People are your future.
Reflections on my first year consulting, coaching and helping people find their way.
I never thought of myself as someone who would start and run her own business. I’m a good student; I wait for the bar to get set by someone else and then I throw every ounce of energy I have into leaping 15,000 miles over that bar.
I’m an authority-loving overachiever.
But two years ago something happened to me. I became a parent and I sucked at it. My kid didn’t sleep and he lost weight and everything was messy and I forgot people’s birthdays and I never called anyone and I got a little depressed, frankly. Because I spent several months at home with a boss who never gave me any gold stars.
I did some therapy. I did some journaling. I hired some babysitters. I started giving myself more credit than my bosses and parents ever gave me. And I started to wonder what my life could look like if the only person I had to impress was myself. (Even writing that sentence right this second still feels TERRIFYING and BADASS).
I boiled down the point of my existence on this planet into six words: I help people find their way. It wasn’t a business plan, but it was a purpose. And somehow I trusted that the details around monetizing one’s purpose were logistical and completely solvable and that I was smart and driven enough to do it.
So last summer I trusted my gut and I quit my job. I bawled through the entire announcement of my departure and I never told my parents until the quitting had already happened. I sensed that, if I were even slightly challenged in this decision, I would fall very quickly into Doing What Everyone Else Thinks I Should Be Doing.
I named my business Plucky because that adjective is exactly what I love about humans and what I love about myself and what I want to empower in the world. And though I wasn’t sure how to classify Plucky, I started with “HR Consulting for Tech Firms.” It didn’t line up with my degrees, but it totally lined up with my experience and that’s what I was hungry to leverage.
The first few weeks were incredibly liberating. When I saw my former boss a month in, he asked how it was going. “I don’t have any clients yet,” I admitted. And then he told me something that I think about nearly every day.
“Oh Jen, you’re not signing clients right now,” he said. “You’re planting seeds. Whenever things get slow, you gotta go out there and plant seeds.”
So I started calling people. I had coffees and lunches and asked everyone what their people problems were at work. I heard about noisy office mates and partners who took long weekends. I heard about lackluster meetings and broken office chairs and arguments that happened years earlier that never got resolved. It was a fascinating, deep experience and I was honored every time someone opened up enough to share their underbelly with me.
Later in the fall I signed my first clients. I started a tally on the wall for proposals accepted and proposals rejected. Some days I threw a dance party when I signed new work. Other days I was disappointed that I’d low-balled a proposal. I was hard on myself, but some days I celebrated and it felt a little like progress.
I designed annual reviews. I invented the Employee Experience Audit and had a total blast conducting them for clients. I did exit interviews. I held Office Hours and I had coffee chats. I taught lunch & learns. I taught workshops at Annual Retreats. I got edgier in my speaking topics. I even got invited to speak at a few conferences, which were experiences that broke me down in the hours before I spoke and then lifted me high enough afterwards to glimpse that I was helping people find their way.
I continued to attend Owner Camp, a community that I met as an agency person, to learn and to find new clients. I navigated the confusing identity crisis that took me from agency peer to consultant. Plucky grew. I added coaching to my repertoire. More clients came. I paid daycare bills without sweating.
This spring my husband got a job opportunity in San Francisco and we moved from New York to California. Plucky held up through the transition, my clients holding strong like constellations as I navigated life in a new place. And this is where I write from tonight, from my bedroom that is the length of a country and the depth of a year from where I was last year on September 9. I know who I am and I know much better what Plucky is and I am so damn proud of both those sentiments.
Plucky is a consulting business that hinges on the notion that people are your future. And if that’s true then the profits and the products, the sites and the pitches, all of them are contributing details to what your organization is building. You are the people you hire. You are the skillsets you employ. Your company cannot manifest the dream you have for it if the relationships between the people building it are broken. All of this, the messiness and the homeruns and the ability to sustain our lives through our ideas, hinge on the success of the elegant dance between humans who work together.
This is where my brain is at these days. I am obsessed with people — individuals, teams, companies. But actually I am more than obsessed with them — my purpose is to move them forward. And what I can tell you after being my own boss for a year is that I am a solid bet. I have big (enormous!) dreams for where Plucky is going and I cannot wait to see everything unfold during Year 2.
Year 1 is officially over and I’m not a freshman anymore.
So keep your eyes peeled, Planet Earth. I’m coming for your humans.