I'm not supposed to be here. At least that's what the statistics said. According to all the studies, and the declarations of negative people in my life, if I did survive my gang-riddled neighborhood, it would be unwed with several children by my side, a dead-end, low-paying job, and a future that lacked hope. That's what the statistics said.
But I had a different ending for my story.
I've always known I was destined for great things. Don't ask me how I knew. I just did…it couldn't have been my environment. After all, the mean streets of Sacramento can shatter anyone's dreams. In fact, my Meadowview neighborhood was dubbed “Danger Island" and although it was nestled between the affluent Pocket/Greenhaven area and lower middle class, Mack Road, it was not a place you wanted to be caught outside after dark.
I never have settled for the norm. Even as a little girl, from a broken home, I knew that my destiny was greater than my existence. After all, I'd survived abuse, both sexual and physical, and my life had been spared more times than I could count.
While my story may be deemed a rags to riches tale, it's bigger than that. So much bigger. It's about an ordinary girl who decided she was capable of extraordinary things. It's about a woman who took all the obstacles tossed in her path of life and used them as stepping stones to bigger and better things.
I worked my way up through the rigors of corporate America, the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, the frustrations of trying to maintain a proper work-family balance, I've learned many valuable lessons.
Now, as my company – which started from my kitchen – is a top selling, iconic natural hair care brand, I have singlehandedly changed not only my destiny, but my children's legacy.
Of course, creating a successful business doesn't come without a cost and if you're not careful, that cost can be your family.
Any successful entrepreneur will tell you, having it all is a lot easier said than done. Building a business, a thriving business, requires long hours and lots of sweat equity. Even if you have a plethora of cash, the sweat equity alone can take a toll on your family.
A support system is crucial in building a business. Whether it's your parents, siblings, relatives, friends or neighbors, if you have a family, you simply can't go at it alone.
There isn't a one size fit all solution to having it all, but I have found a host of common threads among successful entrepreneurial mothers.
It's about a woman who took all the obstacles tossed in her path of life and used them as stepping stones to bigger and better things.
Organization is key!
Nothing adds stress to your life more than trying to find an important file that is buried under mounds of paperwork. Or trying to remember what time the baby's doctor appointment is because you didn't write it down. You have to get and stay organized. Your work time is precious and not as dependable as it would be if you worked in a traditional workplace. You can't afford to waste time looking for files, sorting through junk mail or even finding a piece of paper to write on. Keep everything clean and organized from the start.
Whether you use an old fashioned organizer or rely solely on your latest gadget, you'd be amazed at how a planner can help balance your work life with their family life, manage your daily tasks, and help prioritize your lie. (My personal favorite is my iPhone and all of the amazing applications for business owners). Of course, being flexible.
is key because at some point, your sitter will call in sick, your child will have a meltdown and your spouse may get called in to work.
Include the kids.
Sometimes, our children just want to be in the same room with us. When your children are little, child-proof your office and bring them in. Give them their own little space, and their own little tasks, and you'd be amazed, the kids will feel like they've gotten some mommy time while you've gotten some work done.
It's good enough.
Let's face it, we all weren't meant to be Barbara Billingsley, you know, the “Leave it to Beaver" mom who made lunches and homemade cookies for snacks? So what you had to go to the store to buy cookies for your daughter's class party? Your priorities are your family and then your work. Don't feel bad about being a store-bought cupcakes kind of mom. Find your 'good enough' and be happy with it.
Focus, focus, focus.
One of the challenges many entrepreneurial moms face is managing tasks while trying not to get sidetracked by children, laundry, dishes, etc. Make a list each month of what you intend to get done. Then break the list down week by week, then day by day. If you stay focused, you can stay committed to getting things done.
Ask for help.
It's very difficult to succeed without help, be it from your partner, family member or someone you hire. Communicate with your partner about how he can help you - you both need to remember you're juggling two full-time jobs. Figure out how to parent and chore-share so you're both on the same page. I have had to outsource things (things that used to make me feel guilty), but I've learned that asking for help is essential to getting it all done. We have a housekeeper. I used to feel guilty about that. I had to finally tell myself that the amount of time it would take me to clean the house, given my daily workload and mommy duties, just wasn't worth it.
Don't forget about you.
In the grand scheme of trying to have it all, we often put ourselves on the back burner. It is crucial that you take care of you. How can you work out when you don't have enough time with your kids? How can you take a bubble bath when you need to make a presentation? Realize now that there will never be enough time in the day to get everything done. Your in-box will still be full when you die, so learn to accept that fact now. It may seem like a cliché, but in this case, it's the truth: You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your family, your business and your home. If mama isn't happy, nobody will be.
My story can be your story. And if you walk away with nothing else, I hope that you'll understand my motto: When you wake up in the morning you have two choices - go back to sleep and dream your dreams, or wake up and chase your dreams.
I choose the latter. What will your choice be?
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.