I’ve recently resigned from being the CEO of a charity I co-founded over 8 years ago. After having emailed round to our colleagues and contacts in the sector, my fear was that people would assume that the reason for my departure was that the charity was a sinking ship, that there had been an internal fall-out or some other reputation-smearing reason (none of which are the case)! However, having bumped into a couple of these people since, it seems the main reaction was ‘How can she give up her baby? How can she walk away from something that she started?’. The answer is, both very painfully and very easily.
My decision to leave was made both over a long period of time and in an instant. The only way I can think to describe the process is imagine you were pregnant, but you didn’t know it (thanks to Sonja from Eastenders por proving the viability of this analogy). Over a period of time, both your body and emotions start doing some strange things and you can’t quite work out why. And then after a while, labour kicks in – although you still don’t know what it is. You just feel intense pain, bewilderment, fear, things contracting, an urge to push – anything to release this mounting pressure. Strains, screams, digging deep, shouts, a final push.
And then the baby arrives and you realise this is what it was all along.
I had been getting the warning signs for a while that maybe I should consider stopping. But I ignored them. Why? I felt as if both myself and my charity were on a ladder and it told me I had to keep climbing, that I had to get us further up. The ladder suggests that the next rung is just within reach and the view will be oh-so much better from there. It made me believe that the only place of safety was on this ladder and that the only way off was an almighty fall. I felt trapped on the ladder, and so I kept going. Ignoring the signs until ‘labour’ came. Whilst away for my 30th birthday with my family, I completely lost it at the thought of returning home and therefore work. I lost my control on my emotions and anxieties that had been mounting and they came flooding out. What followed was two months of extreme anxiety – on the one had feeling I had to hold it together and hope it would all blow over and on the other desperate to run away from it all. I was in free-fall. Medication didn’t help and because I just couldn’t conceive that stepping off the ladder was a legitimate option, I didn’t even consider it and the pressure mounted . Until one day I gave my final push.
I was at a christian conference about the work place and was fairly low. But I did what all good Christians do and went for prayer-hoping the feelings would go away and I could keep my grip on the Ladder. Tear-stained, snotty and puffy eyed I sat with three people I didn’t know and they prayed for me. None of them knew my situation but they prayed and told me what they thought God was saying to me. And these things spoke directly to how I was feeling and it was fairly clear that God was saying that it was ok for me to resign -it was ok to step off the ladder.
And that was the arrival of my ‘baby’. In that moment it all clicked into place – I had been experiencing the labour pains of a decision that needed to be made, of something that needed to end but also the birth of something. Because in my choosing to resign I know that new life is coming to both me and the charity. The death of me being on that ladder is the birth of something new. And that’s how, now that I’m past the painful bit, I can easily ‘give up my baby’ – because it’s time for us both to move on, to experience new life. I had given the charity all I had to give and I was doing us both a disservice by staying there. It’s time for someone else to take it on, to breathe new life into it, to take it to a place where I haven’t been able to. And like a proud parent that watched their baby go off to university, I will look on in pride as it flourishes somewhere other than under my care. I never wanted to be that founder that couldn’t let go, that couldn’t step aside to let someone else step up.
And as for me, I’ve realised that I’d got to a place where I didn’t even like the ladder that much. The higher up I went, the view didn’t get any better -I stopped celebrating the rungs I had just climbed and only ever looked at the next one up, striving to reach it before the imaginary pack of wolves on my heels caught up with me. The joys that the ladder promised me never materialised and I had lost sight of why I got on it in the first place. Ironically,the charity had never been healthier, but my outlook wasn’t.
Probably the most dangerous lie of the ladder is that the only way off is to slip, to misstep, to loose your grip and to suffer an almighty fall. But in actual fact, once the decision had been made, I just neatly stepped off it. No fall from grace, no disgrace, just my feet choosing to step onto solid ground for a while. In doing so, I made myself available to embrace a new thing, something unexpected, but something good. I can’t deny that I was made ambitious and have big dreams (and at some point will need to start earning a living again), so inevitably I’ll end up back on the ladder one day – but next time I won’t believe its lies.