It’s taken me three months to put this story into words. I’ve jotted notes in Google Docs and in the margins of my planner but they’ve all lived in a messy, emotional heap until now. Some of you know (and others may have noticed from social media) that I no longer work with Citizen Supply in Atlanta. I needed time to process this end and new beginning (to believe it all myself, really) but I’m learning so much about the joy found in slow living and now feels right to share. And, since my I’m With Her series started with me quitting my job, I’m going to share the story by answering the same questions asked of the women I’ve featured.
Do you remember dreaming about what you’d be “when you grew up” as a child?
Absolutely. I was creative from an early age (I’m told there was no pouting that a fresh box of Crayola crayons couldn’t fix). I lived for Wednesdays in elementary school when art was our “special” class, crafted in all of my free time at home, and took painting lessons and all the art classes I could fit into my schedule in high school. I was going to be an artist. In second grade, I listened to Shania Twain’s Man I Feel Like a Woman on tape (side A) and then I was going to be a country singer. In fifth grade, I helped my mom teach Sunday School so then I was going to be a teacher. In sixth grade, my little brother was born with special needs and I was really, really going to be a teacher. Then, I went to college (twice) and I really, really became a teacher. After four years of teaching, I quit to pursue graphic design full-time. I’m approaching four years of running my own business and still don’t quite believe it. So far, two out of three of my “dreams” have become a reality so stay tuned for my country album 😉
When did you start working with Citizen Supply? What exactly were you doing?
In the beginning of 2016, I met with my friend Phil about helping curate space at his new store Citizen Supply in Ponce City Market. At the time, I was settling into a rhythm with design and becoming more confident in my process and timeline with clients so I had a little breathing room for personal projects. After talking with Phil, we decided that I’d buy wholesale clothing and home goods and curate them in a women’s shop at the front of his large store. It was an exciting investment and a way to be creative away from of my computer, though I’d still be doing primarily graphic design. I opened my shop in February and had an absolute blast creating collections, merchandising displays and telling artists’ stories through their products.
In April, Phil and I began to dream about what it would look like for me to work with Citizen Supply in a larger capacity. He was working tirelessly – on the edge of burnout – and had been praying that the Lord would provide a partner to help carry the load of running a start-up. Things truly just fell into place. The more we talked, the more we were so sure that this was really something. Hours of prayer and conversation later, we decided that I’d start in May 2016 as Co-Owner and Creative Director alongside Phil and a small (amazing) team. I was over the moon. Those of you who know Phil can understand what an honor it was to have him believe in me.
As Creative Director, I was in charge of branding and merchandising for the store, curating product lines and new vendors, and designing marketing/social material. As Co-Owner, Phil and I worked together on e-ver-y-thing. Hiring, firing, training, scheduling, strategy, events, accounting, legalities, systems, operations, promotion, when to call our coffee addiction an addiction. Everything. I was working remotely for three weeks out of the month and then driving from Raleigh to Atlanta for a week each month to be with the team. It was all thrilling and so hard and wonderful and rewarding and exhausting and empowering and very good.
What was the rest of life like for you at that time?
The summer was honestly a blur. I was so inspired and had a zillion ideas and so much faith in what we were doing but I was also very tired because my days looked drastically different as a “boss” than as a designer. Jon and I spent two weeks in July at the store almost every day installing floor sets, training new employees, organizing the stock room, and going from meeting to meeting. It was exciting to find a “new normal” in Atlanta together and we daydreamed about being there full-time as Citizen grew. But, he left for a month of military training in August and though I spent that time in Atlanta to work, I felt really unsettled and anxious. I saw my family often (they live in Atlanta) and my friends none. Actually, I was a terrible friend. I was scattered and distracted and stressed and so happy but so unavailable.
What did a typical work day look like?
When I was at home, I woke up around 7:30 or 8, made/inhaled coffee, and sat down to emails right away. I had two inboxes in addition to my design email account and all three of them were constantly overflowing. I’d spend 2-3 hours answering emails about various things and then either hop on calls with Phil, one of our employees or one of our 120 shop vendors. Those calls would yield to-do lists of their own so I’d tackle the most pressing and then try to squeeze the rest of the tasks in before the end of the day. I’d try to make it to the gym before dinner and then spend some time with Jon before going to sleep each night but that often didn’t happen. The tasks themselves weren’t aversive and I don’t remember exactly when this happened, but at some point all my work hours and minutes started to run together. Each day was just a string of to-dos and even if I got them all done, the next day looked exactly the same. I felt like I would never be finished (which is a dark place for someone who thrives by crossing things off a list). But, I so believed in the company and what we were creating and loved the relationships I was building so I told myself that this was just a season.
In the beginning, Phil and I both did a great job of shutting off at the end of the day. Somewhere in the mix, though, I started to go back to work after dinner. I think the realization that all these people (shoppers and employees and vendors and followers) needed us and there weren’t enough hours in the work day to get everything done meant that we needed to extend the work day. As you can imagine, that took its toll.
What was the best part of working at Citizen? The worst part?
