The following is adapted from Just Go With It.
When I got my first office job, the first thing I did on my lunch break was buy myself a briefcase—which today I find adorable and hilarious. Then, I went to a bookstore and bought myself a business magazine with a section on leadership. I knew nothing about business and leadership, but I figured that if I had a few buzzwords to throw around, no one would notice this girl had no idea what she was talking about.
It was clear, even to myself at the time, that I was a clever, independent survivor who never looked back. Later on, I applied for a position with a recruiting firm, and confidence carried the day. Within a year, I was one of the company’s top producers. Several years later, I was the successful founder of my own recruiting company Creative Niche.
It was because of moments like these, which continue to this day, that I never minded the fact that I didn’t have a degree. I have also since learned that the average entrepreneur, and some of the most successful in the world, didn’t have college degrees when they started out either.
However, coming out of the Great Recession, I realized something: I was only 32 years old, highly engaged in my business as I loved working, and had a lot of life left in me. I realized that if I was going to elevate my company to the next level, I had to advance myself to the next level first. It was time to invest in myself.
The Best Investment You Can Make
As entrepreneurs, we are always talking about investing in a new website, investing in new staff, investing in new ideas, but we don’t look at an investment in ourselves like education and inspirational opportunities. And that, my friends, is a huge disconnect. Don’t fall into that trap.
The earlier you can build up and reinforce your ability as a leader, the more fun you can have with it, and the more satisfying it will be. But think of how much more enriching it will be for your employees to have a leader they can trust and who is ready to invest in them. That’s how you build a solid foundation for your business that will be sustainable for many years to come.
After years of riding out the effects of the recession, we were ready to grow again. I had learned a lot in the past few years. But one of the most important lessons was that sometimes giving your all to the business means giving your all to yourself. I thought success would be derived from giving my business everything I had, but because I hadn’t been developing myself, everything I had wasn’t good enough.
I realized that investing in my own professional development would provide innumerable benefits to my business, and amazing things would happen. The company wins if I’m better, and that realization has transformed my trajectory as a young entrepreneur.
My first outside professional development investment was with Strategic Coach, a company that provides entrepreneurs with tools and time systems so they can focus on scaling and growing their business while also having balance.
At the time, I was hard-pressed to qualify for the course, not to mention pay for the tuition, which was significant. However, I reasoned it was now or never—time to grow some wings so I could fly!
As I think about it now, I was like a pilgrim who had been marching in the hot sun for a month with little water and food. After being rescued and sitting at a full table, all I could do was stuff as much liquid and food into my body as possible. The only difference was that I was cramming the information from the program into my spirit and mind.
The Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO)
My learning didn’t stop with Strategic Coach. Next, I joined the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO), where, for the first time, I had the chance to actually speak and relate to my fellow entrepreneurs.
Before EO, I was pretty reclusive. I was so caught up in work and family that I didn’t know a group like this actually existed—and once I did, I was incredibly nervous about joining. It didn’t matter that I’d been a reasonably successful entrepreneur for several years. I still had a case of imposter syndrome. I began telling myself that I was neither good enough nor smart enough to be there. Has that ever happened to you? If so, you know how debilitating it can be.
At EO, I could finally explain my challenges to those other than my staff and family, to professionals who understood where I was coming from and who had no agenda or judgment with regards to what we were discussing. They had endured the same highs and lows, as well as identified important strategies and tactics for managing both the business and the personal sides of entrepreneurship. Finally, I was with people who understood the lifestyle, the pressure, and the fun that came with it.
The EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Master’s Program (EMP)
After building my confidence, I applied to the EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Master’s Program (EMP). EMP is a three-year program with a student body of sixty-eight global entrepreneurs. Every year, students are required to attend four, fourteen-hour days. It’s hard work, full of lessons from specialists, team-based business case studies, networking, and literally anything else that could be packed into that time frame.
The course provided a global perspective of business, relating the conversation all the way to where business begins: in our respective communities. It was hard work, but it was equally rewarding and extremely inspirational.
It was thanks to this program I decided to open new offices in Amsterdam and Cincinnati. I couldn’t help it. One of the program presenters talked about taking your business global, and he hooked my imagination and interest from the outset.
Investing in Yourself Can Take Many Forms
Now, these programs worked wonders for me. But there are plenty of other resources out there depending on your industry, leadership philosophy, and general strengths and weaknesses. Everyone will have a different “professional self-care” regimen. The key is simply to start somewhere.
Before investing in myself, I thought that investing only had to do with things like office space and technology. When I finally learned to invest in myself as well, I found a treasure trove of helpful resources, knowledge, and support I didn’t even know had existed.
Sure, there would still be stressful days ahead. But from now on, I wouldn’t have to go it alone. There were other entrepreneurs out there who could help me. And I was no longer afraid to open myself and let them share their expertise with me, as I do for them.
I found that investing in myself gave me a sense of belonging, purpose, and newfound confidence. I wasn’t an imposter, I was a badass entrepreneur. And I was ready to take on the world.
For more advice on entrepreneurship and business leadership, you can find Just Go With It on Amazon.
This guest post was authored by Mandy Gilbert
Mandy is an entrepreneur, CEO, investor, and speaker. In 2002, she started Creative Niche—a recruitment firm specializing in advertising, digital, and marketing—with $8,000. Today, it brings in nearly $12 million in sales annually. Creative Niche has placed thousands of creative, digital, and marketing talent across North America. Mandy has been recognized as a United Nations Global Accelerator and has completed the EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program. She lives in Toronto and is the proud mom of two busy boys, Isaac and Sam. Mandy is a weekly columnist for Inc.
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