As we grow in our profession, we naturally pick up things here and there which aid us in operating as a professional. These little nuances of professional life often times can’t be learned in a class room setting or text book, especially when it comes to behavioral tips like how to handle yourself in certain situations, shaking hands and introducing yourself at a networking event, overcoming challenges, etc.
Over the course of my career one of the best sources for information and perspective have come through mentors. I’ve been blessed to have four (4) mentors throughout my adult life, each of them providing a different perspective and approach that I’ve been able to utilize to craft my own personal style of ‘me’. For what it’s worth, I’m grateful beyond words to these four people for instilling in me valuable lessons about life, family, work and relationships.
Through these relationships I’ve learned a vital lesson that I will carry with me throughout my career, which is:
The only person responsible for your career is YOU.
Each one of my mentors have preached this lesson, using their own approach to reinstate the fact that we [you and I] are ultimately in charge of our own careers. No one else. Not our parents, not our teachers and certainly not our bosses. It’s a universal truth I’ve tested now dozens of times and I still get the same outcome – it’s up to us, not them.
When we develop a mindset of self accountability we learn that it is in fact up to us [you] to drive our careers in the direction we want them to head.
When people aren’t responsible for their own careers it shows up sounding like the following excuses: “my boss didn’t do anything for me”, “that’s not my job responsibility”, “I didn’t know I could do that”, “no one told me that was possible”, “that mistake wasn’t my fault” and on and on.
Casting aside the multitude of excuses we can drum up, once we learn it’s our ultimate responsibility to drive our careers it then becomes easier to ask for help while navigating the many facets of a career. Once we ask for help and start getting it we remain in the drivers seat asking questions, following up and initiating conversation. As a result we take responsibility for the outcomes. What comes from this type of mindset and approach is an increasing attitude and desire to improve, learn and grow.
Key Take Away:
Asking for help and guidance is a big step. It means you want to improve yourself, congrats as you’re already ahead of many people around you. When you ask for help from someone, whether that be a mentor, boss, teacher, friend, it’s up to you to drive that interaction. It is your responsibility to drive the communication, follow up and request for direction. Don’t sit back and wait for that person to do the work. They are there strictly as advisors to give feedback and perspective, you must put in the time and effort.
Spend some time in a quiet place thinking about your own career and how you’ve gotten to where you are. Happy with the present circumstances? If you still have more you want to achieve go get yourself a mentor asap. A good place to start is www.micromentor.org. It’s a free service, one I wholeheartedly endorse.
The number one reason people opt out of entrepreneurship, which includes starting a business, being a solopreneur or even independent consultant, is fear. The wild west of entrepreneurship can come with a lot of unknowns as ambiguity and uncertainly is often synonymous with starting a business. It can be especially distressing for first time would-be-entrepreneurs to make the leap into small business as a result. The transitionary period from corporate life to entrepreneur, even the thought of this transitionary period, is marked with great concern and fear which keeps people from making the jump. For some it may be security at the current job, others it may be a lack of know-how in starting a business or simply a lack of self confidence in ones’ ability to make it on their own. Regardless of the reason, fear is a factor all potential and current entrepreneurs must overcome.
I’ve found the best way to overcome fear is to confront it head on. Fear grips us all, regardless of occupation, experience, background or capabilities. The difference between the people who let fear own them versus those who use it as a tool to achieve comes down to two things: acknowledgement and action. Rather than worry, it’s important we address our fears and understand them. When we take the time to acknowledge our feelings and emotions it allows us to better process why we’re feeling this way, at which point we can begin to build a strategy for using those fears as a motivating force towards success. Taking action against our fears comes in the form of slowing down, identifying your feelings, understanding the situation and then planning accordingly. If time is on your side rest easy knowing that you can plan to be an entrepreneur first before you ever jump in the ring. Create an attack plan, identify potential challenges and solutions on how to deal with them. While you won’t be able to plan for everything taking a proactive approach to dealing with fear and using it as a tool perhaps may be enough for you to finally make the leap into the world of entrepreneurship.
Key Take Away: Address your entrepreneurial fears head on, understand them and own it!
Action Item: Use your newly addressed fears as a guiding force to plan your entrepreneurial transition into being your own business owner. Build alliances, or peer groups, with other business owners to help with the transition while learning from their experiences along the way.
Interested in learning more about entrepreneurship and hearing stories from people who have made the leap into business ownership? Check out this event in Irvine, CA on 10/24/18: https://www.devicealliance.org/event/entrepreneur-event/
In honor of Fathers’ Day yesterday I’m sharing a personal story which I’m incredibly proud of, as well as continuously inspired by.
Often I hear people say that by your late 40’s to early 50’s a professional has hit their zenith, their peak, pinnacle, apex, summit - if you will, in their career. Late 40’s? How can that be? At that age you’re only half way to retirement. What’s to become of the next 20 years?
