I was in a committed relationship once before my husband, Dale. Most people don’t realize this – maybe not even Dale – but I was married to my career.
The Buzz Company was my company. My career had hit rock bottom and I started Buzz out of desperation in 2005. While I floundered in it for the first year or two, Buzz really started to take off in 2007. I was a dedicated mom to my son, Andy, but my identity was quickly becoming Buzz. I was Buzz. Buzz was me. And I really liked having something I could put my identity in that was successful. I created it. I nourished it. I worked hard for it. Tara Tollefson became synonymous with Buzz in the local business community. It was awesome for my ego, especially after the tough year I’d had.
One month before I accepted Christ in 2008, I learned that I had been selected as one of the local newspaper’s “5 Under 40″ winners for 2009! The award recognizes five of the business leaders in our community (under the age of 40) who are innovating and influencing the business community. I was on cloud nine! I do vaguely remember thinking “Well, now what?” because this was a major success benchmark and I had hit it before I thought I would.
Simultaneous with the award, I accepted Christ and was a new believer. I dove headfirst into a Beth Moore Believing God Bible study and spent most of 2009 exploring my new faith and learning who God was. Buzz was doing okay, but I realized I was still working my tail off (50-70 hours a week) and barely paying all of my bills. I kept thinking, “Hey, I won that award and everyone in the St. Cloud business community knows me . . . doesn’t that mean I’m a success?” My debts were racking up and I could not physically produce enough to make it work. In retrospect, I had built a faulty business model based on my EGO (I AM BUZZ) rather than on sound business principles. Buzz was not scalable because I had to produce the majority of the work we sold.
Nearing the end of 2009 and less than a year after hitting that career high of being a “5 Under 40″ recipient, I was burning out quickly. And I was freaking out. Buzz was my life – I had put ALL of my eggs in the Buzz basket. Yes, I had my son and amazing friends, but my identity and my definition of being a successful person was wrapped up in whether Buzz was a success or not. However, after a year of seeking God, I knew enough to pray about it. And in my prayer time, I heard God whispering to me, “Who do you belong to?”
I really didn’t want to answer that question. I spent the last few months of 2009 wrestling with God and trying to figure out how I was going to make Buzz work. I quickly realized I did not have the time, energy, and capital to turn the Buzz boat around. Buzz was failing. I was failing. And God had me right where he wanted me. Where was my identity? In Buzz, which was not secure! God started asking me to let go of Buzz. To say this was scary is an understatement. Think of what your identity is most wrapped up in — your career, your husband, your kids, your friends. Now imagine that God is not just telling you to give it up but actually forcing your hand. In my case, being separated from my identity felt as though I was undergoing surgery without pain meds. It hurt.
I had a choice: I could fight what God was doing or I could choose to put my identity in Jesus, in the only completely stable ground we have in this world. In February 2010 I decided to let go of Buzz, whatever that meant, and I prayed God would give me a way out that wasn’t a complete crash and burn. I didn’t want to just walk away from the business and I still had clients. I prayed God would be gentle and ease me out of Buzz. My prayer was literally, “Dear God, please deliver me from Buzz.”
By that spring, I was already redefining myself as a “follower of Jesus” and a “daughter of the King” rather than the “owner of the Buzz Company.” I couldn’t see a way out, but God had a way. In late March 2010, one of my clients called me and asked if I’d be interested in working for them a few days a week. Yes! I was able to add some stability to my income and took the next year to slowly wind Buzz down. Not only that, but my new employer was amazing and a year later they offered me a full-time position. The transition was as smooth as I could have hoped for. God had delivered me out of Buzz with my dignity intact, which was much more than he had to do.
So, who do YOU belong to? What is your identity wrapped up in? Do you have anxiety and worry because your identity is based on something unstable? Have you built even a part of your identity on shifting sand? Have you asked yourself what it would mean to build your foundation on the solid rock of Jesus? Not just to believe in him, but to put all of your eggs in the only basket that is eternally stable?
Photo courtesy of FLIKR – Erving Lau, The Workplace