On community, leadership and opportunity

Noah Eisenkraft, not pictured here, donated his negotiations expertise to teach us this vital skill at NC State's Advancing Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) event

Noah Eisenkraft, not pictured here, donated his negotiations expertise to teach us this vital skill at NC State's Advancing Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) event

Last week I was recovering from a long shift at my restaurant job in a post-nap daze when I saw an email from the job creating venture capital trust that I submitted an executive summary to a few weeks ago with a proposal for a made to measure women’s sewing workshop for the apparel line. The woman I was in touch with had reviewed my proposal and was requesting that I come present it to her team. My response was a mixture of intense excitement, fear at what it means for this work to be progressing this way and overwhelm at the task before me.

With further clarification, I came to learn that they wanted me to put together a 1 hour presentation on exactly what the plan was to build the women’s made to measure workshop for the apparel line, how much it would cost and what that money would do.

When I came down from a state of freak-out, I noted two big shifts that I want to share here. One is that, while I certainly still had a bit of imposter syndrome anxiety wondering how in the heck I could possibly know what I was doing, I quickly remembered that I don’t need to have all the answers on my own. I have often reflected on how much as a culture we attribute successful endeavors to one individual–the iconic leader: Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs.

It is no wonder that when we are taking the lead to put something together that we get confused and think that we alone are responsible for having all the answers. After all we don’t say that Apple was so successful because of the great community of team members who build it with Steve Jobs at the lead. No, we just talk about the leaders. Journalists love to write about them, and the leaders love to take all the credit.

Or we can shift to something more real: great things are built by lots of people with a few people driving the charge. As I sat thinking through all the things I need to learn between now and mid-June, I was so grateful to think about all the awesome people I have in my community to help substantiate and clarify all the pieces of the made to measure sewing workshop puzzle.

And all the sudden this presentation is so much less daunting. I will be presenting on behalf of a lot of different experts, who’s insights I’ve pulled together, along with my own, to form a vision. It is not personal. It is not about me. It is about the work and what is possible with it. Looking at it from all angles and defining a path that will make it successful from the standpoint of profitability, what it provides customers, what kind of jobs we can create, and how we can promote a more sustainable relationship between fashion and the environment.   

And it is just another draft, which brings me to the second shift. No longer do I see the success of this work as wrapped up in any one opportunity. I used to. Before the Kickstarter, before the iFundWomen campaign and all the accelerator and grant proposals I would think: “This is it! This is the opportunity that I’ve been waiting for.” I would spend 150% of my energy (note the deficit) on each opportunity with the idea that if I just gave it everything I had, it would work out and that would be what I needed to be successful. Turns out, this is a bad idea for lots of reasons. Depleting yourself, putting yourself and your business at financial risk, setting yourself up for big disappointment. After all, there is no way for you to know which opportunity will be the right one. (No regrets pursuing these opportunities, but it was time for an attitude change.)

So a shift is necessary. This job creating venture capital group may be a good fit or it may not. But the energy I put into answering more of the logistical and financial questions between now and then will be invaluable for any other opportunity to materialize this work. Maybe you have already learned this, but if not: it is hugely liberating to stop believing that your success/happiness/creative expression/livelihood etc. is tied to any one thing working out. I am speaking here for the professional, but this applies to the personal realm as well.

At the end of the day, what do these two shifts accomplish? They lessen the pressure and stress around this work, which kills creativity and drains needless energy, vital energy that could be used to make the most of opportunities before us. I am calling balderdash on the idea that we have to make our lives into pressure cookers to create worthy enterprises. What we need right now is creativity around how to create a new generation of businesses that are more environmentally and socially responsible and stress is a creativity killer. 

We can ease off the pressure by remembering that when we lead entrepreneurial endeavors we are not struggling alone, solely responsible for the success and failure of our work, and no one business accelerator application, or grant application, or venture capital presentation is the gatekeeper of our success. Plant the seeds, make the most of each opportunity and keep moving. Honor your community and remember that you are the dance, not the dancer.

Go, fight, win.

Reid