My Career Story
On an otherwise typical moring in 2004, I found myself crying in my shower. Laying in the fetal position, I was distraught with the feelings emerging inside. I was a rising star lawyer, seemingly on top of the world. Many had invested in me to get here. Yet, I did not want to go to work.
Top of my class in law school, a genius legal writer, I had become a “success” rather fast. In law school, I started my own business. Chicago’s top criminal defense lawyers hired me to write their briefs.
Once I finished school, I got a job offer. I didn’t even have to interview, and the firm didn’t even have an opening. One of Chicago’s most famous lawyers liked me and took me under his wing. I got to work on the highest profile cases in my city. And yet, there I was, crying on my shower floor.
I knew I had a lot of opportunities to be grateful for and I worked with people I loved. But I also didn’t know who I was. I had a really great job, but great…for someone else. I felt sad and lost.
A voice deep in my heart piped in: “You have to leave this life and go find your calling.”
This seemed so crazy, but in my heart I knew:
I wanted a life of passion.
I wanted to make a difference.
I wanted to use my talents.
But I didn’t know what my talents were, I had only vague ideas about my passions, and any ideas of how I could serve the world felt totally out of reach.
I began by reflecting back on childhood, and I remembered a few things. As a little girl, I loved sitting with my mom and reading her books. Her collection included mostly Dale Carnegie and New Age spirituality. Basically, I loved learning about how to create your best, happiest life. So I signed myself up for a self-empowerment class to put me back in this thinking. I also began – in my spare time – to “play” and do things that just felt fun and easy to me.
I started a women’s networking group to empower professional women to support each other. I created an all day women’s seminar. I organized a fundraiser to for kids in a low-income community. And because it felt amazing, I began dancing in musicals. These months involved much confusion, self doubt, thinking something was wrong with me because I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted next. And as I kept following the actions my heart inspired me to take, my life began to feel great …for me.
Opening my heart in this way, two major epiphanies eventually occurred. First, I had a moment of clarity for how I could quit my job, make some money, and have time for discovering who I was. Second, my next big gig became clear.
It was hard to look Tom, the man who invested in me, in the face and tell him I was quitting his firm. But truly, I didn’t feel I had a choice. I was too unhappy, and the calling was too great. I didn’t totally blindside him; I sense he knew something was up when I began dancing in musicals. By this, I had obtained my freedom.
To pay the bills, I started up my legal writing business again. This is what I now call a “transition role,” a job that involves less pressure and more space to listen to your heart. This role created flexibility and free time for me to breathe and explore my options.
Having dinner one night with my friend Erlinda, a confidant in finding myself, she mentioned an organization she thought I’d be interested in. “Step Up Women’s Network. It’s a nonprofit all about empowering women in business and girls in low income communities. I think you’d love it and I just received an announcement they are opening a chapter in Chicago.”
This was a lightbulb moment. Like literally, I saw a lightbulb inside my mind.
This organization was exactly what I had been doing to “play” in my spare time. My heart immediately proclaimed with absolute clarity: “I want to run that organization!” And so I went for it, scared shitless but also crazy excited. I pursed what looked like a dream job that I had absolutely no formal education or training for. What I did have is what I now call “genius.”
I was perfectly suited to stir up buzz and start this organization based on my natural talents, life experiences, and the things I excelled at while I was just being me with no effort. Don’t get me wrong, I also had a ton of doubt and fear. I went through the ringer over six months of interviews. But as I went, my heart just kept saying “yes yes yes!” It felt so right. So me. I didn’t even know a job could feel so perfectly aligned with me, my personality, talents, and passions.
Turns out, my heart was dead on right. I got the job offer. I was even hired over another candidate who did have the formal education and training. I took a day to think about the offer. This was a big leap of faith! Did I mention I was also taking a huge pay cut to follow my heart? I took the job.
I was now the founding managing director of Step Up Women’s Network in Chicago. This life was 200% right for me. I started something from the ground up. I was an advocate, a mouthpiece for a cause that resonated deep in my heart. I engaged thousands of women and businesses to invest in the future of girls. I inspired passionate volunteers and staff members to become organizational leaders. I was in magazines, on stages, hung at some of Chicago’s hottest spots for “business development” meetings and organizational events. And, I became a leader.
