“Okay, does anyone have any questions?”
Her eyes darted across the screen, silently screaming for one of the dark squares filled with initials to come to life. With nothing but blue light bounding across the bridge of her nose, her heart sank, quickly tabulating the hours she’d spent preparing for today’s call. Despite her best efforts, it had been a complete and total waste of time. And, increasingly, the hours, days, and even years leading up to this moment had seemed to have been, too.
What once had been a field full of possibility now seemed meaningless, pointless even. This realization was a tough pill to swallow, especially for the former Orr Fellow and offspring of two successful entrepreneurs.
In a scene reminiscent of Ben Stein’s classic roll call in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Ally Brettnacher had just finished her slide deck over Zoom in the height of the pandemic. She’d spent hours preparing the perfect presentation, careful to compile engaging data which would surely bolster her meaningful call to action.
But just like in the exceedingly patient Mr. Lorensax’s economics class in the movie, not one person responded.
While the silence at the end of a Zoom call isn’t unexpected, especially as attendees are itching to get to their next meeting or bolt to the bathroom, this instance was the final straw that drove Ally to finally sit down with her husband and talk about what shifting into a single income household could look like.
A far departure from her life plan so far, the nearly straight-A student had done everything “right:” Graduating cum laude from Miami University, earning a coveted Orr Fellowship upon graduation, and stepping into a career in software sales in a city whose tech scene was bursting with potential. Once there, she worked adjacent to successful entrepreneurs reminiscent of two of the most influential people in her life: her parents.
“When I thought about my career at a younger age, I pictured myself following in my parent’s footsteps as a successful tech entrepreneur,” recalls Ally. “I went on to spend about 10 years in software sales learning everything I could about running a technology company.”
Ally is demure in her recap of her career before that fateful day on Zoom, but there’s a reason her name may be familiar: She’s closed six-figure sales opportunities with some of the most noteworthy tech companies in Indy, served as a partner for Linking Indy Women, and raised her hand to volunteer and mentor others pursuing careers in tech. Her contributions even helped launch Advancing Indy Women in 2019. A year-long professional development program developed with Linking Indy Women and the Indiana University Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, Advancing Indy Women was aimed at providing focused support for a cohort of women from central Indiana. A common thread between many events, conversations, and relationships was Ally’s involvement and genuine desire to help others find their fit.
But all of the credentials and accolades couldn’t stand up to the realities that often come with age, experience, and life’s wake-up calls.
“It was after I became a mom. I had a very traumatic experience giving birth to our first daughter, Sydney, and it changed my outlook on life. While a big part of me wanted to set an example as a successful, career-driven woman for my daughter, the other side of me didn’t find it meaningful anymore,” says Ally. “I forced myself to stay in the workplace for years after she was born. As I reflect on it now, it’s because I succumbed to the pressure of society and what I felt everyone else expected of me.”
The heart-wrenching pull of motherhood isn’t foreign, even to the most career-driven woman. But the modern interpretation of “working mom” is hard to keep up with. Work schedules that don’t mesh with school commitments, the expense of childcare alongside modern conveniences and perceived necessities, and the misalignment with work demands and personal purpose make many parents pause and ask, “Is this worth it?”
For Ally, the answer was a resounding, “no.”
Shortly after the Zoom call disaster, she’d finally realized that enough was enough — it was time to leave her job. She sat down with her husband, Zach, to talk about the idea and what the shift would mean for their growing family, set to expand with the addition of their daughter, Sloane, who was later born in April 2021.
“Zach has always supported my career aspirations, but he is also the voice of reason. Sometimes I didn’t want to hear this voice, but I was finally ready to listen. He asked, ‘Why are you doing this if you don’t like it?’ I didn’t have a good answer,” recalls Ally.
The reality of working in a job that just wasn’t fulfilling, navigating the complexities of COVID-19-related changes on the client side, and preparing for a second baby made the choice clear for the Brettnachers — they’d soon be shifting to a single-income household. An option not available for many, Ally’s opportunity forced a slowness she hadn’t experienced in recent memory. As much as stepping away from her tech sales career would give her time to nest and prepare for their daughter, it also freed her mind to be creative in a way that hadn’t yet reached its potential.
Just one week after resigning from her job, the seed for Ally’s business, Athlete Bouquets, was planted. This inspiration confirmed one thing: it wasn’t the act of working that was the issue — it was the lack of purpose.
“A week after I left my job in 2020, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a homemade gift someone created for a runner returning from an injury. I immediately saw an opportunity and started ordering stuff on Amazon to make a prototype. The opportunity I saw — and still see — is to help ‘celebrate finish lines and milestones’ for athletes of all kinds — primarily runners and Pelotoners. What I make are ‘bouquets’ filled with things an athlete would need before or after a race or workout— think Edible Arrangements, but for running.”
