Recently I experienced a period in which it seemed I was attempting to climb a mud hill. What had once seemed a perfect stage to launch my many creative endeavors now felt more like exercises in futility. No matter how resolute my resolve, how dogmatic my approach I could not seem to get out of my own way. Simply put, I had made a mess in my kitchen and it was time to put things in order. Now you must understand that I, like many of my sister entrepreneurs often forget the simple rules of physics; namely that we are not gifted with a thirty-hour day, that our bodies require much more sustenance than chocolate and coffee or wine (insert your beverage of choice here), and sleep is not optional. I had become dangerously unbalanced. My beliefs were if it doesn’t work, just keep at it! Retreat, let alone defeat were never options. If the demands on my internal reserves seemed taxing it was up to me to figure it out. Re-strategize, reprioritize...work harder not smarter, but never stop working, never stop pushing. Not until the voices of those closest to me began to echo each other that I had to stop and take stock.
Female entrepreneurs are a different breed. Often already cast in the role of spouse and mother, many of us have long adopted the mentality that to succeed we have to be twice as resilient, tough and motivated as our male counterparts. We can bring home the bacon (often from working a day job as we chase our dreams), and fry it up in a pan...all the while looking as if we have it all together...we often sacrifice the best tool in our arsenal, our own personal well-being.
Receiving a diagnosis of autism for my youngest son was overwhelming. However, like any other challenge confronting me I vowed to take no prisoners. I would manage to juggle a job, family, advocating for my son’s needs, and later becoming an author, community advocate, adult college student, organization founder, community leader, radio show host...sheesh. I get tired just reading this! My mind whirred like a runaway food processor...slicing, dicing and churning out a movable feast that were appealing to the eye but lacked nourishment. Not only were they empty calories but they were killing me! I had fallen into the trap of thinking...wait for it, that I could do it all! And ladies I mean all!
Asking for assistance was not only difficult but near impossible. In the time it would take me to explain my needs to others I could have completed the task myself, or so I justified. In truth, my plate was so full that delegating responsibilities to others was impossible. In other words, there was no clarity. I had begun to believe my own hype! Don’t get me wrong, my passion was indisputable. My problem was not that I lacked commitment, it was that I was not rounded. I believed all I had to do was eat, sleep and breathe my vision. I forgot one simple fact, that no one can do it all alone. I had written a recipe for disaster. I had not anticipated one contingency...life. Trust me when I tell you, I had not only left my cake out in the rain, I had somehow gotten it caught up in tsunami of demands on my time and energies.
One afternoon when I was feeling particularly depressed from having to reassess my commitments I decided to visit my publicist. After pronouncing me one sandwich away from being a bobble-head (her not so-subtle way of saying I needed to consume more than just the occasional sporadic bite of food over my laptop) she said something so profound that I was stunned. She said “everyone is going through something; this is just your season. This will pass”. In a moment when I felt that I had fractured my vision beyond repair, or that I had blown some imagined golden opportunity of a lifetime her words were the reality check I needed. No one had promised that my life would stand still, or remain stationary while I scrambled from pillar to post. People who had initially been energized by my passion had come to see it as a one-woman show. I looked her in the eyes and had to admit not only to her but to myself that in all of my bluster and fury...I was spinning my wheels! It was in that moment that I had to sit back, take stock, and cut myself a huge slice of humble pie. Quiet as it is kept, I hate humble pie! But there it was.
I had to first come to the realization that I had created this problem, but that I alone would not be able to correct it. For many different reasons women entrepreneurs overtax themselves. We are met with challenges of supporting our ventures, raising our families, and becoming successful. The fear of failure looms ever present. Let’s face it ladies, you have to be somewhat of a maverick to undertake this challenge to begin with. According to Forbes Magazine 90% of startups fail. I decided to rewrite my recipe.
First I had to examine my ingredients and discard those who were past their expiration date. Translation, I had to take inventory of my entire life’s picture. Did I have the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fortitude to get me through this. I needed to first look to myself for what was not only there but what was lacking, and restock.
Add to this my true passion and what was I willing to invest in. This extended not only to my ventures, but my personal relationships. I had spread myself so thin that I was not giving either the attention necessary for success. Again, it was time to pare down and discard anything that had passed its peak.
I had to mix these concepts in equal measure and now bring to a gentle boil by evaluating my resources. We have often heard too many cooks spoil the broth. While having ample support is necessary, support can wane if you are too overwhelmed to utilize it effectively. Be honest in your self-assessment and candid with those who wish to support you. If taking time off to reenergize and rejuvenate is necessary, do it. You’re human. Once you have found your individual balance of ingredients don’t be afraid to revise the recipe and adjust according to your needs.
Breathe, and don’t be afraid to cut that slice of humble pie and admit that to succeed you may need the guidance and advice of others. Trust me, it starts to taste better with every bite!
Enterprising Women is a partner in the new Million Women Mentors (MWM) initiative.
The initiative supports the engagement of one million science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) mentors — women and men — to increase the interest and confidence of young women to pursue and succeed in STEM degrees and careers.