This morning I drove over to UT, my first time inside the new Glocker, or Haslam Business Building. My MBA mentor from the Innovation & Entrepreneurship track had asked me to be part of a panel of entrepreneurs speaking to the incoming class of MBA students. I was honored to take part, and quickly realized I am not practiced at telling “my story” to a public audience.
It’s not that I don’t know my story; obviously no one knows it better. It’s just that it’s easier for me to tell my story when I’m not around a group of other entrepreneurs. Now, in my defense, I was forced to follow Will Overstreet, who had just given a bang up account of his journey as an entrepreneur.
I got lost in the moment, having just heard Will’s story, and facing about 85 young MBA students. I suddenly thought I needed a more business-like story, and in trying to tell it that way, must have sounded off the mark somehow. So, because it will make me feel better, here’s what I meant to say:
The journey to business ownership and equity positions was, for me, not about becoming a great business success. In fact, where I am is more a byproduct of my own personal journey. That journey was more focused on self-awareness and improvement, on finding balance, peace and living with passion. I realized some years ago that without rich meaning in my day-to-day life, all the business and financial success in the world wouldn’t fulfill me.
To that end, I could probably be digging ditches today and be happy, because it’s where my journey would have led me. What I mean is, I learned how to listen to and connect with my heart and, combined with the teachings in my head I felt my way to this place, so whatever it looked like when I got here would have been right.
I do know however, that it’s hard to be sitting in a competitive MBA class, being told all the things you should be doing to market yourself, and being measured by the pay you manage to negotiate, first for your internship, and second upon exiting the program. This is where it’s crucial to find your own voice and not be swayed by what others think you should do.
When we were a few weeks from graduation people would ask where I was going to work. When they learned I’d turned down a great offer with the only company I’d bothered to interview with, they stared at me in disbelief. But by then I was far enough down the road in my journey that I knew to listen to my gut when it told me to sit still.
Four weeks later I met my (now) husband. Six months later I was working as an employee-owner with a company for which I am thrilled to be handling sales & marketing. Six months after that I launched another venture with a highly talented team of folks.
What I can tell you for sure is that if any one of the things I’m working on went belly up, I would still be a very happy person. In fact if, heaven forbid, they all crashed and burned I’d still wake up every day and be happy about what I was doing that day. That’s how I know I’m doing the right thing – I’m not attached to the outcome. Sure, I have high hopes for these ventures, but I know if one of these doesn’t pan out, I’ll create another, and another, and another. I have a steady supply of ideas – and I have ample passions.
If you can do what you love and know that no matter what happens you’ll be in great shape, then you’re doing the right things! My journey is not about selling a company for millions (though I plan for that to be a stepping stone, of course!). It’s not about taking a company public, or being on the cover of Forbes. It IS about quality of a balanced life. See, my journey began with me, which makes sense because it is also where my journey will end.