This is a blog response to Steve Pavlina’s blog How to Be a Man.
As with Steve’s blog post, I don’t believe this advice all applies only to women. Steve picked the theme, so I am sticking to it.
Throughout the post, I will also share examples of women who have been personally inspirational to me. It is my hope that you will find inspiration in their stories as well.
Four Ways to Be a (Successful, Inspirational) Woman
- Surround yourself with excellent people.
In talking to many beginning women entrepreneurs, I find they all too often let themselves get hung up on the notion that their ideas are not worthwhile. As any investor will tell you, your idea is only part of the equation. Investors will often emphasize that they invest in a team, not just an idea.
Also, small companies often change their ideas. My original idea for Simpli was this: “I plan to integrate small business web hosting with small business websites that business owners (read: non-technical people) can update by pointing and clicking.” I wrote that sentence in November 2002 — more than a year after I originally founded Simpli! It turned out that web hosting was the part of that idea that made the most money, so I stuck with that.
I have watched other startup companies go from one crazy idea to the next. Two friends of mine, Adam Rifkin and Joyce Park, founded a company, Renkoo, that is a better way to do online invitations — in other words, they wanted to beat Evite at its own game. What are they working on now? A Facebook application that lets you have a virtual pet. So don’t worry about the idea so much. Focus on being you and surrounding yourself with great people. Ideas come and go, but friends and great business partners are hard to find.
- Express your unique personality. Break the mold. Concerned that you don’t fit the “image” for what you’re doing? I can assure you you’re not the only one. I was 20 years old when I started my web hosting company. As the business grew, I had to look 40- and 50-year-old seasoned startup founders and boards in the eye and assure them that my tiny company would provide them stable and reliable web hosting.
What did they see? A young 20-something girl who cheerfully explained in great detail the setup and servers we provided. Some of these founders laughed me right out of the room. A lot of them refused to sign with my small company, figuring I didn’t know what I was doing and we would soon go out of business.
Some potential customers would talk only to my (male) techs, assuming that since I was female, I had no idea what I was talking about when it came to technology. My boyfriend was shocked to find that, when he helped me install a customer’s servers one Saturday last year, the customer refused to talk to me and directed all questions to him — even though my boyfriend didn’t work at Simpli, and had no knowledge of our setup.
Some potential investors laughed outright at me when I told them I could make my business do a million dollars of revenue in a year. Of all of the potential outside investors I talked to, not a single one of them chose to invest in my company.
As a woman, particularly if you are choosing to work in the technology industry, you have to be able to shake this sort of stuff off and go on. A lot of times, it wasn’t easy. I drew on inner strength until I did not have any inner strength left. But I did not quit, and I did not listen to those who laughed at me.
Web hosting wasn’t particularly a unique idea, but my company was unique, because I chose to listen to my customers and help them to the best of my ability — even when it meant referring them to another company. I connected our customers together when I knew their businesses could help each other. As a result, I built an extremely loyal customer base and was able to sell the business for about 40% over what a typical web hosting company with our revenue would be valued at.
You don’t have to be skinnier, stronger, younger, older, or any other physical adjective to succeed. You do have to be genuine, motivated, determined, and honest with anyone you choose to do business with. Don’t be concerned with trying to fit a certain predefined mold of success. Breaking the mold makes you memorable.
- Break the modesty barrier. Don’t be afraid to stand up and shout to the rooftops who you are and what you do that is unique. As women, we have to walk a finer tightrope than men — too modest and we will be written off as “not a leader”; too assertive and we’ll be labeled as “bitchy”. Learn to be assertive and do not be afraid to push for what you want. If you find someone who is looking for something that you can help with — especially if it pays well and will help your business — do it! Be the first one to leap up when people ask for a volunteer in the audience. Tell your story with passion. Learn to speak and write forcefully.
A friend of mine and someone I respect deeply, Val Henson, wrote a paper called HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux. Linux is a difficult field for women to enter because the industry’s products are often given away for free.
