Career 23 July 2018
I have a confession: I've never really enjoyed working for other people.
Why? Well, for starters, I'm selfish. If there's a final bite of shared dessert on the plate, I'll eat it. If I go even one day without hitting the gym, I'm resentful. Once the coffee is made, I pour myself a cup of coffee before I offer it to my husband. I hoard time the way others hoard possessions. I'm selfish with my thoughts. I like to be alone. Sometimes, I stick my daughter in front of a cartoon just so I can hear myself think.
Because here's the thing: How I control my time determines how I live my life. I want to spend it providing for my family, sure. But I also want to make sure I'm doing what I really want to be doing—the type of work that has me bounding out of bed excited, not exhausted.
And for me, that kind of passion has never been found in an office. As I hurtled through college, collecting a writing degree, a valedictorian stamp, a publishing deal, and a ton of freelance projects, I realized I didn't want to work for anyone else.
But I also wasn't interested in starting a business either. So, what's out there for those who don't necessarily want to die in a 9 to 5 under the thumb of a boss, but also don't have the desire to open a brick-and-mortar store, worry about growing a company to such monstrous proportions that you need teams, insurance, office space, and employees?
Enter the life of the solopreneur.
Entrepreneurial in spirit, the solopreneur focuses on his or her art, makes money from it, but doesn't necessarily depend on others to grow her business. You can collaborate with people. You can work on other people's projects. But when it comes to your own craft or business, it's all about Y-O-U. You are the brand. You are the product.
While I dabbled in content management and editorial roles, penning four published nonfiction books, blogging, becoming a trainer, co-owning a gym, etc., I realized that all I'd ever wanted to do was to write books. Not nonfiction books, novels.
Because I am someone who loves urgency, I finally felt the push. I was ready to take every skill I'd collected from my odd jobs and pour them into doing the very thing I'd always wanted to do. I finally got clear. Not about what I wanted, but by answering one simple question: If I could do anything in the world every single day, what would excite me the most? We all have those “activities" we succumb to where time stalls, you feel that you are living on purpose, and you literally can't wait to tell whoever is within earshot about what you're working on. Because it's not really happiness we're after, it's excitement. And writing novels, despite the solitude it requires and all the work it takes, is the most excitement I've ever felt.
You have to find your own excitement, whether that's in the office, on a yoga mat, helping other people, or traveling the world. And when you find it? Act on it immediately. (Trust me, there's never the perfect time. The perfect time is the moment you decide to take the risk.)
When I finally thought of the right idea last year, I immediately quit the two extra jobs I was working and decided to use the last two months of a corporate contract to write an entire novel.
Because I believed in myself and gave myself the space to create, I wrote it in just four weeks.
I then secured a literary agent. The book was sent out to editors, got into a bidding war, went to book auction, and landed me a two-book deal with St. Martin's Press, one of the largest publishing houses in the country.
I did my due diligence. And then I got it done.
Now, the real work begins. Finding the right publicity team. Repositioning myself as a novelist and not a Jill of all trades, which, let's face it, as kick ass women today, we have all become.
Because I am still a mother. I am still a wife. I am still a director of content for a branding agency. I am still a ghostwriter for clients' blogs. I am still open for opportunities, but at the end of the day, my new path is about focusing on doing one thing really well. It's about putting all of my energy into being a novelist and not getting distracted with all of the other sideline projects, money woes, and opportunities that are dangling within reach.
Being a solopreneur is about keeping your focus. What is the real goal you are trying to reach? Define it. What happens when you reach your own personal pinnacle of success? What happens if you don't?
What comes next?
In an age where community is key, there is magic to being a solopreneur. This doesn't mean you're a selfish byiatch. It doesn't mean you can't someday help others generate jobs or even join forces with a pro you admire and respect. It just means you are focused on your own initiatives, your own goals, and not the minutiae of everything that goes into keeping a corporation alive.
Is that selfish? Or is that the stuff dreams are made of? I'm forging my own way to find out.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.