by Michelle Ward

Michelle Ward, CPC, PCC and – most importantly! – The When I Grow Up Coach, coaches creative women to get out of their soul-sucking jobs and into work that feels like play. She'll be running a Freelance 360 workshop in NYC, Building a Foundation for Your Freelance Life, on Monday, October 21. You can find her on Twitter @WhenIGroUpCoach.

March 4, 2010 was a day that changed my life. It was the day that I released the chains, untied the rock from around my ankle & flew the coop. Yes, that’s dramatic. No, things weren’t “that bad.” But on that day, while I was heading to the meeting that would change my life, I had to stop myself from leaping & twirling across Park Avenue, belting out show tunes (“Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, specifically) & kissing babies & doing bell kicks.

March 4, 2010 was the day that I quit my day job. The day I excused myself from an environment that, while not torturous (no, not this time around), was the opposite of what I encouraged my clients find: an environment that focuses on the strengths they love utilizing, an environment full of support & encouragement where they can create days full of passion & opportunity to thrive & grow & learn & love. Yes, it’s idealistic & yes, I know it’s almost impossible to find but yes – it is still unacceptable for me (for me!) to have so very little of that in the place that demanded 55 hours a week of my precious time. Yes, my present Corporate America job had “stability”, & a nice salary, & nobody to bully me to tears or punch walls in my presence when a deal went sour (yes, both of those things happened multiple times in my past jobs). For most, it would have been Enough. For me, it wasn’t even close.

So how did I get from that realization to that freedom? From that darkness to this light? From that frozen tundra to this tropical paradise? From that pile of poop to this mountain of magnificence? I want to say: “Easy” – but it was anything but. I want to say: “Simple” – but it was anything but. Here’s why:

*It took me almost 3 years to get from Point A to Point B. *Here’s the super simplistic thought process that started roughly in the spring of 2007 & brings us to the present day: “I’ve faced the fact that I’m not going to pursue acting as a career anymore” -> “This customer service job sucks – I don’t care if I get benefits & a ‘good’ paycheck” -> “I refuse to make a living not doing something I love. Let’s go find out what that would be.” -> “This life coaching stuff is pretty awesome. Let me find job where my manager won’t make me cry on a daily basis so I can make some money, get certified as a life coach, & build my business.” -> “I graduated with my life coaching certificate! Let’s put the pedal to the medal now that I don’t hafta be in class when I’m not at work.” -> “Hey, I got some money saved & people keep signing up for consultation calls. Let’s wait for my bonus check & make this happen!” Whew! Are you exhausted or is it just me? This did not happen overnight, people. If you expect it to, you’ll probably be setting yourself up for some disappointment & frustration. Wouldn’t happiness & ponies be so much better?

I casted the biggest, widest, strongest safety net I could find & laid it directly under my feet. When I committed to being a life coach & launching my own business (which scared the crapballs outta me), I could have jumped in to my classes while scrambling to find clients, get the word out, & make ends meet. I didn’t give that idea more than 30 seconds in my brain before I knew that it would leave me running into the arms of whatever “stable” job would have me, & I knew the end of that movie would be a tight shot of me running out of the subway to dry heave into a trash can on the platform – again. For me, I knew I needed a job that would meet my needs financially, didn’t come home with me (no company-issued BlackBerry!), & didn’t bring me to tears or drag me out of bed in the morning kicking & screaming. When I found my current Executive Assistant job in the summer of 2007, I knew going into it why I was there & what it could offer me. And while I didn’t say then, “I’m going to resign as soon as I get my bonus check in 2010″, I had the end goal in sight the entire time.

I prioritized my commitments. Pre-coaching, my commitments might have been my day job, rehearsals for a show I was doing, & multiple social engagements (a grown-up way of saying “happy hours”) a week. One of the scariest, grown-up things I had to do was learn to say, “No” & really, truly pick one thing over another. My friends wanted to go out on the night I scheduled to write my website copy? Can’t do it. A show was auditioning that would require 15 hours of rehearsal a week? Sorry. I did learn, however, to keep room on my schedule for Me Time & social engagements & one-off shows – just not as regularly as my pre-grown-up, 26 year old self might have. The old me would go everywhere & do everything & burn herself out in the process. The 2007 me was forced to figure out the balance, stick to her guns, & not always do what she wanted to do, but do what she knew she needed to do to keep the wheels in motion.

*I structured the growing of my business around the time & resources that I had. *Going in to this, I knew I had nights, weekends, & lunch hours to make this work. When I was focused mostly on school with the business secondary, I scheduled classes into my calendar a month at a time & ensured that I had time for the things that went along with it (my school-focused blog, my research paper, my coaching model, my clients). When I was able to do more business-building stuff, I realized what I did have was a lot of time in front of a computer, & what I didn’t have a lot of was time & money. So, I focused on my blog, and then social media, & then my newsletter. While I would love to coach in-person, & I’m itching to make use of all of the creatives who are out there in NYC just waiting to meet me (that’s my perspective & I’m sticking to it!), I couldn’t make it happen while staying at my day job. This gave me extra incentive to leave, but it also made it “easy” for me to see where to concentrate my efforts.

I made sure to have fun & really, really like (if not love) what I was doing. If I didn’t love blogging, or writing my newsletter, or taping videos for Spring, I wouldn’t have kept on doing it. By not making anything a chore, I never had to drag my feet. Even though there were a bunch of things that I thought I “should” be doing, I knew that only focusing on the stuff I loved doing was the way to go.

I asked for help. If I didn’t ask for help along the way, I’d be sobbing on the floor in the fetal position instead of writing this article. Without my graphic designer, my web designer, my VA, my web builder/updater (aka my husband), the friends & family & clients & tweeples who spread the word of my awesomeness far & wide….I would not be here, so close to freedom. It would not have happened yet. Case closed. Party over.

I celebrated along the way. A party to celebrate my coaching graduation. A party to celebrate my Freedom from Corporate America. As you can tell, I like parties, & I liked having the excuse to throw ‘em. Along the way, I kept it up with bubble baths & massages & my favorite flowers. Big or small, I kept patting myself on the back & giving myself a gold star. It made everything that much sweeter & kept me keep on keepin’ on.

When I had to leap, I leapt. You might have heard me say that I’m a firm believer in not taking a leap without a net, but planting the net firmly beneath you & taking baby steps, having it being pulled out little by little, until you’re standing on your own. And while I practiced what I preached, I woke up on March 4th, took a deep breath, & said, “OK Michelle – time to jump.” I wondered if I was really going to quit, if it was the “right time”, if I was “ready.” That, too, was something that was in my head for 30 seconds until I laughed & said, “Are you kidding me, lady? Let’s blow this gin joint!” I pushed myself out of the nest, & I – a risk-averse scaredy cat who has never been on an upside-down roller coaster – enjoyed the entire trip down to the ground, where my net (my current clients, my nest egg that would give me about 6 months severance without working at all, the continuous inquiries I’ve been getting about When I Grow Up) was safely waiting.

March 4th, 2010 was the day I quit the job that didn’t utilize my strengths, that didn’t allow me to shine, that stifled me. March 4th, 2010 was the day I walked towards a career that empowers me, that enables me to not need a cup of coffee at 3pm so I don’t fall asleep at my desk, that makes me feel like this is a proud part of who I am & where I need to be.

Are you next?

This post was originally published on Michelle's blog here. Thanks Michelle!