She Turned Her Zero-Figure Income Into Six Figures In A Year essay

ITurned My Zero-Figure Income Into Six In A Year

by Brenda K. Reynolds

When the economy took a nosedive in 2008, so did my life, leaving me an unexpectedly single parent of two small boys in a job with no benefits or guaranteed income. I sat on a rattan chair at the table of the sunroom in my home with my face in my hands as my brother and sister-in-law looked on in silence, helpless in knowing what to say between my sobs. An emotional fog of uncertainty swirled around me as I lamented, "Now what?"

I put my 20-year organizational consulting practice on hold and took a job in a non-profit for a few years. In 2016, I bravely ventured out on my own again and rebooted my business. Once more, I found myself asking, "Now what?"

I had an old website, a business card, a list of past clients to try to resuscitate, and some dreams. I had one key client keeping me afloat, but no prospects on the books. I had a little bit of money in the bank from the year before to tide me over, but no sign of future income. So I began networking.

I was seated at the lunch table of a restaurant in West Chester, Pennsylvania. My colleague Nick faced me. We volleyed back and forth catching up with each other. He shared the amazing new momentum his company was experiencing. I was wringing my hands about the one key client I had who was about to go away in the midst of their budget issues. Ultimately, I fantasized with Nick about dreams I had, but didn't know how to fulfill. I felt lost.

Yet he seemed oddly excited about my uncertainty. He leaned across the table with a glint in his eye and a Cheshire cat smile and exclaimed, "You're ready for a quantum leap!" Like a doctor with a newly penned prescription, he slid a slip of paper across the table. It simply said, "Steve Harrison—Quantum Leap."

Within a week, I was the member of a "club" I didn't totally understand, on the road to a future I couldn't begin to predict. But this time when I asked, "Now what?" the answers came at me hard.

Learning to Fail Forward

I met with Steve Harrison over lunch to discuss a book concept. I was in love with my concept. Steve, not so much—at least as a first book. He wanted me to leverage my consulting experience with leaders. I wanted to save the world from divorce.

I came up with a hybrid of an idea and pitched it to the producers at the Quantum Leap meeting. I got the same reaction microwaved fish gets. They wrinkled their noses. It was a flop.

Dejected, frazzled, but determined, I became even more committed to writing a book that allowed me to leverage my business experience yet set the stage for expanded work in the personal growth arena. Eventually, I launched my book TBD—To Be Determined: Leading with Clarity and Confidence in Uncertain Times. It was forged in the fire of failure and the need to keep going back to the drawing board.

Steve talks about failing forward—and did—as I wrestled the right book concept to the ground. I'm grateful for a failure that kept me from moving too far down the wrong path. 

"It's Not About the Book, It's About the Hook"

I sat on the train to NYC pondering what I had gotten myself into. I was on the way to the National Publicity Summit.

Months earlier, I'd had no clue what a hook was, a pitch, a one-sheet, how to pitch a producer, my sound bites, nor my "sight bite." And unlike most attendees, I was going without a book, which felt a little like going without clothes. Instead, I was going as me—a consultant with a passion for serving others, helpful information to share, and a book concept. As a means to create interaction with the producers, I also designed a mini-deck of cards full of information and inspiration about dealing with uncertainty. (Ironic, huh?)

Their response to the cards was glowing. Not only did the radio interviews roll in, but I can proudly say what started out as a hook is now a product—a 56-card deck to help people move meaningfully, mindfully, and positively through a life or work change. I call it the "Now What?' Transformation Clarity Card Deck.

Turns out not having a book wasn't a hindrance whatsoever. The radio shows rolled in based on my flexible pitches and my positioning myself as an expert in managing change and uncertainty.

"Hi, I'm Brenda, a Consultant, Speaker, and (ahem) Author?"

This sentence felt like marbles in my mouth the first time Steve asked me to spit it out, because it wasn't true. Nor was it how I saw myself. And that voice in my head cast doubt on the whole sentence.

Today, it rolls off my tongue with ease: "Hi, I'm Brenda. I AM a consultant, author, and speaker!"

I have a book in hand. And the day after I renewed my membership in Quantum Leap, I landed my first official keynote speech for the same amount as my renewal. It was as though the universe was giving me a big "thumbs up" to keep trusting, believing and moving. And just to send that doubting voice in my head into shocked silence, I've added to the sentence, "I'm also the creator of a trademarked product and a TEDx speaker!"

I now smile inwardly when someone asks me what I do—because I know just what to say.

Quantum Leap Trained Me to "Go for No"

I'm not a girl who likes rejection, but then again, who does? Continual encouragement by Quantum Leap to "go for no" felt a bit like being nudged toward a guillotine.

But here's what "going for no" got me...

  • A relationship grid system that celebrates my activity no matter what the outcome and keeps me connected to opportunities.
  • Approved as a Vistage presenter for CEO and key leader mastermind groups across the country.
  • The courage to apply for a TEDx Talk and be one of 33 selected from hundreds of applications for the TEDx Wilmington Women's Conference.

At my son's college orientation, I found myself chatting with an administrator. When he asked me what I did, of course I knew what to say: consultant, author, and speaker. In true Qantum Leap style, I asked if he knew anyone I might talk to about serving them in some way. He bounced on his toes and exclaimed, "Yes, me!" I left with an invitation to talk with him further about opportunities there. I would never have made that move before joining Quantum Leap.

I've come to think about the word "no" differently. The word "no" is embedded in the phrase, "Why not?" It seems the two are intertwined. Going for no is part of achieving my "why not?!" That reframe will serve me for a long time to come.

Leaving the Nest to Fly to a New Future

I don't have a life story made for the big screen—full of adventure, drama and grandiosity. It isn't the big can't-top-this, one-of-a-kind variety. But I've travelled a path so many others do—of life gone sideways.

I'm proud of my journey. I literally turned a zero into a six-figure income in a year, served clients including Sherwin-Williams and Saint Joseph's University, published a book, trademarked and produced a product, secured an invitation for a TEDx Talk, and other keynotes. And I've done it with no staff, no partner, and no safety net. No big connections. No deep pockets. Just a lot of faith and a lot of support. I chose to take risks, invest in myself and my future, and most importantly, show my college-bound son how to turn a "now what?" into a "why not?!"

Ironically, the same rattan chair I sat in lamenting my uncertainty in 2008 is the same chair that supported me as I wrote my book—and this essay. It's the same chair that had balloons tied to when we celebrated my son's high school graduation and college send-off.  As he left the nest and flew toward a new future, I realized I was doing the same.

As someone I know says, “Onward…and upward!”

This post is adapted from an essay Brenda wrote as her entry in our "How I Made My Quantum Leap" contest, in which Quantum Leap members wrote about the difference the program made for them and their careers.