Lessons from Accidental Entrepreneurship

March 30, 2010 0 Comments

Originally published by Color Magazine

I grew up disliking the word “business.” I felt distrustful of most businesses and was tired of the sell. I didn’t want to think about money because we didn’t have enough of it. Now, at 25, I call myself an accidental entrepreneur and spend my time thinking about how to create a hybrid nonprofit/for-profit media company. A lot’s changed since I was a kid.

Three years ago, my business partner and I attended a conference called “Taking Social Innovation to Scale” with a vague idea for a media company. One speaker cited Myron Kellner-Rogers’ organizational change principle, “Start [the work] anywhere, follow it everywhere.” This was all I needed to hear. It felt like permission, and as a young woman who always played by the rules, I wanted permission to do a crazy thing like starting my own social business.

Through the New Prosperity Initiative (NPi), I’ve learned a great deal about what it means to be an entrepreneur and a woman entrepreneur at that. First and most important, we are the only ones who can ultimately give ourselves permission to do anything, especially overly-ambitious things others may tell us are unrealistic. Don’t judge yourself for needing permission either. Some people are natural risk-takers; others aren’t. I learned how to take risks by doing what was uncomfortable and taking them. To my great joy, I discovered I am more than capable of shaping the course of my career path.

If you want others to take you seriously, you must first take yourself seriously. This is far easier said than done. There are always going to be people who doubt your capabilities, no matter how much they like you. I remember feeling like everyone I told about my plans thought I was starting a new hobby instead of laying the foundation for a new full-time gig. Many times I’ve wanted to have a serious conversation about entrepreneurship rather than just get a pat on the back and a smile. I often think I’d be taken more seriously if I were a man or stood at 5′ 10″ instead of 5′ 3,” but in the end, it doesn’t matter. Young women are going to build businesses anyway. Leadership looks different than it has in the past, and we (myself included) better get used to it.

Leadership also no longer means having all the answers. 21st century leadership is as much about asking hard questions and bringing different minds together to create solutions to interrelated problems. It requires hard-earned knowledge and wisdom as well as an ability to ask for help and invite others’ ideas. If my business partner and I didn’t ask for guidance in the early days of our company, we wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as we have.

Find a good business partner whom you know you can trust. I wouldn’t have been able to take the risk of starting a company in the midst of an economic recession without one. In the two years that we’ve worked together, Jeanne and I have depended on each other to fulfill two very different roles within our company. We’ve supported each other through the inevitable ups and downs of startup life and in so doing, developed a co-leadership model we know will serve us well in the future. Acknowledging one’s own weaknesses, humbling as it may be, and finding someone who has complementary skills-this, too, is good leadership.

I continue to learn, as Einstein says, that “in the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” As human beings and entrepreneurs, we have a choice as to whether or not we embrace this fact so that we may do the work we hope to do in the world. The hard work doesn’t ever stop when you’re an entrepreneur since the goal line of course keeps moving, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Every day I get to do something creative in order to move my organization forward. I’m learning more about myself, my community, and yes, business, than I ever imagined possible.


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