We hear the tales at industry conferences and in media round-ups—for example, how many entrepreneurs displayed their talents for money-making ventures from middle school on, or how budding tech magnets spent more time in their dorm rooms or parents’ garages building their businesses than in the classroom.
More often than not, these stories represent today’s idea of the new entrepreneurial model—that successful business leaders develop their innovations early on, plot their single-minded course and march methodically toward the launching of their own start-ups.
But as the founder and CEO of a digital and social media consultancy, that trajectory didn’t prove to be my path—or the path of many women entrepreneurs I know. While our numbers still rank behind our male counterparts, female business founders that I’ve encountered, myself included, typically take a more circuitous path in realizing our entrepreneurial aspirations.
Instead of setting our sights on launching a business from the early days of our careers, many women often start businesses after pursuing another career or decide to become an entrepreneur after needing to change up their schedules for personal reasons.
Here are several key takeaways from my own experience that illustrate how more than one path exists along the road to entrepreneurial success:
Go Where the Journey Takes You
In my own career path, “circuitous” proves the only adequate descriptor. I started off as a litigator, but soon realized life at a law firm wouldn’t work for me and moved on to Harvard Law School where I founded the Office of Public Interest Advising. After spending nearly a decade there, I left to embark on a new career as a parenting author and several best-selling books later with Simon & Schuster. I began working as a brand spokesperson.
These media campaigns resulted in consulting projects and led to the formation of my consulting business, which began at the onset of the digital and social media movement. Looking back, at no point in my days as a litigator did I ever think that today I would be in my eighth year as CEO of my own business—and none of it would have ever happened if I hadn’t been open to new adventures and following my passion where it took me.
Factor in Family Life
For many women, our original career plans become altered either when we become a parent or later on when the overall combination of job, kids, partner, household, and family management proves too much. My entrepreneurial path actually began because I needed a more flexible schedule than I had at the time.
This need for flexibility often motivates women to develop ideas for a new business or to take their current skills and start their own company where they can set their own hours. In my own case, my family also impacted the timing of my company launch. I decided to wait until my kids were in high school and required less of my time at home before starting a business that I knew would prove time intensive and require travel.
Ultimately, even though parenthood and family life often halts a traditional career path, in many cases, it also inspires women to become even more creative and look for new avenues of our professional growth.
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Weave Past Experiences into the Entrepreneurial Tapestry
One commonality in the businesses women launch centers on how much of our past experiences we bring to our current entrepreneurial efforts. I thought I had left my legal career far behind, but I make use of this experience constantly as I talk with brand legal teams, helping them understand the nuances of the social media landscape or negotiating large-scale contracts for client programs.
In addition, when I founded the Public Interest Advising Office at Harvard, I created the team from the ground up, which enabled me to build the type of culture needed in order for the office to grow and thrive. That background served me well when I founded my current company, as I knew that I wanted to build a supportive, collegial organization, and I had the tools and experiences to make it happen.
Embrace Personal Reinvention
I didn’t start off as an entrepreneur—in fact, I never considered it until I began working closely with brands. But when my career began moving in this direction, I realized I had to be willing to reinvent myself. Once I let go of how I defined myself previously (“lawyer,” “author,” “spokesperson”) I could better connect the dots in my non-linear career journey and see how all of these roles prepared me for this new aspiration.
I believe my non-traditional background has become an asset as it allows me to bring an entirely new way of thinking into my consulting endeavors. As women transition out of an existing career phase and move toward entrepreneurism, embracing personal reinvention can help quiet the “what-ifs” that come with change and help pave the way for the journey ahead.
There’s Never a Perfect Time to Become an Entrepreneur
I’ve often seen how many would-be female business owners never take that entrepreneurial step because they feel they don’t have the “right” background, training or degree. Or they feel they couldn’t launch a new business because they spent the majority of their career in a totally unrelated area or didn’t grow up filled with entrepreneurial dreams.
But I’ve realized—and demonstrated over these past eight years—there’s not one right way to succeed and that women business owners can follow more than one pathway to fulfillment.
Explore Your Passions
From my vantage point, no other element proves as important to the entrepreneurial experience than passion. When talking to women looking to build a business, I always encourage them to think about their passions and then follow them down the road less traveled.
- What excites and motivates you?
- What areas can’t you wait to dive into and explore?
- What can you envision yourself doing in five years—and still loving it?
By identifying your interests and passions and envisioning how they can turn it into a meaningful business experience, women can chart their own exciting course toward entrepreneurial success.