Losing my job was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It was 2008, the financial markets were in ruin and I was planning global events for a financial institution in New York City. After the shock wore off, I began to see my unemployment as a new opportunity; I hadn't felt fulfilled by my job, where I'd spent over 60 hours a week for three years; and here I was with the chance to redirect, regroup and take charge of my life.
In the first few months of my career transition, I applied for various event planning jobs, almost always getting interviews and a job offer, but at a fraction of what I had been earning previously.
With a culinary degree, celiac disease and a lot of gumption, I decided to try my hand at gluten-free baking and catering to see if that led to the daily inspiration I sought. Ultimately, it wasn't - it was hard, physical work that drained my savings and my sleep. Plus, I didn't have health care or a steady income, I couldn't afford to pay my bills and I still felt lost professionally.
I was continuing to try to make Lauren's Kitchen work when I stumbled upon a Craigslist ad to run a small Chamber of Commerce. I applied, not knowing if I could head up a nonprofit; but the job description matched much of my skill set, and I was interested in working with small businesses while still figuring out how to run my own.
They hired me, albeit at half of what I made in the corporate world. And yet, I was elated - I could pay my rent again and find consistency and a new skill set. However, having never run an organization before, I faced many challenges. But I loved the work and the field, and I realized that I wanted to have a career that connected me to my city.
Working at the Chamber helped me realize that goal; but after nearly two years, I wanted more. My close friend, who was working at The Whitney Museum of American Art, told me about a group of engaged property owners and businesses who were forming a nonprofit organization in the Meatpacking District. They were looking for someone to take the lead with the City on the creation and management of public spaces and spearhead initiatives to support the district's overall economic development. Knowing this was something I felt compelled by, I sent my resume.
Here I am, seven years later.
Today, I run the Meatpacking Business Improvement District, a nonprofit that acts as the steward for the famed neighborhood on the far west side of Manhattan. I am responsible for the organization's overall strategy, along with management, operations and fundraising.
It's still hard for me to believe how I found myself here. Of course, my career path was not without moments of self-doubt and struggles, such as taking a 50 percent pay cut to the 180-degree shift from corporate to entrepreneur. When you're 30 years old and making entry-level wages, you need to feel a deep connection to the work that you're doing. The fact that I loved and excelled at even the day-to-day aspects of my job propelled me forward – and fast.
I've made upward strides in my roles in the Meatpacking community much faster than I did in my previous jobs, which I attribute to a few things:
First, I get to be myself. The freak flag flies high; this way, my inhibitions don't hold me back, which makes me a better and more creative boss, leader and strategist.
Second, positively impacting a neighborhood is inspiring. The Meatpacking District is a global destination, meaning my work and my team's work is public, which motivates me to do my best each day.
Finally, I’ve created an office environment that feels good to come to each day. We don't subscribe to most classic (and sometimes archaic) rules. For example, not everyone works best between 9a.m. and 5p.m., or from a desk. If the work is getting done, and done well, everyone can operate with a bit of flexibility and autonomy.
My transition was unnerving but stimulating. Being an entrepreneur with "get-it-done" energy was key for me. I didn't have to tap into those qualities much in the corporate world, and because so much of me has gone into building this organization, my level of expectation for my work, and that of my team, is much higher.
There are always going to be difficulties on any path you choose, and people will tell you that you won’t make it. If you find work that inspires you, talk about it out loud and often. Find an environment where you can dream big. The most successful people don't just set goals - they embody them.
About the author: Lauren Danziger is the executive director of the Meatpacking Business Improvement District (BID), a not-for-profit business alliance whose mission is to support the local business community and keep the Meatpacking District clean, safe and beautiful for locals and visitors alike.