June 28, 2015

By: 
Rachel Strella

Major Life Changes Reinforce Business and Personal Truths

navigating transitionsIn April of last year, I made the decision to overhaul my life, namely by moving two hours away from my lifelong home and leaving behind the core people in my life – including my family and my husband.  Some of my readers – and of course, my friends – were shocked to learn of this drastic change.  Most of them reached out to me with a phone call or a private Facebook message to ask for more details or to make sure that I was okay.  There are many other people that didn’t get the memo. And some folks that understood what this meant, but did not want to pry.

Mark Schaefer once said that social media is ‘the resume of your life.’ And, like a resume, gaps in experience are often frowned upon.  So, you can imagine the surprise of my Facebook friends when I shared my wedding album last week, when many of them didn’t know I was getting married – or even seeing anyone – let alone that I was no longer with my previous husband.

First, allow me to extend my apologies to the folks who felt confused or out of the loop. You didn’t miss anything. Until last week, I intended for my message to be vague.  My primary reason was simply that I was respectful of my relationship with my husband at the time. We both agreed that the best way to handle our separation was to not to showcase it to the world. My secondary reason was to protect something that I’ve always believed in – and that’s remaining positive online. I’ve never been a fan of publicly airing my opinion on matters that could cause negative emotions. While politics and religion are among these topics, it should go without saying that personal separation and divorce are not exactly the types of events that are associated with positivity. And I knew that publicly announcing the news would result in a range of questions that neither one of us were prepared to answer. Simply put, it’s not something that we wanted to discuss on any public forum, especially Facebook.

When the time came for a fresh start, I grappled with when it would be a good time to reveal positive news about my personal life.  I knew I couldn’t keep it private forever, but I had a feeling people would be confused.  In every instance of uncertainty, I did a gut check and my answer was revealed. When I determined that it was finally time to share positive news… well, there’s nothing like making a splash. The wedding album was released and it was appropriately captioned: “for those of you who have been asking… for those of you who didn’t know.”

I was scared sh*%less.

To my relief, most of the reactions were very positive and congratulatory. If anyone felt confused or even upset, they could have fooled me. Rachel and Nathan Smeal

Do I think I could have publicly handled this entire personal change differently? Maybe. Maybe not. But with overhauling my life and running a business, there was no time to keep wondering. I simply respected the agreement I made and I remained positive. I couldn’t worry about the rest.

This experience has reinforced a few concepts that I want to share. First, we must remain cognizant of our online actions. With every ‘like,’ comment and post, we are creating a personal brand. I’m not sure how many people have taken stock on their online interactions, but if you haven’t yet, now’s the time.  Essentially, everything you do online is cataloged in some way and the sum total of all of these interactions equals your personal brand.

When it comes to establishing a personal brand online, my advice has always been to do what fits your comfort level. It’s important to be human and form a bond with other people, but that doesn’t mean we have to share every detail about our life. It means we can be real by admitting that we are experiencing changes or transitions in our personal life, but we don’t have to divulge details that could harm people we care about, not to mention ourselves.

Second, running a small business is no easy feat and it comes with sacrifices.  I planned to take some time off after the wedding, but we had a trifecta of circumstances that did not allow this to happen. Among them… a team member who experienced a death in the family, another who had surgery, and a major client in the height of pre-launch. There was no way I could leave the business that week, especially with half of my team missing.  But, that’s OK. These types of circumstances and shifting of work are the hallmark of a small business and I still wouldn’t have it any other way.

Finally, and probably the biggest personal lesson for me… No one is perfect. Everyone experiences difficulties and personal challenges. As I navigated this major life transition, I was relieved by the community of people who were not judgmental, as I assumed. Rather, these folks shared the challenges they were experiencing in their own life. Some helped me by sharing their stories. Others were glad that they weren’t alone and even thanked me for sharing my story (even if overtly). And there were countless others who simply just understood.

This is the real deal and I will pay it forward.

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