Guiding and coaching people to find the best solutions possible has always been the focus of my career. When I’m presented with challenges that other people are being faced with, it is usually clear and easy for me to see what the options are and what needs to be explored. The evolution of Gray Space Solutions flipped that experience for me and challenged me to practice what I preach. As I share my personal journey of embracing the gray, let me begin by saying that while I truly believe in it, it is HARD.
My husband was still working when I became unemployed and my first thought was, “Find another HR job in a company. Keep doing what you’ve been doing for the last 25 years.” Fortunately, I was presented with an opportunity to take on a couple of consulting assignments which cracked open the door to entrepreneurship a bit. Consulting gave me a different lens to view my future through. I began to see another path for myself, and started asking myself the question, “Should I start my own consulting business?”
This exciting moment was short-lived however, because around the same time my husband discovered he would be back on the job market. Our conversations shifted, and started sounding more like, “Do we need to move to a different city where there is more opportunity?”, “Could we commute to another city during the week?” The theme we returned to again and again during these discussions was that we should keep doing what we’ve always done because that was the safe bet. It seemed pretty clear…. black and white.
Well, there was one small problem. It wasn’t black and white. We live in an area where job opportunities aren’t as plentiful as in other cities where we’ve lived and we didn’t want to move. Finding jobs had always been easy for us both, and we faced a struggle we had never been faced with before. We found ourselves teeter-tottering between frustration and worry, frequently wondering, “What are we doing wrong?”
And then one day, the conversation shifted again. We allowed ourselves to begin to explore other options…to look at the gray space to find alternative solutions to our problems. The process was bumpy, frustrating and even fun at times, but clarity didn’t set in overnight. We kept pushing ourselves to think about other possibilities instead of deferring to the way we had always done things. Even before we married, we had talked about running a business together, so that wasn’t a new concept for us. But leaving behind careers we had both spent a lot of time building was intimidating and seemed crazy.
We continued to move forward and were faced with all kinds of new challenges; areas we had no experience in- writing a business plan, creating the content and layout for our website (which began on flip charts on our patio), hiring freelancers to work with us and so on. Suddenly, it seemed that nothing was black and white, and we were fully living in the gray!
Reflecting on the experience, I can identify some key lessons I learned along the way that I might not have learned otherwise:
- Just Because it Has Always Been Doesn’t Mean it Has to Be– Since our experiences were in IT and HR, we assumed that was all we could do. It was only when we began exploring how we could leverage our skills in a different way that doors began to open.
- There Will Be Doubters– Once we decided we were going to start our business, we began talking to other people about it. Honest feedback is what we were looking for and we were fortunate to get a lot of it. When others questioned the direction we were taking (i.e. leaving our careers), or failed to share our enthusiasm, we had to stay focused and not let it derail our process.
- Exercise Patience– At times it felt like we were walking through mud and it seemed like we weren’t making any progress. The quest for instant gratification is strong for both of us, so it was a struggle. Looking back on it now, we needed that time to sort things through, to learn and explore, and to begin to organize our plan.
- Keep Pushing Play– It can be easy to throw in the towel and go back to the way you’ve always done things. Stay the course…eventually you will turn a corner and things will come together.
- Forget Failure– The fear of failure is a real thing and something we frequently talked about. Don’t let it paralyze you and prevent you from trying something different. Be honest and ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I fail?”
One thing I am certain of is that the roller coaster is going to continue for Gray Space Solutions. The experience has been life-changing, and I am proud of what we’ve created and remain excited to see where we will go from here.