I think the title says it, no? It just seems too obvious when you write it down: ditch the soul-crushing job. Why wouldn’t you?
Yes, I’m saying this a bit tongue in cheek. I know all too well that it’s much MUCH easier said than done. It took me years to even admit to the fact that my career was indeed soul crushing. My family was depending on me to bring in money. My father was depending on me to take over the business. My own sense of success and well-being – fed to me by societal expectations, for sure – screamed at me to suck it up and get my head on straight. To even think of my work and responsibilities as “soul crushing” was a sign of weakness I had to beat down and lock away as I climbed onto the treadmill for another dreaded day…
So yeah, ditching the soul-crushing job may sound obvious. But it isn’t always when you’re treading water on a Monday morning just trying to keep your head above the waves…
My Friend Jen
My good friend Jennifer McQueen has experienced the soul-crushing job too – and her experience was to the extreme. Jen and I grew up here in Thunder Bay, but she moved to Sauk City, Wisconsin and had a family. Luckily, she’s one of those lifelong friends who I’ll be close to no matter where in the world Life takes either one of us. I connected with her recently to talk about her own experiences juggling work, four kids (sometimes as a single mom), and health issues – and how she managed to ditch her own soul-crushing job.
Jen used to work in the pharmaceutical industry. For the first 10 years of her career, she worked in documentation and archiving before moving to sample management – logging and storing samples during testing. But conflicts with her company due to her health issues were a constant problem, and they got worse when she moved departments.
“It goes back a number of years, I’ve struggled with migraines since I was in my late teens. I had a supervisor finally say to me, ‘I really think you need to protect yourself in the workforce.’ Unexcused absences due to migraines can make you lose your job.”
Jennifer McQueen Gammond
Jen filed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which in the States protects workers from “unexcused absences” such as health emergencies. She said that was fine for a few years, but a change in managers above her started to make her life a living hell. The new manager gave her poor reviews due to these absences, which can be career-busting at the very least and lead to termination at worst.
“It was completely against the law, but our HR department didn’t back me up. They backed management, because it’s Corporate America.”
Things got much worse when her father passed. Not only did that add to her feelings of frustration and alienation, but now she was dealing with grief, depression, and added stress along with the migraines. It got to be too much.
“I felt so alone. I had no support. I used up all my protection under FMLA, and that gave me grounds to really go after me.”
Getting Off the Treadmill Sometimes Has Special Challenges
Quitting in the US is much harder though because often when you leave your job, you lose your health insurance. That means a simple trip to the ER with the kids can cost you thousands. Jen wasn’t prepared to expose her family to that much financial and/or health risk.
“My husband finally got insurance that was reasonably priced, so I started preparing to leave.” That was yet another hurdle due to Wisconsin’s labour laws. She was forced to quietly and suddenly exit the company to avoid more persecution, accusations, and stress. “It wasn’t how I wanted to leave – I didn’t want to leave my team high and dry. But that was the corner I was back into.”
Breaking Out to the Other Side
Once she got out of that corner though, her options were wide open. Jen launched her own Etsy business, Hair with Flair, which featured colourful, fun stuff for kids. That grew into a new business, Charmed by Teagan, named after her youngest daughter.
“I felt like the name covered more things. I can sell anything under Charmed by Teagan rather than Hair with Flair. I’ve been running under that name for about six years now.”
Jen quickly became incredibly successful selling sewed and embroidered items including blankets, pillows, seasonal items, and even her own fabric.
“The growth is amazing,” she said. Jen admitted that success brings its own issues. She has started to get her husband more involved with family responsibilities including booking dentist appointments for their two youngest (the other two are now grown and moved out) so she can focus more on the business – and herself.
Ultimately though, ditching the soul-crushing job was worth it.
“I couldn’t be who Corporate America wanted me to be. But I got out, and I haven’t looked back since. I’m so happy and so thankful. I’m starting now to try to carve out time for me.”
“Me Time” in Guatemala
And I’m so happy to say that part of that is going on the Walk Guatemala G’WAwith me next February with her friend Angela! We will trek through the beautiful Guatemalan mountains and visit remote Mayan villages to see how these warm, inviting, and wonderful people live today. The highlight of our journey is Lake Atitlán, one of the most serene spots in the world, which Lonely Planet called “the closest thing to Eden on earth”. There are also options to visit Mayan ruins and watch the spectacular Volcan Acatenango erupt in the dawn light.
