Taking Work on the Open Road
by Tammy Nelson
How a law school graduate dodged life as an attorney, left one of the country’s most respected corporations and pursued health, purpose and balance by helping others.
by Allison Walsh
Lately, I’ve read a lot of stories about brave and brilliant people who went straight out of college or grad school into fulfilling, flexible careers, completely sidestepping the part where they toil away in unsatisfying jobs while searching for their true purpose. My hat is off to them; I wish I had broken free and found my calling sooner than I did. But in the final analysis, I like that I have a corporate escape story. I like the twists and turns my path has taken to get me where I am.
Let’s start at the ending …
Where I am Now: You’ll find Me Embracing OpenWork on the Open Road
After an exciting, topsy-turvy career path, I landed back in Missoula, Montana in 2010. I’d grown up in Montana, and although I’m a gypsy at heart, it’s one of the places on the planet I feel most grounded and at peace. I met the man of my dreams and reveled in surroundings that allowed me to launch not one, but two digital businesses. Rainseed Marketing helps lawyers attract more clients, and The Wildflower Uprising helps women find their way to job satisfaction, financial freedom and engagement through launching successful side-hustle businesses.
Since I can cultivate and grow Rainseed and The Wildflower Uprising anywhere, I like to move the operation around to places like my cousin’s kitchen, the lodge at the ski hill and coffee shops dotted throughout Salt Lake City, where we now live. It’s great here, but my fella, a photographer by trade, and I are both happily stricken by wanderlust, so we’re about to take this setup to a whole new level — we’re making plans to buy an Airstream trailer and take all three of our businesses on the open road.
To support that effort, I’m currently working on a project I’m calling The Capsule Office™. If you have ever heard of a capsule wardrobe, you will know what I mean. In a capsule wardrobe, there is a minimal collection of fewer than 40 items of clothing and shoes updated just once per season. The concept embraces a KonMari-like spirit by asking questions like: what serves you, what brings you joy and what can you let go. For my capsule office, I’m contemplating the bare essentials necessary to work from an Airstream. What can and should be digitized? What are the best tools, equipment and resources for minimizing my office footprint? And, what can I simply not live without? I’ll be blogging about it all on Operation Airstream.
I know there will be challenges living this open road life, but when I think about the adventure and experience that will come with it … well, that feels like complete freedom and bliss to me!
But while I look excitedly ahead, I can’t help but reflect on what got me here.
Running from Boredom and Searching for “Place”
Long before I graduated from law school, I realized that the rules and regulations that comprise the practice of law weren’t for me. Practicing the same kind of law in the same firm for my entire career sounds, in retrospect, like a particular form of torture. It turns out this was my first clue, really, that my career path wouldn’t be even remotely traditional.
My first job out of law school at LexisNexis provided satisfying work with amazing people; however, the Dayton, Ohio headquarters location was not a place I felt my best. I learned through that experience that I need either a major metropolis or mountains, optimally both, to feel right in my skin. It gave me a true appreciation of the importance of “place” in career decisions.
That Time the Writing Was Literally on the Sidewalk … and the Grass
Luckily, I was wooed away from LexisNexis by Microsoft — it was the easiest decision I ever made. There, it was genuinely impossible to get bored. I was working with some of the most brilliant people in the world, meaning that I had to bring my A-game or be sidelined. It was non-stop, and the learning curve was steep and, at times, exhausting, but (usually) gratifying.
But despite the exciting work, all was not well.
I recall getting up early one day in Seattle, around 5:30 a.m. in the pitch-black dark, to get to the office for a meeting. I was twitchy, bone-tired, way more exhausted than it seemed I should have been. On the way down the front steps, the cute, kicky heel of my shoe managed to catch in the hem of my cute, kicky pants, and I went down. Hard. It was a full-on yard sale, with, I kid you not, number and letter keys from my computer all over the sidewalk and in the grass. I VIVIDLY recall thinking, That shouldn’t have happened. There were lots of incidents like that. Things were off, and I actively overlooked them. The fact is, I was sick, and it would still be years before I received a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that will be a passenger in my life until the day I die.
About a year after the yard-sale incident, I finally made a change, bridging myself out of the corporate world at Microsoft by becoming a consultant … to Microsoft. (Hey, some people take longer than others to grow their wings!) As the pace slowed down a bit, I took a closer look at my life. And frankly, I wasn’t loving what I saw. At all.
Life in the consultant lane was lucrative, but anyone with her priorities lined up can tell you that making serious bank isn’t all life is about. On the career front, I knew that my real potential wasn’t being met, and that made me angst-y. I heard myself asking questions like, When, exactly, are you going to pursue work that makes an impact on people’s lives? This misalignment between my work and my purpose was causing a lot of drama in all aspects of my life. On the personal front, I felt very alone. I had a lot of awesome airline and hotel points, but the life I was living was decidedly low vibe.
I’ve wondered before how my employers could have made things better for me, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter. I was never cut out for a lifetime of work at a corporation or law firm. I often say that working for an employer, and the security that comes with it, is not the only right answer for people who choose it, but it is a damn good choice. We can’t all be gypsy entrepreneurs, after all, and there are an awful lot of unknowns for those of us who take this route. While it certainly is possible for people to re-invent and thrive in a company environment, that simply wasn’t my path. And isn’t finding and creating situations that work for you really what OpenWork is all about?
Asking questions about purpose, embracing my absolute need to have freedom in space and time, and acknowledging that my life and my body don’t work right in an atmosphere of misalignment — these are the things that led me back to Montana, to entrepreneurship, to love, and now, to the open road.
Although my path to OpenWork took a long time, I appreciate all of the twists and turns along the way and the lessons they taught me, and I can’t wait to embrace the open road ahead.
Allison Walsh is cultivator, connector and creator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org