I closed my business during the pandemic. The company was growing, we were hiring, and the business had a healthy pipeline of new customers, but the draw toward change was strong. A year into the pandemic and after five years running my marketing agency, I ended contracts with clients and told my employees to start looking for new jobs.
I’d considered closing my business and leaving my marketing career since the beginning of the pandemic, but societal pressures made me mistrust my instincts. Our culture values monetary success and celebrates business achievements. If I were to close my business, I would be rejecting those values, worried that I’d be missing out on some future wealth or viewed as a failure.
Instead of closing in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, when the market tanked and businesses frantically reacted, I took a pay cut and worked to keep my business afloat. Providing my employees with the security of a job through a pandemic was my motivation.
After a few months, my energy waned. The desire to keep people employed didn’t reduce the pain of spending the bulk of my energy and time on work that wasn’t solving any of the big problems facing my community.
I sat down to my desk each morning at 8 a.m., with my coffee, in my work-from-home outfit— joggers and a Zoom-appropriate blouse—and tucked away the dread of a day full of meetings. I rallied all the positive energy I could muster for discussions on how to get more marketing leads or launch a new software platform. I silenced the internal conflict I felt when I was expected to celebrate the $10 million fundraising round closed by a client, while considering how that money could be used for things that might change hundreds of people’s lives, not just one CEO’s.
This dissonance made my days and work weigh heavy.
I explored selling my company, but the conversations I had were dead ends. I couldn’t figure out how to sell in a way that allowed the agency to stay small, maintain the integrity of our work, and provide my team with a landing pad that I knew would be a good place to work.
So, I tried a different path and brought on a partner, thinking that someone else’s energy might buoy me, and it did for a few months. But, after six months of working together, we parted ways.
On a sunny day in April 2021, I sent the email confirming that the partnership was over, and I knew without a doubt that it was time to close. I had tried multiple paths and made efforts to find satisfaction in the things our culture values — success, money, business — but I just couldn’t ignore the realities of a threadbare world.
In an unexpected twist, by spring 2021, the market had gone from disastrous to overflowing with opportunity. As the Colorado Sun reported, Colorado has more jobs than it has people. And, in my industry, tech marketing, the jobs are surprisingly abundant. With Colorado’s salary transparency requirements, it became clear that many companies, including my clients, were hiring, and paying higher salaries than I could. The people for whom I had worked to create stability during the pandemic now had more opportunities outside of my business. My employees were on steady ground, and I could move on.
There’s a lot being said about the labor shortage and the “great resignation.” People are quitting their jobs, and many aren’t returning. This isn’t just in a singular industry. It’s occurring across all kinds of fields.
Some have suggested that this great resignation is partly a result of workers re-assessing their lives and how they spend their time. Others simplify the situation and blame the labor shortage on lazy people taking advantage of unemployment. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the “lazy people” taking advantage of government support wasn’t the cause; taking away enhanced unemployment benefits did not, in fact, send people rushing back to the workforce.
For me, the nagging question of why I do what I do? became louder in the pandemic. The question of my impact tugged at my subconscious. I don’t think I’m alone. Death has been so abundant and the impermanence of life so glaring over the past 18 months that I think many of us are more aware than ever of how short life is.
For all its trauma and terror, COVID-19 provided many of us a respite from our regular grooves and cycles and opened up time to re-evaluate and notice how we’re spending our lives. When I was forced to “shelter at home” and to be still for a minute, the silence provided an opportunity to hear myself, and listen more intently to what I wanted.
The clarity some of us found led us to consider living life differently. My fellow workers who are leaving our system and the pull of the jobs that provide money at the expense of people or the environment, give me hope.
I am buoyed by the change in the market and attitudes in the labor force. Listening to conversations with service-industry workers who realized how abusive their jobs were, taking charge and not returning to what is and has been a broken industry, excites me. Those of us, leaving jobs in business to find roles that have positive impacts on the world, excites me.
Yes, it’s hard on employers and disruptive to the economy, but we’re due for a rebirth of how work works in the U.S. Change requires endings.
Our time is limited. I want to spend it doing work worth doing. I’m going back to school, to learn the conditions necessary to create an equitable and sustainable tech industry. I applaud those who have decided to take ownership of their only true resource: time.
The more of us who make this change, the faster we are going to shift the tides of what I’ve seen to be an extractive and damaging system for many. The sooner we collectively change, the better the position we’ll be in to solve the big problems.
Andrea Steffes-Tuttle lives in Boulder. Twitter: @andrea_tuttle
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