four years ago, she was challenged to take a leap of faith into her first gig working independently for an entrepreneur, which brought great freedom outside the cubicle walls. Taking big leaps in your career can be scary, but she's one gal who embraced the unknown and whatever this new path had in store for her.  Today, Paige shares her story of going from a full-time gig to freelance, back to full-time, and after a few more stops, finally finding something in the middle that feels just right. A battle some of you may currently find yourself in as well? We admire Paige for her ability to self-evaluate and 'embrace the now' during every step of her career path. She's taken each career opportunity in stride, using each new role as an opportunity to figure out who she is, both personally and professionally.

It's hard to believe it's already been four years since I let go of the monkey bars. For the first time, anyway.

Four years ago, I finally gave my notice at a job that had made me miserable for the better part of three years. (The work was wonderful, actually, but the excruciating bus-to-Metra-to-rickety-van-shuttle commute to the suburbs and small-minded, tyrannical management style of a few higher-ups made it awfully easy to seize the first chance I got to peace out.)

I'd been offered the opportunity to work remotely, as an independent contractor, for a woman I respected and who respected me. The night I officially accepted her offer, she gave me a bracelet right off her own wrist, engraved with the words "Let go of the monkey bars." The phrase has never left my mind — I still wear the bracelet every day — it's the idea that in order to move forward, you have to release what's behind you.

Spoiler alert: I didn't stick with that opportunity for too long. After several months of living paycheck to paycheck in a pre-Affordable Care Act freelance world, I ran back into the suffocating embrace of W-2 employment. The price of COBRA, my inability to tweak my champagne taste to my new lifestyle, and my complete underestimation of how much I'd miss everyday human contact made cubicle misery look more appealing than ever.

Another spoiler alert: After just a few months of working on my own, I'd become a square peg trying to jam myself into a round job hole. Let's just say my newly free spirit was a little too much for the cubicle to contain, and I was soon liberated from it. Oops. Back to self-employment I went, this time for a little longer. I started working my connections, bringing on more clients and sussing out the type of work I wanted to do. I was even making decent money.

Spoiler alert: I would ultimately accept one more office job (born out of a long-term freelance gig, somehow in the suburbs again) and subsequently leave it — an even more bent-out-of-shape square peg — before getting to where I am today. Making your head spin? Think how it's been for me: I've let go of so many monkey bars at this point that I've probably run out and moved on to the slide, swing set or see-saw by now!   Actually, it's been amazing. I don't recommend anyone make the same choices I have — your mileage may vary — but trite as it sounds, the pinball-ricochet of my career has given me opportunity after opportunity to figure out who I am, personally and professionally.

Somewhere along the way, I figured out that I don't much like censoring myself for my employer's or clients' benefit. Can't deal with the way I talk (sometimes I curse) or how vocal I am about the world around me? Don't work with me. We'll both find others.

I figured out that I'd rather make a little less money and be happy with my life. I was making more money than I'd ever dreamed of at my second job in suburban hell, but a lot of it was financing retail therapy to cover up and accessorize the misery — that money wasn't actually worth much in the end.

I figured out that it's going to take a hell of a lot to get me back into an office. I love structure but hate restrictions: yes to productive meetings and to-do lists to cross off, no to cubicles and vacation requests and strict staff hierarchy.

I figured out that I don't want to be writing for clients. One of these days, I'll regain the creative energy I burned writing blog post after blog post for my clients, and I'll go back to blogging. And it'll be glorious.

Finally: I figured out that I don't want to be The Big Boss.

Entrepreneurship is the dream for a lot of people, but not for me. (And that's okay.) I love getting paid but hate chasing the money. (Case in point: Suing a delinquent client for thousands of dollars they just didn't feel like paying me really sent me over the edge, in more ways than one.)  Many monkey bars later, I've gone back to a full-time job at a business run by someone else: My wonderful employer is a former client who's trusted me to help him build his business as employee No. 1. I’m focused on client service and strategy, slowly moving away from the day-to-day writing, with enough responsibility to feel like a boss — but not The Big Boss. I get a paycheck every two weeks, plus a coworking budget to keep the solitude-induced craziness at bay. But most days, I'm happily at home with my cats, barreling through Basecamp tasks from my big grey sofa. One perk to working remotely: rainy days spent with laptop literally in lap, Netflix working overtime.

My current television binge of choice is Six Feet Under, which is phenomenal on pretty much every level — but during an episode I watched recently, a character said something that really hit home for me. "I think it's all about timing. I think timing is everything." It's not an original thought by any means, but I found myself nodding feverishly with the character, who's grappled with one major life change after another during the show. Timing has also factored heavily into every career decision I've made. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't beaten myself up in the past for making so many changes, not sticking with a job to see what might happen. But now I realize there's nothing wrong with making the career choice that works for now. Timing is everything, and for the time being, I couldn’t be happier with where I am.

Thanks for sharing your journey Paige! Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest