Monday, April 28, 2014

On the Side: The Power of Choice

Believe in yourself and have the courage to move forward with the changes you want to make. 

Northern New Jersey Alumnae Chapter of Chi Omega - Eleusinian Luncheon 2014 - Photo Courtesy of Linda Sung
Photo Courtesy of Linda Sung

Many of you know that I am a Chi Omega Sister and that my love for all things Chi Omega led me to post a round-up of owl-themed kitchen accessories earlier this month. Each spring, Sisters all around the world celebrate the anniversary of Chi Omega's founding on April 5, 1895, and I had the distinct honor of being invited to speak at the Eleusinian Luncheon hosted by the members of the Northern New Jersey Alumnae Chapter of Chi Omega this past Saturday.

Because the reaction to my talk was so positive, I've decided to share my remarks here. While they're not directly related to food, I do spend some time talking about Taste As You Go. Once you've had a chance to read my words, I encourage you to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Before I begin, I want to thank Tovah, Amy, and Liz for inviting me to speak this afternoon at the Northern New Jersey Alumnae Chapter of Chi Omega’s Eleusinian Luncheon. I am truly honored to be here and am completely humbled by their unanimous opinion that I would make a “great speaker” for your event. I also want to extend a special thank-you to my fellow Sisters of the Lehigh Valley Alumnae Chapter, Michelle and Robin, for making the trip up from Bethlehem with me this morning and for supporting me in practically every endeavor I tell them about.

Quite honestly, when I first accepted the invitation to speak here today, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to share with you. Tovah’s instructions included the phrases “about 10 minutes” and “whatever you want to talk about”, so, of course, the generous freedom bestowed upon me to choose the topic of my talk left me paralyzed by indecision.

Should I try to be funny or inspirational? Should I spend the time talking about my personal Chi Omega story? Or, since it was mentioned in the Evite for this event that I am a food blogger and food and travel writer and photographer, perhaps it would be better to talk about my decision to leave my secure job with a high-profile company in New York in order to build my freelancing career.

The more I weighed my options, the more I wandered in circles. The more I wandered in circles, the more convinced I became that I had made a huge mistake in accepting the invitation to speak, that these ladies had made a huge mistake in giving me the floor for ten whole minutes, and that this entire afternoon would be a flop. I threw myself down the deep well of doubt and allowed my confidence to wither away. It was as if I traveled back in time to the period of my life that I refer to as “The Period of Self-Sabotage”, during which I spent an inordinate amount of time envisioning failure before ever giving myself the chance to flourish.

Then I paused and took several deep and cleansing breaths. I realized how fortunate I am to have such a wide range of experiences to use as material for today, and I recognized what a blessing it is to have others see the potential that I see within myself. I made the conscious choice to push the self-doubt out of my head and to focus on preparing something thoughtful to share with all of you, something that will, hopefully, stick in your mind and give you something to mull over in the days to come. It was during this moment, this proverbial light bulb moment, when I realized that the topic of my talk was staring right at me the entire time – the Power of Choice.

Let me rewind to the fall of 2009 and the first time I truly appreciated the Power of Choice. At that time, I was 29 and had just lost my job at a music start-up in Queens due to downsizing. I was spending my days navigating the uncertain waters of unemployment in New York, following every possible job lead, and submitting dozens of applications each week. After two months without even one little nibble, I was feeling frustrated and depressed and started panicking about my hemorrhaging bank account. How much longer would I be able to cover my expenses before finally giving in to my father’s repeated offers of financial assistance? How much longer until I was forced to admit defeat and move back home?

I found refuge in two things – my food blog and Chi Omega. At that point, Taste As You Go was a little more than a year old, but I was starting to make a name for myself in the food blogging community. The act of cooking and sharing the stories behind my recipes was therapeutic, and I was beyond grateful to have something creative to focus on so I didn’t spend all of my time wallowing about my job situation.

When I wasn’t creating content for Taste As You Go, I was concentrating on my role as Vice President Membership of the New York City Alumnae Chapter of Chi Omega, planning events to attract new members, organizing activities to keep Sisters engaged, and kicking off our version of the Big Sister/Little Sister program. Eventually, though, I started to resent my responsibilities, especially those related to events and activities that I couldn’t even afford to attend.