I like to think that statistics like ‘hitting your peak in your late 40s’ is nothing other than just a data point. We only make it relevant if we live up to it.
Imagine this - at the age of 51, could you completely reinventing yourself professionally? Not because you have to but because you want too.
I know someone who did just this and it happens to be my father, Steve Smith.
After a tenured and very successful career in consumer products, “condoms to caskets” our family used to say, my father hit a pivotal point in his career. He had just exited a senior leadership position with a large multi-billion dollar company in 2008 and found himself in a predicament. He was looking for his next career step at the age of 51 and at the same time the economy was starting to come crashing down.
Needless to say it was a tough time back then. The uncertainty in this country was thicker than pea soup. We didn’t know which way was up or if the recent paycheck we received would be our last. As companies were closing down left and right someone I know took a bold stand and decided to open up a company.
Looking back at this point in my life I didn’t appreciate or quite frankly understand that moment in my fathers’ life. How he felt, the challenge of reinventing oneself, the stress of having a family to care for, etc. I just knew he was tough as nails, he’s always been a superhero in my eyes, and would figure it out. Worried, I was not.
And figure it out he did.
In the middle of the largest economic downturn of our lives my father chose to become an entrepreneur starting a business in executive and small business coaching. He vowed never to return to corporate America to work for another man/woman as this time he was working towards his own dreams under his own rules.
At the ripe and spry age of 51 he became an entrepreneur. He hustled; he got out and met with people 3-4 times a day. He shook hands and kissed babies, maybe not so much on the baby side but I’m telling you he worked hard. He outworked even me, someone at the time half his age. His determination and mindset was flawless, at least it was from the outside. What’s just as impressive is that our family, mainly my sister and I, never saw him sweat. He was starting a business from scratch, something he had not done before and was doing it with the poise of a statesman.
It didn’t come easy but sure enough my fathers’ business eventually started to grow. He leveraged relationships, made new ones, offered a niche service and delivered impeccable results. He kept his word and delivered the goods. Nothing in life comes easy or quick for that matter and my fathers’ story is no different.
Fast forward, both my sister and I are entrepreneurs who have started our own businesses from scratch following in our fathers’ footsteps. I must give my father credit because he showed our family that you can be successful and start a business from scratch, it just takes time, effort and the mindset to see it through. As a result I was encouraged to follow my own dream, just like my father did.
I’ve learned a lot from my father and the experience he went through some 10 years ago. I’ve learned that age is just a number. Your mindset is what will carry you through. I’ve also learned the importance of having a support system to help you along the way. That credit goes entirely to my mother who stuck by him and continues to do so today. Lastly, I learned that taking risks in life is important. If we constantly live saying ‘what if’ we run the chance of missing out on a lot of rewarding experiences. If we are going to make a bold step in life the best way to go about that is by giving all of ourselves to it. That’s a choice, one we can exercise freely.
Today my father, Steve Smith, runs a successful executive and small business coaching company. I see firsthand what he does for his clients and am continually amazed at what he’s doing to inspire, impact and develop other people not just professionally but also personally. As if that wasn’t enough he’s having fun doing it as he lives the American dream.
Honored. Humbled. Appreciated. Dad.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed. Things are changing all around us and it’s happening at lightening speed.
The workplace, as many of us know it, is going through a facelift. A facelift commonly referred to as ‘the gig economy’. It is estimated that 35% of the US workforce in 2017 is now comprised of Gig’s.
Gig’s and gig users have something in common…
work doesn’t always need to be 9-5, M-F…
And many of us have been slow to adapt to this change in our workforce.
What is the Gig Economy anyways?
It’s an alternative work approach in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.
This doesn’t sound new, so what’s the deal?
While using temporary labor may not be a new thing, what is very new is the amount of work that is now being facilitated through Gig’s on short-term engagement. (AKA freelance, independent contractors, contingent workers, temporary workers, etc.)
Gig freelancing is taking a much wider foothold in our economy. Today it’s common to find all sorts of work being packaged and facilitated through Gigs whereas before these jobs were considered only as fully employed roles. Management roles, engineering, software, events, cooking, the music industry, professional coaching and even academics are a few examples of work which is now being performed largely by the current day Gig worker. It could also mean you and I having a separate part-time job which we use to bring in extra income on the side. (AKA moonlighting)
For example, there are companies and people who do nothing but provide short term support for other companies which have a need for an interim CEO. There are just as many options for companies who want additional support in doing their product design but don’t want to hire a full time employee because it’s work that is intermittent. These are examples of where Gigs come into play.
They serve a role for a period of time on behalf of a separate organization. Once they’re done they’re off to finding their next opportunity, often times they may have multiple jobs/ projects going on at the same time.
Why are companies and people alike moving in this direction?