This was a big job that called me to grow everyday. I stumbled a lot and I recovered a lot. I inspired a room filled with 500 people one day, and disappointed an integral member of the organization the next. I invented new concepts that were celebrated, and I tried novel ideas that flopped. I was a leader who bullied people to get results, and I grew into a loving leader inspiring people to excel in their own genius.
To rise to the continual call to grow, I spent my spare time – my “play” time – cultivating my own healing and happiness. This meant therapy – lots of it – exploring my own wounds that made my life and work feel hard. I had lost my mother as a teenager and never dealt with her death. I had dysfunctional relationships with men, and with some people professionally. I was a workaholic, working 15 hour days regularly. And I was a closet smoker.
I also cultivated teachers and communities to support my growth and happiness. I found a mentor, Amy. I sat with my friend Vesna once a month who had a similar job and shared stories. I met Christine, who became a best friend I could share this path of personal growth with. Christine and I co-founded a business book club and did all kinds of nerdy stuff to create our best lives. I read Eat Pray Love, which launched my adult spiritual journey. I actually took a Dale Carnegie course.
Then, about 5 years into this dream job, the discomfort began again.
At first it showed up like I was just unhappy with certain situations or with certain people. When I got honest and listened to myself, there were a few things my heart had to say. My heart said, “Hey Gina. This experience has been great. You learned a lot. But you know you are an entrepreneur at heart. And you have taken this as far as you are meant to. It’s time to create your own vision.”This was exciting, scary, and hard. What would I do next? What was my vision?And could I really leave something I had built?
I needed to look more deeply at the question I had faced years ago: who am I and what am I feeling called to do?
Again I searched back to my childhood. I thought a lot about that little girl who loved Dale Carnegie and spirituality books. And I remembered the first self-empowerment seminar I attended as an unhappy lawyer. I watched the facilitator, Jeff, in awe and thought “that’s what I want to do!”
So the clarity began to emerge. I decided I wanted to teach people about the happiness I had worked very hard to achieve. And there was a demand for this. I saw unhappy people everywhere. I had a basic business model in mind from someone I had watched on TV since childhood. I confessed to my girlfriend Dawn: “I want to be the next Tony Robbins.” She thought the idea was right on. I thought the idea was totally nuts.
As I contemplated this calling, I found myself crying on the floor again.This time in my living room. In my head I heard: “You’re a lawyer. Coaching is stupid.” My inner critic basically told me that this thing I wanted to do so badly was below me. Because it led me where I wanted to go from lawyer to nonprofit leader, I again began to just play and do what felt good and helpful.
I needed more self-empowerment, so I hired a coach. I needed accountability, so I formed a mastermind group with friends to talk about our career dreams. I created techniques to uncover my genius and calling with more clarity. I also started putting away as much cash as I could “just in case.”
I began to see that my own natural talents and passions matched my coaching vision.This “next Tony Robbins” idea began to seem less crazy. And then opportunities presented themselves to test this out; I asked a few people to be my “practice” clients. Coaching felt easy and was totally fun. It was just me being me. And this was helping people! When I felt the right moment, I leapt. Again a cherished girlfriend was my catalyst. I was on Skype with one of my mastermind sisters, Molly. She knew about my dreams. She knew I was ready to go for it, but I was kind of dragging my feet in fear. When I mentioned I was having an important meeting the next day with the CEO, she simply suggested, “why don’t you quit tomorrow?” And in that moment, my heart knew, I couldn’t not quit tomorrow. And so I did.
The CEO, Jenni, smiled when I told her. We both knew I was ready to move on and the organization was ready for it’s next leader. I left gracefully and slowly so I got to honor all the relationships I had built. My heart even pointed out the next perfect leader. And so I began visioning and creating this business right here. It’s the best thing I have ever done in my whole life.
When I look back on this story. I know everything led me right here. That’s the magic of following your heart.