Wishes and whispers

Sometimes the whole course of your life is forever altered by a random moment in which you offhandedly make a wish.

For me, that moment came sometime in late 1999, when I walked by the desk of a colleague and happened to glance at her computer and see her browser open to a website that caught my eye. The homepage featured a row of groovy shoes (plus one pair of bare feet) and described a company where an unusual menagerie of people—including "an ex-lawyer and a poet"—helped companies solve their biggest problems. 

I felt simultaneously intrigued, inspired, intimidated, and bemused. I didn't fully understand what this company—Stone Yamashita Partners—did or even was. But I had this strange feeling that perhaps someone like me (a Ms. Magazine editor turned web content strategist) might fit in alongside the ex-lawyer and the poet. And a thought bubbled up in my brain: "I hope that's the next company I work for." 

I didn't think much more about it. But the wish went out into the universe and quietly got to work. 

And one day in 2003, I got a call from that poet, whose name was Lisa. A former colleague of mine, now a colleague of hers, had given her my name. "Are you available to do some freelance editing?"

Over time, more assignments followed. And unlike the first one, each new assignment required me to stretch beyond the bounds of my liberal arts education and far outside anything I'd done in the first two chapters of my career. I went from editor to experience designer, content strategist to C-suite consigliere. Every time a new hat finally started to fit, another one was tossed in my direction. It was exhilarating—and terrifying. But whenever I got stuck or scared, there was always someone there to help me find the will and teach me the way. Until, eventually, I became the one teaching the way—to a new set of people similarly intrigued and bemused by the company, now known as SYPartners.

My daughter was 6 months old when I first answered that call. Today, she's 13. She has never known me to work anywhere else. And, frankly, over the years it's become hard for me to discern where SYP ends and I begin. 

And then one day, just over a year ago, I realized I needed to figure out the answer to the question of where I begin. I needed to see if I had dreams, ideas, an identity, and a voice beyond and outside SYP.

The person who made me realize all this was Oprah. When I tell people that, they usually wait a few beats—to see if there's a punchline. There isn't. The only funny part of the story is that my own colleagues had actually helped Oprah engineer this particular epiphany. They had been working with Oprah and her team for months to design an ambitious two-day crash course in self-actualization called The Life You Want Weekend. The plan was for Oprah—along with a hand-picked set of her favorite inspirational speakers—to gather with tens of thousands of her devotees in stadiums around the country and help them find their purpose in life. When I was invited to join the SYP team at the event in San Jose, I assumed I would attend as observer not participant. But about an hour into the whole thing, I stopped taking notes to send back to our project manager and started to simply take note of what was happening inside my own head. And as I listened to Oprah talk about the whispers—the subtle, almost subconscious voice inside telling us what we need to do with our lives—I looked over at my boss, Susan, and I tried with all my might to stifle the whisper that was bubbling up inside me, the one calmly saying, "It's time to leave." 

It's a strange feeling when your gut is two steps ahead of your head and your heart.

It's taken me this whole year—and especially these last four months—to get all three aligned. When I first told Susan about the whisper and she suggested this sabbatical, we both knew that my leaving was a strong possibility. But it wasn't inevitable—not by a long shot. And I've spent much of these last four months continuing to resist the whisper, looking for a path back into SYP that felt right.

The last month in particular was full of much soul-searching—a private process I wasn't ready to process publicly here. But as the sands of my sabbatical started to drain, I finally had to admit to myself that to go back to SYP, right now, would be like re-reading the last chapter of a book I deeply love and desperately don't want to end.

The whisper was right. It is indeed time to leave.

And that's what I did today. My sabbatical is officially over. And so is my time at SYP. (At least for now.)

I wish I had a perfect story for people who ask me what I'm going to do next. The truth is, I'm still figuring that part out.

I've put a few new wishes out into the universe. The next whispers are almost audible—not quite yet. But I'm listening. And ready.