I have been now an entrepreneur for almost 10 years and I am still on my journey to make it. When reflecting on the past years I can honestly say it was life changing in every way and the lessons that I learned were mostly about myself and my relationships with my family, friends and people I socialise with. My story started when I came to London in 1999. It was the time of the dot.com boom and when everything was starting to go online including fashion. My idea of designing dresses for business women with their body shape in mind was based on the following factors coming together: 1. I couldn't find the appropriate work wear I needed 2. I couldn't find dresses that suited by body shape and body features. 3. With fashion going online I recognised that there will be a lot of mix messages on how to shop right 4. Meeting my husband David Lethbridge, co- founder of Confetti.co.uk who encouraged me to follow my instinct and create my own business label for women. 5.I probably saw fashion always very differently to most women. Fashion was always a tool to look my best by building on my strengths and not a miracle tool where everything and anything goes because it is in fashion "You need to learn first the rules, before you can break them like an artist." Pablo Picasso
But where to start? Who could help me and who could give me support to travel down that road? How was I to find the business concept that would enable, inspire and empower women to find their own signature look to make them look and feel good every day and stop them constantly comparing themselves to others or opting for fashion trends that were not designed for them in the first place? It was important to me to find a business concept that is credible and to achieve integrity and authority in what I believe, do and create. I knew my goal but I didn't know how to connect the dots. The first mistake I made I was looking for the right and perfect steps. But there is no such thing. The most important thing is that you have to get started in order to put your mind into the "right orbit" .The next big mistake is believing that the first step is either perfect or will get you straight away to your dream and goal. Instead it is a stepping stone, where you learn and take what you need and like and leave what is not right. It is molding you for the next step and so on. Don't forget that every expert was as well at some point a beginner!
I started with my career change when I was in my mid 30s and as it was exciting to tap into something new and creating a new design concept that would challenge traditional retailers - it was also tapping into the unknown where there is no guarantee that it will be successful or that my hard work would pay off. I think it is more scary to turn into an entrepreneur when you are older and at an age which is usually the making of you in your career. You are used to a life style, have a mortgage and often people depend you. Turning everything upside down takes a lot of courage, self believe, strength and energy. But then I also very firmly belief if you want people to invest in you and respect you you have to go first to lead the way by investing in yourself first.
When you start out - especially with a new idea and concept- failures, rejection, sacrifices and loneliness are part of the package. A life lesson learned was that all your relationships change for better or for worse, because not everyone loves what you do, or shares your ideas, excitement and ultimately your lifestyle decisions or will help and support you. It was very difficult for many years to understand this and to come to terms with this. Instead of moving on or trying to find like minded people I was wasting time and energy trying constantly to justify or defend myself or even not to talk about my "business" to blend in or even pretend that I am still the same that I was before. Needless to say it was a very draining and painful time where I felt not only like a constant failure, not adequate as well that it was me who made the effort as well trying to keep up with my friends and "so called social circle". Plus it was harder every time to keep up with them and to pretend I am happy to be around them. At some point the music stopped simply because I couldn't"afford them and their lifestyle any longer. I couldn't afford to go to the fancy bars, restaurants, girl-friends weekends away, spa days and weekends or joining them on a beautiful vacation. Looking back the painful thing was less that I couldn't, but more that they didn't exercise any kindness towards me and my new found situation or tried to make it easier for me to be part of their life - just to show that I matter to them- even if it was occasionally. The very painful truth that I learned here is that you have to let go of them, because you are on a different path with a different mind set. It was really about understanding that everybody in your life is not meant to stay, that you have to let them go, because their chapter in your life is over. Also, I had to come to terms that some didn't want me to see to succeed, because either they are afraid to try themselves or that I might succeed after all.
'Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down'.Oprah Winfrey
What helped me was removing myself from the old life and creating a new one with different people in it and by reading inspirational books by entrepreneurs who changed the world with their ideas. My role models are from every walk of life- men and women, past and present, famous and non famous, young and old - and all for different reasons. The people I look up to and feel inspired by are people who had a dream or have a dream and put everything in their power to make it happen. People who keep believing no matter what other's say, keep going strong and don't get discouraged by all the obstacles surrounding them, but instead persevered and made a difference in people's lives. It is like Mahatma Gandhi said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
It gave me comfort and belief to keep pursuing my dreams. So, I was ruthless by eliminating any negativity out of my life; because a negative mind can't give a positive life! You have to learn fast how to keep the noise out and only to listen to what matters. Once I understood that you can't have a positive life when you surround yourself with negative people and thoughts life started to get better and I ended up not with not with certain amount of friends, but with friends that I can be certain of! So, we all have the power to choose the people and friends we want to have around and in our lives. We simply need to look at different and new places and let people in who energise and inspire us, who calm us, who have generous heart and mind and who help us to remain strong.
Fact is we all need people in our lives that matter to us and where we matter to them. Sheryl Sandberg was very right when she said we need people to "Lean In and created her amazing LEAN IN network', people who are on the same wave length. But being an entrepreneur with a new design concept idea I feel I need more - more closeness, care, commitment, people I can trust and rely on. I need people in my professional life who are kind of up to date with my professional needs and goals. I need a place where I can have professional outlet and stimulation as well as a professional support network. People who are in my corner.
