At Janes of Digital, we want to share the voices that are brave enough to start the conversation – both online and offline. In addition to our regular event panels and social media broadcasts, we also want to share stories that have an impact, illuminate new insight, allyship, and overcoming obstacles. Today we’ll be sharing our blog with Heather Cooan. Entrepreneur, author, and international speaker, Heather has served in digital marketing roles both agency and in-house including founding HDC Digital. But that’s only part of Heather’s story – learn more from her own words.
Where are you spending the bulk of your time and money? Take a look at your priorities.
If you’re not spending your time and money on things or people that are tightly aligned with your personal values, then you probably aren’t fulfilled. You might not realize it today, but you will eventually figure out that you aren’t happy because you aren’t fulfilled. This is an affliction called “misaligned.”
I realized I was misaligned in the summer of 2017 when I was hit upside the head with a cancer diagnosis.
It forced me to straighten out my priorities and realign my life to match my values. I was working for a very cool VC-backed startup at the time, leading their growth marketing efforts. I was paving my way into the c-suite as Chief Revenue Officer, and having a good time learning and growing. But, if I’m honest with myself, I had been misaligned for years prior to being hit upside the head with my diagnosis.
Before my cancer diagnosis, I suffered two pretty significant bouts of burnout and took a sabbatical each time.
Ever since I can remember I’ve been motivated by difficult challenges and puzzles. I’m one of those folks who jumps in the fire, always have been.
My career was my drug of choice and that’s where I found the bulk of hard challenges. You see, there are rapid growth organizations out there where highly driven overachievers like myself excel. But they are also the perfect environment to create burnout.
Over the years I joined two such companies and funneled every ounce of energy I had into helping them solve the challenges that come with rapid growth. In my experience, these are the environments with the most difficult challenges and I was hooked! I dove in head first and went above and beyond to solve not just the challenges in my area, but challenges throughout the business as well. This additional effort earned me more responsibility, higher pay, and big, fancy titles.
I thought I had it all. What I didn’t realize until it was nearly too late, is that I was misaligned: I was spending the bulk of my time and money on things that weren’t in line with my values. Constantly pushing myself in these stressful, high profile jobs at rapid growth companies was eroding my health.
For years, I was living in denial. It’s funny, that even though you’re lying to yourself, you believe that you’re on the right path and that you’ll be fine if you just work harder. At least, that’s how it manifested for me.
I was so misaligned that I didn’t even know what my values were. I thought I did. I thought that my values were career success, money, title, freedom to do whatever I wanted–including indulging in too much wine on a stressful day and eating out for most of my meals. Of course, I also valued my relationship with my now-husband, the greatest human being and biggest support on the planet. But I even put my career success ahead of him.
I didn’t pay attention to the fact that I was losing sleep, had completely abandoned most of my friendships, and was irritable and grumpy often. I had gained 60 lbs, suffered from headaches, a distressed digestive system, and poor immunity. I was getting sick fairly often when I had never really been sick before.
When I received a diagnosis of cancer, a year into my third leadership role at a high-growth company I wasn’t exactly surprised.
But I was angry.
Angry at myself for not paying attention and making changes before suffering such a health crisis.
Angry that it took a cancer diagnosis for me to wake up and pay attention to what my body had been telling me for years. I was driving too hard on a misaligned values system and I had damaged myself possibly beyond repair.
In the midst of navigating cancer treatment options, I realized that I was going to have to re-evaluate my values. Stop running into my work and take a good, hard look at what I really valued in life.
So, I did it.
I sat down and made a list of things that were important to me. I started scratching things off the list that I had thought were important but weren’t actually serving me now. Then I came to the realization that I wasn’t choosing myself and that realization hurt. Working through it and making all of the changes necessary to get realigned was going to be harder than fighting cancer.
Once I was clear on my values, I got to work on making a change. I changed my entire life.
- I changed my diet- cutting out sugar, junk food, and alcohol, and I stopped smoking (I had been a big cigar smoker).
- I cut people out of my life who were toxic and reconnected with old friends and colleagues who were additive to me and my new values.
- I prioritized sleep, and finally, I let go of my big fancy job, title, and paycheck.
I loved that job. Letting go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But it was right. Not only had it become my number one priority, but it had become my identity. I was lost in it. I got so much validation from being the star at work that I didn’t need anything else.
At first, I was lost without my career. I spent time with myself to figure out who I was without it and what my purpose was. Little by little I started to do things that I enjoyed. I started reading again, devouring books of all genres. I started journaling and moving my body. I slowly discovered non-work-related things that fulfilled me.
Something magical happened as I started to find fulfillment outside of the workplace. I started to get stronger, my healing accelerated, and I started to look at my career in a different way. The more fulfilled I was the more energy I had to do the work-related things that also fulfilled me.
I love to teach digital marketing, I love to help companies and brands figure out the correct recipe for growth, and I love to learn new things. I love to work on both strategic elements and be in the weeds pulling levers. So, I decided to go out on my own and start a digital agency.
I launched HDC Digital in February of 2018, taking my long-standing side-hustle to full-time status. I was kind of freaked out, but it felt right. I was also really nervous that I would slide back into old habits and let it consume me all over again, losing all the traction I had made with my health.
That hasn’t happened. I’ve been able to hold true to my new values while incorporating some of my old back into my day-to-day.
I still have my moments. But for the most part, I choose my hours and very selectively accept clients who will only contribute to my fulfillment. I give myself enough space to focus on my health and remaining cancer-free, my relationship, my friends, and family. I make room for new adventures.
I don’t have it all figured out. But one thing I know for sure is that fulfillment is the ultimate goal and if I am fulfilled I automatically achieve. The way to fulfillment, for me, has been to align everything in my life with my values, including where I spend time and money. I recommend everyone, especially driven women in business, tech, and digital, to dig deep and find what is fulfilling above all else. You’ll achieve beyond your wildest dreams. As part of the Janes community, I understand the importance of being both my authentic self and my own biggest ally, paving the way for a fulfilling and happy life.