Kenny Rogers once sang, “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run…” Kenny boy, you are so wise! Yet walking away from people, from relationships, from jobs – well, there’s a lot of fear in these choices. What many people don’t realize is that sometimes walking away is the best gift you can give yourself, and the world.
As women, we do a lot. We think a lot. We care a lot – sometimes too much, about the wrong things. But sometimes, we nail it – and that’s when success happens. I was part lucky, part ADHD when I started Girls Fight Back. Due to some cultural resistance, I can’t think of a rougher business to start than one that involves self-defense, but this was my destiny. With a stellar team at my side, we made it work. Ten years later, we are doing well even during a rough economy. However, this story may have ended differently, had I not walked away for awhile. Let me explain…
I started this company at the age of 23 during a scary, violent time. My friend Shannon was murdered in June 2001, and just 3 months later was 9/11. Shannon was killed at the very “safe” college campus we both attended, and 9/11 hit pretty close to home, since I was working in NYC at the time and commuted to the World Trade Center each day. Overall, I started GFB under great emotion, intense anxiety and tremendous emotional pain. In hindsight, this may have been the worst possible time to start a business….or the best.
In 2010, after 9 years of going full-throttle, I was still loving my work – but I was also burned out. For a long time, this made me feel guilty. I had some sort of weird feelings of obligation to lead GFB forward. Feelings like these are a breeding ground for resentment to grow. What is important to remember is under most circumstances, WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES. One day I looked around at this amazing team I had in place, and knew I could take a break. In perfect divine timing, I was given an opportunity to work as a consultant for Ashoka Changemakers.
So I changed my title on LinkedIn from “Founder & CEO” of GFB to simply “Founder.” Then for a year, I worked closely with entrepreneurs across the globe working to start sustainable companies and organizations, but also change the world in the process. I was absolutely blown away by their big ambitions, sometimes under extremely difficult circumstances like gender inequality or political corruption. These entrepreneurs were not phased, and treated such barriers to success like any other obstacle that could be overcome. Ashoka itself is a tremendous organization with global impact, and I doubt I will ever meet people who are more brilliant or forward-thinking. On the global conference call where my departure was announced last month I told them, “I didn’t come to Changemakers because I needed a job. I came here because I needed a break. Thank you for that.”
Taking that year-long sebattical was one of the best things I have ever done. I was able to share so much, and learn so much. In the process, I got re-invigorated about Girls Fight Back, and my eyes were opened to new opportunities to teach and empower women. But none of this would have happened if I had never walked away.
If you are feeling trapped, overwhelmed, indecisive or resentful of your work – I encourage you to do the same. I know there may be some financial repercussions in doing so, however if you set a clear intention, the universe hollers back. In a society so focused on always DOING, I propose the exact opposite. Just BE. Stop. Think. Do an about face. Broaden your horizons. Learn from others. Step outside your comfort zone. Analyze your life/work from a neutral place, which can only happen once there is some distance – then see what is revealed to you.
So how did my year away work out for me? Well, I decided to continue consulting with companies and organizations that excite me so I never get stagnant again. But my main focus is on running a company that is changing the world for women. Today I added “Founder & CEO of Girls Fight Back” to my LinkedIn profile, and it feels damn good to be back.