Sarah. That’s the name of my friend who gave me the final push to start writing again. The one who said YOU CAN DO THIS and IT WILL BE WORTH IT and YOU’RE WORTH IT. She said all that not with her words but with how she encouraged and showed up and walked me through what it would take to do this thing. This thing that is both terrifying and exhilarating where you become an entrepreneur because sometimes that’s what it takes to do the thing you love. Where you do the thing that you love, sometimes only slightly more than you fear, and your hesitance about “marketing” or “branding” yourself melts away because it doesn’t feel like that when this is who you are, what you care most deeply about, and the thing to which you feel called more than anything else.
Sarah and her husband (and their two sons) are our neighbors and close friends and together we’ve been doing life for a couple of years from raising kids, sharing recipes, and playing games, to doing home improvement projects and walking through a few job transitions. They walked with us through my job lay-off last year and had front-row seats to me figuring out my life.
After losing a job in ministry—which in my mind I had been working towards for almost ten years—I went to a dark place. In my grief, I said never again. I’m done working for a church. It hurt too much and I couldn’t bear the thought of opening my heart to the possibility of so much pain again. I longed to return to the university job I loved but left for this one… I wallowed in deep regret but rarely admitted it.
Although it was summertime in Portland–finally beautiful, sunny, warm, and happy–I was depressed. Home with the kids and some stretch of runway before I had to return to work, I searched and applied for loads of jobs that were outside of my field and industry. For a brief season, I thought I wanted to work for the parks department, then it was a prominent sportswear retailer, then government work or maybe running for an elected position. Maybe I should go back to project management, try community outreach with a local nonprofit or real estate. The options were wide open, but nothing quite fit.
Somewhere in there I applied for a job at my beloved university, which for that season became to my heart a promised land. I was disappointed when that door remained closed because I desperately wanted to return, but I knew the position would have been a stretch to say the least.
I applied for a perfect-for-me job with another university. If you knew me, and you read about the skills and experience and education they were looking for, you would see a match made in heaven. So you would understand my confusion when months went by and I heard nothing. And finally one day, more than four months after applying, I received a generic “thanks for your interest” rejection email that rocked me. How could they not even want to interview me? How could I be so easily dismissed? I was angry. And hurt. And shocked. But mostly hurt.
The familiar darkness welcomed me back, bidding me to sink down, be quiet, stop putting myself out there. The shadows said you’re only worthy of lay-offs and rejections, so quit trying. There were months of darkness and several friends encouraging me to continue writing—even sermons that would never be preached—and I thought why bother?
In a deep, secret place in my heart I had tucked away my dreams. I hid them to keep them safe from the darkness, with its relentless pursuit of destroying everything. As 2017 was drawing to a close, I decided in one of my healthier moments that I should get a journal and set some goals for 2018 and actually do something with my life instead of letting life happen to me. So I did. And for the first time in a long time I put pen to paper and discovered all was not lost. Or perhaps in the wisdom of Frederick Buechner, “All is lost. All is found.” I peeked inside the hidden place and wrapped words around what I saw there.
In my best version of myself, I have found my niche and am a published author and experienced speaker. Thriving and finding purpose in my career, I am contributing to my field and helping others.
I had forgotten what an open book I am. I feared this was too fragile to show anyone. In my darkness I somehow believed my closest friends didn’t already know. When Sarah’s husband told mine “Jen just needs to build her brand and put herself out there,” I tried to muster the usual excuses and stay in that darkness. But when my heart said “Maybe it’s time,” Sarah said “Of course it is. We got this.” And everything tumbled wildly and rapidly into place from there. We met. We talked. She inspired. I went home and wrote.
The inspiration was seeping through my pores and I could hardly get it all out quickly enough in the days and weeks that followed. And I tore through books that had been on my nightstand for months. And I wrote.
And it feels so good to be alive. To emerge from the shadows. To once again be engaged in meaningful work for which I have passion and inspiration. To re-enter my vocation; to not only earn a living but to do it by engaging in work that is purposeful, work that continues my educational and career trajectory with all of the reading, writing, speaking, listening, and conference-attending that stimulate my mind, fill my heart, and ignite me with a sense of what I am here to do. It is good to be here.
Had it not been for Sarah, I don’t know how long it might have taken me or what life would even look like. She gave me one of the most precious gifts of all: hope. For that I am deeply grateful.