A manifesto for women entrepreneurs: when did you last give yourself a pat on the back?

By Susan February 1, 2012 12:52

A manifesto for women entrepreneurs: when did you last give yourself a pat on the back?

I used to be a bit amused when I received briefs for speaking events that began with “Please – don’t be too positive!” I know some people have tried a hard “positive thinking” approach, hammering on that there wasn’t a recession, that it was only in people’s heads, etc., etc. People expected me to go on like that, but to tell the truth, I find it highly insensitive.

I’m the Positive Economist. Not the Naive Economist. Not the Rose Tinted Glasses Economist. Not the “Recession is only a state of mind” Economist.  My mission is to acknowledge the economic situation and show what actionable insights are hiding amidst the doom and gloom. I certainly wasn’t here to say “Recession? What recession?!”

When I give a talk, I always want to acknowledge the absolute economic realities that people might be facing. It’s only when you are realistic that you can be focused on solving issues. If you don’t acknowledge that there are problems to begin with, how on earth are you going to solve them?


Acknowledge your survival, Appreciate your

success, Anchor your stability


Towards the end of 2011, I gave a talk in Cavan, for women entrepreneurs taking part in the HATCH programme. I wanted to inspire the audience with specific examples of women who have very much made their mark, be it in politics, arts, sports, charities…

I started with the past, acknowledging your survival, because entrepreneurs are so over their heads in work that they sometimes forget to acknowledge the steps they took and that have brought them where they are.

If you started your own business and you are still in business, however difficult it might be at the moment, know that you can be very proud of yourself. The mere fact that you survived is worth acknowledging indeed. In fact, a study by the Small Firms Association found that almost half of all Irish people had the desire to set up their own business.  If you have even tried to set up your own company, you have already been brave enough to do what almost half of Irish people want to do – but haven’t gotten around to just yet!

Then I moved on to the present: what entrepreneurs can do right now to anchor their stability, to make sure they stay in the game, how they can establish a solid foundation for themselves.

And finally I wanted to give them hope for the future – too many entrepreneurs, especially women, never stop to give themselves a pat on the back. It’s only when you realize how far you’ve come that you really see what you are truly capable of – and that deserves appreciation. And then you know how incredibly far you can still go.

Sometimes this little shift in attitude is enough to get you going and is very helpful when you’re in over your head with worry.


Do what you love, love what you do


When you are in business, some days you really need to remember why you chose that path, particularly the days that are difficult, frustrating and you feel like you’re getting nowhere. Do you remember that day when you decided to leave your job, when you thought “That’s it – I’ve had enough – I’m setting up my own business” or “You know what? I am making enough with this side business – I could even quit my job…”

Do you remember that feeling of deep joy and freedom? Very often the reason why you started in the first place is enough to rekindle that enthusiasm.

A woman came up to me after one of my talks to tell me her story: she was self-employed, with two little boys, and a few months earlier had been offered a very good job, with a good salary, in Dublin. Then she said “Though it brought me to tears, I turned it down.”

When she factored in the cost of commuting daily to and from Dublin, the cost of childcare that she would have to pay for, now that she wouldn’t be working from home, and the implicit cost of coming and going (eating out because you didn’t have time for cooking, etc.), she realised that she would actually have been losing money.

But the most important realisation was that she would be paying a qualitative cost – missing out on things like deciding to go to the park with the kids right now because the sun is shining and email can wait.

Finding the real, deep reason why she had chosen that lifestyle reinvigorated her completely.

And really, when I see my friends having to budget around what they can afford, both in terms of income and in terms of free time, I realize it’s fantastic, even though it’s tough sometimes, to have your own business.

I don’t have to ask anyone for a raise – I find a way to make more money. I don’t have to ask anyone for a day off to attend my brother’s graduation – I just go.

The value of this flexibility alone is immense.

Although you might never have considered it, there is a cost to not being in business. Think of all the things you wouldn’t have if you had a “stable” job.


How long is it since you gave yourself

a pat on the back ?


Our culture is very much focused on doing more, better, faster. But when do we actually look back and take the time to acknowledge our successes?

Take one of the most thankless, difficult, exhausting – yet exhilarating – jobs: being a mother. I was reminded of this at my brother’s graduation, when I asked my mam “Are you proud? Was it hard bringing us up, bringing us to this point?”

She shrugged: “Hard ? No! What are you talking about?!”

I thought What do you mean it wasn’t hard?!

Mothers only ever get their award when their kids go off and do something for which they get all the praise. That’s not very rewarding. There is no “Ernst and Young Mother of the Year Award”. There is no PR mentoring for “Mother of the Decade”.

And yet, consider how stupendously skilled a mother is. Multi-tasking. Organizing. Planning. Ferrying people back and forth while mentally going through the evening routine of homework and bath and lights out, and calculating a detour by the supermarket and coming up with ideas for dinner, all the while adjusting for seasonal product availability and family members’ tastes and nutrition guidelines… Motivating, cajoling, teaching children to do their homework, to help with the housework, to take care of themselves, to not put themselves in dangerous situations, to have self-esteem, to have a balanced life, etc., etc. And then starting all over again the next day!

That’s the workload of a General Manager !

Ah, and you also have to take care of yourself and show up at work with not a hair out of place, expertly applied make-up and a winning smile on your face.

Women do all that on a daily basis. Yet when do we ever look in the mirror and tell ourselves “Good job – well done – I’m impressed!” ? Hardly ever.

Don’t you think it’s about time that changed?

When I asked the audience in Cavan “Do you realize how successful you are?”, the women looked around as if I wasn’t talking to them. “Who? Me? Are you kidding?!”

And still, I told them, “Imagine the amount of people who would love to be in your seat – the people who might have thought of taking the steps you took towards independence – the amount of people who could have made the choice you made, and yet didn’t.”

So, here is the big question: do you ever congratulate yourself for taking that huge, scary step?

Well, you should.


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By Susan February 1, 2012 12:52