When I was still working full time in my corporate job and feeling stressed to the max and way out of balance on the personal side, a wise friend said to me, “Five years after you leave this place people will say, ‘Jen who?'” This part hurt my ego a bit, but then she went on to say, “But your kids will never say, ‘Mom who?” Tears still well in my eyes each time I recall that pivotal conversation.
Shortly after that, I struck out on my own and founded Difference Consulting determined to build leaders worth following from the outside-in and help them create work environments that bring out the best in everyone. I won’t say that being an entrepreneur is always easy, but starting this business was easily the best decision I’ve ever made.
I want to share my biggest and best lessons to save you time in learning and implementing what took me years to figure out. You’re welcome. 🙂
1) Your definition of success doesn’t have to match anyone else’s.
The typical measuring stick for success in Western society, at least, is how much money you make, your job title, with a little of your transportation and your neighborhood thrown in on the side.
I’m convinced that comparison is the root of all evil. Here’s the deal: You have nothing to prove to anyone, and when you figure that out you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks of you. You are your only competition. The end.
2) In life and leadership, there is no arrival.
As tempting as it can be to think you have all the answers, you don’t. Leadership isn’t about your job title or a one-time action. Leadership is a way of being; it’s a continuous wave of learning and choosing how you show up and who you want to be every day.
I work exclusively with smart, successful, and driven leaders (it’s cool that I get to be very selective about who I work with). What they all have in common is an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and the humility to admit that they don’t know everything.
Continue to learn. Read every day, stretch yourself to do new things, be innovative, and take risks. Although true mastery can never be achieved, “reach for the moon because even if you fall short you’ll land among the stars.”
3) Surround yourself with people who will both support you and kick your butt.
It’s easy to believe that all you need is some information and that you can solve your problems alone. After all, you’re smart, right? Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should go it alone.
Invest in yourself and your personal/professional development. Build a circle of trusted coaches, mentors, and accountability partners to help you along your path. Because we all have our own “blind spots,” we need help to gain clarity, take action, and follow through on our commitments. My team is amazing and worth their weight in pure gold; they don’t buy my excuses and lovingly kick my tail every week. (Yes, even coaches have coaches!)
4) It’s okay to say, “No.”
Speaking from experience, I used to feel like I had to be able to do it all, lest I be judged. It was exhausting.
We often overextend ourselves because we feel there’s no other choice, but there is. While it’s tough to come to grips with the idea that your stress is somewhat self-inflicted, it’s an important realization. Setting boundaries for yourself and learning how to clearly articulate your needs to others is essential. Women, in particular, often feel they can’t say no to requests or without going into a lengthy explanation or defense.
With very few exceptions, you don’t have to be “on call” 24/7, work 15 hour days, or be available 100% of the time for your employees. You have a right to shut your door and work. You have a choice when it comes to committing to projects and workload. These things are almost always negotiable when you communicate effectively.
5) Find purpose in your work
There are basically two reasons that you choose to work: 1) to make money because you need to eat and pay bills, and 2) to help others, contribute to something bigger than yourself, and to increase your fulfillment.
Let’s face it: you probably won’t love all aspects of your job. That’s normal. But, if you don’t like something, it’s up to you to change it. It may be as simple as changing your attitude, but find something in your work that feels meaningful. At the end of the day, we all just want to feel like we made a difference; that our efforts mattered to someone (even us).
I truly believe that you deserve to enjoy your work and find meaning that fills your heart and soul. Have fun, be grateful, and enjoy the journey.