"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
It was a couple of years ago and we were out of money. My husband, who had done really, really well financially had been let go a year and a half before from a 7 year consulting job. He'd then put all his time and efforts into a software deal that went south at the last minute. We'd gone through our savings, our retirement, we were in foreclosure and out of time.
I'd started a small inspirational card and gift company with a partner and my husband didn't want me to stop trying to make it work to help pay our bills. We had 2 kids in a great school and we didn't want to (nor could we afford to) leave the area we were living in and there were not a ton of jobs for 44 year-old internet business development consultants. He was very brave and said he'd figure it all out on his own.
After a year of anxiety, fear and the roller coaster ride of the software deal, we were in desperate need of money and stability. To me, stability looked like him putting on a button down shirt, a nice pair of slacks and going to work everyday at 8 or so and coming home around 6. I would meet him at the door with a drink and a hot meal. It looked like knowing what each day would bring.
To be honest, I'm not sure what it looked like for him. I know for sure it was killing him that he felt he wasn't providing for his family and he was willing to do anything it took to not feel that way.
Before I tell you the rest of this story I need you to know a few things about my husband. When he walks into a room, it's like the sun suddenly comes out…and not because I love him so much, it's because he has this larger than life presence. He is charismatic. He is loud. He is intense. He is a button pusher. He is also incredibly kind, generous, open and welcoming. He's handsome. He's deeply supportive and amazingly creative and I am lucky to have him.
He is the guy you go to when you have a huge, crazy dream. He makes huge, crazy dreams come true…for real. That's why he is such a great consultant. I've never met anyone like him and sometimes I look at all he's been able to do in this lifetime (he started with absolutely nothing) and I am blown away.
The other thing I need to say is that we live in a small, small town. We moved here from Los Angeles and what people expect from each other here is very, very different from what people expect from each other in Los Angeles. And not in a bad way, just different. Small is good here. Not rocking the boat is good here. People come here to get away from that sort of thing.
Anyway, my sweet husband put together his resume and found a job in sales for a fulfillment center…it's wasn't enough money and it was really challenging because the people who owned the place wanted him to be small. They wanted him to do sales the way they'd always done sales, like with lead tracking programs, and daily sales check ins, etc. He squirmed every time he walked into the office. It was a horrible fit.
And because the money was so bad, he took another job as a salesman for a web development firm. It was a bad fit too because they want him to be quiet and tell the short version of everything. And that's so not him. When he brought in huge leads, leads that meant the company would need to expand and hire more people to do the huge job, they neigh-sayed it, then sabotaged it.
He leaves the first job after only a couple weeks and takes another one with a water filtration company as their sales guy. This is a bad fit too because as my husband makes things move forward at an incredibly fast pace, he's met with absolute disbelief and the nagging feeling that the owner will blow the deal he's putting together because he's afraid of change. Then there was the bartending job and another web design firm…it was awful.
Throughout this time, this man who was used to taking companies who made $500k a year and growing them to 10 million a year, couldn't close a sale. He was baffled. And maybe it was them, maybe they weren't ready for the force of nature that was my husband, or maybe, just maybe, my husband was trying to be someone he wasn't. To fit into an idea that wasn't who he was at all.
My husband did his best to be optimistic. But as time went by, my husband went to work each day with absolute dread, with a brick in his heart. I watched as he grew smaller, as his pride sank and his confidence faltered. It was like he was grieving. It was beyond awful. I began to wonder how on earth he would survive. I wondered how he would ever get himself back. I began to question our future, our hopes and dreams, the ideals I had about "The American Dream." I felt like our reality, the reality we had created in the 10 years of our marriage was gone…and might never be recovered.
And then one night…in the midst of his struggle, my husband had a huge, crazy idea. The hugest, craziest idea he'd ever had. And even though he had absolutely no idea how to make this huge, crazy idea happen or where he would find the strength to get behind it, it was enough. It was food for his starving sense of self. The next day he made a call. Then a couple days later he made another call and another and soon, he was moving the huge, crazy idea foward and I could feel him coming back again.
This would be the montage part of this story: my husband talking on the phone, him pitching his idea at various coffee shops to anyone who would listen, marking possible connectors off his big hand written list, drawing diagrams on his white board, him turning in his bartender apron, him clearing all the papers off a desk at one of the many offices he worked at with his whole forearm, grabbing his family portrait out of the pile and walking out with his head held high, and finally a guy in a suit signing a contract and shaking his hand.
I can see the whole thing, a lot more clearly, as I look back on it. My husband had to do something and he did what he had to do to get us through the roughest time we'd ever had. I admire him tremendously for doing that. He is and will always be my hero because of the sacrifice he was willing to make to keep us afloat. However going so deeply against his nature nearly destroyed him.
I am not suggesting that any of these jobs aren't perfectly great jobs, they are. And I know lots of people that would be more than happy for the job opportunities that he had. These jobs just weren't him. He couldn't be who he was and do what they wanted/needed him to do. And the harder he tried to not be himself, the more he tried to fit into a box, the worse it got. The proof was in the pudding, he couldn't close a deal and now we can both see why.
What I want to offer, and what I know is hard to hear/accept (yet it should be really, really good news) is that it is only by being yourself and doing what is in your nature, what is pleasing to you, what is your truth, that you will wildly succeed.
What makes me sad is knowing that so many people out there are in a place of need, a place of financial desperation that makes them have to do the things they know they can't stand doing, and that tragically, at some point, the door of their dream closes down. They become so sucked into the minutia of "just getting by" that they forget how incredibly amazing they are. How the world is waiting on their gifts and talents. And that no one else can do it like they do.
The deepest truth of this piece is that there is room for everyone's success. There is room for everyone's dreams to come true. If we all did exactly what we wanted to do, what we were passionate about, we'd all fill different roles. Everyone doesn't want to be the same thing. We are each unique. We each have individual gifts that we have to offer. And I know, from this experience that by doing what makes your heart sing, by being true to yourself, being YOU, you will find fulfillment, happiness and success.
This story has a happy ending, or maybe a happy beginning. My husband is working away on his huge, crazy dream and he has people around him who believe in him, who are paying him to turn his dream into reality. He is back…fully back; lighting up rooms, being loud and offering support to anyone who needs a little boost towards making their huge, crazy dream come true.
He has grown immeasurably from this experience, as have I. Watching his light diminish and then come back made me know, deep within my soul that being anything other than who we are is senseless. It is actually the quickest way to failure and worse, it is a crime against yourself, against the very nature of the concept of YOU as a beautiful, unique, individual. Remember, not only is the universe counting on you, you should be counting on you too.