In 2006, I was 24 years old and I couldn’t imagine life getting any better: I’d just moved to San Francisco and accepted a position with the largest asset manager in the world; I’d survived skin cancer melanoma; and I’d recently earned a master’s degree. I had a closet full of trendy clothes and my bedroom featured “grown-up” furniture. At night, I fell asleep listening to the fog horns on the Golden Gate Bridge. Life was surreal.
Two years later, something unexpected happened: I lost my ambition and became unhappy with corporate life. The economy was in a recession and my options were limited; I felt stuck. But, as I watched friends and family members get laid off, I felt guilty for not appreciating my own secure situation. Another year went by and my disenchantment turned into fear – what if I was laid off too? How would I survive? My savings were limited, and my background wasn’t aligned with most Bay Area jobs, which fell into two buckets: biotech and Internet.
I started spending my evenings brainstorming possible business ideas. My favorite was a web application designed to help large apartment properties market their availability online. Though I was far from tech savvy, I dove into in the creative process and was elated to draw on my education and experiences to inform the work. At the office, I struggled to focus, but at night I had to force myself to stop drafting wireframes so I could get some sleep. Although fear had motivated me to come up with a possible Plan B, quitting and focusing on my “hobby” seemed far too risky.
Fate had other plans in mind: My employer learned of my side project and fired me. Without a paycheck or another opportunity lined up, I was left with only one option. There is a story about how, in his effort to capture Persia, an outnumbered Alexander the Great ordered his troops to burn their boats – inspiration to stand their ground and take the island. My boat was burning and the island was in clear sight.
Determined to succeed, I sold anything I could find to fund the development process. I didn’t mind that suddenly my mattress and once-coveted clothes were on the floor of my bedroom. I learned to live without the convenience of a car or a cab; instead, I rode the bus. I ate a lot of spaghetti during the months that followed, and turned down many dinner parties and vacations. Instead of depressing me, however, each sacrifice felt like a further commitment to my end goal: professional freedom.
Over the last four years, my business has grown and I’m fortunate to own furniture and a car again. Every day I’m grateful for the opportunity to support clients and solve problems. Because of my newfound flexibility, I was also able to relocate to be near my grandfather for the last six months of his fight with Alzheimer’s. As my own boss, my work/life balance is up to me.
I’ve always felt things happen for a reason, but I never thought getting fired would be the catalyst for such an amazing change in my life. Now that I live in Southern California, I no longer hear the fog horns as I go to sleep at night. Instead, it is the crashing waves that remind me my destiny will always be what I make of it.