I recently saw an interview with a one-legged Olympic skier.
She lost her leg when she was a child, and reflected on the day her mother casually handed her a pamphlet for ski camp. It was moment that changed her self-concept forever, and helped her begin to envision a future beyond recovery and the limits of her “condition.” Her mother planted quite a seed that day– enough for her to see herself not as a, “one-legged woman” but as someone who could ski…and eventually become a champion.
Her story was an inspiring reminder to me of the power of our minds to shape our reality. When we have a clear and detailed vision of what we want, we have the ability to create anything we wish for ourselves. It’s a truth I’ve always believed, that has largely shaped where I am today. What we believe about ourselves is…the…truth…and we can change those closely held beliefs if we make the decision to do so.
Not that I’m not suggesting forced positivity or some daily affirmations will do the trick! I mean, who can seriously maintain a positive attitude all the time? It’s not authentic. Sometimes being justifiably pissed off can be more motivating than any mantra, and we all need a little down time here and there. Growth doesn’t happen smoothly or quickly—even when we are purposefully seeking change, we stubbornly cling to our comfortable, familiar patterns. Eventually, though, with mountains of hard work, sacrifice and risk…the seemingly impossible becomes possible. When our vision for ourselves is fluid, when we sit down and plan out, in annoyingly infinitesimal detail, exactly what we want for ourselves, it’s pretty amazing – suddenly we start getting “lucky,” guides and teachers show up to help us, our fears slowly fall away as our confidence grows…and new possibilities open up.
My life revolved around work until about 7-years ago, when I was fortunate enough to discover ballroom dancing. I quickly went from a casual student to a 14-lesson a week addict. Much like my “ideal vision” for my products and my business, I soon developed a clear image of what I wanted to look like in my favorite style, International. I had another impossible dream to chase. What I found in the studio was a place where I could shut everything else out, and where I always left in a good mood.
As I’ve improved under the direction of my amazing teacher and incredible coaches, my body is starting to feel like it can do the things I’m asking of it…suddenly, the process of learning has gone from frustrating to interesting. In my business, I’m always experiencing new things: chemistry knowledge was first, then came the far more challenging 20-year task of learning to run a business. Learning American Smooth is showing me again, that I need to have a vision for myself as a dancer that is different, this time, “emotional,” rather than purely technical…a big challenge for me. This process of learning offers so many opportunities to discover and overcome mental and emotional blocks, which is why I often say learning to dance is better than therapy! It has given me the courage to put myself out there, even if that means I could potentially embarrass myself in front of an audience or a judge or just the mirror! Of course, that’s what it was like starting my business, but this often feelsriskier because it’s so personal.
The risk, though is part of what is great about this process. There will always be new ways to improve and old ways to discard. Working through pain, fear, frustration, and lack of control, and actually reaching the goals that can temporarily feel very far away is produces authentic confidence. But, a successful entrepreneur, like a dancer, can’t be flighty. The commitment is the important thing.
My remarkable teacher helps me grow in ways I could have never imagined. He creates a world for me to experience the successes that create confidence, that in turn create more successes. I’ve also benefited from the knowledge of the very best coaches who have further accelerated my education and skills, and unlocked the many puzzles I’ve struggled with. Starting my company, I had to learn through trial and error, often on my own, how to survive in a very competitive world. The pro-am relationship is a fantastic advantage that ensures we aren’t devastated from a “failure” or a fall. They are there to give us a pep talk or talking down, if necessary. I mean, they actually make us look good…pro-am is a sweet deal, no?
In a way, a great teacher is almost like a great parent! I recently had an “aha” moment in dance that helped me realize I needed to see myself as a leader in business. You would assume I’d have nailed that after almost 20-years, right? But not so…I’ve struggled with the concept all along. Again, I had to change my self-concept since I’d only ever seen myself as a, “worker,” rather than a, “mentor.” So I started to visualize what a leader in my own company might look like. Sure I owned the business, but that is different than seeing myself as a leader who needed to perform at work much like at a competition. I also realized how lucky I was to have built a brand with principles other people believed in and wanted to be a part of.When I started my business, I seemed insane by any “normal” standards (and believe me, my friends and family told me so!). I should never have made it past year one! In my “early days” starting suki® skincare, I was a freelance writer and waitress with no experience running a business. I had no start-up capital and little understanding of the chemistry necessary to formulate my ideal product – 100% pure and truly effective for hardcore skin problems. What I did know was that for people like me, who struggled with a lifetime of severe skin issues, who couldn’t tolerate chemicals, and didn’t find any relief in “naturals” or pharmaceuticals, there was nothing that really worked. If I could figure out how to create solutions that were both strong and safe, so many people who knew the pain and stigma of severe skin problems, like me, would benefit. And, being fiercely independent, the idea of committing my life to someone else’s vision, including taking on a business partner to influence my ideals, didn’t match who I am.
So, with no resources or experience, and armed with no more than my ideas, I set out to build a business, and I learned, step by little step…and by investing a whole lot of “sweat equity.” I sought out mentors to help me learn things like how to write business plans, run projections, build a website, and market my products. I read books on how to solicit magazines for exposure. Heck, back then I didn’t even know what the term “branding” meant, much less doing the actual branding! I recall when I first presented my ideas to chemists for help, so many turned me away because they said what I was setting out to do was going to be impossible. But, I continued until I finally found two mentors in the industry who would go on to generously answer all my questions and teach me the principles of formulation science, as I discovered innovativeingredients and new technologies. After 2-years of experimentation in my kitchen, my “impossible idea” became a brand new way of looking at and treating skin problems. At that point, I got in my car and started selling my very badly self-designed and bottled, but fabulous formula around town, then nationally, then globally…
The reason I was able to succeed, despite my total lack of experience at the time, was that vision I had for myself and for my product. I wanted to help people, including myself, feel and look better. But I also knew there had to be a way to develop something better than what was on the market. Sure, I could have seen my daily experiments as failures, but I chose the word, “experimentation.” I took notes, and every day I would ask my chemist questions, do research…throw away my “experiments,” get up and do it again…for 2 years…while I learned the “other things” I needed to know until I had what I was looking for. I also studied with a very generous designer who schooled me on all things marketing. I never forget my business has afforded my the opportunity to dance, which I’m so grateful for…
At the end of the day, when I leave my office and go to dance practice, I’m happy, I’m present – and I don’t have to remind myself to breathe…and that’s more than enough…well…now that I think about it, there are a few competitions I really would love to win (or as my teacher would say, we have to get to the finals first, lol)…yes, I think I’m just going to settle on the totally unrealistic vision of myself on that top step…