Its not that I wasnt fulfilled by my position of director of integrated communications at a small liberal-arts school in south-central Pennsylvania. Not at all. In fact, my career soared to a new level while at Elizabethtown College; there, I blossomed personally and professionally.
From August 2010 until my last day on May 22, 2015, I passionately told the Elizabethtown College story in a variety of mediums. I could not be more grateful for such a fantastic, inviting and comfortable place to work and, more specifically, to be a vital part of such a talented, vibrant marketing and communications team that, together, worked on exciting and revolutionary projects. My director gave me freedom, flexibility and plenty of growth opportunities. I represented the college at many speaking engagements, webinars/webisodes and through industry articles and even a few books. This fondness for and connection with Elizabethtown and the greater higher-education community made my decision difficult, but, ultimately, I knew I was ready to pursue personal creative endeavors that have been on the back-burner way too long.
Before I took this giant leap, I attempted to make everything fit. I truly did. I even talked to a social worker about my awesome-yet-cluttered life. But, you see, after many maneuvers with my schedule, I just couldnt find the time to accomplish the things I wanted to while also still living a life.
So I did it. I eliminated the biggest obstacle of all: The eight hours or more per day I physically had to be somewhere.
It definitely was with mixed emotions that I announced first to friends and family, and, later, to the world through an obligatory social-media post that I was leaving the college after commencement poetic, huh?
Whats Next? Creative Pursuits!
Theres another side to me thats been overshadowed by my dedication to a fast-paced, busy career in the marketing and communications world, most recently in the higher-ed arena. Im a creative writer who, admittedly, hasnt done much writing in the past several years. That spark came back this year, most notably after a three-day, solitary writing retreat where I got 15,000 words and pages and pages of research into a new project. That accomplishment invigorated me, and put a near-permanent smile on my face.
A few months prior to that, while reading a collection of Ray Bradbury essays on writing before bed, I had a brainstorm of my own. I got out from under the covers, and I sat at my keyboard and watched words flow out of me like never before. By 3 a.m., I had the first draft of a short personal essay. I was proud of something I wrote (outside of work) for the first time in a very long time. That essay and that start into a young adult novel project both of which have received incredible feedback from writing friends and a critique group was ultimately the catalyst for me deciding this was the time to, as trite as it sounds, follow my dream.
I was moved to tears not because of what I wrote, but because I wrote it.
Now, I have the flexibility to create when I want to, when inspiration strikes, instead of trying to squeeze writing in when I have time that was not working, no matter how many strategies I tried. Anyone with a knowledge-based job, like my previous role, will attest that the work never ends; its always on your mind, even when you dont have to be physically present. I do understand that a bold move like this is hard for some to grasp: Why would anyone leave a cozy full-time job, where they are paid well, have good benefits, enjoy great perks, work with wonderful colleagues toward a noble mission and are in the perfect position for their skills and talents? Why?
Because I want to, thats why.
Because we only live once, thats why.
Because happiness matters, thats why. (I have no time for naysayers!)
I know many creative people who have taken leaps of faith like this and are doing just fine they are not starving artists. These folks, and they know who they are, have been a big inspiration to me. Ive also done a ton of reading last year and, for some reason, the books I chose were meant for me to read at this very time in my life. So in addition to inspiration in real life, I have Austin Kleon (“Show Your Work!” and “Steal Like an Artist”), Greg McKeown (“Essentialism”), Ian Leslie (“Curious,” actually a January 2015 read), Paul Smith (“Lead with a Story”) and Charles Duhigg (“The Power of Habit”) to thank. Additionally, I owe my newly reignited reading habit to Jon Acuff, who challenged people in his 2014 Empty Shelf Challenge. In May, I participated in a Pecha Kucha night at Tellus 360 in Lancaster. For my six minutes on stage, I shared how these books changed my life and helped give me courage to make this leap.
Making it Work
I have a great support network, near and far, virtual and real, for this move: most importantly, my husband Kevin. I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life, especially because Im well aware that others often get their hopes and dreams squashed by a significant other, parent or friend because, they’re told, winning bread wins out over baking up dreams. Were both prepared to conserve and reallocate resources because we both understand that living a dream is better than just living. (Thats my new mantra.)
But with all that said, I will need to supplement my income a bit. (I was the breadwinner of our two-person-one-cat family.)
When I returned to college full-time in my mid-20s, I left my full-time job to fulfill that dream (again, that was a good hunch to follow! I never stopped learning since then, and I cant imagine where Id be if I hadnt given myself time to focus on school!), so to get me through that time in my life, I was a full-time freelancer. It worked out then, and now, more than a decade later, I have so much more to offer. Ill be taking on select project work in my areas of expertise. This part of my big move is not just to bring in money; it also will help keep my marketing and writing skills sharp Im well aware that I might return to the working world at some point, so its super important to keep up with an ever-changing industry.
I rented a co-working space inside an old tobacco warehouse in the heart of downtown Lancaster so I have a place to go. Getting out of the house will be important to my success and productivity. This space is where I will focus on my creative and freelance writing.
Call me overly ambitious, but while Im making dreams a reality, Im bringing an idea out of hibernation. (I had started this briefly back when I worked in eCommerce.) With my life-long fascination with sleep and dreams and long-time interest in running an online store, Kevin and I agreed this is a solid idea to nurture my entrepreneurial spirit. Its called The Dream Drawer, an online store selling items that help people sleep and dream better, things like sleep masks, earplugs, lavender items and travel pillows. Were working mostly with small vendors, and we have a built-in social responsibility element to the business. This will take a bit to get off the ground, but its setting in motion another source of income and creative fulfillment.
I launched my baby, the online creative nonfiction literary magazine Hippocampus, in 2010, and it has been growing by leaps and bounds, including holding our creative nonfiction conference, HippoCamp earlier this month. This new shift in my life will also allow me larger blocks of time to focus on growing Hippocampus.
I’ve also started doing yoga and meditation, which has been so freeing. It’s the first time in a very long time that I’ve been able to fully quiet my mind. Come to think of it, that mindfulness and mental clarity could have very well contributed to my realizing it was time to take a leap.
I am so excited about this change in my life. Im looking forward to filling up blank pages, sharing my expertise to help others grow personally and professionally and diving into the challenge of running an online store in todays super-competitive marketplace.
Above all, Im excited to have more time to be me.
Donna Talarico is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.