One year ago today was my last day as COO of 121Giving. At the time, I remember feeling like I was jumping off a cliff with no parachute. I just knew it was what I needed to do.
I had spent 5 years building 121Giving, from scratch, with my then co-founder. I helped take it from a logo and a powerpoint diagram, to $1M in funding and a fully sustaining business. Through lots and lots of hurdles, including incubators, pitching, fundraising, launching, acquiring customers, and most complex of all, navigating team and relationships.
In that 5 years I went from thinking of myself as a designer and marketer who was helping build the brand for a startup, to an entrepreneur who really had what it took to weather the storms. I found a way to embrace the power I have always had, resilience and consistency. And I started to own it. I mean, really own it.
I could give you a sob story about how hard it was to do all this work, and endless nights and weekends, the sacrifices and all that. And they would all be true. But what hits me today as I think back to where I was a year ago, is that I'm really fucking proud of myself for realizing that chapter was done and moving the fuck on. I learned what I was meant to learn, and the challenges had become unhealthy. Toxic really.
As the near year turned in 2016 I found myself asking this question - is this leading to where I want to go in my future? Can my partner support me in reaching my full potential? And the answer, sadly, was no. It was a very hard decision to step down as COO. I had built the business from scratch, and invested personally and professionally. I felt accountable to everyone; my co-founder, my team, and most of all our nonprofit customers. I had no idea what the future held without that work. But ultimately, I realized after lots of soul searching that I was very done.
One of my favorite authors, Mark Manson, wrote a wonderfully honest blog post a while back called Fuck Yes or No and in it he described how you should not be in any relationship, business or professional, unless it's a "fuck yes" for you. That hit me hard because it rang so true. When I made the choice to leave, my co-founder was very upset and angry. Frankly have never felt more alone. I went through months of deep sadness about the end of our professional relationship and friendship. But ultimately, I still felt clear that this was the right choice for me.
As I left and began Haven last spring, dozens of mentors and supporters came to my aid. I found a space to host our early workshops, and I took the leap to move into a tiny home in Hyde Park with my daughter. Then, I discovered a shared passion for this safe space and incubator concept in my dear friend Ben Gibson, the Founder of Youvolution. We had met a year before, on the street at SXSW. He filmed the first video for my last business and had become a trusted collaborator over that year.2
This photo was taken at NewCo 2015, a few months after we met. Here I am, standing between my co-founder at the time (right) and my future co-founder (left). Little did I know!
Fast forward to spring 2016 - Ben and I began searching for a space to open together, and we became increasingly discouraged as we found place after place that didn't match our budget or our vision for the right tone. We wanted a homey, authentic place that we could welcome people into. Then, magically it seemed, the house in front of my tiny home became available. We leapt and took it, merging our business operations and routines.
Now, 9 months later, I have the integrated life I've always dreamed of. My 9-year-old daughter gets to be there as I run Haven and The Un.Incubator, and I no longer spend my life driving from place to place feeling guilty about either shirking my parenting or business duties. None of this would have been possible if I had not made these two momentous and risky choices; to leave my previous startup role, and face the negative responses all around me, and to start Haven, sharing my needs and asking for help from everyone in my network.
Late last year Ben and I began collaborating on his vision for Novo, a 9-acre plot of land we intend to develop as an intentional tiny-home community for social entrepreneurs. (below)
We spent this weekend out on Novo preparing for our June 1 opening - we showed our first residents the land and shared our dreams. It was an incredible feeling to realize all that has transpired in just one year. We have an urban space on 35th Street full of 20 social entrepreneurs and the beginnings of our future vision out on the land. And, on a personal level, in one year I have gone from incredibly isolated as a single mom and entrepreneur, to the fullest life I have ever experienced.
Things have not been easy, financially or emotionally. And if you ask me about it, I promise I'll tell you the real deal. But, if you are feeling stuck or unsatisfied I would challenge you to think about this - what do you crave? What would bring you joy? As one of our mentors, Ann Fry, likes to say. What would you do, if you knew you would not fail?
If you are in a relationship, whether it's personal or work-related, that's keeping you from being the original soulful beautiful human you were born to be, if it's not a fuck yes - you might need to consider a change. Trust me, it'll be worth it. You're bolder than you think.