I wouldn’t exactly say I’m the kind of person who’s naturally wired for business.
I’m aware this is probably the last thing you’d want to admit as a business owner, but it’s true.
Unlike other serial entrepreneurs, I don’t have idyllic stories of selling gum on the playground, mowing lawns in the summer for extra cash, or starting my own version of The Baby-Sitters Club.
I once organized a lemonade stand in my neighborhood, but I didn’t mind giving free drinks to pedestrians who didn’t have cash on them. I avoided team sports so I could skip the door-to-door fundraising. Well, that and all the running I’d have to do.
I had nanny and cashier jobs growing up, but starting a business was never on my radar. Since I come from a long line of farmers and traditionally employed workers who value company loyalty above all else, it’s not surprising that my passion for entrepreneurship developed much later.
When I got to college, I didn’t take any business classes, but I happened to do one thing right:
I started a blog.
Well, multiple blogs.
One Tumblr blog featured my everyday fashion tips (which, if you could see my work-from-home outfits now, you’d know I had no business writing this), another revealed my overly philosophical reflections, and the last one shared my soon-to-be viral poetry.
I was no stranger to publishing my words online. So, when I became bored with my schoolwork, it seemed like the perfect time to start an industry-focused blog that I could leverage in my future job search.
This public relations and social media–themed blog (titled “uPRise PR” and “exPRession PR,” because I went all out with the theme) went on to help me land multiple internships and my first post-grad job, but I didn’t realize it would introduce me to the exciting world of online entrepreneurship.
My inspiration behind taking the “big leap”
After graduating college in 2014, I started a Twitter chat called #createlounge (remember when those were a thing?) and formed friendships with bloggers who were revolutionizing the field, like byRegina, Melyssa Griffin, Mariah Coz, and Maya Elious, to name a few.
Not only did these women inspire me to think about monetizing my blog, but they showed me it was actually possible through their income reports and our personal conversations.
From then on, I was hooked on the idea of making a living online.
The “how” was still fuzzy, but the “why” seemed pretty clear.
I still remember the day I told my parents that I wanted to quit my full-time job to make money online. They followed up with questions like “Who is going to pay you?” and “Is that even a real thing?” They were supportive but doubted the idea, urging me to have a plan B with their eyebrows understandably raised.
To convince my parents this was my path, I set a goal to book three months of part-time consulting clients, which happened before I even launched my new website. I credit this entirely to the thriving blog community I had built over the years.
Riding on this high, I (very wrongly) took this early success as a sign that booking clients would always be a breeze. A few days later, I confidently put in my two weeks’ notice and jumped into self-employment.
The early days of self-employment
|Content warning: PTSD, mental burnout|
Since I was used to working 70+ hours at my former agency job, I was thrilled to put all of those hours into my new business. The first few months were great. My clients saw wonderful results, and I loved working with them.
However, around my fifth month, I noticed something really important: most of the people in my community who wanted to work with me already had. That meant I needed to connect with more people outside of my circle if my business was going to make it. In response, I put all of my energy into creating fresh content, getting more traffic to my blog, and meeting more people.
I bumped up my hours so I was working 80+ hours each week, hoping that would make a difference. My new definition of “rest” looked like working on my laptop with a movie playing in the background. I saw my family and friends less and less, and even when I did, I failed to be truly present with them. I thought I could fix what wasn’t working with more work.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in the early stages of burnout.
Entrepreneurs throw around the term “burnout” all the time, but I didn’t know how serious it was until I experienced it myself.
As you can imagine, my mental health started to plummet during this time. I was moving at such a fast, unsustainable pace that I didn’t have enough time to take my thoughts captive (which is a spiritual practice I now aim to follow).
This over-commitment to work caused me to spiral, making it more difficult to manage my PTSD and keep my head above water. The result was a resurgence of daily PTSD episodes and a general lack of self-trust. I went into deeper isolation, convincing myself that building an online community was safer than facing my real one. It was easy to do since I worked and lived alone with no one around to hold me accountable.
I wasn’t simply stressed; I was unhealthy and needed help. (Honestly, I wish I could go back and give myself a hug!)
All of these experiences led to a significant moment of spiritual surrender in which I threw up my hands and cried out that I couldn’t do it anymore—not if it looked like this.
From that day on, I was determined to take my identity out of my work and achievements. I needed to find a new path forward, a way to rebuild my identity as a Christ-follower with nothing to prove and nothing to be ashamed of.
Following my own plan brought me to a dark place, so I needed refreshed direction to bring me to a place of peace and clarity.
My story isn’t one of overnight success but of reflection and renewal. But before I could move forward, my first step was to immediately reduce my working hours and give myself some space to think and reflect.
Why I decided to stay in business
While I took some time to passively review my resume and bookmark a few job opportunities, the next three months following my surrender moment (as I lovingly call it now) were largely focused on journaling and prayer.
Through stream-of-consciousness writing, I uncovered some limiting beliefs and mental blocks that were keeping me from thriving.
In the meantime, I had a decision to make:
Was I going to pursue self-employment again or go back to a day job?
I thought the answer would come to me while journaling, but instead, it came in the form of a health crisis.
This time, it wasn’t my own but my brother’s.
In November 2016, my brother came down with a serious case of pneumonia. I had previously heard stories of my dad’s fight with pneumonia and how he almost didn’t make it, so I was understandably alarmed and worried.
My brother needed a short-term caretaker, but my dad was working overtime and my mom was on vacation before returning to her job.
With the flexibility and freedom of my business, I was able to step in. I took care of my brother in between client work, navigating the constant interruptions with ease because I could work in the same room from my laptop.
I celebrated my birthday that year at his bedside and posted a photo on social media asking my friends and followers to pray for his recovery. I remember seeing him smile that day for the first time in weeks.
At a later check-up appointment, the doctor said my brother narrowly escaped an emergency hospital visit because he had someone there to take the day and night shifts.
It was then that I realized self-employment could stretch beyond my own desires to earn a comfortable living online while working with autonomy.
Having my own business could allow me to be the trusted, go-to person for my family and friends in times of need.
This was when my mission became far less about myself and much more about the people around me, which has now leaked into the way I work with clients and book projects.
With this new point of clarity, I knew I wanted to stay in business —just not hustling for my social media consulting business. A change needed to happen, but what?
In the next month, I happened to identify a limiting belief that was keeping me from my purpose. I worked backward to track down its source and challenged its validity through one of my bravest steps yet.
Read part 2 of Kayla’s story.