When I began my career, what I did was part of my identity, my self-worth. My father was a successful advertising executive—Mad Men in real life. I wanted that same thing. It appeared glamorous and smart. An adult playground where the wittier and more in touch with your inner child you were, the more successful you'd be.
I landed a job working for a corporation that had its own in-house advertising group. I made friends with several co-workers around my age and we bonded over coffee and kolaches. The executives referred to us as “the brain trust." Those were heady and happy times, when accepting a paycheck for all the fun I was having seemed like stealing.
Then, life happened. Other opportunities arose and I jumped at them, eager for adventure and success. As I grabbed each ring, I found myself less and less satisfied, and further and further from not only what I loved doing, but from what my strengths were. Suddenly, I was decades into my professional life and the landscape around me was completely unfamiliar. I had gone from happy, creative child-genius doing what came easily and naturally, to a middle-aged woman with permanent scowl lines that I blamed on too much squinting at computer screens, instead of the true cause: utter confusion and devastation. I now spent my workday in a thankless role that no one understood or appreciated. Including myself.
Time For The Big Question
The signs that you're not as happy with your career trajectory as you keep telling yourself include things like finding it hard to fall asleep – or wake up, headaches, muscle aches and pains, or feeling mentally and physically exhausted. You also may find you're not performing up to your usually high standards. Your inner voice is telling you something, so listen. Ask yourself, “Am I headed in the right direction?" If you're experiencing the symptoms above, the answer is NO.
I realized one day that I was unhappier more of the time than I was happy. I looked down the road at the next 15 years doing what I was doing and knew it simply wasn't sustainable. I hadn't paid a lot of attention to how I got where I was, but one thing was clear: I needed to pay a lot of attention to where I went next. I reached out for guidance from a former employer—a woman who had successfully launched her own advertising agency some 30 years ago, and whom I had worked for early in my career.
She asked me simply, “What do you want to be doing, if you could write your own job description?" I thought about it for about 10 seconds and responded with my preferences and strengths. As it turned out, I was just what she and the other co-founders of PrimeWomen.com were seeking, and they were what I needed.
That sort of astral alignment, by the way, is how you know the road you need to take is the one directly under your feet.
Play To Your Strengths
Every one of us has our own genius—a talent, gift or passion. Remember what that is? If you're not sure, there are plenty of ways to find out. One, ask your friends and family. They know you better than anyone and have insight you may be overlooking. What did you love doing as a child? What do you like doing in your free time? What could you do every day without getting paid? What hobby or passion do you have that you couldn't live without? The job you seek may not be exactly that one thing, but it will likely incorporate that skill or strength.
Think about how you like to work. When are you most productive? Do you like working independently? Collaborating? Do you prefer a planned work day, or rolling with the punches as they come?
If you want someone to walk you through some of these questions, meet with a career coach. It only makes sense to invest in yourself during this process. After all, whatever job you choose, you'll be spending a large portion of your life doing it.
Watch For Signs
Have you ever noticed when considering a change, the universe sends you little messages to let you know which way to go? Sometimes the signs are hard to read – or maybe you're especially good at focusing on the road ahead and not noticing the signs flying past as you rocket forward, pedal to the metal. Slow down a bit and put your mind in 'receive" mode. Changing jobs can be a frightening prospect. “The devil you know" versus the one you don't. What if you find your new situation worse than the one you're currently in? What if you don't do well? What if it's different than you expected?
From planning weddings and running restaurants to raising kids and doling out wedding-planning wisdom with her radio show “The Event Jeannie," Uyanik has proven herself to be an inimitable woman with a work ethic that should be emulated. If you have a wedding to plan, who you gonna call? C&G Weddings!
While all valid concerns, if you do your homework before you accept a new position, you'll limit that risk. But you need to pay attention to the signs as you move along this path. If you keep hitting roadblocks, it could be the universe telling you to choose another direction. The more smoothly the process goes, the more confidence you can feel in each step you take.
Now, if you are wondering if you've missed any signs from the universe, the fact that you stopped to read this article may be one. What are you going to do about it?
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.