This guided tour is as much an inner journey as it is a physical walk. As I always say, Guatemala is good for the soul – especially for those souls needing to get off the treadmill! We’ll focus on helping you re-discover yourself with daily meditation, special She Walks the Walk journalling sessions filled with prompts to help you turn inwards, and group discussions where you can share as much as you want or just listen to the conversations around you. Self-discovery is the main goal of every G’WA.
I’m thrilled they have both decided to take some “me time” in Guatemala, along with the others who have signed up so far. (BTW, there are a few spots left – so if you’re thinking of joining, think fast…) These expeditions are as much about exploring the wild you as they are about trekking the wild terrain. I’m excited to see how the whole experience transforms Jen and all the women who step out of their comfort zones and into an adventure of a lifetime.
Some Final Thoughts
I’m so proud of my friend Jen. There are soul-crushing jobs, and then there is the ordeal that she went through. Jen is such a strong, independent woman who was put in a number of really bad situations. It’s heartwarming to see her come out of the other side stronger and, of course, happier. Leaving a bad situation is never as easy as it sounds. But as Jen shows us, it is sooooo worth it.
Our Walk Guatemala G’WA will be both a reward and another step in her journey. Jen will get the “me time” she deserves, and we’ll help her put the pain and hardships of that soul-crushing job behind her. I am honoured to help every way I can, and so glad to be a part of her journey.
When Danielle closed her eyes and began to shuffle the deck with the oddest combination of care and confidence, I knew I was in for something special. She had warned me that it might feel weird to watch her, but instead I found myself drawn into a mystical, inviting kind of energy. I could feel the anticipation building. (This stuff is definitely my jam!) And then a card fell on the floor.
Without opening her eyes, she reached for it and informed me that “THIS one has a message the universe is screaming for you to receive.” Alrighty then! I could hardly wait to hear what critical communication lay before me, as our session began at her coffee table in the forested mountains of Squamish, B.C.
To rehash where I’m at, you may recall I’ve been working towards launching a new business, having ditched the financial advisor role this past January. And when it comes to what the frick I’m doing with my life, I’ve been an outward hodge-podge of both evasiveness and openness. This is mostly due to a bundle of insecurities. I consciously try my best to keep them at bay but we all know it’s not easy.
Well, I’ve never had more time than the last week to practise speaking out about my new business, She Walks the Walk. See, I dragged the kids on a cross-country roadtrip to the West Coast of Canada. Our idea was to get the hell out of dodge and immerse ourselves in quality, outdoor time with my sister and her family. They live in the most epic of towns — Squamish — in the most beautiful of provinces — B.C. If I could teletransport my friends and parents, along with my kids’ friend circles here, I’d move tomorrow. Mountains… ocean… the largest, lushest forests I’ve ever seen. It’s literal nirvana for an outdoor gal like me.
Anyhoo, while out here, I’ve been introduced to some phenomenal women. They’re all friends with my sister, so by default I already knew they’d be cool (and, that quite possibly, I’d NOT be cool enough). By the grace of my exposed silvery hairline and worn-in hiking shoes, it seems I’ve been accepted into her posse. And of course what always comes up is, “So, Sam, what do you do?” Insert a tic-like response to reach for that glass of wine accompanied by a flush of red creeping up my neck.
I promise I’m getting to the Tarot reading. Taking a bit of a detour for context.
One particular occasion for practising my new spiel arrived during an e-bike adventure with some two dozen other women (socially distanced, don’t get your knickers in a knot). It was an annual, dual birthday thing that my sister never misses, modified due to Covid. The whole lot of us made our way through winding roads and pedestrian bridges to get to Fergie’s, where tables awaited us out back, all spaced apart and complete with river and mountain views surrounding us.
My sister and I wound up at a table with these two awesome ladies, Cassandra and Johanna. Apart from my fascination with both these women having a history of dating Olympians, they also blew me away by seeming super into the dealio of my new biz. (Note the continued shameful vaguary, now a deliberate strategy so I can do the whole LAUNCH thing with a bang. I’m hoping.)
Nearing the end of the evening, we all gathered into spread out groups down by the river bank. Someone MacGyver’d a fire and the conversations continued well past sunset. By then I had run out of steam about my new gig. In fact, I was so daunted by the amazingness of these ladies — firefighters, physiotherapists, pilots, Crossfit champions, an actual spy and general all-round Bad Ass Babes of the Outdoors — I began to crumble inside my slightly dressy romper. (It also screamed, *trying too hard*.)
