It’s a few weeks before Thanksgiving Day and we are busy preparing for our BOGO sale, November 24th. It takes us about six full weeks to prepare the packaging, marketing materials, social media posts, blogger outreach programs, and of course making the actual products…but this post isn’t about products, or ingredients or methods. It’s about the actual journey of becoming an entrepreneur.
Today, as I write this, we just mailed out our new color catalogs. It took five years before we could actually produce them the way I wanted them. Five Years. Most new businesses don’t survive three years in business, so this was a huge milestone for me.
I experienced a lot of emotions when I was looking at them sitting there in the bins…I thought of all the moments of struggle and strife, of the times this dream of mine seemed so far away, of all the jobs I had working for other cosmetic companies, of all my friends and family that supported me (and those that didn’t)….it was a sublime moment and one that I will definitely cherish. Often the greatest victories for an entrepreneur are simple moments in time.
Looking back, I can clearly see how all of my so-called failures (both personally and professionally) allowed me to become stronger and appreciate success when it arrived. But when I was going through it, I would cry myself to sleep many nights, just shaking my head wondering if I had what it took to really create my dream.
For an entrepreneur, there are no rule books. Sure, you can get an education on business specifics, but each entrepreneur has their own imprint to make on the world, so it’s virtually impossible to learn how to become one by simply following another.
Take the word entrepreneur. It can be so intimidating. When I see that word, I think of Richard Branson. Steve Jobs. Julia Child. C.J. Walker. But Jennifer Waller? Um, not so much. But when you break down the essence of what an entrepreneur is – a visionary, then I kind of perk up.
My seventeen year old self had big dreams. She was idealistic, enthusiastic and would try anything once. She had a strong work ethic, and wanted to see the world. Her definition of success was defined by materialistic acquisitions (remember, this was in the 80’s “Greed is Good” heyday).
For a very long time, those goals were what motivated me. Being submerged in the high-end retail environment, I was subjected to daily doses of Madison Avenue marketing; If only I had the perfect shade of lipstick, the perfect bag or the perfect pair of shoes, I too would be perfect. To an extent, I was also peddling that dream on behalf of the companies I worked for.
From 1985 to 2004, I worked for more than a dozen cosmetic and skincare companies. I worked for big cosmetic conglomerates, and independent start ups. I logged thousands of airline miles, crossed the coast, and met thousands of women who shared with me their secrets, insecurities and high expectations of whatever miracle creme or lipstick I was selling at the time. More often than not, they just wanted to be heard, if only for the brief minutes we were together.
From the start of my career, I felt the best when I was “connecting” with other women. I saw them as real people, not an “average unit sale”. My reward was their happiness, not the size of their purchase. I really felt humbled by their trust in me, and I worked hard not to ever take it for granted. Compassion was the first core value I was able to identify with.
Lesson #1: Determine from the start what your core personal values are, and use them as a blueprint to build your own company. Never waiver. They will become what you are known for, and will speak louder than any advertisement ever will.
When you are surrounded by like-minded people, it’s easy to work. You love your job, you love your co workers and everything comes up roses. I would say that for the first part of my career, it was exactly like a sorority. Beauty advisors working behind the counter, wearing the same uniform, working for one cause, and enjoying the perks and comradery.
Life was simple then.
As soon as I determined I was ready to break out of the pack, and move up the corporate ladder is when things changed. That’s when my true education began.
When you leave the familiarity of an insular work space (in my case, a beauty counter) and spread your wings, you are met with a lot of different personalities and agendas. It’s not for the faint-of-heart.
As a “road warrior” (a regional makeup artist that travels for events), part of my job was dealing with many, many people. The Account Executive in a given territory, the other road warriors, the cosmetic department manager, the beauty advisors and of course, the customers. In some cases, the owner of the cosmetic company. Each of these people had a different agenda, and it was my job to meet all those needs, and do it in heels, faux lashes and spanx.
Over the course of a decade of being a road warrior, I learned how to be a diplomat. I learned how to be on time (actually 15 minutes early for everything). I learned how to be a therapist. I learned how to be a visual display manager. And I learned how to take care of my feet (the stilettos came out of rotation in year three after another (older) road warrior showed me her bunions from wearing them for almost twenty years on the road).
Lesson #2: Become a sponge – to the good, the bad and the ugly. Every single thing you observe will serve you once you become your own boss.
I never took a job just for the sake of working. Even when I was young, I wanted to be happy working, so before I signed on the dotted line to rep for a company, I always did a little due diligence to try and determine if I shared the same values.
All I have to say about this is: you never truly know someone until you live with them or travel with them. Long before social media, and before transparency became the norm, the only thing you could find out about a company or owner of a company was the PR spin they provided for public consumption.