In October of that year, our Career and Personal Development Chair arranged a talk led by motivational speaker Gabrielle Bernstein. My bitterness had reached an all-time high and my mood had plunged to an all-time low, and I had no desire to attend any event having to do with motivation. Somehow, though, a friend (and Sister) convinced me that it would do me some good to get out of my apartment, so I agreed to go, but only if she agreed to leave early with me if I decided that I had had enough.

I was fully prepared to sit in polite silence, to listen but not really listen. But from the second it started, Bernstein’s talk – “Change Your Mind, Change Your World” had me captivated, rocking me to my core. Everything she was saying resonated with me, and suddenly, the sequence of events that led me to that specific place, both physical and emotional, made perfect sense. Although I had always considered myself a strong and independent woman, I had, in fact, based and measured my happiness on and against the happiness of others.

Admitting to myself that I plotted my path based on others’ expectations was the first step in righting my ship. In trying to appease others, I had, ultimately, ignored my own happiness. Because of this, I had grown quite accustomed to making excuses as to why things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. I was subconsciously sabotaging myself, falling in line with what seemed easiest rather than having the courage to veer in another direction. I was standing in the way of my own happiness and success because I wasn’t giving myself a chance to truly go after it, in my own way, on my own terms.

Bernstein led us through a series of short exercises to help us feel comfortable enough to “let go of the rope” and to start viewing our world in a positive way. Rather than see our goals as milestones we’d like to achieve someday, see them, instead, as milestones we will achieve someday. By the end of her talk, I had turned a corner and knew, without a doubt, that my life had changed forever.

I wasted no time putting what I had learned into practice. After thinking about the things I wanted for myself, my need for a job and deep love of food led me to write the words “I will work for the Food Network” on two large pieces of paper, the first of which I taped on the wall behind my alarm clock and the second of which I taped on my refrigerator. I then began visiting the website of Scripps Networks, the parent company of the Food Network brand, every morning looking for new job postings.

Eventually, I submitted my resume for an administrative position with HGTV, a sister network of the Food Network, and, after an extensive multi-round interviewing process, I was offered the position. I was gainfully employed again and one step closer to my goal. I was thrilled. Unfortunately, three years into my tenure at Scripps, I had to admit to myself that my position at HGTV was as close as I’d ever get to working for the Food Network. My several attempts to jump to the other network were met with frustration and disappointment. By that point, I had relocated to Pennsylvania to live with my then-fiancĂ© and was taking the bus back and forth to Manhattan every day. The realities of my exhausting commute and stagnant career were starting to take their toll. 

It was time to make another Choice.

Continue along this path and relish in the security of a regular paycheck with benefits? Or cut the safety net and finally attempt to make a career as a freelance writer, something I had been talking about for a long time but never entertained as an option that was viable.

After a series of discussions with my husband, I made my Choice. I decided to cut the net. I wrote the words “I am a Freelance Writer” on two large pieces of paper and hung them up where I could see them. The next day, I walked into my boss’ office and gave my notice. Less than a week later, I signed my first client.

Given my time constraints, I’ve obviously left out a lot of details concerning the blood, sweat, and tears involved with making a move like this, and I’ve made no mention about the long hours spent scouring the freelance forums for leads, the even longer hours spent drafting pitches and proposals, and the blistering reality that there are some companies out there who are only willing to pay writers less than half a penny per word but who expect 2-3 500-word articles per week. Being a freelancer is difficult, yes, but the challenge of landing the right client and getting to help them reach their target audience in a meaningful way makes the work all the more satisfying. I love the work, and I’ll continue doing it until that’s no longer the case.

In closing, I want to share one more thing with you, a line from the letter that I wrote to myself after concluding my training at the Nancy Walton Laurie Leadership Institute at National Headquarters in Memphis in February 2010 – “You need to believe in yourself and to have the courage to move forward with the changes you want to make.”

I’ll say it again. 

“You need to believe in yourself and to have the courage to move forward with the changes you want to make.”

Life very rarely, if ever, leads you down a path that stretches straight out ahead of you with no bend or curve in sight. You will be required to make Choices along the way, and it’s perfectly normal to feel intimidated when choosing change. Just remember, every good thing that has happened in your life happened because something changed, so why not put yourself in the driver’s seat and allow yourself to be the one to initiate that change?

Thank you.

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