So, Tash — my sister — took over the role as PR manager and continued to trumpet my She Walks the Walk offer, while I stood by feeling like a noob for getting overly liquored up with just two glasses of wine and a margarita. I became a wordless sloth, if you can imagine such a creature.
I should tell you that we did e-bike back to my sister’s place. In the dark. With nary a reflective piece of clothing on either of us. Did I mention we were half tanked? Fully, maybe? And no lights on our rented bikes. Yeah… I know. I don’t endorse this sort of reckless behaviour! Yet we rolled back in after 10 k’s on that dark and daunting road and both proclaimed, “But did we die?” (The new theme of my West Coast adventure.)
With all that practise explaining my new business, you’d think I’d then be brimming with confidence and vigour! Ummm, not really. In fact, my very real anxiety over “what will people think” and “this isn’t even a thing” lingered with me for the following few days.
That is, until I met Danielle.
You can now all congratulate me for finally getting to the damn point.
Danielle is a kindred spirit my sister introduced me to. She’s also an inspiring, warrior woman who had the courage to change her life when she realized it was no longer making her happy. And possibly hurting her health. (It’s worth noting that a difficult decision like this is compounded when you succeed at your craft so brilliantly, which she did in spades.) You should check out her website to get a flavour for the talent this woman has. She’s been entrenched in the male-dominated industry of bike racing for years, specifically working for the illustrious B.C. Bike, where she travelled all over the globe, photographing athletes, scouting locations, taking on PR and marketing a sport she revered.
But some tragedies happened in her life — namely, the passing of her father, among others — and instead of giving herself the grace to grieve, she continued to grind harder on her chosen career path. Well, burn-out arrived with a bang, and she knew it was time to make a drastic pivot. So Danielle left the under-appreciated role she had carved out for herself in the bike industry and decided to be a kinder, gentler version of herself. This included getting back to some of her roots, which had previously involved Chakra/Tarot readings. Her specific gift honed in on our current physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health. I want to mention that at one point, she abandoned this gift in favour of trying to fit the mould of a ‘normal women,’ whatever that is, lol. She’s now embracing her own brand of ‘weirdness’ (her words) and in my opinion, has nailed it.
Needless to say, as I watched her lay the cards out before me, I felt I was in the presence of someone who genuinely gave a shit about me, the words she chose in communicating the reading and the ensuing feelings it may evoke.
Is it fate or just random? Are our souls meant to do certain work?
At the explanation of the first card, I found myself welling up inexplicably. Apparently, my Root Chakra — the earth energy associated with the feeling of safety and grounding — is embedded in “The Hanged Man.” Danielle interpreted this to mean I was on the cusp of moving into new perspectives but needing to fully surrender. That I’d come to see things in a new light. The Hanged Man (depicted beautifully by a bat just chilling in his upside down mode) suggests a choice in the matter. He is not struggling with being upside down, but rather is there because he wants to be. This is a Major Arcana card, which suggests an element of fate in the matter. That I was perhaps destined to come to this place of being upside down, and seeing my world through a new lens. I couldn’t help but think of all that I’d gone through to come to the place of peace in deciding to turn my life on its head and leave my career.
And then she moved onto the Sakral Chakra, that area within that shifts from us obeying tribal, familial authority and allows us to discover satisfying interests of our own. Enter, the “World Card”… as Danielle explained, it is though the literal world is at my feet. I thought about this in the context of my new business and began to sit in a feeling of both peace and excitement. Not knowing anything about Tarot, this is the last of the Major Arcana cards, which, again, means our deepest soul work. In other words, she told me that even if I would not have left my career, I was somehow destined to do this upcoming new work. That its been part of my soul’s journey all along. And that I should trust in that knowledge.
As we worked our way through the other Chakras, Danielle seemed unfazed by what she had pulled from the deck. Prior to meeting with her, she and I had had a Zoom call where we chatted in depth about our kindred reinvention stories. Though she had the gist of what I’d decided to do with my life, and what my motivations were, she certainly didn’t know everything. And yet there we were, engaged in this beautiful dance of seeker and seer.
