When I was a child I told my parents and grandparents I wanted to be a doctor so I could take care of them when they were old (this was shortly after realizing my dream of being a cat was probably unrealistic). A little later on I decided I instead wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved animals, and barring becoming a cat, I wanted to take care of them (I would still take care of my parents and grandparents, just not as a doctor). Later still, after realizing that being a veterinarian did not involve snuggling cats and dogs all day, I decided that I wanted to be a counsellor (maybe I could have a cat in my office?🤔).
Notice a pattern?
I knew, even at a young age, that I had a talent for calming others: I was often the person my friends came to if they needed to talk. People told me things. I was good at keeping confidences, reading body language, and listening.
I held tight to the dream of being a counsellor and went to university with that as my end goal.
A slight change of plans
I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in psychology, a minor in sociology. I worked hard, got a very high GPA, volunteered, worked for the Chair of Psychology for 2 years as a research assistant and then applied for a Master’s of Counselling program…but, as is common in competitive programs, I didn’t get in.
I remember reading the letter in the backyard of the basement suite my (then-boyfriend, now husband) and I rented. I had only applied to one program, not prepared to move away, but it was one of the first times that working hard and getting high grades didn’t materialize into what I wanted.
I cried. I felt that dream of being a counsellor start to slip away and I started to question what I wanted for my future. Beyond the disappointment, I felt burnt out and disillusioned from school after working so hard for so long and not succeeding.
I decided to tuck away that dream for a bit and enter the workforce.
A much bigger change of plans
A bit became a few years working for the Alberta government. I didn’t reapply for any Master's programs, having settled into life outside of school and never quite felt ready to go back. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with life as a civil servant but it paid well enough and I worked with nice people.
Much to my surprise, my life took a completely unexpected turn when, on my honeymoon in Mexico, I found out that I would lose my government contract and be unemployed, due to a hiring freeze.
After another cry, my husband, Dana, and I had a long talk and decided to become business partners in addition to life partners. We were going to see if we could grow my husband's web design freelancing business together. My path suddenly veered into entrepreneurship, which had never even been on the map. 😳
I let go of my dream of becoming a counsellor and replaced it with new and different dreams as I started my entrepreneurial journey.
Life happened and more plans were made
Over the years my desire to calm and take care of others never changed but I assumed it would not be part of my professional life. I instead funnelled this desire into various volunteer pursuits like being a cat cuddler at the Edmonton Humane Society (yes, that’s a thing and it is as awesome as you would expect), or becoming a Big Sister through Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters (7 years later my Little is in University and just moved into her first apartment).
Fast forward to 2016 (and what felt like several lifetimes through my husband’s cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery) and we had a growing software consultancy. I was the face of the company and did all of the business development which meant most days I was out at events and meeting people.
Around the same time, I started blogging. I don’t remember what specifically made me decide to start, just that I loved to write and felt like I had something to say that was a little different. I mostly wrote about productivity and time management, couched in what those lifetimes of experience had taught me about intentional living.
Through my business development efforts and blogging, I started to get noticed. I started to get asked to speak at events as a female entrepreneur in tech, but also for talks based on my blog content. Then I started to get asked to do one-on-one consulting for other entrepreneurs who were overwhelmed and needed help to calm things down.
As I worked with these entrepreneurs, a piece clicked inside me that I thought was long gone. That talent for calming others that I had identified in myself all those years ago was still there. Now it intertwined with my natural organization and life experiences into something both familiar and new.
I realized that I had a superpower: calming chaos. And I was good at it!
I am not sure why I plan at all
Though I loved consulting, it wasn’t something that directly contributed to the goals we had set for my software company. It was something I did off the side of my desk when I could fit it in. I never promoted it beyond intermittent writing and speaking and consulting opportunities that fell in my lap. The ebbs and flows of my other responsibilities generally took precedence and, honestly, I sometimes felt guilty putting any time into writing and consulting at all since they took time away from my other work.
In late spring of 2021, we were coming up on our quarterly strategy discussions. Part of these discussions is reflecting on what we are working on, our roles, and what we want to be doing. While our company was doing really well and things in my role were good, I was not enjoying my day-to-day work. Not enjoying may not even be a strong enough description! I had expressed these sentiments before, but never with the expectation that anything would change.
But then it did.
My husband simply said, “why don’t you give consulting and writing full time a try, and see what happens?”
It hadn’t really occurred to me that I could consult and write full time, that it was even an option. It wasn’t part of “the plan”. Somehow, even at this point, I had forgotten that most things don’t go along with “the plan”.
With my husband's (and other business partners') support, I transitioned to consulting and writing full time.
All those changes of plans come full circle
As of publishing this, I am coming up on 9 months since I officially launched Ashley Janssen Consulting.
While I didn’t become a counsellor, I am able to take the pieces that attracted me to counselling in the first place: listening, calming and helping people. I get to do it every day. I get to share my insights through my writing and reach people all over the world (including you!).
I am on a new journey creating a business out of a superpower I have always had, but only became fully realized through all my years of entrepreneurship, some life hardship, and my own natural organizational talents.
Physician Chris Ballas says,
"The goal of adulthood is to let go of the other possible existences and to make the best of the one. A successful adult is one who understands that it doesn't matter which life you ultimately pick, only that you live it well." 
The existence I thought I had let go of has come full circle. I took the opportunity to pick it, and now I get to live it. Now my job is to do my best to live it well!
We often look at life and think it’s a linear path and feel frustrated or disappointed when it isn’t. But I think that most people’s paths are not even close to linear and we are all better for it. It’s through the twists and turns, backtracking and crossroads that we learn the most about ourselves. Life is complicated and often messy, but there are opportunities to find our way back to pieces of old dreams or discover new ones we hadn't even considered.
I shared this story not because I think everyone should work their dream jobs or live their passions every day. That’s simply not realistic, but rather I shared it to encourage you to reflect on the paths you didn’t take, or couldn’t take, and look for the threads in the ones you did take.
Those are threads that are worth pulling on to see if you can weave them into parts of your life now. You might surprise yourself as I did.
An invitation to reflect
- When you look back on your childhood and adolescent dreams, are there any common themes?
- What about those dreams attracted you to them?
- Do any of the work or hobbies you do now have pieces of them?
- If they don’t, what could you do to bring those pieces back into your life? Do you want to?
- What do you think your superpower is? What do you do exceptionally well?
- How does it come up in your day-to-day? What can you do to hone it?
Life is not a straight path and your best-laid plans will often be thrown out. But sometimes, as you travel along the winding roads, something that you left behind will come full circle. And that's a gift.
If you enjoyed this article, I would love it if you shared it with someone who might like it too.
If you would like some help calming your chaos or even getting clarity on your superpower, please reach out!