MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Describe one make or break moment in your career–how did you navigate it? is written by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.
It was February 1, 1989 and the economy in Texas couldn’t have been much worse. The savings and loans market crumbled and real estate wasn’t worth the dirt it was built on. I was working at a mid-size advertising agency at the time and we were scrambling to keep the lights on. Between lay-offs and budget cuts, we could barely keep our heads above water. I couldn’t stand to watch us drown any longer. So I decided to come up with a business plan of my own. We needed to reinvent ourselves or we would never survive. I couldn’t wait to present my plan to our company president and advisory board. Everyone seemed supportive and ready to make the change.
But apparently not everyone was convinced. And that person happened to be the president. He came into my office that afternoon and said the company would not be pursuing my business plan. My reaction was shock, humiliation, and anger—I really ran the emotional gauntlet. After stewing on this information for about 30 minutes, I marched down the hall to his office and quit my job. I said, “If I can’t do this here, I will do it someplace else.” Those were pretty bold words for a 31-year-old mother of three in the depths of a huge recession.
I cashed in my $16,000 IRA and officially started my business a month later. I bought three clients from my previous employer to help with the inception. I was excited–and scared to death. But failure simply was not an option. It took some time, but before I knew it T3 (the company I started in 1989) really began to take off. In fact, just last year Forrester named us one of the top five innovation agencies in the world. Yes, the little independent agency that was born out of grit and determination had been nationally recognized. If I never got mad enough to quit my job 26 years ago, who knows where I would be today. I’m so glad I had the courage to take the risk.
Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Describe one make or break moment in your career–how did you navigate it?
Ex-Oracle executive: How to take smart risks at work by Liz Wiseman, president of Wiseman Group.
Build-A-Bear CEO: How to navigate difficult career decisions by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.
Why I gave up everything to start a career in Singapore by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.
Why I choose to put my children before my work by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.
How this Google executive handles stress at work by Margo Georgiadis, president of Americas Operations at Google.