The best part was the people – hands down. I learned so much from Phil and our team. I worked for so long as a lonely freelancer so interacting with real people – beautiful people – every day was life-giving. I still can’t get over how lucky I was to be a part of that family.
The worst part is that it wasn’t sustainable for me. As sure as I am that I made the right decision, I miss it.
When did you first realize that it was no longer a good fit?
Again, the first five months were a blur and because I was having fun, I wasn’t stopping to analyze my emotions or capacity. I was thriving on the outside, but not able to see I was spiraling down on the inside. Thanksgiving was the first time I felt the real weight of the stress. It was physically on me. I took the end of the week off for the holiday and realized that though I wasn’t working, the weight of the job was still very much with me. I was not “off”. After that, I started checking myself. I realized I wasn’t eating or sleeping well, I wasn’t resting, reading, exercising, journaling, cooking, or playing – only working. And even when I wasn’t, my brain was.
As much as I loved the job, it took all of my energy and well-being. For all its beauty, it had swallowed me whole. And, just as clearly as the Lord affirmed that I should step into the role in May, He affirmed that I should step out. I know that sounds like such a cop-out answer. “God told me to.” But He did. I have only heard God speak this clearly two other times in my life and He isn’t quiet.
How were you feeling physically and emotionally at that time?
Emotionally I was frazzled, confused, exhausted, guilty, disheartened, and angry at myself. Physically I was just so. freaking. tired. I had so many thoughts and fears: Was I a quitter? How was I going to tell Phil? What would so-and-so and so-and-so think? How would we make money? I don’t even want money, I just want to sleep. But, God was very kind to me in those dark weeks. As fearful as I was of the logistics of the decision to leave, each time I fell before Him, He continued guiding me in that direction.
Did you confide in anyone? If so, who and when? What were their reactions?
Well, I can’t lie to save my life so I spilled all my thoughts and feelings in one hundred jumbled, emotional conversations with Jon on Thanksgiving when I noticed that I wasn’t okay. He was so loving and supportive, of course, and encouraged me to slow down and really dig into why I was feeling this way. We talked through ways to combat the stress but he reminded me that I needed to hold myself more accountable and take care of my own needs, and that I needed to talk candidly with Phil.
When and how did you actually quit?
Phil and I were planning holiday details at one point before my “breakdown” and I communicated that I was overwhelmed. We made plans to offload some of my tasks in the new year – a reasonable goal to work towards. I realize now that I should have been more clear: I wasn’t approaching burnout, I was already there.
After Thanksgiving, we talked again and I just said it. I had to step down. There is no good way to have this conversation and I burst into tears after the second word. It still breaks my heart to think about it. I was so sorry but so sure and also scared I was losing a friend. Though I knew this was the right decision, my main concern was stepping down in a way that honored Phil, the team, the company, and our friendship. I wasn’t on a timeline and wanted to do whatever made this hard situation less awful. We decided (after a lot of tears) that it made sense to offload some of my work between December and February and see if that helped my stress level, then re-assess. If I still wanted to step down at that point, there would be less to offload to someone else. If I wanted to stay, I’d stay. It lifted a huge weight from me and seemed like a fair plan.
After that conversation, I fought so hard to stay in a mindset of not quitting. I wanted to give our plan a fair chance and really thought that shifting around my workload would calm things and create margin. And in a lot of ways, it did. But in December, something clicked. It wasn’t necessarily about the workload after all – it was the stress. I didn’t work for almost two weeks but thought about, planned, or problem solved for work every single day. I truly didn’t know how to turn it off. Before Christmas, I sat in the window seat of a Portland coffee shop eating a really dry muffin and told Jon that I couldn’t stay. It’s poetic or whatever, I know, but I just felt it. It was time to go. Phil and I talked again after the holiday and decided that I’d offload my work through the end of January and then move on.
It took me so long to understand that even though I can do this job, I shouldn’t. I don’t doubt my ability to do this work – I know I am capable – but I see very clearly now that pressing on is not sustainable for me and I want to make space to focus on what brings me real joy: a peaceful, slower life.
How were you feeling physically and emotionally after quitting?
Because there were so many details to work out and I carried such heavy guilt, it was over a month before I felt like myself again. January 31 was my last day and I took the month of February “off” to regroup. I created for the sake of creating, visited friends, cooked new meals, got back into a yoga routine and cried and prayed that clients would hire me again.
Is there an especially negative memory/experience related to quitting?
Besides telling Phil the first time, which was absolutely the hardest part, hugging him goodbye in Atlanta for the last time was especially hard. But, it was hard for a million good reasons. If our partnership and friendship hadn’t been so beautiful, it wouldn’t have been difficult to say goodbye. I’m thankful we had something that was hard to let go of.
Is there an especially positive memory/experience related to quitting?
Hearing God speak so clearly in that coffee shop is something I’ll always treasure. Even though the obedience was scary, I’m thankful for His guidance.
What are some specific fears or struggles you faced (or are still facing)?
