Saturday, June 04, 2005

Social Entrepreneurism and Starting a New Life

For my entire adult life I have always wanted to do work that followed the dictates of my heart. I'm sure most people of the baby boom generation have felt the same way but we all know how it is to follow a dream. Sometimes our belief systems and "knowledge" base just get in the way. Certainly the personal and societal challenges we run up against as children teach us a thing or two (for better and worse).

My first dreams seemed completely unattainable: Pitcher for the Boston Red Sox? Oops, wrong gender. Musical comedy star? Well, that would require getting up on stage without getting sick to my stomach. Ballerina, Olympic gymnast, ice skating champ? It's funny how the dreams of a decidedly nonathletic person all center around feats of physicality. I think I'll keep the day job. Oops, I don't have a day job (more on that below).

Anyway, despite getting to the point where I no longer want to fight uphill battles when all indications say I should give up (But I really want to fly. I REALLY want to. Maybe if I just flap harder...), I still have dreams for my life and if that means going up another f***ing hill, (sigh) I hope the universe makes it an easy climb.

I have become a great believer in social entrepreneurism. Who says you shouldn't make a decent living doing work that helps other people and makes the world a better place? That was my intention eight years ago when I changed career directions and got a Masters degree in Transpersonal Psychology. But I didn't believe in myself enough back then to make it in my own business which is what I really wanted. Instead I took a job with the Alzheimer's Association, making less than half what I made previously as a graphic designer, and hoped it would lead me where I wanted to go.

On my first day I met social workers at all the other agencies I would need to interact with in the local area. I remember feeling shocked because so many of the ones who had been there for awhile looked like war survivors with deeply etched worry lines and sorrowful sunken eyes. It seemed like clouds of gloom hung over their heads and I distinctly remember thinking, "What's doing that to them? I hope I never look like that!"

Only five years later, working for another social service agency, I looked in the mirror and realized I looked the same way. Burnt out. Depressed. Too many years (only five!) trying too hard to provide too many people in desperate situations access to too few resources on a social worker's paycheck. Being so close, financially, to the situations they were in made it hard to keep my perspective clear day after day. I knew I needed to make a change -- again -- but what? It took so much to get to this point!

I eventually found myself in my own "change of life" crisis -- literally! I'm at that age and I suddenly had symptoms that looked like a panic disorder -- heart palpitations, sudden rises in blood pressure, racing heart and acute anxiety -- that later proved to be hot flashes. I now keep that under control with herbs but, at the time, it was scary enough to make me take time off and reassess the direction of my life. I decided to focus less on what I couldn't do and more on what I could, both for my clients at work and for myself at home. And I steadily put more time and attention on what made my heart sing -- art, music, flowers, learning new forms of energy healing with my friend Katie, medical intuition training, and figuring out how I could use my spiritual guidance to help others instead of just myself.

That took me through another year and a half but then I hit the wall that brought me to where I am today. I couldn't concentrate on the book I was writing about flower essence therapy without having larger blocks of uninterrupted time. I really wanted to do more on my other outside interests as well but I wasn't making enough money outside of work to think I could dare to quit my job. Or so I thought -- I actually had saved a year's living expenses in the bank. Still I liked having savings. I liked getting to travel for the first time in years. I liked having a steady paycheck and the feeling I got when I was able to really help people through my work. Besides, as I always used to say, it paid the rent.

And then one day it didn't.

I needed to find a new place to live and found, to my dismay, that even when I upped what I was willing to spend to half my paycheck, I couldn't find anywhere liveable within an acceptable distance in my price range. Santa Cruz, where I live, just south of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, is one of the most expensive places on the planet. At the time this crisis hit I was already paying $750 / month rent plus utilities for one room in a shared house and that was considered a bargain! But when I had to move I couldn't match it.

There were many other factors making me unhappy in Santa Cruz -- no need to share the whole thing here -- but the upshot is that I hit my limit. Enough! I couldn't justify my way of living any longer. I decided to quit, move back "home" to New England where I grew up, and start anew. Well, God laughed -- you can't go home again twenty years later. I wound up back in town, job-less but in a great living situation with my ex-husband (we're friends and we already knew how to do the "housemate" thing), and now I have no choice but to focus on what I really want to do. Writing, designing a website, focusing on my business. An act of power, perhaps. Sometimes, an act of faith. God knows, I have no guarantees. But I know what I want to do when I get up in the morning and, most of the time, have no trouble getting myself to do it.

I have a year before my savings are gone. In that time I want to write and publish my book, get my businesses up and running and start making enough money to keep myself going. And provide something that will help other people. If this blog was your introduction to my site (instead of my home page ) take a look around and tell me what you think. If you want to support what I'm doing here, feel free! Buy something, tell people to visit my site, make a donation, give me some great suggestions about how to succeed...

And consider sharing one of your stories. It has to be compatable with the content and intent of this site -- upliftment and empowerment -- and I won't print anything abusive, outrageously flaming, or harmful. But if there's something I've written here or elsewhere on the site you feel particularly connected to I'd love to hear about it. You can add your input by clicking on the "comments" section below. Or send me a personal email if you'd rather not go public. Join the club and we'll go on the adventure together. (I'm not a daily blogger -- more an occasional, if I feel inspired, type. Check back to see what comments have been added or join my email list to know when I've posted something new.)

1 comment:

kris said...

You got a blog!

Have fun, blogs are addictive!