Tough Lessons, And A New Direction
Lessons in life have come to me in different ways. Sometimes, they have smacked me directly in the face. At other times, they are a small pull or tug, subtle and almost negligible, but over time, a continuous steady pull, guiding me to my true north.
From a time in my mid-thirties, when I began to question the trajectory that I was on, for my career and my life, and whether it was was the right one for me, a lot of those questions stemmed around the company I was working for and whether I should follow my dream to be senior leadership for that company. After a series of sideways, or even downwards, steps at times, I concluded that the path was not for me.
I focused on the aspects I loved, such as building an organization, setting group culture, developing talent, and coaching and career development, and decided that running my own company to do those things was the right answer. After all, I am a Stanford graduate, so I felt a pull and responsibility to at least try my hand at entrepreneurship.
In the past nine months, I have learned a lot more about myself. On the positive side (I'm American, I have to start with the positive news!), I convinced myself that my skills and experience were not only valuable to one company, and that what I have to offer can add value in other companies, teams, and countries. I also found work that I love, that fills me with excitement and passion.
However, I also had several different failed experiments and expectations, and in the process, learned a lot more about myself. On one hand, I know that I was overly optimistic, to think that a single grant application and several sales pitches would be sufficient. On the other hand, particularly making the sales pitches, I realized that I was not doing something that I felt comfortable with, or even enjoyed or wanted to do.
Sales is a necessary aspect of entrepreneurship. I know this from some of the greatest minds in entrepreneurship research(Lena Ramfelt, Tom Kosnik, ...). Sales has also always been the area I have had the least interest in. Maybe it is my somewhat weak self-esteem, or maybe it that I always picture the stereotypical used-car salesman when I think of selling, or maybe it is just not me.
I also realized that recruiting, while it came naturally to me when I believed in the products my company developed or the organization within that company, was very difficult if I were only selling myself. It even took a personal dimension for me, where I saw myself as personally letting people down, particularly when I couldn't sell them into the assignments that were necessary to hire them.
These two realizations came to me as I had the opportunity to support recruiting for the company where I am consulting. As I was doing interviews and meeting with consultants and their managers, I realized that my natural place was not on the sales side of the table, offering candidates, but rather meeting the candidates and trying to find the best fit for an organization. That it came naturally, even easily, to sell a company that was much bigger than me, that built something neat, and had ideals and missions far greater and larger than me.
As these thoughts began to form a somewhat cohesive picture in my head, another incredibly tempting opportunity presented itself. In many ways, it was a dream opportunity, and it would have given me a chance to take the senior leadership role in a very exciting smaller engineering company. When I told my husband about the opportunity, he responded that I couldn't possibly turn it down.
In some ways, I agreed. How could a person turn down what was almost a dream opportunity? It was the expected path for elite university graduates. In spite of this, something kept holding me back. I couldn't put a name on it, nor could I identify it for a while. Luckily, before I went too far in the process, I realized something important about me.
I don't want to be the one responsible for a company. It's not that I have an issue to deliver, to meet expectations, to make decisions, or to drive things forward. I enjoy many of those things. I like to solve problems, to examine risks, and am capable of making tough decisions with limited information.
However, I don't like to be solely and directly responsible for people, for their lives, for their livelihood, and their well-being. It bothers me immensely to talk about people as headcounts, or heads, because to me, each of them is a person, with a story and a value outside of their role at a company.
In talking with my husband through the opportunity, it became very clear to me that while the opportunity was a dream, it wasn't my dream. With this realization, I also realized a good deal of what had been bothering me in the first half year of running my company.
While I want to teach, coach, develop, and lead people, I don't want to do it as the owner of a small (or even large) firm. I don't want to be a vice president or CEO. Instead, I would rather be the teacher, coach, leader, enabler, who is behind the scenes, enabling others to go far beyond me and to achieve their dreams. I
This isn't a particularly ambitious dream, or the path that I envisioned as I invested years in my education and building my career, but on the other hand, maybe I can do more, touch more people, and provide a stronger positive influence, not by being the figurehead, but the teacher and coach.
With this, I have changed the direction of Nspir, from a consulting firm with employees, to a small company that is only me, offering my own skills as a consultant, coach, and leader.
For now, I have plenty of interesting challenges with CEVT Infotainment, which is a place I intended as a short step when I started consulting to allow me to build and place my consultants. However, it has become an organization that I love, where I see plenty of opportunities to share my talents to build and develop others, to bridge cultures, to apply my years of automotive experience, and to be part of something far greater than me. For me, this is living my dream.