At the risk of boring you, I’m not going to go through each card — because, who cares, right?! The whole point of this post is to contrast two themes that kept coming up for me in each of the cards. Because these are likely the same themes that play out in your own lives. Every day.
The Yin and Yang of Fear vs Faith
She told me that while my fear was definitely a thing (namely, some scarcity fears, and worrying about what others think), I was blessed with a solid grounding of faith. There is a presence with me (Son of Pentacles card), guiding me and protecting me. Is it God? Is it a guardian angel? Maybe both? As we moved through each Chakra I couldn’t help but think of the role that both of these forces play in our lives.
Look, fear serves a legit purpose. We are literally hardwired to spot the danger lurking in the bushes… that thing that could jump out and eat us. Oh look! A saber-tooth tiger! I think I’ll just hide out here for awhile. We needed this survival mechanism to keep us alive. But as evolution progressed, our fear has turned into this heavy security blanket that often keeps us from progressing. It’s become the thing that leaves us stuck. Uh-oh, I’m sensing a Mike Wrenshall baseball analogy — wait for it… and, thank you Dad!
We hesitate to steal second base. Will we get caught out? Will we let the team down? What if it’s the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs already? So we just stay on first base. Waiting to see when conditions might be right for us to take that step.
The thing about waiting for conditions to be right, is that you might wait around forever. But what if you believed that no matter what decision you made, everything works out in the end anyways? Isn’t this what faith is? That idea that we are always going to be ok? Could we come to peace in knowing that any step forward would lead us to the place we’re supposed to be? Even if it turns out to be a big fat bust, it might just be the lesson we needed to learn. The one that takes us to another place. An even greater one.
We don’t have the map. But we do have the compass.
Since walking the Camino, I’ve viewed my faith as an old-fashioned compass that keeps pushing me forward on the path that is unknown. There have been days where I’ve felt lost and panicked — choked by things I have zero control over (hello, pandemic??!). These are the moments I long to have a map in my hands. Something that could show me the entire picture — you know? That place where X marks the spot, and the fastest, most accurate path to get to the treasure! But where would the fun in that be? And the fact is, as much as we try to predict the future, life has shown us that we’re not in charge and we can’t always know.
So, in the absence of that map, I’m learning to listen to the whispers in my soul. They’re my own personal compass. And I’m starting to trust that they know what’s best for me.
Where will your faith lead you?
Danielle ended our session at the Crown Chakra, where the Major Arcana (soul card) of ‘Wheel of Fortune’ turned up. She explained to me that this card is about risk and timing. On the wheel of fortune, we can all have that moment at the top of the wheel, feeling lucky and abundant, but we can just as easily be on the bottom — one of the unlucky. The trick is to detach and see every part of the wheel, or each risk that we take, as our chance to be true to ourselves. We must not compare our spot on the wheel with anyone else. We must know that everything is always going to be alright. In this space, we can claim our own divinity.
I left her house feeling invigorated. Validated. Full of hope. I received her words and messages with my whole heart. And I desperately wanted to pay her (she refused payment). At my insistence, she offered me the chance to make a donation to a friend who at 28, is struggling through very costly Cancer treatments. Perhaps I could donate to her.
A gift comes full circle.
Of course I donated, but it didn’t feel like enough. I had to do something more. Something profound, to show this remarkable woman what a gift she had given me: a literal stranger basically told me I’m meant to do this new work. That I should trust myself. That I’ll be supported along the way.
The only thing I could think of was to give her something that meant the absolute world to me. Perhaps if I gave her that, and if she understood the meaning behind it, she’d then know how grateful I was. So before I left B.C., I looked down at my wrist. I’d been wearing the most special bracelet since arriving in Santiago on June 1st, 2019. It was given to me by one of the most special people I know. Her name is Karina. Our paths crossed entirely by fate along the Camino in a tiny town on day 10. We wound up walking most of the Camino together, united in our wonder over all the miracles and beauty we’d been seeing along the way. Here she is below. The most joyful, giving, enlightened, crazy-beautiful spirit I know.
The bracelet came in this envelope, and was meant to remind me to always follow my intuition.
I’d never taken the thing off. It was dirty and slightly tattered. But full of so much collective meaning, from all that we’d endured together in finishing our personal Camino journeys. I questioned whether or not such a gift would resonate. And whether or not I would hurt Karina in letting it go.