That led me to create my very own circle of professional women- from different walks of lives and age groups, who share the same understanding, beliefs, values, kindness and generosity. I called it the " The MUSKETEER WOMEN" with the mantra" One for all- all for one". The point is of being up to speed in all in our professional lives by helping and supporting each other, a place where we all can share our worries and plans. A place where we can mentor others, where we are mentored by other women or simply exchanging our experiences with women walking in the same shoes. It is a place of "Like minded people connecting with each other" where profession, position and age are not a factors, but being on the same wavelength.The plan is to meet up every 4-5 weeks on a regular base for 1-2 hours, so we can get our professional fix and be more effective and assured in our professional lives.
Being entrepreneur and leading an entrepreneur's life is not for everyone. In the time that I started I met lots of great people with great ideas as well read about amazing people with amazing ideas, but who gave up in the first year- simply committing professional suicide. They gave up quite early on, because it was all too hard to be alone, to do it all alone, fighting it alone, being without an income, not getting the satisfactory of making an income, not having time and money to have a social life and the list goes on. You simply feel isolated and having fallen off the grid when starting out. Being entrepreneur is a life style choice, because it dictates where and how you are spending your money, there is no order or rhythm and no regulated work balance. Usually when starting a business entrepreneurs can't sustain as well a certain life style with holidays, expensive sporting, shopping or simply employing people to help them to run their business. But instead you have to make sacrifices to make it work, seeing that you are building something that is meant to last. Working as an entrepreneur means you are occupying the job titles from intern to founder to CEO- and often don't get paid at all.
When reflecting back where I took the strength to get me through these difficult dark times- besides my husband, mother in law and our dog Barnaby- were my parents and my upbringing. My parents couldn't understand why I changed careers. In their mind I was wasting my time, their money spent on my education and up-bringing, effort and sacrifices they made for me. My parents who are Czechoslovakian emigrants living in Germany and who set up their dentist practice with no funds, limited language skills between them, no friends & family, no German citizenship - living for 9 years in fear of being deported back where they would have been imprisoned and I probably sent into a state orphanage - before finally naturalised. You can say "hard work" was their first religion, which dominated and ruled our lives in every imaginable aspect- it always came first and was the most important thing in our daily lives- free time or spare time, socialising or exercising a hobby- were considered as bad virtues and lack of good character building. My childhood and life were hard, not only because of these reasons but also my parents life ethnics and views isolated me socially and made me look different to my friends, school mates, kids and others. There were no people I could lean on to or find support. So, I had to learn fast how to help myself, how to keep sane, how to become self sufficient, how to pick myself up, how to protect myself - how to be strong at my weak places. All this life lessons learned help me today living and leading an entrepreneur's life, where it is all based on hard work, being dedicated to what you do, finding a way to pick yourself up to keep me going, to seek perfection in what you and above everything to be ok " not to fit " with other people views, expectations and life styles. Accepting being a misfit and seeing nothing wrong with it, because you are having different ideas and leading a different life to others.
Creating something new simply needs time and hard work to come together - it is the nature of things doing things differently. "Eighty percent of success is showing up. "Woody Allen.
Often I am being asked if I would do things differently if I had the chance. But I answer is always no. Hindsight is a very dangerous science, because you go back and question your judgment calls and decisions you made with the knowledge you have today. To me it is not a fair and correct comparison. When you made your decisions you based them on the facts you knew then and not now. Meaning what only matters when looking back is that you can say that you did the best you could at that time with the things you knew at the that time - everything else is wishful thinking.
But here are some life lessons learned:
It is ok to be a "MISFIT" and see things differently and do things differently, because we are dreamers that do!
Control what you can control, because there is so much you can't control in your life
Learn to be self sufficient in your life. You don't need to know everything in life, but you need to know where and how to help yourself
When plan A doesn't work there are 25 more letters in the alphabet- so stay calm and keep going!
Learning that failure is a good thing and can be an opportunity in disguise to start again with a new angle. Failure is part of the learning process to create something new and/or better. If you never fail you never learn anything new.
You never can quit. Quitters don't win and winners don't quit. So, stay cool, find your feet, stand your ground and get ready - it is a battlefield out there!
Work hard- play fair- be kind-be generous and follow your heart, but take your brain with you!
It doesn't matter how you start, but only how you finish. Keep moving, aiming towards the finishing line.
And these are the inspirational quotes by great people that help me to keep going, feeling less alone in my way of thinking and inspiring me to stay focus on pursuing my dreams:
"May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears." - Nelson Mandela
"If I had asked my customer what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse." Henry Ford
"Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely." - Henry Ford
" Failure is not the opposite of success, but a stepping stone to success". Arianna Huffington
"Passion is energy- it comes from focusing on what you love."- Oprah
" If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward." Martin Luther King
" Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole being that it is stupid".Albert Einstein
" If you are going through hell - KEEP GOING!"Winston Churchill
" I walk slowly, but I never walk backward".Abraham Lincoln
" When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it". Henry Ford
" Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase".Martin Luther King
" It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed".Theodore Roosevelt
" The Woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further then the crowd. The WOMAN who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before".Albert Einstein
Probably the most important quote that I live by day by day and that makes a difference every time I go to bed was given to me by husband, which was written by someone anonymous:
" Everything will be ok in the end, if it is not ok- it is not the end".
I hope reading this makes you feel better, less alone and isolated. There are like minded people everywhere - but we have to go and look for them. We won't find them by standing still and keep doing the same things in our lives and hope they will find us.