I think I just doubted my creative identity overall. I know God made me to be creative, but I felt like a drifter who had a few talents here and there but couldn’t commit to one. I know now that this was a lie I was letting myself believe because things were changing. Life is a series of seasons and even the best ones will change. Still reminding myself of this.
What/who is/was your “saving grace” in those struggles?
My people and Jesus. Jon reminds me every day that he is proud of me which makes me feel like I can do anything. My sweet friends forgave me after nine months of disconnected, unintentional friendship on my part. And Jesus continues to reveal His plan and remind me that I am so not in control (which is scary but freeing).
How does the season you’re currently in compare to the darker seasons where your career was more difficult to navigate?
Three months back into my “old life” of full-time design, I have never been happier. I think I say it out loud at least once a day (ask Jon, he’s probably tired of hearing it). I have a renewed sense of confidence and creativity and such an appreciation for the pace of my life. I’m not afraid of hard work, but I’m also not afraid to rest or play. My job is not who I am.
There is a resounding theme of busy-ness in the creative industry (more is better: more clients, more events, more sales, more money, etc.). Did you struggle with the perception that you may be walking away from the opportunities other business owners are so strongly desiring? If so, how did you work through that?
Absolutely. Perception is hard, especially because of social media. I think life (jobs, motherhood, wardrobes, lifestyles) are often perceived as glamorous when sometimes (most times) they’re really just as messy as the next girl’s. I knew my job was special, so of course I felt guilty for walking away from something that so many other talented women would love to be a part of. But, I knew it wasn’t for me. The pace of work and level of need were not compatible with the lifestyle I wanted.
What was the most helpful or powerful encouragement you have received during this journey?
My friend Callie was quitting her job around the same time I was making my move and she sent me a letter she wrote to herself – essentially firing herself from herself. It’s still the most impactful thing I’ve read and has helped affirm my decision and the way I am built. It’s long but so super worth the read:
The physical and emotional limitations of this job could be adjusted for and overcome, but together, they had capped my progress, momentum and well-being.
Last summer, a missionary friend of mine living across the world sent me an email with what she believed to be a word from God – that I was to “stop paddling the proverbial sailboat and to instead wait for the wind”. I was boarding a plane when the email arrived, tired from my third week of travel, and heading home to a new baby and and a pace I couldn’t keep up with. She was right: I was paddling my sailboat with every ounce of energy I had, with no thought for the wind the boat was built for.
Since that time, I was on a mission to create that wind that would allow me to stop. Each time, I was left paddling my ship to a shore I no longer desired to visit. I don’t want success or new deals; I want to do good work, to be present, to be enough.
I feel trapped and exhausted and without direction, which is a dangerous – if not impossible – place to lead from. There’s little room for faith and prayer when you’re too busy engineering the circumstances to make sense. With hope and trust and a good dose of humility and exhaustion, I am laying down my paddle, raising the sails, and waiting for the wind.
I feel as though I could wrap this up in a pretty bow and call it a huge success; I could just as easily label it a failure. I would hate for someone starting a business to hear my story of limits reached and to doubt their future, but I would just as much hate for the weary to hear of a happy ending in a pretty package and to doubt the coming of their own. This can’t be categorized as just a win or just a loss, all good or all bad. Instead, I keep envisioning one of those photos made up of thousands of other tiny photos. Some are dark, some are light, some are important with hard edges and others are just fillers, just like the ones beside them. Together, though, they create the big picture, placed perfectly by the artist with the overall vision.
I am discovering that our purpose is to board the ship and to raise the sails. We point it in the direction we choose based on our knowledge and experience and hopes, and then we wait, expectantly, for the wind to do its work.
Any particular resources you found helpful on your journey?
What do you wish now, a bit down the road, that you had known in the beginning?
I’m so glad I didn’t have any reservations about joining the team when I did. If I had known it would play out like this, I’d like to say I would have still done it but I’m not certain that’s true. I’m glad I was “all in” for that season and am eternally grateful for lessons learned and friendships gained. I guess I wish in those dark, overwhelmed days that I had known I really would be okay. That the pain was real and to feel it all and that it’s okay to heal slowly.
What have you learned about yourself from this experience?
Way more than I could write here, but mainly that who I am is not a mistake. Being able to do something doesn’t mean that it’s right for me. Distinguishing those two was so freeing.
I also think it’s incredibly powerful to identify what we don’t want in life. We all spend a lot of time talking about what we do want (this job, this house, this family, this vacation), but identifying the lifestyle that I didn’t want gave me permission to make decisions to create the one I did.
What have you learned about your relationships with others from this experience?
That I have the most beautiful, forgiving friends. I knew, even in the midst of the most exciting seasons at Citizen, that I was not making time for the people who love me like I should have been. I carried a lot of guilt and the grace they showed me reminds me just how loved I am.
What would you say to a woman currently battling discontentment in her job or a desire to make a change who may be feeling hopeless, conflicted or ashamed?
I’d remind her that her job is not who she is. There is a season for everything and though making a change may mean making sacrifices, life is too short to stay put if it’s time to move.