Lets just say, all that glitters is not gold.
What looks good on paper (or glossy company brochure) doesn’t always translate to the personality of the actual person you are working for. This can catch you off guard sometimes.
On more than one occasion, I have been singled out for my idealistic views of how things “should” run, or how people “should” be treated. After all, my personal motto is to treat others the way you want to be treated.
“Jen, you don’t really make a good employee. Quit questioning everything.”
“Jen, you aren’t the Norma Rae for the company, just do your job.”
“Are you an only child?”
At the time, those comments really, really hurt. Why couldn’t they see I only wanted to make things better? In fact, they more than hurt, if I was being 100% honest. I felt very unappreciated for my hard work.
However, if you put those comments together now, it all adds up to this: if I wanted to make things better, I had to create my own company and have it embody all the principals I value so dearly.
And I did.
If I was a “perfect” employee, Celtic Complexion might have never been created.
Lesson #3: The way others view you is their business. Don’t let it shape the way you view yourself or take it personally. Ever. Be your truly amazing authentic self. One day, you will be rewarded for it, but probably not in the way you envision.
When I was a little girl, my paternal grandmother advised me to “be free, see the world and live your life.” As a young girl, I didn’t understand her advice at all, in fact, I didn’t fully understand her words until I was well into my forties. She was a strong woman who lived her life with the expectations of her generation. She did her duty by marrying (although she was 32 when she did so, which was practically spinster territory at the time) and having three kids.
I think she yearned to live free and independently, and as her granddaughter, she wanted me to get that message loud and clear. As a result, that message was embedded into me, and has served my wanderlust desires since childhood. After all, what is it to be an entrepreneur than to hitch a wagon to your dreams and follow them to the end?
That advice has made me try things – everything in fact. The very nature of an entrepreneur is to try a lot of things, determine what works, tweak it, make it your own and then share it with the world.
It also made me courageous. To leave jobs, relationships, places and situations that no longer served my best interest. I’ve never regretted anything I’ve done, nor have I ever regretted letting it go. To me, it’s all experience, and it has all gave me perspective to grow. I don’t cry over spilled milk. Ever.
Lesson #4: Be unapologetically selfish in your quest for happiness. Your resulting happiness will be able to help more people in the long run. The vibration of happiness will touch everything you create.
I recently opened boxes in my garage from my last move to North Carolina (two years ago). I discovered journals I had been keeping for years, some even decades old. They were filled with pictures, affirmations, and personal mementos from my travels. I was amazed at how much of what I wrote had come true. I had forgotten some of the things I put to paper.
During my road warrior days, I would write in my journals when I was flying, or in a hotel room at night. I would sketch out what would become the Celtic Complexion logo. I would write product descriptions and website layouts.
I remember thinking “How the heck am I ever going to get from point A to point B?!” When you are struggling financially, or emotionally, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But that’s when you need to do this exercise more!
I also kept every single thank you letter I ever received from a customer. I was also lucky enough to have some incredible mentors that saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. At times, those letters were the only dimly lit light to guide me to where I am now.
Those journals actually have versions of the recipes I use today.
Even with just a dream, I always did something every day to inch towards that dream. Whether it be creating file folders of pretty images, studying fonts, honing my writing, or reading about ingredients. It would all some day serve me.
Once I learned the art of manifesting (getting out of my own way, eliminating baggage, truly believing I was worthy of achieving my dreams, persisting when no evidence of success was visible) everything came very easy.
Here is an affirmation from my journal (authored by Mike Dooley)
So what if it takes a long time, Jennifer? So what if it’s already taken longer than you thought? So what if it will still take longer? The day will nevertheless arrive, as it always does, when all your prior efforts, determination, and persistence will seem a paltry price indeed as you are lifted irrevocably higher, as if by chariots of fire, into realms previously un-imagined, and then you’ll think to yourself, “Wow, that was fast!”
Lesson #5: Never be concerned about How you will become successful. Place 100% of your attention on the end result. Put your blinders on and have faith. Everything else is just noise. With belief, everything else falls into place. I promise.
My journey has taken many twists and turns, but it has also had a lot of laughter. The goals of my seventeen year old self have, for the most part, been accomplished. However, they didn’t feel like I thought they would. As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember wondering why the things I had coveted for most of my life didn’t bring me the happiness I thought they would. Damn you Madison Avenue for making me think they would!
My definition of success has changed as I age. To me, it’s being content, doing what I love, being healthy, being surrounded by love. By the way, I think those are also the same things that make you look vibrant and youthful 🙂
Here’s looking at you kid!