I have been attending the Tom Tom Festival this week. It’s a week long festival that celebrates founders (entrepreneurs), innovation and creativity through presentations, small group meetings, dialogue, musical performances and art in place. The event is hard to get your head around with more than 60 bands, 300 speakers and 400 community groups, but there is a pervasive, undeniable energy and excitement.
I love it! The energy. The excitement. The creativity. The positivity. The CAN DO attitude! If you aren’t an entrepreneur, you want to be after this event! It’s simply that inspiring.
Many messages have resonated with me and it will take some time to unpack it all and apply it to my world. There is one speaker who spoke to me on a personal level, Susan McPherson. Not only is she pint-sized like me, but her story also mirrors my own in so many ways.
Having an Entrepreneurial Spirit
Susan said she was a reluctant entrepreneur. She didn’t seek it out. She realized later in life that she is an entrepreneur in a nontraditional manner. She excelled and added the greatest value when she was “building businesses within” her organization. In 17 years with one company, her leaders tasked her special projects that changed every two years. She is known as the “Get shit done!” person.
As I sat there thinking I am not an entrepreneur, I heard her say this and thought, “Wait a minute. That’s me.” I often tell people, I thrive when I’m presented with a problem and given the space and autonomy to figure out the solution. Tell me where you want to end up, and I’ll make it happen.
When I look back on my career, I think of the times when I felt the most alive. For example, when I developed a medical emergency response team and program for spectators at large events. I was young, inexperienced and had no medical training, but I hired nurses, paramedics and EMTs. I ordered supplies and medications. I supervised it all from the ordering to performance evaluations. It was awesome! The program continues to provide the medical care for spectators at events like the Carolina Hurricanes professional hockey games and NC State University athletics more than 15 years later.
I also think of an employee recognition and affinity program with UVA Women’s Basketball that I helped develop and implement at UVA Medical Center. The program helped to double the season ticket holders that first year and is still going strong five years later. There are other, smaller programs and events, but those two stand out because they were large in scale and had a six-week development and implementation period. I loved it. I loved making something out of nothing. I loved taking a concept and figuring out “the how.” I loved tackling something that seemed daunting, if not impossible. I loved it all.
I had never thought of it as entrepreneurial, but I realize now, I was an unsuspecting entrepreneur. The crazy thing is, I’ve been doing this my entire career and that’s when I feel the most alive.
Connecting People to Make Win-Win Situations
Susan also talked about being a connector, the queen of networking. I have been told that same thing many, many times. I love connecting people. I love finding ways to help others, just listen to my TEDX talk. I love hearing others’ stories. I feel energized when I can help connect two people who benefit from each other. Is there anything more exciting and fulfilling than helping others?
My ears perked up some more. I thought, “Maybe I am an entrepreneur.”
Finally, she talked about a “What the hell?” attitude. As I’ve aged, experienced life and gone through some interesting challenges, I’ve started to adopt this attitude more and more. For example, when I got laid off this past summer, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Tuscany. It was magical, amazing, empowering and unbelievable. It was also a “What the hell?” kind of moment.
I sit here as a single mom ready to tackle the world, ready to say, “What the hell?” or “Why not?” My previous CEO used to say to me all of the time, “Mary Kay, what’s the worst that can happen?” And he’s right? Not only is the worst not that bad, the awesome is incredible. I’m an unsuspecting entrepreneur. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me! Thanks for joining me as we discover the magical world of entrepreneurship!
The above image was taken from the Tom Tom Festival website.