“Hey, you’re the blow dry girl!”

“Hey, you’re the blow dry girl!” I recently heard someone shout across the room. I was at an estate sale with my 10 year old son, who kindly reminded me “Mom, I think she means you.”.

Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t think of myself as the owner of a small business. That’s because for the past 14 years I had a successful career in banking. Successful, if you measure by title, or size of my team, or annual budget, or visibility to senior management. But it didn’t always feel like success. In my world, success meant long hours on conference calls. Success meant global roles, which meant global hours, which meant 9pm calls with Asia. Success meant good vacation time, but spending half that time struggling to get on the hotel’s wi-fi and responding to “we’re so sorry to interrupt, but it’s urgent” texts and calls. And for me this success meant paying someone else to take my kids to the park and the pool and put them to bed. It meant meals eaten from vending machines, and unused gym memberships. Success meant taking sleeping pills every.single.night  to calm a brain that was always racing with to-dos – doctor’s appointments, sports signups, work presentations, reviews to write, calls to return, gifts to buy, date nights to arrange. So while my resume said ‘success’, my day to day life screamed just the opposite.

With no end in sight, the question I was constantly asking myself was: Is this IT? Is this the life I intended to lead for the next 5, 10, 20 years? Is this why I studied hard and went to college and grad school – so that I could wake up to a hundred pre-dawn emails, go to bed bone tired every night, and wake up just to do it all over again?

Then about a year ago my colleague Linda shared a New York Times article about ‘the permission gap’. In a nutshell, it argued that if you’re looking for permission to make a major change in your life then, well, best of luck, sister. You will never get it. The world rewards us for maintaining the status quo.  The article struck me in a way other “follow your dream!” articles didn’t. Was I just waiting for someone to tell me it was ok to quit? And if they did, and I did, what would be next?

Then a few weeks later, on one of my frequent trips to New York City I was having a particularly bad day and got a blow-out between work and an after-hours function. The bar was hopping – champagne flowing, good music, and every customer leaving with a smile on their face and a spring in their step. Having just spent 10 hours in a dry office with security badges and white noise and small cubicles and petty politics, I couldn’t help but wonder – why couldn’t my work be like that? And it’s not hard to piece together what came next – 6 months later I opened my first blow-dry bar.

So how has life changed? While in some ways I’m ‘always on’ as a business owner, my decision is affirmed every day as I pick up the kids from school, check my email (down to about 10 a day, all after 9am), work out, crank up the music in the bar, or see a smiling customer walk out the door. And while this path is obviously not right for everyone, the idea of closing the permission gap – the gap between what you want to do and actually doing it – should resonate with anyone. Permission granted.