It has taken me nearly two years to stop internalizing the things my co-workers wrote about me: How could I reconcile their opinions of my work with the glowing comments from my clients? Of course, it now seems possible to me that both sets of comments could be true. Perhaps my unhappiness in that position affected my work. I hope not. I prefer to think that they did not like me, and that they got rid of me. They did not fire me at that performance review. Instead, they told me that due to restructuring, my position would be eliminated later in the summer. However, they had a long list of things for me to do in the meantime. I had a conference call scheduled with a potential client. Somehow, taking the leap into the void of self-employment seemed less frightening than remaining in that office for the summer. So, I politely declined. Two days later, I walked out in the middle of the afternoon at the mutual agreement between me and the human resources office. It was April, and the day was sunny and warm. I took out my cell phone and called my father and told him that I was a full-time consultant now. He congratulated me. Then I asked him to pay for my COBRA until I could find health insurance.
That weekend was tremulous. My daughters were with their father for the weekend, so I didn’t have to explain anything to them. I was both liberated and terrified, excited and scandalized and angry and humiliated by that review. My husband and I went to see the movie Sin City, which I hated. I sat in the movie theatre, hands tightly clasped, staring at the floor, and wondered what was going to happen to us. We went to the grocery store, and I remember walking down the aisles, looking at the food, and feeling afraid. It was the same as the day I had met Amy, yet different: I was afraid to put food into the cart. How would we pay for it? For how long would we be able to pay for it? We live in a small town. Could I find another job in town that would pay anything remotely close to what I had been making? What would I do about health insurance? What were we going to do?
The next Monday I got up early, made coffee, turned on my computer and worked all day on client work. A few days later, I had that conference call with a potential client. We mutually agreed that they probably needed someone to work on site with them to meet their needs, so I wrote them an email about the criteria I would use to make such a hire, and continued sending out marketing emails. I worked full-time that week, and didn’t miss a beat that next month with regard to my salary. I got a new client, and then another, and another. That was May. In June, I heard again from that potential client, the one whom I had thought couldn’t use me. They gave me a large project to work on. I have worked with them ever since. By August, I had raised my fees for the first time, found insurance to cover me, and increased my salary to handle my overhead. I determined to give this venture one full year of my attention, without succumbing to the temptation to take a part-time job baking at the local coffee shop, which would take energy from the consulting. The first year, I made more than my salary had been. Last year, I earned still more. I have a website now, and business cards, brochures, pens, post-it notes, and coffee mugs. But my friend’s advice remains the very best I have acted upon: Make contact with potential clients.