But as fate would once again have it, this decision became a no-brainer when Danielle told me, unprovoked, that her good friend had just called to download the terrible news of catching her husband cheating. And that she and her friend would boldly walk the Camino together as soon as the world resumed some semblance of normal. Well, if she was going to walk that same journey of healing and epiphanies with her dear friend, I wanted her to have something sacred to take along with her. So, I paid it forward.
What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim
As our paths parted, Danielle and I exchanged Instagram handles. In perusing my curated collection of posts, she saw one of the books I had read pre-Camino. I guess I was so effusive about it, that it became its own Instagram post. Who knew that one day, this book title would come to have a literal meaning in my life.
It’s no accident that I met Danielle. There will be more on this to share later. In the meantime, I encourage you — no, I IMPLORE you — to seek out the moments when you can choose faith over fear. You just don’t know what riches lay on the other side, unless you take that step out into the unknown.
Three weeks from today I will wake up to a new beginning. My life will officially become the Blank Slate.
To say that I’m scared would be a complete joke.
Realistically? I’m petrified. As a nifty coping strategy, I’ve buried my attention in other things. Like, tree decorating, once-a-year baking, gift procuring, house cleaning, wine drinking, too-much-junk eating, Netflix binging and husband bickering. All the classic stuff, courtesy of those chaotic holiday pleasures and pressures.
But in the quiet of this Saturday morning, it’s hit me hard that things will be different very soon.
Last night I went to the annual Open House of a good client and friend. I knew I’d be asked… “So! Sam!! What the heck are you doing with your life then???” And twice the day before, I bumped into clients in the same freaking chiropractor’s office, “Wow! What’s going on? What are you going to do??” The reality is, I don’t have a solid answer for this, so I turtle, leading to a bunch of justifying, which makes me annoyed at myself (and society) for feeling compelled to explain myself away. I know that people are just curious and want to wish me well. That’s cool.
What I’d like to do is just stop the clock for a few days to collect my thoughts and get my plan in place. Hah! Remember that Twilight Zone episode circa 30-ish years ago? When time stopped altogether? Everyone was just frozen in place. Kind of like that – if I could wave a wand that would be my first move; in one fell swoop I’d stop the clock and restart it once I had my shit together. (But does anyone ever really have theirs together? Their shit, I mean?)
I recognize there are larger forces at work here, orchestrating some of my moves and pulling me towards the things my soul desires. I do have an abundance of faith which is keeping me sane during this transition period. Yet I know intuitively that my intentions for the future will eventually be raw and exposed. This vast area of uncertainty – will it be a thing or won’t it? – is my usual jam. Just get out there and make it happen, type of thing. Naturally, my “I’m-super-capable” attitude has resulted in some full-on flops. Like that time I thought we were the kind of people who wanted to sell everything, buy an RV, throw the kids and dog in it and boogie on down to South America.
That actually happened, lol. RV purchased. Rogue unloading of personal possessions and irresponsible disengaging from life did not. Payments made towards the RV? 18. Number of adventures had in the RV? 1.
To keep myself grounded and for some measure of accountability, I’m laying out my Blank Slate game plan right here, right now. I’m aware it won’t be as straight a line is as this implies. Note: the irony of the year being 2020 and what that typically implies in terms of vision is not lost on me, in my muddled ideas for the future. OMG.
Sam’s 2020 Blank Slate
Breathe: Jan 18th
Don’t panic! Jan 18th
Write. Every. Single. Day.
Launch your new website, shewalksthewalk.com
Work like crazy on your offering.
Send it out into the world, mid to late fall 2020.
Resist putting any label on yourself.
Regarding that last one, my 16-year old daughter has asked me several times what I will be. This makes me chuckle and scowl simultaneously. I love our need to make sense of people and contain their vast scope in a box. Don’t get me wrong, I do it, too. This is this, that is that. We are incessant with our labelling.
Thus. I’ve responded with the best word I could find – a kind of catch-all, since I don’t really have an answer that will satisfy her naïve teenage understanding of the world.
“Well, Piper, I’m going to be an entrepreneur.” Her response was so fitting,
“So, you’re going to preneur???”
Here’s to 2020, to the Blank Slate we are all given in various facets of our lives, if only we open our hearts and eyes to see them. May your New Year’s Blank Slate be fruitful, exciting, growth-oriented, boundary-blowing and most importantly? Entirely yours, no justifying necessary.
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