“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”
― Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
The life of an entrepreneur can be thrilling. The rush of a big partnership or client win. An award acknowledging hard work. The freedom to make the choices you think are right. Building a business from a thought sketched on a napkin into a revenue generating company.
At the same time, it can be very lonely.
… you often cannot really talk honestly about your business even to your wife, lover, or significant other. They truly cannot understand the unique frisson of terror that many of us wake to every day as we rise to try to methodically slay our individual business dragons.
–Tim Askew, The Peculiar Loneliness of Entrepreneurship Inc.
Any entrepreneur can relate. It’s difficult to share your entrepreneur story because you don’t think anyone will understand it. And most likely – they won’t.
Stories and Community
I learned about the importance of community and sharing your entrepreneur story when I moved to Dallas.* Dallas has a strong entrepreneurial community ranging from groups of friends brainstorming the next big thing, to investors and advisors, to incubators and accelerators. As an entrepreneur, challenging days can be an understatement without a network that you can reach out to for help and advice. And it’s not the business challenges that are difficult, it’s the self-doubt: Can I do it?
The worst question any entrepreneur can face: Is what I need to do even doable?
Knowing that someone else in your network went through a similar situation is comforting – and helpful. And it’s comforting to know that mentors and advisors seek advice from people who don’t make millions. They are also constantly learning and don’t have all the answers. What’s great about an entrepreneurial community is watching everyone share, learn and grow. You learn quickly that stories always help someone, somewhere.
I write a lot about stories. How stories define who we are, how we view ourselves, and our shared history. Depending on the perspective, a story can shift from a tragic challenge to an improvement. Sometimes we need help shifting a story’s perspective and rewriting it’s plot or ending. Someone else needs to see it, interact with it, and possibly add to it. Sometimes you share a story and realize your lesson wasn’t only meant for you to learn.
A wise man learns by the mistakes of others, a fool by his own. –Proverb
Not everyone has the luxury of community support down the street or a phone call away, but there is always the Internet. From advice to networking sites, there are many ways to find fellow entrepreneurs. And you may find a local hidden group through Meetup.com, your local Chamber of Commerce, or business associations.
My favorite business networking site is LinkedIn. I have met some lovely people there – especially in the forums. It doesn’t matter if you meet someone in real life or online – it’s always great to find people who like and share your story and provide guidance.
Women and Community
Women also need community for personal growth and to rise above challenges. Life can be lonely for many women as well. We may share gender, but our diverse stories highlight our different needs, goals and desires.
Women fight the stereotype of complaining or overanalyzing situations over glasses of wine or cups of coffee. Venting may help you feel better, but it doesn’t solve problems.
The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. The next is asking for help – and this is difficult. I am a constant student learning how to get my ego out of the way so I can get the help I need to succeed.
Andria describes this trait and how to overcome it well:
… somewhere along the way something told me (or someone told me or society told me) that asking for help equated to weakness or dependence. What I’ve discovered is that it’s anything but that. It’s a sign of great strength to not only admit that you are in need of help but also to accept help from others. Why is it a sign of strength? Because it takes a strong person to be self-aware of their own limitations and admit to them. It takes a strong person to solicit the support of others and then actually accept that help.
— Andria Corso, Why Asking For Help Is One Of Your Greatest Strengths, InPower Women
I’ve noticed that there are few forums for women entrepreneurs to share their stories – on- or off-line. If you look at the stats, there aren’t a lot of us. Rather, there aren’t many of us who put ourselves in the entrepreneur camp, becuase even though the rate of women starting their own business is 4x that of men, many women relate more to being a small business owner.
How we define entrepreneurship is a hot topic. Often, entrepreneurship is described to be a process – get a business off the ground, build it, ensure the business makes revenue, and then exit – go public or sell. A more official definition:
Entrepreneurs, in the purest sense, are those who identify a need—any need—and fill it…They are the ones forever craning their necks, addicted to “looking around corners” and “changing the world.”
–Brett Nelson, The Real Definition of an Entrepreneur—And Why It Matters, Forbes
Women are leaving corporate America and pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities, but they have a dual mission: their passion for the opportunity and personal goals, including schedule flexibility and growth.
Even with this extended missions, it’s hard to fight the business dragons alone.
Community is about sharing and growing. and being open to change the ending, see it in a new way, or allow it to be used as a lesson for someone else. We grow from hearing other people’s stories in the same way others grow from hearing our stories – and we achieve a potential self we never thought possible.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. – Joan Didion