It is my belief that the open-source/free software industry is dominated by men because men get a huge ego kick from seeing their names listed as a contributor and duking it out for the “best” ideas. Women aren’t as interested in joining the ego battle. Linux and open-source/free software tend to have a large concentration of egocentric, antisocial men. Val wrote this HOWTO for men to understand how rampant sexism and patronizing tones in this community drive away women, and how to treat women respectfully.
I will add this, to the women: The world needs you to stand up and communicate who you are, your talents, and your needs. Don’t let the handful of sexist, arrogant, and elitist men out there drive you back into modesty. There will always be a few idiots who are threatened by your willingness to tell it like it is, but the rewards of honesty and being forthright far outweigh the risks.
If you don’t know how to begin, I suggest you call or email someone you respect (but may not have any personal contact with) and ask them out to lunch. Reach out to someone who may be able to help you, your idea, and/or your business take the next step. During lunch, ask them the questions you need answers to in order to keep moving forward. People love to help others who are up-and-coming. If you get turned down, keep going until you find someone who is able to sit down with you.
Get out there and meet others. Have the courage to let your heart and goals shine through.
- Embrace your spirituality. I am the last person to advocate any specific religion, since I don’t follow an organized religion. However, there are some great spiritual principles out there that work no matter what religion you have. Above all, my number one spiritual belief is that we all come from the same place and that we are all connected to each other. We have divine power within us that can be used for either the highest good or the highest evil.
Most of us, paralyzed by fear of making the “wrong” choice, do not choose to use the power within us at all. We choose to stay quietly within the boundaries that someone else has defined for us. We know this power lies within us, ready to work, but every time it tries to come out we instead listen to those who tell us “You’re not _____ enough to do that” or “Won’t that make you uncomfortable?” As we relinquish the thought of exploring our dreams, that power fades away.
Acknowledge your power. Be that which you are meant to be. Be the light within your heart and defend with every inch of your being the true goodness that resides within you. Embrace the belief that you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to — even something where others may laugh at you, call you a fake, tell you you’re not worthy of being able to do, or tell you that you might be better off staying where you are now.
How will the world ever become a better place if you insist on playing it small and staying within a “comfort zone” that someone else set up for you?
My inspiration for this final bit of wisdom is Erin Pavlina (and yes, I would have picked her even if this blog entry wasn’t inspired by her husband’s blog post. 😉 ) Erin has the courage to come out and say that she can talk to dead people; that she can communicate with Spirit Guides; that she is a spiritual intuitive. There are many spiritual intuitives out there, but I picked Erin because I have met her and I did a reading with her. While she was reading for me, I began to see bits of her future too.
After my reading with Erin, my spirit guides let me know that I could choose to become a spiritual advisor to others as well — much like Erin. While I declined to devote my life to reading and healing others because I knew I could have a bigger impact in other areas, it is clear that those capabilities are alive and well within me. I enjoy a strong relationship with Grammy, my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago but still comes home every once in a while to check up on our family. I have been able to answer questions my family had but didn’t discuss with her while she was still alive. I also have a gift of being able to tell where others are physically hurting or feel when their emotions are chaotic.
Some of you may think this is crazy, or crackpot. I don’t deny that this type of spirituality can be hard to digest for most of us. Throughout history, spiritual healing has been used to help others, but our current society has a hard time understanding this. Whatever you believe, I respect those beliefs and will not push mine on you — but I may ask you if you want to talk if I sense that you are hurting or upset. 😉
Kudos to Erin for being so forthright about her beliefs, despite the inevitable flack she must receive from those who are threatened by her. I have not, until today, had the courage to come out and speak my beliefs publicly as she does…but this blog post was exactly the inspiration I needed to acknowledge the underlying spiritual current in everything I do.
If you are reading this, you can choose to be successful. Being successful and being inspirational is a choice — it’s just not the default choice. We are led to believe that the path to success is difficult and terrifying. It can be, but it will also be the most rewarding journey you will experience.
By following the four ways to success mentioned above, and never stopping your learning process, you can do absolutely anything you can dream of.