The job I didn't take: a stream of professional consciousness.

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Last Monday, I took the El downtown for a job interview.(Is it the "L" or the El? A debate rages on Facebook.)

Rewind:

A few weeks ago, a woman sent an e-mail to the address I published on my website, asking whether I'd consider going back to full-time employment if the right opportunity presented itself. She was legit. I'd heard of the organization. (Everyone here has heard of the organization.) We met at Starbucks to talk. I drank a huge latte and wrapped up our conversation with the jitters and a land speed record for spoken words per minute. I loved her and was all a-twitter over a job for the first time in I don't know how long. And she liked me. She liked me. She liked me. At least I think she did.

She did. She invited me downtown to meet more of the team, and I accepted. But it had to wait until after my Florida trip, where I was speaking to a client's sales force about a content strategy that I'd been instrumental in developing. Me. I did that.

I went into the interview with my signature mix of almost-cocky confidence and crippling self-doubt, feeling almost like I was making up words but knowing I wasn't pulling insight out of nowhere. Maybe, after all this time, I actually do know what I'm talking about. Maybe I'm not just faking it. Maybe I could really do something here. Something real. Something of value.

And yet:

Oh, God. Everyone's wearing slacks. Those women had to reserve the conference room. That's the most well-stocked Keurig station I've ever seen. Oh, God. Reusable mugs. Flashbacks.

I heard myself asking about culture and work-life balance, and remember staring blankly at the [very lovely] woman from HR who asked me about a time I had to……… My spirits sank as my three-hour interview wore on. I liked the people I met and the romantic prospect of so much more but felt a nagging feeling I've felt so many times before.

The interview ended with lunch, just the two of us: The woman who'd emailed me, and me.

I pushed that sinking feeling aside and spoke from that part of my heart that really does yearn for security, for workplace camaraderie, for three weeks' paid vacation and retirement-account matching, for the ability to say I was part of the team that…, for unlimited free Keurig and holiday parties and TGIFs. The same-ol', you know?

But truthfully:

It's been less than a year since I paid the state $600 to establish my LLC, and in that less than a year, I've actually built a business. I have clients that I love and work that I enjoy. There are budding professional relationships that, if I don't see them through, will founder and dissipate. That I will regret walking away from. (And I know I would have to.)

I like my unstructured sofa-and–yoga pants lifestyle. I know that's not the way successful business owners do things, but I do it anyway. I have cats and a boyfriend who works in the service industry — who I know for a fact I'd see even less if I took a 9-to-5 — and a new MacBook Pro that holds my entire life on a single drive. (Well, and the Cloud.)

Hell, I'm actually slowly tiptoeing away from the black-sheep status I've inadvertently clung to so tightly for so many years.

And all that got me more than the slacks and the conference room and the fluorescent lights oh god the fluorescent lights. I hadn't even been offered the job, but I knew not to take it if I were.

I'm a business owner. An entrepreneur with something to strive for, even if some days it's just making rent and paying off my debts. So I walked away from the opportunity with the same almost-cocky confidence and crippling self-doubt I went in with. And grace. I hope I was gracious.

 

And then, today:

I sardined myself onto the train (we'll just call it the train) home from a day spent wandering downtown and working between two Starbucks, with the slacks and the fluorescent lights oh GOD the fluorescent lights, I knew I'd made the right choice.