Sometime in April of 2016 I sat in the familiar conference room. Surrounding me were our business unit’s leadership. The meeting was being led by me and my team. A group of mostly 30 somethings like myself who, under my leadership, had been given the responsibility of leading a quarterly review of ‘The Customer Experience’.
I was fortunate to be sitting where I was. I had been given the opportunity to forge a road untraveled, to build this team, to make positive change for a corporation that knew it had lost sight of it’s customer, knew it needed help reconnecting shareholder needs to customer needs.
In business terms, my team had been asked to shed light on how to improve the customer experience and enhance profitability. In other terms, my team had been asked to help the corporation see its path back to its soul, back to it’s very reason for existing.
The team had been in existence at the company for three years. We had helped usher in change, helped shift perspective. There was much more to be done, but major hurtles had been overcome to reach this moment. I felt no less than battle wounded and scarred by the challenges of being a change agent in an old business. I had learned the hard way the dance of knowing when to be politically correct and when to let my passion for the customer shine through in order to make an impression. I had learned how to combine math and emotion, quantitative statistics and story telling, to inform strategy and influence decisions. It was a delicate dance I was fortunate to have survived the lessons of so early in my career.
And so here I sat in corporate headquarters, listening to my team rattle off data and information that showed how far we had come. Listened as they detailed progress in process change, customer experience, listed our continued challenges, etc…
The words all went in one ear and out the other like background noise. All I could pay attention to was the scene outside the window.
We were sitting on the third floor where the tree tops met the windows of the conference room. As I gazed out I found myself bedazzled by the sight of a wood pecker in the tree top.
This was the closest I’d ever been to this little creature. Its red head on top and black and gray spray on its body were striking. Enthralled by the quick, precise and colorful movement on the other side of the glass from me I thought, ‘How many times have I sat in this conference room and never witnessed such?’
Seven years in fact. That was how long I’d been attending meetings in this space, never once noticing the activity outside the window.
Then suddenly from the background of white noise discussion around me I heard one of the executives in the meeting ask me a question. Like a robot I chimed right in and rattled off an answer as though my attention had never left the meeting.
Afterwards, in privacy, I googled ‘wood pecker animal totem’…
In the second half of 2015 I had begun to quietly see a shaman, a medicine woman. A whole story in itself I will one day share, but in short I came to her after experiencing several episodes that I could only describe as other worldly.
At the time I was trying to decide if I was going insane or truly having spiritual experiences like those I’d read about in old spiritual texts and fairytales, but never thought possible. The shaman helped me by teaching me about something she called ‘earth medicine’. These were lessons in the ancient spirituality of the Native Americans and other indigenous peoples around the world. She shared these traditions that acknowledged all beings on the Earth, and in the other realms, as a part of the same, as a part of a greater and singular conscious. She even shared with me articles written by quantum physicists that were connecting the dots between science and the things shamans had known for eons about time, space and dimension.
The teachings gave me an understanding of the odd, other worldly experiences, the spirits and visions I had been having visit me. I learned they were not unique, or crazy, and as I continued studying with the medicine woman I found a deeper faith and spirituality than I’d ever experienced growing up as a Methodist. Interestingly, I did not see these old teachings as counter to my Christian faith or what I’d learned in the last decade or so of my yoga practice. To me they were further revelations of a truth I was beginning to see across the many faiths.
That said, these were not teachings that were accepted in the mainstream. Thus, I would go to my teacher in the evenings and weekends and only secretly share with a few like minds my experiences. The rest of the time, I just continued on as though nothing was happening, as though nothing major was shifting within.
Coming back to the moment at hand…as I read about wood pecker symbolism, the reading noted that wood pecker teaches us humans about communicating and about timing. It suggested that if a wood pecker was trying to get your attention then the time was right to communicate what needs to be said.
I harkened back to the dream I had two nights before. In the dream my guides and angels came in and were clear with me about the path forward, about the fact that my instinct that it was time for me to leave corporate was indeed correct.
My fears however, were raging in the opposite direction.
Later that day I sat in my boss’s office. ‘Tell him’, a little voice said. ‘Okay, okay,’ I thought. But first we had to get through business.
In that moment I was engaged in discussing important business matters that could bring about big change, things my team was working on, and most importantly we were discussing people matters. People on the team, their direction, their careers…these were my friends, my family in some ways.
Towards the end of the conversation I looked down at my phone. There was a text from my good friend who I’d been brainstorming with on potential ‘exit-corporate-life’ strategies. She was an incredibly smart woman I’d met in business school. She’d worked for Proctor & Gamble and now had a bad-ass job at Heineken USA in NYC. Her text read, “I just quit my job.”
I paused in conversation and caught my breath.
Just then, my boss said, ‘you are doing a really really good job’.
It took me by surprise. This man was a tough teacher, had challenged me like no other. To hear him say this with such genuine compassion melted any little bit of guts I had and I left his office still wearing my “I’m 110% here” smile.
I had been wearing that outward attitude like a mask for months. It was growing heavier by the day. In fact, by that time most days I felt nauseous on the way to work. Walking through the front door of my office building had become the greatest act of self-will I’d ever mustered.
