I was thinking about last weeks episode and how it was all about getting out during the summer months to network and continue to meet people.
The following is a keynote address I delivered to the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce in January of 2016 on the power in community. Having shared it with some friends I was encouraged to re-purpose it for the Women Taking the Lead podcast. I hope you enjoy it.
It’s no secret that business owners like their independence. They like to set their own hours, be the ultimate decision maker and forge their own destinies. The same holds true for those shooting for the top levels of their organizations. They tend to be the people who want to be in the know and be the decision makers.
However, rather than a state of independence, it is a state of interdependence that has worked to grow economies and organizations.
In my corporate career I was absolutely the benefactor of mentoring and partnerships. But, much like how a grammar school child makes friends, these relationships came naturally and developed through forced interaction, from working in close proximity with others.
When I started my business, however, the game changed. I had to seek out interactions and work at building business relationships.
Working for myself, there is no such thing as a forced interaction.
One of the greatest challenges my small business clients report is a sense of isolation and loneliness.
If you are a business owner most people in your life cannot understand your challenges or even your work day.
A few summers ago my sister, who lives over two hours away in Massachusetts, started a topic of conversation with the question, “you can work from anywhere, right?”
I responded flippantly with, “That’s the goal"…and "Why are you asking?”
Her husband would be travelling to Kenya for a month and my sister, being a mother of 3 and a nurse who works the night shift, needed someone to spend an extensive amount of time with them through the holidays to help.
With the holidays typically being slow for coaching I agreed and scrambled to prepare to work a few less hours per day during the holidays.
Now, during this time my sister would also be hosting 8 people on Christmas Eve, 24 people for Christmas and my brother and his family, a family of 5 travelling from out of state, would be staying for six days bringing the total living in the household to 10 for that time.
After arriving I found out my sister, without consulting me, had changed her schedule so she could have the days my brother’s family would be staying off. This meant working double shifts of 3-11 and then 11-7 twice within the first 4 days of my arrival.
I was shell-shocked by the amount of work I was not able to accomplish for my business. It didn’t occur to her to inform me of the change because my work schedule was flexible and I could "get it done at any time."
I’ve joked about my flexibility in the past by saying, “this week I can work 50-60 hours whenever I want to.”
On Christmas Eve she also informed me she hadn’t been able to get any of her wrapping done yet and she was going to be up all night getting it done. Since I would be bunking with her that night due to the arrival of my brother and his family, my brain froze with that information.
I had already determined I was going to need to get up at 4 am to meet the deadlines in my business before the household woke on Christmas Day.
At 12:30 am we finished wrapping and 3.5 hour later at 4 am I woke to complete my tasks.
I kept reminding myself of the quote, “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”
Sometimes that thought helped. Sometimes.
The next weekend it happened again, without consulting me two of her work shifts I had been unaware of were on the schedule requiring two double shifts in one weekend.
I kept feeling like figurative bombs were being dropped on me. I didn’t know what was going to come at me next.
It was with gratitude I returned back in Maine to happily work my own schedule but a lot of it was catch up and l think I continued to be shell-shocked from the whole experience for some time.
I tell you this story for two reasons:
Even with all the challenges faced, I know I made the right decision. The good experiences in Massachusetts far outweighed the bad and when I left everyone was happy, healthy and sad that I was going.
And to put it in perspective this was the same sister, when I contracted the flu and bronchitis at the same time when we were away at college, came to my room every day to help me to the bathroom, help me to eat and give me my medication.
I am reminded of a poem I read in high school by John Donne.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Soon after I started my business I was invited to a networking group. One of the members introduced me to another woman whom she thought would be helpful to me in my business. I met with this woman and she spent the entire meeting brainstorming with me on how best to get the word out about my new business.
I was so blown away and so thankful, and somewhat embarrassed that I wasn’t asking her how I could help her until the meeting was nearly over.
She replied, “When I started my business someone did this for me, now I’m getting to do this for you, and someday you’ll do this for another.”
I will never forget her generosity nor will I forget her message. The help we receive is meant to be passed on. It’s not for one it’s for all.
According to Vince Lombardi, “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”
In March of 2014 Tom Post contributed two articles to Forbes Magazine based on data collected by Radius. In his articles, The Surprising Secret Behind Small Business Success and Why Small Business Communities Grow In Clusters.
Tom reports that the most hospitable locations for small businesses is “not based on their economic growth, but on factors that predict community engagement and access to resources. It turns out that small businesses tend to attract other small businesses, creating their own, distinct ecosystems."
By connecting and collaborating with one another they create an environment in which they can all thrive.
The statistics are grim for the 10 year survival rate of a new business.
Tom Post postulates that "aside from manic drive, moxie, hard work, creativity and luck" that perhaps "a sense of connectedness to a community" - local and global, on and offline - is what gives a company the edge.
Another quote I keep close by and read on occasion is by Margaret Mead. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
I’m going to offer you 6 good reasons not to go it alone that I found in an article by Jen Waak:
"Access to experts. No one person ever has all of the answers, and regardless of your ability to use Google, consulting with experts is always going to give you better information.
Pushing our limits. When working alone, it’s oftentimes too easy to give up when things get hard. By surrounding yourself with others working toward a similar goal or objective, you’ll get motivation, support, and friendly competition to push yourself just a bit further than you would have done on your own.
Support and belief. Some days those big goals just seem impossible. On those days when you most want to give up, you need to lean on your community the most. They believe in you—probably more than you belief in yourself.
New ideas. I truly believe that when you are working within a community of like-minded people that the wisdom of crowds is considerably greater than any one person working alone. Our divergent world views and lenses mean that we all approach the exact same problem in a slightly different way.
Borrowed motivation. Even on those days when your belief in yourself isn’t waning, doing what needs to get done can seem overwhelming. Look around your community and be inspired!
Accountability. If you’re an uber-responsible person, you may not want to admit to people you care about who are pulling for you that something didn’t get done. There’s nothing like having to be accountable to others to up your game."
I encourage you to introduce yourself to one or two people you have not met before and find out more about them.
When you are networking in the coming week, find out what problems the other person is experiencing and ask how you can be of service to them.
Make it a goal to get out in your community and find out how you can contribute, even if in a small way.
Another saying I absolutely love is, “Many hands make light work.”
And lastly, look for the good in people. Recognize that we are all going through something and could use some compassion.
I will leave you with an African Proverb that sums it all up…
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Knowing how great it is to work in groups I considered running my group program again this summer but ultimately decided against it. Summer schedules tend to shift week by week based on vacations, events, visitors, childcare, etc. Not many people can commit to two group calls a week for 5 weeks. Instead for the summer I am offering quick-hit coaching sessions.
Quick-hit coaching sessions are 30 or 90 minute coaching sessions that allow you to get what you need to get over any humps and keep making progress in the summer without a big time or money commitment. If you've been considering coaching but the commitment has been holding you back this is a great option for you. You can find out more at womentakingthelead.com/quick-coaching.
As always I hope this was of value to you and here’s to your success!
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