Business Lesson #1: There Is No Recipe (Who Cares)
I’m not really a recipe follower. My mom is that person who sticks to a recipe with meticulous care—and I mean down to the two large eggs. My grandma and aunt’s lax cooking methods irked her to no end. Mom would complain that they would ask for her recipe but replace the cream with a sub-par substitute (usually evaporated milk). There was no sympathy when they’d bemoan, “My graham cracker fluff never turns out as good as yours, Glenda!”
My own cooking style falls somewhere between the Eck matriarchs’ extremes. I’m an avid recipe collector and food blog reader and have even taken a couple culinary classes. I know the general concepts for making good food and I use an amalgamation of a few recipes to guide my way.
I may take the idea to use pine nuts from Smitten Kitchen, the ratio of vinegar to oil (loosely) from Bon Appétit, and maybe the technique for sautéing spinach from The Art of Simple Food. My cooking methods mirror what I know about life: “A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe” (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience).
I’ve been working my whole life and am still trying to get it right. As a kid, I had secret, internal conversations with myself about how my parents had children just so we could help out around the place. My siblings and I had yard chores like mowing the lawn and weeding. We had animal chores: feeding and watering the dogs, cats, and, for a few years, an ancient horse named Sky.
We had farm chores: stacking brush, raking almonds, driving tractor, worse—pulling a trailer—and worst of all—pruning with a chainsaw (until my dad had mercy on my terror and let me off).
We had household chores: laundry, washing dishes, setting the table, cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, and bringing in firewood. One of the easiest, but most tedious, jobs was rubbing every leaf of the houseplants with a milk-saturated cotton ball. My mom loved how it made the plants shine. A girl had to hide every now and again to have any time at all for reading.
By high school, I’d developed a healthy dose of passion for life. But the farm-style work ethic I’d grown up with kicked into overdrive. It began to develop a darker side. I graduated from college with honors in four years, even though I switched schools halfway through. I made up for lost credits by taking extra classes every semester and doing summer school, all the while working 25-30 hours a week and volunteering with youth programs. The only thing that slowed me down was my yearly head cold turned bronchitis. My mind thought I could push through the illness, but my body never let me.
After graduation, I joined the team at a software development company. Three years later (and a few bouts of stress-induced hives and Cortizone shots to relieve them), I moved to Romania for six months to volunteer in a community center that cared for street children. I loved the travel, the people, and the exciting, all-encompassing feel of doing work that I believed in. So, I took a job at an international human rights organization and later joined senior staff ranks as their director of advocacy.
I worked my tail off for ten years writing, traveling, and leading. I did some great things and made lots of mistakes, too. I wasn’t very kind to myself. I began having fantasies of having children, quitting work, and becoming a housewife. But it came from a need to escape—not the desire to start a family.
One thought kept me from quitting the pill: I don’t have the energy to wake up for midnight feedings, coordinate daycare, or to “love” one more person.
I sank into the rest and stayed. I was so burned out, I thought I’d never want to go back to work. I couldn’t imagine ever being inspired to start anything again. I was deeply tired. After a few months of gardening and comatose staring from the wrap-around porch where we were living, I started feeling like myself again. I knew it was time to move on from the non-profit community that had become my second family.
It was a huge loss. But at the same time, I actually began to have new dreams. One of them, surprisingly, was to start a business with one of my closest friends. I quit my job to start the business, but it failed to grow its wings. We never even opened up shop. Another loss.
So, I’d quit my job during a recession, failed at an upstart, and been unemployed for almost a year. It was time to figure out my career. I knew two things:
- I had developed a taste for working on my own. I loved the idea of being self-employed and partnering with talented people to make creative ideas happen.
- I realized that work is in my bones. The fact is, I am happiest when I’m working.
But a nagging question remained: Could I authentically and sustainably offer my talents to the world?
I wasn’t willing for the answer to be “no” but needed help finding a “yes.”
Thankfully, I had the life-giving acquaintance of entrepreneurial women to inspire and embolden me. More importantly, I had mentors to teach me how to do it for the long haul. In the words of Ben Harper, “I am blessed to be a witness” to their lives. These women are:
- A life coach with an affection for the f-word.
- A cupcake-making curator.
- A mentor who loves love.
- A comfort food alchemist.
- A spontaneous store owner.
- A freedom fighter for survivors of sex trafficking.
- A tiny architect who pulled off a brilliant, big idea.
They are entrepreneurial women who have started businesses or creatively made one better. They make it look easy—or at least have a graceful air when it’s not. They inspire me to be courageous, take a leap, and try my best, and then to receive the beauty that emerges. They have some lessons to teach us about work, entrepreneurship, and doing good. Six lessons to be exact. Full disclosure: they are friends, too.
This won’t be a how-to manual for creating the perfect business or the happiest, most well-balanced life. Like I said, I don’t really follow recipes. But I can collect some stories that may inspire you to find your own way. I’ll be back next month with the first one.
Until then, I’d like you to share with me: who inspires you to be courageous? Comment below!
lead photo courtesy of Courtney Patch