Pondering my path......Can entrepreneurship be taught?
About this time last year I received an acceptance letter to a Master's degree program in London. I was ecstatic. I honestly never thought I would go to Grad School, let alone have the chance to live in another country. The program would award me a Master's Degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management and allow me to work with real life London based start-up companies. In my minds eye I could see myself networking, coming up with creative strategies and involving myself in an entirely new epicenter of creative business. It was going to be EPIC, in addition to putting me into a considerable amount of debt. I decided it was worth it, after all when do you get a safe opportunity in the entrepreneurial world to test out ideas and learn how to scale business models? The only major learning experiences I have had in my 8 years as a business owner were trial and error based and usually involved losing money or a chunk of my ego. The program was cheaper than any US based Master's in the same field and I was determined to find a way to attend.
Then something happened.
I began the process of closing my Portland based Sugaring Studio around it's 5th year in business. Many people I knew said I was crazy and that if THEY had a business like mine THEY would find a way to keep it running. THEY would sell it for a ton of money to some Esthetician who I could train to Sugar in the blink of an eye or THEY would find a way make passive income from it (this concept still eludes me). The advice poured in. I felt really confused and also really certain that none of these strategies would work for me or the way I was wired. Simultaneously I began facing some challenges within the ownership structure of my studio. I had made some decisions along the way and along that sharp entrepreneurial learning curve that were coming back to bite me in the ass. For the first time in a few years I was really thrust back into problem solving mode, it actually felt a bit exciting. I could see this golden carrot dangling out in front of - me and my man living in London, I was going to school during the day and hobnobbing with creatives all over the city in my spare time. He was working in a young, hip architecture firm and we were loving our new UK lifestyle.
But, I was also totally flabbergasted at the process I had ahead of me. Breaking up with close to 2000 clients, explaining my decision to each and every person when they came in for their Brazilian or 1/2 legs and spending my evenings trying not to indulge in full bottles of Rose. I was also privately and silently kicking and screaming my way though a really uncomfortable interpersonal situation with a colleague....the one major thing that stood between me, my financial prosperity and my personal freedom. I can easily say that September 2015 - January 2016 were some of the most challenging, emotional and also expansive months of my life thus far. It felt like I was learning a big life or business lesson every day. I was also forced to stand up for myself in a way I had never been called to before. It wasn't until later that I realized this period of time gifted me one of the best, most invaluable business lessons I could ever learn. I am a changed person who will run a smarter, more profitable business exactly for this reason.
On December 21st 2015 I took my last client, drank a bottle of champagne and started packing my boxes. I had decided the close The Sugarista and embark on a new adventure - and that no one, no limitation and no second guessing was going to get in my way. One month later I arrived in England.
I slept 12-14+ hours a day for the first 2 weeks. It was like a system reset. When I "woke up" I waited for that sinking feeling to set in. After all, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself, what type of business I would start, how I would make money in a sustainable way. I didn't even know what the heck I thought of England. But something different happened. I woke up feeling liberated and ready to delve into the UK beauty industry head first - the idea of unchartered territory was making my teeth chatter with excitement. I knew I wasn't done with Sugaring.....I was just getting started.
I started to think - this time around I'll do this, and I won't do that. In my new business, I'll work this way and only work with these types of people. The wheels started turning and my blood started pumping again. Ahh that addictive, fresh sense of creative opportunity was hitting my brain and I was liking it. I was reminded of my true strengths. I was unencumbered by old structures, crazy schedules and others expectations. This, I thought, is what makes you stay in the hustle of business ownership. This addictive, wake up ready to make something happen feeling had been eluding me in the every day of the business I had built in Portland. The Sugarista studio was absolutely fulfilling, successful and empowering in it's own way, but NOT lighting me up with the creative juju I feel today.
Since January a lot has happened and virtually none of it to plan. We live about an hour, 45 mins north of London where my husband works as an Architect and loves his job. I am not hobnobbing with London's creative culture on a daily basis, but I have met some great and equally creative people here in Nottingham. In March I was invited to speak to a group of around 250 Students about my entrepreneurial journey in Morocco at the Marrakech International Start Up Weekend. I overcame a huge fear of speaking in front large groups and felt like I gained a new sense of confidence in my abilities. Then the big news came that we were expecting our first baby this November! Talk about unchartered territory!
I knew then that I would not be moving to London and starting my grad program in October. I deferred my entry, sulked a bit and then decided it was time to move from the this crazy idea that I was actually going to leverage a ton of debt in order to have a safe place to fail. That's what I really wanted from Grad school anyway - to fail without failing, to get an institutions stamp of approval that I was worthy to call myself an entrepreneur.......all to the tune of a $30,000 tuition bill. As I type this I see how preposterous that idea really was.
But, there's something else.
I'm not sure entrepreneurship can be taught after all. Failure, or near failure or saving my business by the skin of my teeth has been the primary way I've learned and grown entrepreneurially. I've grown a thick skin for it and I've learned, even become comfortable occupying that space of uncertainty that comes with this path. I've learned only through extreme discomfort how to stand up for myself. I tend to follow my gut and get the most financial reward when I do. I've also learned what I suck at and I avoid handing those things as much a possible - better to hustle up some cash to pay someone else so I can focus on what I'm good at. I am a procrastinator by nature but I've taught myself how to be a self starter when it comes to work. I might not send that thank you note for 6 months or unpack my luggage until I've been staring at it for two weeks - but I get my work shit done, always. The point is not toot my own horn about how great I think I am. That's not the case, I am critical of my efficiency, problem solving skills, inability to adhere to a budget and hate knowing my deficiencies and facing them on a daily basis. The point is that no program or school was going to teach me any of the above skills that I've learned through trail and error.
So, do I think entrepreneurship can be taught? Not really. Not necessarily by someone other than yourself. What do we need to succeed in our own endeavors above all other things? Motivation, self awareness and fire in the gut that says "I am capable of this". Yes, strategy, scaling, marketing, staffing - these are skills we can learn and better understand as we head down our path. But ultimately you have to be willing to place a big bet on yourself and let it ride. In my eyes a person willing to do this can be an entrepreneur. And at the end of the day, the world won't end, your friends won't leave you and your cat won't run away if your business doesn't work. You'll learn that you are capable of some things, shitty at others and decide for yourself if this is the right path. For me it is and not only is it worth the confusion, long hours and cans of beans you might need to eat for lunch when you're broke (highly recommend chickpeas sauteed in garlic if you wanna feel fancy), but it's the most life fulfilling, always learning, opportunities around every corner way to exist in the world.
I am writing this to share my journey with you and also to encourage so many of you woman that I have pleasure of interacting with in this business. You tell me you want to start your own business but in a year, two years, five years....after this, once you have that or when you feel like you know more. To that I say jump (!) and why not now? Because the real learning starts when you do. No one can teach you what you're made of or what you're capable of better than you good ol' YOU. And if you want a hand to hold when you jump or someone to give you a push just let me know. I'm here, I've done it before and I promise it will be exhilarating. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org, let's do it together.