I never considered myself an entrepreneur, but I recently listened to a Stanford Pathfinders podcast with Stanford professor and author Tina Seelig, called “Unlocking Your Creative Potential.” To define entrepreneurship, she described a large sign in her office that reads: “Entrepreneurs do much more than imaginable with much less than seems possible.” She went on to say that entrepreneurship is not about starting businesses, but about leveraging resources to make things happen. That’s a definition I can get behind. But if anything, I’m an accidental entrepreneur. Here’s why…
When I was 14, my mother suffered a traumatic brain injury. When she came home from the hospital a month later, she was a different person, a stranger. My parents divorced shortly after, and all things safe and familiar went poof into thin air. Losing the mother I knew at that age changed my life in a second, and I’ve been “leveraging resources” ever since. With three careers under my belt, here’s some business advice I learned from this life-altering event.
Following the accident, and for many years after, it felt like the best I could do was show up and put one foot in front of the other. It’s only in retrospect I can see that even the tiniest baby steps created forward motion. I didn’t have the spirit at the time to make or achieve big picture goals, but I showed up and moved in real time from experience to experience, creating opportunity after opportunity.
In business, there will always be challenges, but if you simply show up and put one foot in front of the other you create the opportunity for change and for interesting things to happen.
“Soft skills” are anything but soft
According to Forbes, soft skills are the key to finding the most valuable employees. More and more companies, big and small are putting value on a potential hire’s soft skills. They are now considered essential to success in the workplace. Good news for someone like me. I’ve never been and never will be the person you’d ask to create a spreadsheet or crunch numbers, but I was wired at birth to excel at soft skills.
As a very young child I was unusually curious, observant, and analytical. I watched, listened, and assessed people and situations out of the corner of my eye. I’m the OG of side eye. My mother regularly reminded me to stop looking at people that way. After her injury, I was on my own and had to hone those behaviors into a more mature set of soft skills — active listening, skillful communication, seeing the big picture, and problem-solving.
Honestly, as I look back at my life and careers, soft skills have been my greatest resource. They’ve opened many doors, and they are what sustained me and allowed me to thrive. I credit them with every success I’ve had.
Impostor syndrome is often synonymous with success
We’ve all felt like frauds, and feared being discovered, particularly when taking on a new challenge. The good news is that impostor syndrome is often synonymous with success. Think about it, you probably wouldn’t feel like an impostor if you hadn’t accomplished something. When it rears its head, take a moment and take stock of everything that brought you to the present moment. The many life experiences, conversations, book learning, innate personality traits, and the multitude of mistakes and failures that came before. You’ll see that you’ve earned your success.
I don’t think I ever felt prepared or qualified for anything I’ve done professionally. It has always felt like trial by fire and daunting. As I mentioned, my soft skills have opened many doors, usually without the requisite qualifications. I convinced someone to be my first nutrition client before I finished school, talked my way into my first segment producing job for Discovery programming with no experience, and became the co-creator of Rockabye Baby when I knew nothing about the music business or babies. I‘ve lived my entire professional life feeling like an imposter, yet here I am.
Be an apprentice in life
As a teenager I became an apprentice out of necessity. I watched and asked questions of others to learn the ropes of life and business, and still do to this day. I’m a perpetual student.
You don’t have to have all the answers at any stage in life, including running your business. In fact, you can’t have all the answers, and if you think you do, I’d like to suggest that you rethink that. There’s no way you’re an expert in all the areas your business depends on to thrive. Like life, it’s a collaborative effort. To always do it your way is stifling for the people around you, and will ultimately prevent the opportunity for growth and innovation. When you’re curious and ask questions, and you listen with interest, you not only learn and gain new perspectives that can benefit your business, but the people you’re asking feel heard and important.
Lend your honest individual perspective to everything you pursue
It feels risky and vulnerable to show people who you really are and what you care about, but it brings originality to what you do and will attract like-minded people.
As simple as it may be, it took me decades to trust that authenticity is what attracts and touches people, not what you “think” will attract and touch people. And frankly, trying to be something you’re not, or trying to sustain a business that isn’t honestly reflective of you is exhausting and a terrible business and life strategy.
Ignore the peanut gallery
My favorite object is on the wall in my office at work. It’s a sticky note that says: “You have no discernible skills to work here.” I started working at CMH Label Group 14 years ago, and the office manager at the time said that to me. I asked her to repeat it, so I could write it down. It’s been suggested over the years that I throw that sticky note away, but I’ve kept it, because in my mind it’s a badge of honor and my life story, and a reminder that I have what it takes.
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