How Opting Out Inspired Me To Build A Business

It was slightly before six a.m. when I heard the all too familiar sound of my iPhone vibrating against the bedside table. With my head still nestled comfortably on my pillow, I reached for the phone, expecting to see an assortment of bargain alerts from Amazon Local. Instead, the text was from my ex-husband, the father of my three boys, and the man who was once my everything — that is, until the day he decided that a woman with pink hair and glitter eye shadow was more desirable than his college sweetheart and wife of nearly 20 years. 

There it was in small but bold letters, “I am not paying you what I owe for Dec.”  No explanation, no apologies, nothing.

I felt a familiar sense of anxiety creeping over me. As the tears threatened to spill, it hit me. Regardless of what the court documents said, I was still dependent on this man. 

Like many divorces, mine had not been a pleasant one. It was difficult enough to get past the infidelity, abandonment and that place of staring at the floor trying to figure out how in the hell you are going to put one foot in front of the other. Some days, all I wanted to do was crawl back in bed and hide under the security of my fluffy down comforter. Compounded with my remorse was my loss of purpose and the need to somehow regain the independence I once had.

Back in time and pre-kids, I was working on a pedigree that would have paved the road to Wall Street. I was Vice President of a Boston-based private equity fund when I had my first child, and completely underestimated the power that my eight-pound bundle of joy would bring. Without hesitation (like, the very next day) I opted out. That’s right…I quit. I gave up my six-figure salary, millions of dollars in future earnings, and everything that I had worked toward for the past decade. Was I crazy? Maybe. But for me, given all the factors that were placed before me at that moment, it was the right choice. What I did not realize then, as a young mom and a madly-in-love wife, was that said choice also caused me to relinquish my independence. I handed it over to my husband, a man whom I loved and trusted. I assumed he would value and respect that choice. 

Instead, 16 years later he fired me.

I quickly found myself stewing in, “What in the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life?” My then 16-year role as CMO — Chief Mommy Officer — wasn’t going to attract many job offers. I suppose there was some correlation between negotiating multi-million dollar deals and refereeing fights over LEGOs, but it would be a stretch for a prospective boss to see the connection.  

Regardless of any spin factor, the facts didn’t lie: I was 41 and a stay-at-home mom raising three boys alone. All variables led to the same conclusion and it wasn’t pretty.  I began to break my situation down into mathematical equations of “if, then” statements — you know, like those formulas from an Excel spreadsheet:

IF I find a job, THEN I can pay the legal fees of this freakin’ divorce.
IF I find a job, THEN I can pay off my debt.
IF I find a job, THEN I can enjoy a good bottle of wine again.
IF I find a job, THEN Jimmy Choo and I can date.
IF I find a man with money, THEN I will live happily ever after.

Wait…did I actually think that, let alone believe it? 

That was the one and only moment that the pink-haired lady and I had something in common. And that was my wake-up call. It was the call to become fully independent again. I will sign the checks, I will pay the bills and I will buy my own shoes and wine.

With a few thousand dollars, boundless tenacity and a deep-rooted passion to help other women find their voice through financial independence, WomenWealthyWise was born. I now coach women across the country on how to take charge of their financial well-being and to fully realize the profound impact their money has on all aspects of their lives. Being part of that transformation is some of the most rewarding work I have ever done — because I’ve been there.

Most of us live in our story one too many days — that is until we get those 5:48 (wake-up) calls. Then it is time to get up, pull on the big girl panties, and stand in front of the mirror to see that the only thing standing in the way of where you are and where you want to be is you.

Steph Wagner is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.

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