The day I hung out my entrepreneur/consultant shingle, I took a moment to reflect on the variety of careers I had before and after graduating from law school. It occurred to me that in each job my allies weren't always women. In fact, I often worked in offices where the relationships between women were adversarial and volatile.
I contemplated why female attitudes and behavior in our places of employment are different from our day-to-day lives as friends and confidants. Is antagonistic conduct a defense mechanism or an attempt to survive professionally? I didn't have the answer, and still don't. However, my personal rebellion against same-sex hostility in the working world began when I took on my first consulting client.
Through a chamber of commerce meeting, I found my initial patron--a woman who was willing to pay me a significant hourly fee to share with her the trials and tribulations of self-employment. As I listened to her speak, I realized she needed some simple guidance, not a detailed plan to begin her business anew. She already had the ideas, motivation and finances to further her venture.
My first reaction was to pat myself on the back for securing such a great client. My second was to offer some gratis advice so she could move on with her new undertaking.
I took my "non-client" out to lunch and listened to her ideas. I was inspired. We became friends and provided mutual therapy regarding our plight as women business owners. Instead of a paid consultant, I became a mentor to a brilliant woman who continues to inspire me. I loved the idea of supplementing my income with an impressive hourly fee, but I found that helping a woman achieve her dreams was far better in the long run.
Being a mentor provides many rewards. As an advisor and supporter, you'll receive great personal compensation in watching a woman bring her ideas to fruition. Support another woman testing the waters of entrepreneurship, and you'll see wonderful things happen; provide some ideas, support and resources to a visionary, and you may end up with the best part of the deal--a friend who understands what you've been through and what you're still trying to accomplish.
Finding a true comrade in a complex and competitive business world is rare. As I expand my business, I still find individuals who feel my place shouldn't be running a corporation but instead enjoying a comfortable domestic perch somewhere in the suburbs. It's during those times that I need a sympathetic ear and a compatriot.
Bonding and mentoring allows us to share our concerns about business, family and time management so we can forge ahead. My junior colleagues allow me to vent about life and a need to succeed. Mentoring each other can open up a new world of rapport and success for those needing a simple push to pursue an idea.
When I contemplated a career change from attorney to entrepreneur, I second guessed myself at every turn. Would I make enemies at the firm when I quit abruptly? Would my family feel betrayed as I abandoned my law degree for a risky business undertaking? I contemplated failure, not success. I almost undermined my entire idea and stuck with the comfort of a job I despised. I needed some justification to pursue my irrational idea.
I found that validation in an unlikely place. An elderly woman at the grocery store was checking me out as I bought ice cream and cookies to calm my fears about this potential change. She asked if I was OK as I broke into the cookie box and compulsively consumed every ounce. Much to the chagrin of shoppers behind me waiting in line, I launched into my story. I told the woman I was contemplating a move that could be my destiny. She looked at me and said, "Do what you want." I wondered if a life-changing decision was really that simple.
My implausible mentor changed my life. The next time a fledgling woman seeks a bit of advice, take an opportunity to share the wealth and you may be the catalyst to her success. I think about the grocery store gal from time to time and understand had it not been for her wisdom, I'd still be serving subpoenas.
Cynthia McKay, CEO of Denver-based The McKay Group LLC, is a business growth consultant, attorney and psychotherapist who advises corporations on marketing growth and general expansion. She is the author of The Business of Gift Baskets: A Guide for Survival.