How to Find Your Next Zig or Zag
A process to better align your professional ambitions with your personal values. I think it’s possible.
In 2019, my business partner and I were in a tough spot. The year before, we’d quit our jobs in a fit of frustration, joined a cryptocurrency project that was trying to save independent journalism, and turned the whole mishegas into documentary-style podcast series. Really. The show got critical acclaim but, a year later, our funding was about to dry up and we needed a rescue plan for our little business. In some ways, we’d boxed ourselves in. Our show was about not selling out. We weren’t big enough to go the Patreon route, and a sponsor with an advertising budget — that isn’t hurting the planet or its citizens — is hard to find.
So, one hot July day, we locked ourselves in her apartment, with endless kettle corn and iced coffee at the ready; papered the walls with craft paper; gathered an assortment of markers and Post-Its; and put ourselves through a series of questions and thought exercises. Nothing too groundbreaking… just really intentional. The goal was to figure out how we could align our professional ambitions with our personal values. Be home to make dinner for our kids most nights, while building a small podcasting company. For hours, we wrote lists in rainbow colors and drank coffee until we shook. By the end of the day, we’d identified an ideal editorial partner, made a timeline that wouldn’t kill us, and came up with a back-up plan, in case our first choice didn’t pan out. Just in time for happy hour down the street at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club.
A few months later, we made a deal with our dream partner. It felt like the kettle-corn-and-iced-coffee process had worked. But, just as we were planning our 2020 relaunch, Covid hit. Budgets froze. Sponsors dropped out. And so, like many small businesses, we were screwed. Turns out that, while we were very good at making podcasts, we weren’t that great at financial strategy. Or anticipating a pandemic. I guess few people were, but our “runway” was too short to withstand a fiscal hiccup, much less a disaster. Our tally of responsibilities as mothers also felt too long. Hustling and supervising Zoom school simultaneously sucked. So, we cried and recorded one last episode documenting our breakup. Luckily, my now-former business partner’s skills are in hot demand. She took a full-time position at a company that offers benefits and respects regular work hours. I continued doing my other job but decided to keep our indie podcast alive, solo.
Even though things didn’t go as planned, a lot was clarified for me on that hot July day. And so, over the past year, I wrote down all the exercises and, last December, 150 of my listeners generously volunteered to test them. With their feedback, I’ve turned the process into something I’m calling The ZigZag Project: Six episodes (and steps) to help you map out a new path that aligns your personal values with your professional ambitions. Because it feels like everything is changing. Maybe you’re at a crossroads, too, unwilling to go back to the way things were done pre-pandemic. Me too.
We’re exhausted, but there’s optimism in the air. We’re overwhelmed with personal responsibilities, but want to do work that treats the environment and our fellow humans better. So far that’s been too much to ask. But incremental change is afoot. The stimulus bill will help. So will some careful thought and planning, on an individual level. Rolls of craft paper and markers that smell like artificial fruits can nudge you along. Or give Season 6 of ZigZag a shot. Listen and do the assignments to redefine what success looks like for you.
I love the sponsor who made this project possible but, to be clear, I’m not making any money off the podcast. Right now, I’m just pleased that the show survived the pandemic and that I can help folks who are feeling stuck. If the season doesn’t do well, I’ll go back to the exercises and figure out my own next zig or zag! Meanwhile, I’ll let you know how it’s going here on Medium. Wish us all luck.