One year ago today, my position was eliminated with no warning. Three weeks before Christmas, I didn’t know where my next paycheck was coming from. It was a low point in my career.

Today, everything is different. I’m at a high point in the best professional situation of my career, looking at my best year ever – bringing more success, having more fun, and making more of a difference than ever before.

Both points have been unexpected, and along the way I’ve learned lessons I never could have anticipated about resilience, empathy, innovation, career development, and the power of people.

Words aren’t adequate to capture all the raw emotions of the past year, but several unexpected lessons learned along the way feel appropriate to share as I reflect back on this journey:

1. What happened when I became more transparent and vulnerable than ever before

Some of you have gone through this and know what it feels like. The sheer terror of not being certain about anything in your career anymore. The need for any kind of validation that you aren’t crazy. The fog of questioning everyone’s motives. The worry of how much to share with people for fear of the conclusions they might leap to. The flawed perception that somehow you deserved what happened.

Thankfully, those emotions have been replaced with new ones. Empathy for others who have been squeezed out, pushed out, or worn out. Wisdom to not rush back into another toxic, limiting, soul-crushing job situation. Courage to finally yell out to the world, “Screw you, Naysayers! I’m not paying attention to you anymore!” Knowing my true market value and sticking to my guns.

What changed? Small encounters that made a big difference. Here’s one such encounter. Just days after my unexpected job change, a former boss and mentor who went through a similar situation gave me some great advice. She let me know that the best thing she did when it happened to her was to be fully transparent and come right out and let the world know her new situation. She said as soon as she did that, her inbox was full from friends and colleagues offering to help.

I had hesitated to do the same for fear of how vulnerable it might make me. And yet a couple of days later, I decided it could only help, so I made my most vulnerable LinkedIn post to date and let the world know my new job situation. And wouldn’t you know it? My phone started buzzing and didn’t stop for weeks.

A phone call weeks later also taught me how easy it is to underestimate our professional networks – not just our closest connections, but those 2nd-level and 3rd-level connections as well. A colleague whom I had only met once in real life up to that point took time out of her day to encourage me on a day when I needed it. She caught me in a moment of indecision and doubt, to which I have thankfully never had to look back. She never would have felt that need if I hadn’t put myself out there and been fully transparent about my situation weeks earlier.

What happened, you ask? I learned that authenticity and empathy win the day, not in spite of being vulnerable, but because we’re vulnerable. And that underneath our professional profiles, we’re all still humans.

2. What happened when I was free to dream without restraints 

One afternoon in January, I sat down on my home office floor with two blank white boards in front of me and started lists. I have stared at those lists throughout the year, pondering and tweaking until they became about something more than just me. Those lists served as the first primitive version of what became my new vision for healthcare marketing, a vision that I have been sharing on my podcast, LinkedIn and Twitter ever since. It’s a vision that has become the north star for the rest of my career.

The vision was the result of letting my mind wander unhindered for a year. Imagine that: a year of not being shot down, of not having ideas squandered because of politics (“I’m going to ignore your idea because I didn’t come up with it”). A year of freedom, creativity, passion, research, and listening. It’s clear now that I could not have developed this vision without hitting that low a year ago. I had no choice but to scrap and fight for every victory this year, which has set my imagination into perpetual overdrive.

At one point, I checked in with a colleague and mentor whom I fully expected would tell me how crazy my vision was. Instead, he told me to go for it. He said no one else out there is necessarily any more qualified than me, so why not me??

And because of that, this vision is making a difference. My place is more clearly define than ever. My mission is to do everything in my power to make marketers indispensable to their organizations, help them lead satisfying careers, and fulfill marketing’s place in accelerating the transformation of healthcare.

What happened, you ask? I found my “Why.” And I learned that the time for dreaming small is over.

3. What happened when I saw my personal brand as my greatest asset, rather than a liability

For a brief moment early in the year, I considered ending the podcast. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it. My unexpected job situation had gotten to my head and given me an intense case of imposter syndrome. Who was I to offer my new vision to anyone? That line of thinking caused me to dwell on memories from not one, but two previous organizations where I had been told to hide my personal brand. Where I had been conditioned to think of it as a liability. That if I gained anything from it, it was unfair to those around me. Those small minds saw it as a threat rather than the very fuel that made me do my job better, inspired me to work harder, and discover creative solutions.

Thank goodness I didn’t give in to that feeling then or now. And one reason I didn’t was because of a pattern that started happening after podcast interviews. For several weeks in a row, I interviewed industry leaders who were increasingly influential. I’d consider them “Transformationists.” At the end of each of those interviews, I’d hang up on Zoom but my mind couldn’t turn off. I’d sit and think, “We just had a revolutionary conversation!” It energized me. It gave me glimpses of that vision. It made me feel like even just hosting a conversation was making a difference. And I started seeing how creating content on a regular basis was the best form of professional development.

That content started turning into clients – clients contacting me because of things they had listened to. Or watched. Or read. Things that attracted them to my worldview. And the interesting thing was seeing how they felt like they knew me even when we had never met. Content does that.

So I started leaning in. More freestyle raps (4 during my NESHCo keynote presentation alone). More engagement. More sharing and commenting. More podcast episodes. More videos. Until I knew 100% that my personal brand and the content I was creating was not a liability. It was – and still is – my greatest asset.

It also led to new opportunities. To the point where I was having lunch with a colleague this fall. Another transformational conversation, this time in person. And I sat and realized, wouldn’t it be cool if we had recorded that conversation? Aren’t other people around the country having similar conversations about the same challenges? What if we re-create it and turn it into a video series? So that happened. And those videos are just the beginning of the next chapter of content. In other words, there’s much, much to come.

What happened, you ask? I learned that I needed to do whatever it takes to create content for myself, because nothing else in today’s professional world can create the trust, relevance, loyalty, and personal equity needed to achieve what I plan to achieve.

Little things. Seemingly small, inconsequential encounters. That’s what has made the difference between a year ago and today. And people – so many of you that I struggle to thank you by name for fear of missing someone – but this year would have gone a very different direction without those of you who have given me opportunities to show what I can do. So here’s to you, and to the road that we’ll continue to walk together.