It Goes On

I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately – the journeys we all choose, or have chosen for us. What it takes to be successful. What it means to be engaged and inspired at work. How is it that I’m here, in this city, and in this profession? Am I successful? How can one measure success anyway?

We are a society that’s inundated with blogs, articles, quotes – advice overload. And much of it can be contradictory. Think of all the quotes on love – drop everything and fight for love, nope – you do you and the energy you put off will invite the right people – nope, choose love and run to it – nope, don’t chase anyone…and on and on and on. Hell, sometimes as I scroll through my own feed, I’ve changed my mind on any given topic several times.

The same holds true for business advice. While many people (who are likely a lot smarter than me) will tell you about emotional intelligence, goal-setting, having a plan, getting up early, make wise choices, staying organized etc. etc. etc. – I’m going to flip that script – or make an attempt.

I wrote a previous blog piece on what I thought the 3 keys to success were – grit, tenacity, and resiliency. And while I continue to they are critical, I’ve since realized there may be a lot more than just those three things. And I left out luck and timing…and for anyone who doesn’t believe in luck or timing – you are kidding yourself. I’m not minimizing hard work – but the right place at the right time is meaningful.

A quick story that I may turn into a novel one day…

As I was turning 30, life was not looking promising for me. I was living in my mom’s spare bedroom, my heart was shattered into so many pieces that I was sure I’d never recover – I was becoming worried that one could actually die from a broken heart, I was losing tons of weight, couldn’t concentrate, had little self-esteem, showed no ability to practice self-control – I was a shadow of who I thought I was or would become. As my friends were moving on in careers, getting married, and starting families – I had been fired from my job and was happy to pay my car payment and buy a pack of cigarettes a day. Needless to say, mentally and physically I was a wreck – ground zero.

Nonetheless, I dragged myself out of bed every day. Some days it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other – and other days I was more ambitious and applied to tons of jobs in every corner of the country. Finally, I got a call back from a small recruiting firm in Philadelphia. Despite the fact that I felt a bit daunted by the bigger city, unsure that I was ready for such a move – I responded anyway. The day of the interview, I got lost and was late, felt very flustered and intimidated – yet for some reason, with zero experience and a dismal resume, I got the job. 

It was an absolutely terrible offer - $500 draw per week against a 35% commission in an office where everyone was your competition, including the owner. I accepted. I had no idea if this is what I wanted to do, was warned against any position that would pay a draw instead of base plus commission, had to commute 1 hour and 45 minutes both ways and had zero experience and no knowledge of the city of Philadelphia. This is how I became a Recruiter. 

I wasn’t running to something, I was running from something. It wasn’t a career move, I was taking a job – getting the hell out of town – trying something different. At first, I hated it. It was hard, really hard – I was exhausted, had no money and felt like a telemarketer that was abused on a daily basis. But I had nothing to go back to and I was determined – I would not return home with one more story of something that didn’t work out. So, I continued to hate it until I started to hone the skill, fell in love with Philadelphia, moved here, and finally made a bit of money. Never a ton, but more than I previously had.

This was the job that changed the course of my life. Maybe it was tenacity – but also really good timing and a little luck. Likely all of the above.

I moved onto a second firm – this time a retained firm – and I joined in Q4 of 2008, just as the market collapsed, Bad luck? Perhaps – maybe good luck, too. Had things been amazing, perhaps I would have never had the strong pull to start my own firm. Despite the fact that we were just getting by – I learned invaluable experience here – particularly around relationship building and networking. 

Through networking connections formed while at this firm, I met my business partner. The rest is history. Juno was born in 2010 – my first baby.

So, now that I’ve shared a bit of my story – here’s some advice from a 41-year-old with the emotional intelligence of a 4-year-old who spends money recklessly, and sometimes wishes she still lived in her mom’s spare room where she could smoke cigarettes with no general concern for the long-term negative impact on her health.

Disclosure – I haven’t had a cigarette in 8 years, but as you might be able to tell – I sometimes wish I could smoke another one just for old time’s sake….but, you know – cancer and stuff.

1.     Make choices, they don’t have to necessarily be wise – you just have to make them. Things can get cleaned up, if necessary – but you must be able to make choices.  

2.     Follow with, lead with, and listen to your heart – screw your head. I manage my crew with my heart – I have them and their families in my mind with every decision I make. I do not hire slowly and fire quickly, as I’ve been told to do. Sometimes, I even double down.

3.     Don’t wait until you have enough money – forget anyone who talks about under-capitalization. Take the low paying job, if it could lead to something wonderful. Start the business you believe in, even if you are scared you don’t have enough runway. Passion > Money.

4.     Show up – for family, friends, at networking events, meetings, anything anyone invites you to – just show up and doors will open. Be the sort of friend people can call at 3am and shows up at their kids’ birthday parties. Take that to networking events – ask what you can do to help others, do not worry about what they can do for you.

5.     Get out of bed during the bad times – and if there are days that’s all you can do, still do it. Life will rip the beating heart out of your chest. There will be days you don’t know if you’ll be able to breathe again. Days your home is a dumpster fire. Days you haven’t slept a wink the night before – maybe the kids were up all night crying. Who cares? Get out of bed. Go do something. And if the best you did that day…was got out of bed and dragged yourself to your obligations – that’s OK. You don’t hit homeruns every day – but nothing will ever happen if you skip walking to the plate.

6.     Be ethical. Sometimes you will be faced with a decision to skip this part – in certain cases it could be the difference of a lot of money. Always choose the ethical decision. In business, you do not want to develop the reputation for making unethical decisions. Your employees, your clients, service providers – they’ll smell it.

7.     Admit when you screwed up – this is a hard one for me, but I work on it daily.

8.     It should scare you – and you should do it. Generally, I feel scared a lot – particularly when we are about to embark on something big. A new division, expanding geographically…but if I feel a little scared inside, I know I need to do it.

9.     Ignore the critics – ugh, the critics. I was the girl who “always had a big idea”…I’ve had more eye rolls than you can imagine, snickers behind my back – there were times in my life I was convinced only my Nana believed in me. Who cares? I actually prefer when people stop believing in me – it’s rocket fuel. You should too. They are barking dogs…and you can’t pay attention to every barking dog.

10.  And remember the famous Robert Frost quote – “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” In other words – who really knows? You may do everything right and still fail – still not win that big contract, still not get the product to launch…come in second for your dream job. But guess what – life goes on. Is there even such a thing as failure…or is it merely redirection? You’ll wake up tomorrow – maybe it will be hard to get out of bed or maybe it will be easy – maybe you’ll have a bigger fire in your belly – who knows? Who cares? Life will move on and you will too…to something better, I’m sure of it!

Mikal Harden