The launch of Athlete Bouquets brought much of what Ally had loved about sales together with what motivated her outside of work hours: challenging herself to do her best and celebrating her accomplishments once those milestones were met. With over 1,000 orders under her belt so far, Ally is measured with her growth and focusing on creating happy customers.
“My vision is to keep that number growing to make as many athletes happy as I possibly can. While I can see a larger vision for Athlete Bouquets, I’m very content with its steady growth and want to keep it as a business I solely operate. But mark my words: Someone will emerge as the premium gifting company for the fitness world,” Ally promises.
With more ownership of her time, Ally’s been able to dedicate her creativity and expertise toward initiatives that matter to her. And while her dance card is quickly filling up, the purpose behind her work has given her energy rather than drained her reserves.
In addition to her growing business, Ally serves on the board of directors for Beyond Monumental, a nonprofit organization that hosts the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon and other running events. An opportunity her sister-in-law facilitated, Ally’s serving her second year on the board as Vice President.
“In the spirit of filling my life with more of what I love, I jumped at the chance to give back to our community through the events and programs Beyond Monumental runs (pun intended). I really love the team and the work they’re doing for the youth in Indiana,” Ally shares.
For anyone who knows and loves a runner, it’s fair to say that they’re a driven and dedicated breed. Either you love or you hate running, and if you love it, you may as well be obsessed. This makes sense when you learn that Ally willingly re-joined the workforce this past spring in an albeit different sales job: working retail. Except now, she gets to spend her hours on the clock talking about all things running.
“In May, I accepted a $14 an hour part-time job at Fleet Feet in Carmel (formerly JackRabbit). Again, if you would have told me I’d (willingly) be working a retail job I would have laughed. However, I absolutely love it. Getting paid to talk to people about my love of running and help them get what they need to run — sign me up! Not to mention it helps pay for my running habit.”
Walking away from a tech career that others would clamor for and that Ally earned through years of dedication was never part of her vision. Nor was launching a creative business, clocking into an hourly job, or finding joy in household management tasks. The opportunity to slow down, experience the world around her, and linger just a little longer in the moments that had often been a blur has shifted her perspective in ways she hadn’t expected. While Ally’s exchanged her corporate career for work that brings her joy, it’s also given her and Zach the chance to support one another in new ways.
“None of this would be possible without my amazing partner. Zach is still working his ass off in corporate America, so I do my best to own as much of the ‘house stuff’ as possible. Getting the girls ready and to and from daycare, doing the laundry, tidying up, planning meals, cooking, etc. Having more time to focus on this part of our family life has helped more than I could have imagined.”
Ally’s not alone in her wake-up call. In a period coined “The Great Resignation,” the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported that an average of 4 million workers left their jobs each month in 2021. Some who’ve long felt underappreciated and underpaid have finally said “enough” and are seeking out better career fits or uprooting their old lives in exchange for something else.
Those who’ve stayed have joined the ranks of “quiet quitters,” a hotly debated term for employees who execute their jobs well but stick to the job description instead of killing themselves and overdelivering. In what’s long been a one-sided relationship, workers are asking, “Why am I going above and beyond if my work can’t even give me the minimum?” It’s a major issue that warrants exploring as the many problems with corporate America have come out of the shadows as workplaces try to return to pre-pandemic norms.
“2020 changed everything. If you would have told me I’d leave the workforce and be doing what I’m doing today, I would have laughed in your face,” says Ally. “2020 was a year of nothing but change. It caused everything important to rise to the surface. In the grand scheme of things, it allowed me to see clearly what was most important. I also realized that no one would notice or care if I left. What matters is that I’m happy. That my family is happy. Now I feel my purpose is to serve myself and my family first.“
Now that she’s taken the leap, Ally’s learned a lot about herself and the pressures she’d felt to perform.
“Through this process, I’ve found a new level of confidence I didn’t have before. Realizing that no one really cares what I do freed me from the pressure I’d been putting on myself. It sounds cliche, but it has allowed me to fully be who I am,” Ally says. “My therapist likes to say, “What other people think about you is none of your business.”
Although quitting your job may seem like an impossible fantasy, there’s wisdom behind Ally’s evolving experience post-tech exit: Life’s too short, so do what you want.
However, with bills that need to be paid, kids who need to be fed, and the budgetary space required to make a move, handing in your two weeks’ notice without a new job waiting in the wings isn’t an option for many. This reality is one that Ally’s keenly aware of, which makes her more grateful for the opportunity to take this path.
“I think a lot about this … how fortunate I am to be able to step away. For someone who can’t, I’d suggest focusing more on the time you’re not at work — fill that time with more of what fills you up,” says Ally. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve also come to really appreciate the saying: You can’t pour from an empty cup. Network and meet others who may be able to help you step away or find other opportunities. If I would have done what I felt like doing sooner, I would have avoided a lot of unnecessary stress and unhappiness. So don’t wait. Life is too short not to be happy at work.”
Natalie Derrickson is a communications strategist and fellow believer that happiness at work is non-negotiable. You can connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and her website.
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