Words from a close friend aren’t always easy to hear. Especially when they point to a failure, or in my case multiple failures in my life. But the truth is what we sometimes must hear no matter how hard. It is what we need to hear in order to move forward and start fresh.
It was July 2000 and for the third time, I had been denied admission to dental school at UNC, my alma mater. I had been a hygienist for 9 years, working hard to take my prerequisite courses for dental school, taking the DAT more times than I care to share and still not hitting the mark.
I had become very close to this friend and she had seen me struggle through this journey. She was now calling me out to make a decision to press forward and apply to schools outside North Carolina or change directions all together. You see, it wasn’t my life-long dream to become a dentist. In fact, the thought of it wasn’t all that exciting. However, in my mind, it was the only way to advance my career.
That day, my dear friend Charlotte, gave me a challenge. Take a year off and explore what else I could do with my experience and education as a hygienist and then decide whether or not to pursue dental school elsewhere.
Embracing failure has never been easy for me. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone. What I have learned each time I take a risk, is that whether I succeed or not, I always learn something. And it’s usually something significant that can be applied to multiple areas of my life.
So I took her challenge and fast forward 16 years, I am now President & CEO of a national consulting company that has revenues to match that of many dental practices. I get to work in this industry that is my professional home with a team and colleagues that I also consider close friends. I found my calling and it took failure to get me here.
Believe me, the failures didn’t stop in 2000. Here are a few things I’ve learned through tough times along the way:
- Have a sounding board-someone who truly loves and supports you. Someone with whom you feel safe. This doesn’t mean they’ll always tell you what you want to hear but you know they have your back and they will always build you up. This is someone you can run to when you’re scared, sad or need advice. I’m really lucky. For me, this person is my dear husband Matt.
- Life is not a straight line to champagne and fireworks. I knew that already but I hadn’t fully embraced this concept for my professional life. This really just hit me a few years ago when I was attending a lecture by the brilliant Chuck Blakeman. There are going to be squiggles along the way. There are going to be times where things are awesome and your career is on target and so are your business projections. And then, there are going to be those times that suck. Save some money in good times even if it’s a small amount in the beginning. As you grow, save more. This helps me feel less scared when the lean times come and my team still expects to be paid for their amazing work.
- Find your tribe and stick close to them. Owning a business can be lonely but it doesn’t have to be. Find a coach/mentor and a group of people that believe in you more than you believe in yourself. This is not easy to find, but it does exist. I am so grateful for my business and life coach, Fabienne Fredrickson and our family of Boldhearts.
- Learn to recover quickly. When surrounded by people that believe in you, it’s ok to share when you’re scared. Get it out, off your chest and then get your head back in the game. Figure out ways to overcome the fear with positive thoughts. This can be listening to music, praying, talking to a positive-minded confidante who can help you get back to a positive mindset.
- Remember who loves you. As I was building my speaking career, there were many times I was extremely nervous before giving a big presentation. Even though I had prepared, I was still scared. I just remembered ‘Even if I completely bomb here, my husband and my kids will still love me’. As much as the lines are sometimes blurred, it helps me to remember my business and personal identities are separate.
- Goal Cards. I learned this from my coach Fabienne. Write down what you want in the positive and as if it’s already happened. For example, instead of saying ‘I want to be less nervous when I speak’, you would say ‘I am so grateful I have gained confidence and expertise and I enjoy speaking and I get great feedback when I do’.
My friend Charlotte had nothing to lose by calling me out and I hope I can be as brave when faced with a similar dilemma. Sadly, she passed away a few months later at the age of 27. I still miss her and I am so very grateful for the many memories I have of our time together. I’m especially grateful for her no-fear approach to life and being a friend. I owe a lot to the conversation we had that day and I hope my life and career are a worthy memorial in her honor.
I can be hard to know when to keep pushing forward and when to change direction. Look to your heart to tell you the right thing to do. Oh, and one more thing. Celebrate often! It’s easy to achieve a goal or hit a mark and then move on to the next thing. Take the time to sip a glass of champagne or do something nice for yourself and others. Celebrate, smile and let the gratitude sink deep into your heart.