Maybe you know one. Maybe you are one. Or, like Sallie Holder, maybe you were one—somebody who found themselves in, at what Holder has coined rock middle: the comfortable misery zone that’s oh-so-hard to leave. You’re successful by society’s standards, but deep down you feel like an imposter who wants to do anything other than what you’re doing now.

Holder’s account of how she changed her trajectory out of that place is in her book published in January and aptly titled, Hitting Rock Middle: The Roadmap from Empty Success to True Fulfillment. When current events (read: global health crisis) upended her book tour, Holder’s drive to encourage other women to wake up from what she calls the “I’m fine coma” held firm. She relaunched her 90-day interactive program called The Brimm (The Beyond Rock Middle Movement), which strives to move you out of your own way so you can, like Holder, become a Female Founder of your making in a career you truly love.

From your book to your social media posts, you’re very candid about your former life as an attorney. Although it looked like you had it all—the big job, marriage, two kids—you were quite unhappy. So how did you make this big sea change in your own life that you now, as a business coach, help others to make? I had this voice in the back of my head all the time saying, ‘This is not what you’re supposed to do,’ and I think a lot of other people have that if they stop and pay attention to it. They don’t want to because they don’t want to have to go through the pain to change. They look at change and say, ‘What if I fail? So I’ll just stay the same.’ But eventually what happens is that the pain of staying where they are becomes too great, and they can’t turn the volume down on that voice anymore. That’s when they tend to seek me out. I want people to wake up from that rock-middle place and say, ‘I deserve more than this.’

What wasn’t fulfilling you, and made you want to make the leap? I was a people person who loved business development and sales and staying behind a desk reading and writing all day. I realized that my zone of genius wasn’t being utilized at all in the position I was in.

So how did you do it? I sought out every practitioner that I could possibly find to tell me what I should do. They were all telling me, ‘Oh, you should be an entrepreneur,’ and I would say, ‘Great, now what?’ I wanted someone to tell me how to do it, and I couldn’t figure that out so I always said, ‘If I ever figure out the process of how to do this, I’ve got to go back and teach more women because there have got to be a lot more of us trapped.’ So I started by first seeking a lot of outside advice and realizing the position I’m in doesn’t fit the greatest parts of myself.   

What do you tell others so they go ahead and take the leap? There are two things I find really critical and one is to begin with the end in mind. If you put your toe in the water and you’re scared to death, then all you’re missing is the clarity of a plan. You have to start with the end in mind and work your way backwards. That’s what I help people do. And that keeps them so much more attached to their future rather than staying stuck where they are because they want that future vision. The second is that we all have a ton of limiting beliefs that tell us we are incapable of creating what it is that we really want. Throughout the 90 days, I reiterate what those limiting beliefs look like, how they show up for us, and how they talk us out of taking the necessary steps.

Photography by Will Crooks

Did you have people try to tell you, ‘Hey, I don’t know, Sallie, maybe don’t quit your day job?’ (laughs) I still have people come up to me at Starbucks on Augusta Road and say to me, ‘I am so sorry to hear you’re not practicing law anymore.’

Oh my goodness . . . That is hilarious. But I also know it has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with them and the personal growth they haven’t done. And so when we challenge other people’s stories of success, if we’re not oftentimes ready to make the change ourselves, we’re not going to like it and that’s okay. So, yes, it does end up being very psychological as well as tactical. Your mental game is 50 percent of it. And so to ignore that like so many people do, to me, was entirely ignoring all of the roadblocks and hurdles I had to jump over to get where I wanted to go—and those are harder than just executing. If it were just execution, then we could all read a self-help book and be done. It’s the psychological side, and you just can’t ignore that.

Right. What were some of your hurdles? My therapist back in the day used to say to me, ‘Your willingness to endure pain and misery is unmatched by any client I have ever seen.’

Ouch. Oh wow. I looked at her and said, ‘Thank you!’ I was so far on the other side of the spectrum of what I preach and teach and really believe in now. And then, yeah, that got me a ticket right to rock bottom. So I stayed in the misery. I have true belief that we are either moving closer to or further away from our dreams every day. I was moving away because I wasn’t choosing the path of personal growth and challenge. I was staying the same and staying in that comfortable misery of rock middle, and I ended up needing to get sober. In a few days, it’ll be four years.

That’s so fantastic. I feel like we’re all going to make that choice to stay in the ‘I’m fine coma,’ or we’re going to wake up one day and say, ‘This is not who I want to be.’ That’s what happened to me. I woke up one day and I thought, ‘This is not who I know I am supposed to be, and what do I need to do to get started creating that? What is standing in my way?’ And I knew the very first thing was alcohol. I knew if I could remove that roadblock then I could get started on the others, but there was no way I would get started on the others until I solved the first one. Slowly but surely I started walking through those fears, and I failed a million times along the way.

In one of your Instagram posts you talk about the joy you feel in getting to turn on the light for other women in helping navigate the roadblocks to their success. What a gift you have to share. I think I have always had this intense feeling of curiosity, and I am so curious about how it can be better and easier, for not only myself, but for other women, too. I’m so curious about them and what’s stopping them, and why they haven’t yet manifested what they want and created that. I think I approach all of the coaching with that level of curiosity and a sincere desire to see women be able to give their genius to the world. I know that sounds ambitious, but why not?

Portrait by Will Crooks. For more, go to sallieholder.com or @sallieholder on instagram.