As our economy and technology continues to evolve we become less and less reliant on doing business face to face. For those of us who grew up in business when you were expected to be in the office for no other reason than ‘face-time’ you should be happy to know that many companies are moving away from this model. Why? We’re learning, slowly but surely, that ‘face-time’ isn’t productive. Employees can be just as productive from home, at a coffee shop or at the local water hole (not that I recommend that) rather than being shackled to their four foot cubicle for nine hours a day.
Productivity soars thanks to the usage of Gigs because it offers people the ability to do work and do so on their own accord. We often hear people who are Gig’s say they “like working this way because it’s more creative, allows for a better work/ life balance and gives them the ability to choose the work they want to do.” The benefit to the employer utilizing a Gig approach is they can reduce their overhead on costly brick and mortar facilities (estimated at $12k per employee per year) while having work completed by true experts in the field. Employers are also able to onboard new talent and off-board unneeded skills without the burden of employment taxes and paperwork.
Why it is important for me to be aware of ‘The Gig Life’?
The reason you should care about what is going on in the Gig Economy is because very soon we will all need to adjust to this new work style in order to remain competitive.
Now I’ve got your attention!
It’s time we gave some good introspective thought on how we do things at the workplace and whether or not that is the right way to do it. Perhaps your business, your department or your team could benefit from using Gigs to handle freelance work. Maybe in doing so you’ll be able to facilitate a wider volume of business which means more customers, more money and more margaritas on the beach in Acapulco. Maybe your employees are tired of seeing your face on the daily and could use a little R&R while working from home.
Either way, it’s time we all jump on the wagon because whether we like it or not the Gig Economy is here to stay and it promises to only grow as time goes on.
The media loves the sensationalism of it. Many love to protest it. Others use it as a platform for reconstruction.
The American Dream - is it dead or alive?
Seems like there’s a lot of talk about the American Dream at present in our country. What is it anyway?
The American Dream is the national tenet of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work..." What stands out to me in this statement are the words ‘opportunity’ and ‘hard work’. What this tells us is the American Dream is an opportunity to prosper yet it only comes through hard work.
Yet this still does not address the question - is the American Dream alive or dead?
I know of a story which may help you with this question. While this may be just one story it’s important to note there are thousands of others like it. You decide.
Our story starts off with a talented young woman who calls Portland, Oregon her home. Carly Sitner is a mother of two, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a vegan and one tough cookie with the courage of a tiger. Needless to say she's incredibly busy. Speaking of cookies, Carly happens to be a chef with a specialty in pastries, desserts and other fancy baked goodies that sooth the soul and make your taste buds run wild.
Carly (pictured here) has been a chef for 13 years in Portland working for a variety of bakeries, including some very large corporate establishments like the grocery store that sells only 'wholesome' things to eat.
At the age of 31 Carly decided that enough was enough and she was going to make her dream a reality. She was going to open the first ever vegan donut shop in Portland. What’s amazing about this story is what Carly is leaving behind in order to follow her dream, the American Dream. She's leaving behind a stable leadership role with the 'wholesome' grocery store, a good paycheck and a job that is rewarding - all for the unknown. Yet she’s doing it anyways. Mind you she has a very full life outside of work yet that doesn't seem to stop her.
Starting a small business is no day at the fair. It’s hard work, long hours, risky and takes determination. If it was truly easy everyone would be in business for themselves. Yet Carly pushes onward. It would also be important to note that neither Carly or her business partner are wealthy, nor have they been given a huge sum of money in which to seed the business. Often times I hear people talk about business owners and just automatically assume they all came from gobs of money. This just isn't the case.
Carly started off the ole fashion way with nothing more than an idea and a will to see it through. First they built interest in their product (craft made vegan donuts) in the local community by doing bake sales and small catering. They then took their idea on Kickstarter where the community responded with praise helping them pass their goal, handsomely. Carly and her partner then took those early wins and proceeds which were acquired with lots of time, patience and hard work and presented it to a couple local banks. With little collateral and just a dream a bank shared their vision and gave them a loan to start the business.
As we fast forward to present day, the donut shop, called Doe Donuts, is scheduled to open early this summer, albeit with a line around the block from patrons feverishly waiting to sink their teeth into the tasty baked goods Carly whips up.
The story of Carly Sitner and Doe Donuts may still be in the early chapters yet as with any good story you know you’ve got a winner even when you’re only a couple pages in. The story of Doe Donuts and the entrepreneurial spirit of Carly and her business partner sheds much needed light on the types of opportunities that exist in this country. Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Apparently Carly enjoys overalls and hard work because this opportunity isn't passing her by.
Is the American Dream alive or dead?
I believe it is indeed ALIVE and well and Doe Donuts is a fresh and tasty example of what can happen when someone puts words to action and follows their dream.
As it turns out Carly Sitner, our pastry chef extraordinaire, also happens to be my younger sister. I’m incredibly proud of her and the decisions she’s made to follow her dream of owning her own business while doing something that she truly loves.
I look forward to being one of her customers waiting patiently in line to savor their tasty donuts while taking a bite of Carly’s version of the American Dream.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.