By Cathy Salit

In this installment of my blog feature, “Choose to Grow,” we hear from Ilise Benun, the founder of, the go-to online resource for creative professionals who want better projects with bigger budgets. She is a national speaker, the author of seven business books, a business coach, a Program Partner for HOW Design Live and adjunct faculty at Pratt Institute and Maryland Institute College of Art. Follow her @ilisebenun and sign up for her Quick Tips here:

I asked Ilise to talk about about a time in her life when she made a major change, and how she went about it. She shared the following story:

I’ve learned that there are three ways to live a life:

  • You can wander aimlessly and take whatever falls into your lap (which doesn’t always end up badly).
  • You can have a vision and devise a clear plan to execute it as flawlessly as possible.
  • Or you can do a little of both: execute a plan with enough flexibility to see and seize opportunity when it falls in your lap.

I lived the first 50 years of my life the first way, without any direction to speak of and seizing opportunities that came my way, but without stopping first to ask myself if it was what I wanted.

That’s how I got into a business partnership with someone who had big ideas for my business and so much enthusiasm that I allowed myself to be swept up in his vision for what was soon “our” business.

A lot of what we built together — we founded a conference for creative freelancers, opened an online store and developed information products to sell in it — I never would have initiated, much less thought of, by myself. And they were positive initiatives, for the most part, that have since become the cornerstones of my current business. So I am grateful to him and to that relationship setting that foundation.

At the same time, it wasn’t my vision — because I didn’t have a vision — and that was a problem. So when, after five years, he wanted to move in a direction that I didn’t, I chose to grow.

It was time to take the “training wheels” off my business, which this partnership represented, and ride on my own.

Since then, I have developed a vision for — to provide tools and guidance for creative professionals to thrive in business — and I am implementing it on my own. The process is certainly slower than it would have been with him on board — he liked to move quickly and I am much more deliberate. But I have learned so much about my own potential in the process, in particular, that I am much stronger and more competent than I knew.

On behalf of everyone who’s in a relationship that they’re thinking about leaving — with a business partner, colleague, friend, family member, or significant other — I am delighted that Ilise shared this story.

Sometimes you need to leave a relationship, because it’s hurtful or damaging in some way. But Ilise’s story isn’t about that — it’s about making a choice to move on from a relationship that has been positive, supportive and productive. I know how scary that can be. It brings particular challenges that Ilise’s story helps us explore.

Seen through the lens of  performance (which is how I look at pretty much everything), Ilise was playing a particular character and role in a play that was running for five years. And when, for the reasons she’s described, that long-running play stopped being a great vehicle for her, she made a creative leap — and climbed onto a different stage, in a play that had yet to be written, improvised and explored.

It was a very brave move. It’s actually the very kind of tough decision that many of us have a hard time making. Such a hard time, in fact, that a lot of us opt for the safety of the status quo. But as the famed choreographer and creative risk-taker Twyla Tharp said, “If you only do what you know and do it very, very well, chances are that you won’t fail. You’ll just stagnate, and your work will get less and less interesting, and that’s failure by erosion.”

So, my advice? Follow Ilise and Twyla! And you don’t have to do it alone. You can build what I like to call a “performance board of directors” — an ensemble of supportive people who can help you think out, map out, imagine, (and test) your vision — and help with your new performance(s).

Your performance board of directors can help you to discover new options for what there is to do, support you in uncovering what you want to do, and advise you on how to do it. That kind of support can help you develop strengths and competencies that you never knew you had (or could create), just like Ilise.

Thank you, Ilise, for having the courage to take this journey, and for inspiring us to continue choosing to grow.

choose-to-grow-logoStay tuned for the next installment of the Choose to Grow series and be sure to follow along on Twitter #ChoosetoGrow @CathySalit.