The Huffington Post approached Ladies Who Launch about doing a column on "being fearless" and right away we said yes! Not only because we admire Arianna Huffington as a fearless Lady Who Launches, but it is hard to imagine something that requires more long-term fearlessness than striking out on your own as an entrepreneur. Whether you are launching a business, creative project, or even a social life, launching requires putting yourself out there and letting the world know what you are about, and it requires investing time, money, and energy without a guaranteed result. Not only have we interviewed hundreds of women for our website, and surveyed thousands of women for our book (coming out in '07), but we have lived the fear that comes with launching. Below is my story -- and over the weeks we will be posting stories of "Fearless Launching" from women in our Ladies Who Launch Incubator Program around the country.
I remember being in college and wanting to study psychology or sociology and my well-meaning father telling me to study business . . . so I could get a job. So I did study business in undergrad, and sure enough, upon graduation, I got a really well-paying and prestigious corporate job. The only problem: I was bored out of my mind. So to escape the boring job I went to business school and after graduation took another series of well-paying and prestigious corporate jobs. Again, while I learned a lot and was lucky to have some great mentors, ultimately I saw the corporate path as frustrating and anti-creative. When I left my safe corporate job and went to work for an internet start-up, I was awakened to the world of entrepreneurship. It was a crazy environment -- to paint a picture, Sam Waksel (of the Emclone scandal) owned the company and Martha Stewart was on the Board of Directors -- but despite the craziness I loved the lack of bureaucracy and the excitement of trying to get something off the ground . . . with a potential payoff down the road. Well, to no surprise, that start-up did not go anywhere and I left when the CFO told me over drinks to "get out." I realized that I couldn't go back to the staid corporate environment trying to work myself up an endless ladder and thus started my entrepreneurial path. I knew that I needed to figure out a way to make my own decisions and create my own life, to work hard at something that I was passionate about and hopefully make at least as much money as I would have made had I stayed in Corporate America.
Of course, once I made the decision, the fear flew in my face like bugs on a windshield. What would I do, how would I survive, would I lose everything, or worse, be totally humiliated? I remember approaching my father and asking him "wouid you ever let me be homeless?" When he said no, I figured I at least had somewhat of a safety net. For the first year of my business I continually updated my resume and looked at job boards; I don't think I had a full night's sleep once, and "on edge" would have been an understatement to describe my mental state.
As Ladies Who Launch has taken off (we are now in 39 cities around the world) and the paralyzing fear of survival has subsided, there are new fears. Will our book be well received? Will we be able to build the business that we envision? Will we ever get on Oprah? From cash flow to protecting our trademark to speaking in front of groups, each day we face new fears and challenges -- but I face these challenges feeling much stronger and more confident. Also, I now accept my fear; I realize that I could have taken a "safer route" and I didn't, and I don't want to go back to safe. So I use fear to drive my creativity and motivation. Entrepreneurship helps to build the fearless muscle described in Arianna's book, because as an entreprenuer you get to practice facing fear over and over. From my perspective, launching your own business, while fear inducing, is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling things you can do in your life. Fear, when embraced, can be a great friend and help you launch higher.