Happy Star Wars Day! May the Fourth Be With You…

I’m relaxing at home in Fort Payne after a week that included having surgery and closing a chapter in my own story.

I guess you could say I am a bit like Luke Skywalker collapsed in the snow of Hoth. I’ve removed myself from a dire situation after listening to my intuition, now I’m physically strained as my body mends from a stressful event. That voice is guiding me about what to do next, same as Obi Wan appeared to Luke as an apparition in the blizzard with instructions to incite the challenges that will propel our heroes on their next adventure and lead to sacrifice and growth.


The surgery fixes a chronic issue that has long affected my health. I soldiered through years and years of sinus infections that were supposedly being addressed by surgery for a deviated septum more than a decade ago. According to my new surgeon, that earlier wound healed in such a way that my left sinus had no way of draining, which essentially means I’ve been walking around with a disgusting hot pocket of bacteria attached to my face and constantly attacking my immune system.

It’s probably a miracle that antibiotics still work on me, and it makes perfect sense why, for years, I’ve suffered from terrible sinus pressure under my left eye and on the right side of my neck. It’s the sort of thing that can get missed unless you get up in there with an endoscope and start poking around. My general physician referred me to an Ear, Nose & Throat surgeon, a CT scan last fall confirming the solid mass.

I can tell SO much of a difference between sinus surgery the first time versus today. Before, it felt like someone blowtorched my face, and I struggled for 2-3 weeks just to recover from the surgery and the anesthesia.

This time around, when I woke up, I questioned whether they’d actually done anything. I’ve avoided taking those dangerous painkillers, and I was able to return to work on Wednesday after getting the new hole cut inside of my head and stint placed on Monday. That’s pretty remarkable and says a lot of the quality of work performed by my ENT surgeon.

Making Big Changes Professionally: Why I Left the Agency

My fast return to work also said something about my resolve to not be sidelined at a critical juncture in my career when my employers counted on me to show up and finish training my successor. You see, yesterday was my last day at Riverworks Marketing in Chattanooga TN.

I’m sort of limited by the confidentiality agreement I signed last year in how much detail I can talk about processes and goings-on (that was a new thing for them but understandable to make sure none of us attempted to steal clients or revealed too much on social media). I’ve never been the type to burn bridges, and I am very happy to say I’M LEAVING ON GOOD TERMS, which is always very important to me.

In fact, I may likely be doing ongoing work (blogging, copywriting, and photography) for Riverworks on a freelance basis. Happy to say that I will no longer have my iPhone light up at 2 am with a notification that someone has just posted a review for one of the restaurants. Seriously? 2 am, dude?


Ask anyone who has done agency work. It’s stressful, managing the fine details for dozens of clients, needing to stay extremely organized at all times to avoid dropping the ball on something important. That leaves you mentally drained at the end of the day without any energy remaining to pursue much else. I imagine Lando Calrissian running Cloud City, taking on great responsibility, forced to act against his own self-interest when Vader shows up and keeps altering the deal.

I never want to disappoint people or say “no” when they ask me to take on something, so I do try to do too much. That’s just how I’m built. And in my desperation not to fail, I experience panic attacks where my mind fills with unlikely scenarios of letting someone down. It’s hard to feel in control of your life if your Sunday nights routinely mean existential dread. It has helped to keep me sharp and prepare contingencies, but such a weariness builds up, like that pocket of puss in my sinus that cannot escape.

I’ve sidelined so many of the personal projects that mattered greatly to me when I started working there 5 YEARS AGO. With my previous experience, they did not expect me to stay 5 months when it meant spending 10 hours a week in my car. Seriously, I got my Honda in late 2015, and it has 80k miles on it (it would have double that showing if I hadn’t lived half the time in Chattanooga).

I’m grateful for the opportunity to do good work at the agency – and for the kindness and integrity shown by the owners, Jackie and Steve Errico. They’re good folks.

Timing is Everything

The situation now is quite different than when I started. They hired me when the nation was still sluggishly recovering from the so-called “Great Recession.” I’d just earned my master’s degree to improve my job prospects and earning power. We’ve experienced tremendous growth over the last 5 years, including reaching a major 7-figure milestone last year. I hope my contributions helped the agency grow into new product categories with my specialized skills as a commercial photographer. I’ve certainly generated quite a few portfolio pieces I am proud to showcase.

Today, the unemployment rate is 3.8%, the lowest since December 1969. It seems quite prudent to take advantage of that to explore other options. I couldn’t really do that if all of my time is consumed by managing the day-to-day details of three dozen agency clients instead of putting myself first. I’d rather take a risk and put in my notice than half-ass it.


I may end up getting another marketing job in Chattanooga, but preferably one focused on a single company or a smaller group of them. For a short time, at least, I’m going after freelance work to pay the bills, teaming up with my sister Anita, whose background is also in communications and journalism.

I want to write books, create eCourses, do workshops, etc. I’m only limited by my imagination and the effort I want to invest. I possess the knowledge and many of the resources needed.

With my time freed up, my options multiply. I do want to find a place where I fit in well and stay put a while, possibly even retire. That’s hard to predict when I’ve got at least 15 more years of hard work to put in before I can start to entertain that possibility.

I just know that if I’d stayed put in the status quo, the chances of me even being alive 15 more years dropped greatly. Now I can give serious attention to losing some weight, lowering my blood pressure, watching my sugar, etc. My father worked himself to death. I’m trying to match his work ethic without wearing out my body as he did.

Taking better care of myself matters, especially now that my surgery gives me a greater chance of avoiding chronic infections.

Embracing a Universe of Possibilities

So, yeah. I’m entering a period of uncertainty. Like Han Solo steering into the asteroid field, “never tell me the odds.” Scary as it feels, it is exhilarating to take the wheel.

I’m confident because I know I bring value. I’m going to embrace change, give myself a few days to physically heal, and be like Yoda, knowing it is a matter of “do or do not, there is no try.”


As long as I believe in myself, I won’t suffer from self-limiting beliefs like the ones that prevented Luke from raising his sunken X-Wing from the swamp on Dagobah. My career largely defines my identity. Perhaps it is time I try working so I can get more enjoyment from life instead of living to work.

I’m excited by the challenge of what I can do anew. I took a great risk when I left a corporate newspaper chain to go work for a web start-up, but my instincts were correct then and my life changed in amazing ways. I also struggled briefly in my 20s but ultimately got back on track, stronger than before. I’m not going anywhere I haven’t already visited.

My brain is absorbing the possibilities and processing options. It definitely won’t be boring.

“Use what you’ve learned, save you it can,” the Jedi Master urges his Padawan.

“The Force” may be a mystical creation in a work of science-fiction, but I do believe in the benefits of opening yourself to the possibilities of the universe – trusting in that intuition tells us what we need.

What Happens Next…

My sister says she can tell I’m a changed man. My pitch of voice sounds higher following my sinus surgery, plus she senses that I’ve become unburdened by the stress that has been my constant companion for five years.

A different sort of stress rises to greet the new situation as I continue looking for opportunities, both possible new jobs and freelance work I’m going after in case that new dream job isn’t just around the corner.

I must remain practical since no one is going to pay me to sit at home and watch “Star Wars” all day. Dreams are great, but hard work pays the bills. If you enjoy my writing and/or photography, thank you, and please let me know if there’s a need that my skillset can help you fulfill.

Photos and Gifs from Lucasfilm

© Blog 2019 Steven Stiefel | Stiefel Creative