And I couldn’t understand why. My career was taking off, hard work was finally paying off and everything was going so well. Yes there were challenges and stress, but I’d just been promoted to Director, my already substantial income was really becoming even more lucrative…
Yet, I just couldn’t care less.
And a battle was been escalating within my own psyche. My ego said: “stay here, you’d be crazy not too!” But my Spirit, and it seemed even the universe and all beings from all realms, were getting louder saying ‘leave, your work here is complete’.
In fact I’d literally heard those words whispered across the veils at me. And I felt it utterly mad to follow it’s direction.
I mean seriously. I couldn’t just tell everyone around me, ‘okay y’all, my spirit guides are telling me to quit my job so see y’all later!’
Not only did that sound totally insane – I mean like get-her-to-the-asylum-quick kind of insane – but in truth I really did not know what was on the other side of leaving. I had only a vision, a big, seemingly insane vision with no directions for how to manifest.
And I could predict what would happen if I stayed. Oh yes, I knew – or thought I knew. But on that path over there whispering at me, the unknown was all that was really waiting.
I mean yes I had been putting together some loose plans for what could be. And I had a little money I’d been steadily saving. But in truth my plans, as much as I tried to make them into a clear path to follow were really no more than ideas. I loved ideation, but I was used to only following plans. Those plans were all informed by hard data and facts, vetted by very smart people around me and sealed with the approval of our business unit President. They also had attached to them a very nice bi-weekly pay check, quarterly dividends and health and retirement benefits.
I really felt I needed more time before I tried anything so crazy as to leave this lucrative, well thought out path. I needed a clear plan.
And yet, the woodpecker called. And my own gut called… “How long are you going to make yourself sick because you are afraid of something different?”
And… ”since when were you afraid of doing something you’ve never done before, of following your gut?”
It was true, every job I’d jumped into had been something I’d never done before. Something that ‘just felt right’.
But I just couldn’t jump at that moment. Too much seemed at stake. So I walked back from my boss’s office, feeling I had narrowly escaped impulse and sat down at my desk.
Then the battle started up again…I can’t quit, You must quit, I can’t quit, You must quit.
To quiet it, I logged in and sent my boss a meeting request for the next morning titled ‘One more thing’. I explained I needed a little more time to discuss a couple items we’d missed. I then breathed some relief. Now I could sleep on it and tomorrow figure out if it was time to leave or go.
The very next moment, my boss pops into my office and sits down across from me. “So what’s this one more thing you need to discuss?” he asked.
I looked at him a bit dumbfounded, “Um…don’t you have another meeting right now?”
‘“It got canceled. What’s up?”
Shit, shit, shit…My face started to turn pink. As I looked at him I knew he knew something was up.
“Do…’ pause… ‘you know what I’m going to say already?” I asked.
“Let’s see…” he pondered. “You have found the love of your life! Orrrrrr…you have decided that you don’t want to work in Corporate America anymore!…orrrr….”
“That one!” I said.
He looked befuddled.
“I mean that second one you just mentioned,’ I said. “I uh…I don’t want to work in Corporate America anymore.”
And just like that, the words fell out of my mouth.
Thus began the end. To my surprise, my boss was incredibly compassionate. He expressed in equal heartfelt sincerity his disappointment to lose me but also his certainty in my success at whatever I did.
I wound up giving 2 months notice. I knew it was necessary for my boss to find a replacement for me and for me to feel I’d left in a good way.
And as it turned out, those last 2 months were the most hellish of my career. I had some of the biggest deliverables to bring in and while wrangling those in, I found myself watching in dismay as much of my team dismantled around me. One of my employees started having bi-polar, schizophrenic episodes and targeted me with her attacks. A situation for which corporate HR is wholly unfit to handle. I learned then the only thing the company cared about was not getting sued by this employee. Productivity and people were only priorities when it was easy. Two other employees fell in love and decided to marry, a big unspoken cultural no-no and another HR mess. Another employee, one of my top performers, gave her notice.
One sympathetic colleague said to me a couple weeks before my final leave date, ‘you are going to come in limping and bloody across that finish line aren’t you?’ He wasn’t joking.
It sucked, honestly, but I knew the dismantling had purpose. For though I kept my cool outside and enjoyed the many ‘congrats’ I got from my colleagues on making the big leap, inside I was experiencing fear like I’d never felt before in my life.
Those last dying gasps of the ego that wanted to cling to security were fierce. I would wake up at night from vivid dreams and nightmares. I would wake to the vision that I was lying in a bed of snakes. It was frightening but my spiritual gurus had taught me well about the archetype of the Snake.
Snake brought about transmutation, shedding, the energy of fire, death and rebirth. I knew the universe was burning that old house down for me, because a greater being knew I needed that extra push to really follow through.
And in the great irony that life is, had I known at the time what beauty I would find in leaping into the universe on a prayer and a loose intention, I would not have fretted a bit. I would have stood laughing in those flames, elated for the next adventure ahead.
It was a good lesson for a spiritual entrepreneur. One for which, I can give gratitude now.