At the start of 2015, my friend Alice and I decided to do a life audit with a group of friends. I know—it may sound silly, but doing this exercise identified areas in my life that I wanted to improve on. Some were things I was just plain sick of griping about: I’m a homebody and love to entertain, but was embarrassed by my home’s grad-school decor. Other challenges had emerged more recently and were troubling: Management struggles at work were stressing me out and I wasn’t feeling as fired up about a field (cookbook editing) I’d loved working in for years. I had several important presentations to give at work, yet my anxiety over public speaking was thwarting my preparation efforts. I didn’t know where to start. To charge ahead, I realized I needed to call in some experts. First up, my house.
My husband and I have never had the time (or facility) to create a calm, uncluttered environment. I had read Marie Kondo’s great book a few months before, which led me to consult Ann, an affordable design consultant. Ann also happens to be a referral from my friend Alice. (Alice is a great source for experts.) Ann helped us replace our too-large hand-me-down furniture with more space-appropriate pieces. She also encouraged us to use color—we hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out, but everything in our house was brown or gray. Not anymore.
With our house under control, I turned to Sue, a career counselor to tackle those management challenges I was experiencing at work. As part of the process, she also asked me to share my career goals—large and small. It was a difficult conversation as I struggled with my answers. I realized that at some point I had stopped taking charge of my career and was letting my job take charge of me. No wonder why I wasn’t feeling passionate about work. Sue encouraged me to think about how I could take back control, even if that meant leaving my job. I didn’t think I’d have the time to do the research, but once I started, the exercise turned out to be fascinating and soon revealed opportunities to which I had never given serious thought.
As I was working with Sue, I also began meeting with Patricia, a Boston College drama professor, who gave me the tools and strategies I needed to make more effective presentations at work (and quiet my nerves). Have you ever done the Wonder Woman Pose? It may look ridiculous, but it works. Patricia also gave me terrific feedback that honed the content of my presentations—something I hadn’t expected. Working with Patricia turned out to be a blast and gave me the confidence to believe I could make the career leap I’d been mulling over with Sue.
I’d be taking some short-term financial risks in taking on this new job, so I naturally turned to Bruce, our long-time financial advisor. Bruce understands we’re living a life, not a balance sheet. This sensibility came in handy when he dissuaded me from taking on freelance editorial work. He asked me how I could commit 100% to my new venture if my head were stuck in my ‘old life.’ Or, as he said, “You’ll always be making nickels when you need to be making dollars.” His thoughtful counsel and guidance were invaluable and boosted my courage to leave cookbook editing to take on my new job as a literary agent.
The week or so after I started, I signed up for an online course with Sam, a self-care consultant. A new job and all that comes with it were certainly exciting, but also stress-inducing. Sam’s daily prompts and her very helpful one-on-one coaching session helped me think about ways to keep that stress in check through exercise and meditation. She also reminded me to take time to do things I enjoy (reading, baking). I admit that I’ve been spotty in my meditation practice, but I’m always glad when I take the time (just 10 minutes!) to do it.
Are experts expensive? Not always. You may be surprised to learn that many use a sliding scale based on your salary. And my design consultant Ann was a career changer who was looking for clients to build her portfolio, thus she charged accordingly. Over the course of the year, I’ve learned that experts don’t just have expertise in a particular area, they also offer a fresh, uninhibited point of view. A friend may be reluctant to tell you that your presentation doesn’t start out on the right note or the paint color you’re considering is washed out.
What’s next? I’ve enrolled in an improv course to help me feel more comfortable at the conferences and workshops I’ll be attending in the next year. I’m curious to see what this expert in spontaneity will have to teach me.
A note on my experts: While these are the people I hired to help me this past year, I was also surrounded by experts in my social circle—you know who you are—and I thank you.