I became a business owner in 1999. I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t identify as a business owner, but I do remember that making that leap was scary as hell.

In 1999, I was a young copywriter at a big branding agency. It was my first “real” job and I was determined to find my place in the world. I loved creating, writing and branding.

But the environment I was in was toxic. It was full of men at the helm of a work culture that continually suppressed women, especially young girls. Yet, my art director partner and I were winning awards for the company, saving accounts and leading our creatives on some of the agency’s biggest projects.

The company was so toxic that the creative teams dwindled from three full teams to just me and my partner after six months. When it came time for a review, they offered us a meager raise on our junior salaries even though we were operating as senior creatives.

We used to laugh about how we worked in the dungeon – long hours in a windowless basement of the agency – but it quickly became totally unsustainable. We got little credit and no appreciation.

I was miserable. I was tired. Only 25, I was already hitting burn out.

The agency had sent me a clear message when they refused to honor my value with an appropriate salary raise. They weren’t going to wake up one day with a sudden change of heart that led to more respect and more money.

I realized that no one was going to validate me if I didn’t validate myself.

So my art director partner and I decided to leave the agency and start our own business. We knew we could do the work and bring value to others, but we had no idea how to actually operate a business.

I was also in a position that meant I needed money. I had to succeed. I couldn’t rely on anyone else to support me.

This point in my life was a real crossroads. I was scared to leave my salaried job and trade it for uncertainty. I had to muster all my courage to commit to the decision to do what was right for me then and in the long term.

I always knew I wasn’t like other people. I never fit in with the mainstream and always operated differently. I used to think that was a curse and would desperately try to be more like others.

But I felt a spark in the moment I decided to take the leap. I could feel something deeper inside of myself, a trust I couldn’t have articulated at the time. It was both a trust in myself and a trust in something bigger than myself.

I needed to break free from the feeling of confinement that this job cast on my creativity, my genius and my wisdom.

Even though it was right, it was hard! And not enough people talk about this part of the journey. The decision is hard, and so are the growing pains from stepping into a business…personally, financially, mentally and emotionally. It took a lot of effort to succeed and I only wish I had the support that my clients have now.

It can be a lonely journey, but it is worth it. For every hardship and challenge I experienced, I get exponential returns. I gained freedom and autonomy. I gained trust in myself and the world around me. I gained wisdom for all the difficult choices and seasons I have had to navigate.

My business journey has been rooted in the need to value and honor myself, and it began with the decision to leave a toxic environment and break the glass ceilings that kept my genius bound.

This was a huge part of my foundation to building the business I have today. I haven’t just worked with thousands of women – I have lived through this work.