My first "internship" at my parent's candy store circa 1986.
I had the opportunity to meet with our new intern class at work during their orientation a couple weeks ago. As I prepared my content, I found myself having these "aha" moments and personal convictions about the advice I was prepared to dispense upon them, namely, that I wasn't following my own advice. If I am going to dole out a prescription to someone else, I better be willing to take my own medicine, too.
As I reflected on my own internships and when I was sitting in that desk years ago, I thought about the seemingly mundane - shall I say boring - tasks that I found myself doing. With the benefit of fourteen years of perspective; however, I have also seen how these ordinary tasks were the building blocks that positioned me to have some extraordinary experiences in my early to mid-twenties. Sifting through stacks of paper doing three-way matches for hours on end led to an opportunity to co-lead a national project that transformed our purchasing and ordering processes. Putting together endless PowerPoint decks and copywriting a business plan positioned me to step in and present on our business to internal and external leaders. These are just a couple examples of the many ordinary, repetitive, or "undesirable" tasks that led to amazing things. Over the past decade and a half, I've learned that the ordinary so often leads to the extraordinary if we are patient enough to stick with it and to learn from it. I've had to remember that it's the same with starting a business; the beginning is far from glamorous, but having the patience and fortitude to stick with it during this phase can lead to amazing opportunities down the road.
The intern managers also asked me to speak to the tips that I shared with the interns last year. As I went through this content with a fresh set of eyes, I found myself further convicted by my own advice. "Find your purpose," I said, "and you'll never work a day in your life."
Thanks to the example set by my parents and the small business they owned until retiring two years ago, I saw this every day from a young age. It's taken me most of my adult life to narrow in on what my purpose is; over time, I've realized that, quite simply, it's solving problems and helping people. It really doesn't matter how I'm doing this, as long as I'm focused on this kind of work and doing it with other people. Through J. Margaret Weaver, I've found the opportunity to live out this purpose in a new way. Nothing makes me happier than someone sharing how confident their clothing made them feel for a big meeting, or how moving toward a capsule wardrobe saved them time in the morning for more important things like exercise, being with their kids for a few more minutes, meditating, eating breakfast, or getting to work a couple minutes early. Helping women look and feel their best so that they can go live out their purpose gives me endless energy to pursue this passion.
Another tip I shared? Get out of your comfort zone.
When I re-read this from my slides one year later, I cringed. For me, growing a business and sharing myself more publicly has been completely outside my comfort zone. If you know me in "real life", you know that I am satisfied with a private life, a small group of friends, and a tiny (preferably nonexistent) social media presence. I strive to limit the amount of time I am looking at a screen (especially when my kids are around). Filming Instagram Stories or posting pictures of a vacation on Facebook are foreign ideas to me. And while these are not requirements of growing a business, being able to share your passion and your purpose online and in an authentic way are one of the main ways we connect in 2021. I revel doing that in person...but online...I feel like I am an awkward eighth grader again way out of my comfort zone. Please tell me I'm not alone in this!
My last piece of advice to our interns was to surround themselves with an amazing team of different people and perspectives for advice and feedback. If we only hear feedback from our manager at work, or from our friends, or our family we are missing out on valuable insights from the other people with whom we interact every day. And, if we do not open ourselves up to hearing honest feedback, really listening to understand it, and being gracious with our appreciation, we will go through life with blind spots in our character and behavior instead of shifting who we are so that others perceive us in the way that we want them to. I had a similar conversation with someone recently about this business and hearing feedback from them, and they commented that they wouldn't want to give me negative feedback because it might hurt my feelings. While this was incredibly thoughtful, I pointed out that it might also be hurtful to not tell me because then I would operate under a false truth, which would lead me to invest time and money into products that I mistakenly thought a community of women wanted instead of shifting and trying something new. That would be even worse! Like many, I struggle with sharing bad news or feedback that might crush someone, but how much better to share this with them early when there is an opportunity to pivot than after it's too late?
As a solo entrepreneur, working alone can also become isolating and lonely. You can start to second-guess yourself or rush forward too quickly without the benefit of a team to share feedback or perspective on decisions. Even without a formal team, I've come to realize how important it is to have an informal group of people who can weigh in on decisions, contribute, and give advice.