Mission Over Impossible: Fueling Resolve

2014-10-09-02.09.20-1024x681

When Sara Corry entered her yearlong HauteHopes Entrepreneur in Residence program with us in February of 2015, Sara told my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews, that her biggest barrier to success was the lack of an e-commerce site to sell her company’s hand-sewn scrubs. Sara’s company, Batiks for Life – Scrubs on a Mission was partnering with another company which would alleviate many of the other barriers to begin working with women in need in Ghana. With the partnership in place, it allowed Sara to focus on her website.

After only a few weeks, the partnership dissolved. Sara now faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds of achieving her goals. Instead, she used her goals as fuel, believing that the significant need of women living in untenable situations was far more important than her new barriers to establishing a permanent sewing cooperative which would teach employable skills to these young mothers living on the streets. Her positive mindset was tested many times during the months she has been in our program, but she turned each difficulty into a stronger resolve to move forward. This past week, Sara finally landed in Ghana. The new Batiks for Life website is not only live but already selling scrubs, and she is now independently launching her sewing cooperative with funds raised by her successful Kickstarter campaign which exceeded its original goal in the first 48 hours.

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where all seems lost. Whether it is an investor declining to come in on a desperately needed round of funding, a pivotal customer passing on the opportunity, a partnership dissolving or a key team member choosing to leave, every startup faces dark moments when survival looks impossible. But I firmly believe that it is our self-talk, the story we tell ourselves in those darkest moments, that determines which startups survive and which ones die.

This isn’t to say that a negative outlook has no value; it does. We all need an Eeyore on our startup team. It’s the Eeyore on our team that keeps us grounded, reminds us of the dangers of drinking too much of our own Koolaid, that points out the problems that lie ahead. The Eeyore in a startup is aware of the increasing competition in a similar space and constantly worries about a competitor getting traction. We all need an Eeyore on our team to be our voice of caution and instill a sense of urgency.

But when the loudest voice we hear – whether inside our own head or from our team – is negative, the focus shifts away from growth and, instead, sees danger around every corner. Instead of being used as fuel to work harder, every post on social media about a potential competitor becomes a distraction and where we might have explored potential collaborations, we only see is the enemy. The toxic voice of negativity can turn every setback into a death knell, becoming a self-fulling prophecy. Entrepreneurs must see the impossibility of it all and still believe there is a way to make it happen. They must be champions of hope – not ignorant hope that pretends difficulties don’t exist – but hope that sees the difficulties and still believes that with some creativity and hard work, success is possible.

Sara will miss our upcoming HauteCon 2015 National Women’s Conference, with two days of content cultivated to help others aspire, achieve, and elevate. And while I am sorry others won’t get to hear her tell her story, I’m pretty sure she’ll find ways to continue putting hope in the forefront through her blog about her experiences in Ghana. On days when things may feel a bit dark for me, I am sure her voice of hope will remind me that our future is what we choose to see ahead. It really is whatever we decide it will be.

Identifying 3 Types of Negativity That Prevent Success

reading_phone_on_bench

When I think of negativity, I am always reminded of a man I’ll call Joe. It was the late 80’s, my husband was fresh out of college and working at a tech startup. We were attending his first official holiday party and visiting with several of his colleagues when Joe joined our group.When I think of negativity, I am always reminded of a man I’ll call Joe. It was the late 80’s, my husband was fresh out of college and working at a tech startup. We were attending his first official holiday party and visiting with several of his colleagues when Joe joined our group.

Joe had an empty wine glass in one hand, and by the volume of his voice, I was pretty sure it wasn’t his first drink of the night. He thrust his other hand out at me and said, “Hi. I’m Joe.”

I shook his hand, and, making polite small talk, asked him what he did for the company.

“Not a damn thing,” he replied, loud enough for two of the company’s founders to turn around and take note.

After some nervous laughter on my part, Joe continued, “I haven’t done a damn thing here since 1986.”

The Complainer

We quickly made our escape, but I listened to Joe as he moved from group to group complaining about the projects he was being assigned and just how underused his many talents were in his current position. Joe was obviously not satisfied in his job, but it was also obvious that he enjoyed the attention he gained from complaining and making shocking statements about his plight. He’d found just enough pleasure in complaining that it kept him from taking action to change his situation.

Whether or not we’re like Joe – making just enough bluster to avoid facing difficult change – here are two more types of negativity that will hold us back from realizing our dreams.

The Fault Finder 

One of the easiest ways to avoid facing the scary parts of ourselves is to focus on the faults of others. When we feel inadequate, it can be a lot easier to tear someone else down to our level than to acknowledge our own insecurities and figure out how to move forward. In the best-selling book Wonder Women: How Western Women Will Save the World, we find this advice: “If you feel jealous or envious, examine the reasons why you are experiencing that emotion instead of projecting your negative feelings onto her choices.”

Listen to yourself the next time you’re sitting with a group of your peers. Do you gossip about someone who isn’t there? Do you find reasons why someone else’s success, award, or promotion isn’t due to their hard work? Are you the one with a quick quip, a snarky joke about others? If so, you may be using negativity to cover up feelings of inadequacy or envy, and when we’re focusing on why someone else shouldn’t be getting ahead, we’re preventing ourselves from moving forward. What is it that you’re afraid will happen if you go for an opportunity? What’s the worst that can happen? We can live through humiliation, defeat, or losing – and we usually find that we are the better for it. But it is really hard to live with the disappointment we feel when we hold back from taking risks that could move us ahead.

The Problem Solver

One of the most effective ways to mask negativity is to wrap it in the guise of solving problems. We all need to have the voice of reason as part of what we listen to, but if you find yourself continually offering advice on why something won’t work, you might need to take a step back. If your voice of reason usually results in not taking a step forward, not trying something before all of the wrinkles are ironed out, then you might want to ask yourself if fear of failure is behind the litany of negativity. While we must be willing to see the pitfalls that we might not have considered, we should also embrace Thomas Edison’s attitude when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Despite the trend among some in startup culture who celebrate failure as some kind of badge honor, it shouldn’t be celebrated. It can make us cavalier about the costs associated with failing. But neither should failure be so feared that it paralyzes us. Failure is part of the process, and we have to be prepared to get back up and find a different way around a problem if we want to find success. When we focus on the ways something hasn’t worked, it is so much more difficult to see the possibility of success. If we find a better balance between hopefulness and negativity when solving problems, we’ll be better equipped to move forward with the appropriate preparation to find success.

I well remember a moment in my own journey when negativity just about derailed not only my own happiness but also my family’s. Despite flourishing as a wife, stay-at-home mom, and writer, the regret of quitting college – especially the regret of wasting what my father had worked so hard to pay for – it ate at me. When my youngest enrolled in school, I decided it was time to go back to school and finish my degree. But it soon became clear that our little family needed me to be more present. Although I knew it was the best choice, it didn’t keep me from spending a great deal of energy feeling sorry for myself.

And then I remembered the words of my great-grandmother, “Your pity party will never make you happy, and it won’t make anyone else feel sorry for you. It’s your job to find your own gumption, so figure out to be happy with what you have.” I made the conscious choice to see this change in my plans as a new opportunity to spend more time with my children. Not only was my family happier, but I was, too. And I found that when I finally started pursuing my own career a few years later, I had absolutely no regrets. A couple of years before my father passed away, he told me how proud he was of me. I learned that his approval didn’t depend on a piece of paper but in finding a way to let go of the negativity of regret and fear and in finding courage to pursue a different path to success.