Author: Dr. Cheryl Cottle, Ed.D
What is the most challenging thing you have been through and how has it changed how you see yourself and your life in general? I asked this question to explore how women deal with challenges on a daily basis and not just in business. Whether we experience challenges in our business lives or in our personal lives — how we deal with their impact on our lives overall — it runs over.
How you deal with challenges reflect upon your strengths, resourcefulness, resilience, faith and tenancy. Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you — they are supposed to help you discover who you are. A quotation by Bernice Johnson Reagon seems to be the best place to situate the issue of challenges in our lives. She says: Challenges should not paralyze you, but they should assist you in knowing more about who you are. It is not intended to break you."
Alfred D. Souza says it nicely when he spoke about challenges. He says:
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, and a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. Obstacles are a part of life. Life is encumbered by obstacles.
I found the quote by Bernice Johnson Reagon very fitting and reflective of what I wanted to pose as a thought provoking question. My view is that life is all about challenges. I believe that life challenges are with us no matter what we may do to prevent them. If you are alive and living or have achieved the ability to thrive, challenges will be a part of your life. A young woman may decide to have a baby, for the first time. She is healthy and has been all her life, but on becoming pregnant she can find herself struggling to stay alive and or to bring her unborn baby to term. Your parents may have died and left you with an inheritance, and you may think that everything should be over soon and that you will soon inherit what he or she has left you. But the legal issues that surrounds the estate can be so daunting — the ramifications can take you down an emotional road with no time to morn and grieve your loss. You may find that you may also experience greater loss due to family deception and ramblings. Rest assured that challenges are here with us. We have to learn how to ride the tides of it, until each one subsides.
I asked the question, "What is the most challenging thing you have been through and how has it changed how you see yourself and your life in general?" because I wanted to know where the members of my group Women in Business were, overall in their mind-set. Were they business-minded and prepared at least psychologically to deal with the added challenges that entrepreneurship brings. Some of the challenges that was shared included, dealing with transition, moving beyond your comfort zone, fear, time management, dealing with family issues, finding work/life balance, dealing with illness, our perception of challenge and trying is a part of failing, are some of the primary challenges faced that came out of the data collected.
Some of the challenges that women who embark on entrepreneurship face are:
Dealing with transition: How do I deal with the change often crosses your mind and it is a real issue as you move from the perceived security of a job to starting your business. Dealing with change regardless of what it is, is in itself daunting, more so for the woman who has grown dependent on an employer. The transition process that women faces as they move from being employed to being self-employed and managing her business, is indeed challenging. Initially you will have doubts, particularly, if you had a “secure job.” A secure job generally guarantees our weekly and monthly salary. It also suggests that you can design a budget to meet your needs, but as a business owner, you now have to ensure that your business is able to bring in an income that will be able to meet your financial needs. The onus is directly upon you. I think that it is much different for the woman who have lost her job, or an unemployed woman, she may find the venture much different. Self-employment might actually be seen as a great opportunity to get into entrepreneurship as a way to gain economic independence; and this transition may be seen as a challenge, but as a change that is very promising and hopeful.
Moving beyond your comfort zone:
What you and others perceive as “security” receives a greater and different type of scrutiny. You question your decision, particularly out of the questions that others may ask. In dealing with change, we often have to move beyond our comfort zone. In moving beyond your comfort zone means that you are about to explore uncharted areas — going where you have not gone before. You are about to chart new and unknown territories. In business, you now have to create your client base, create a product or a service, have product or services knowledge, develop communication skills, be proficient in customer-service, and much more to design, manage and sustain a business. We can no longer depend upon our employer to set our work schedules, or designate work for you to do, or determine your performance level — the onus is now upon you to make those decision, to develop the skills and knowledge that you need to know to manage a business successfully.
As we engage in any change process, fear is a natural emotion that results from not knowing whether you will be successful in any new venture that you may pursue. I believe that fear is a common emotion in anything that we pursue that is new to us, but fear should not be so debilitating to prevent you from forging ahead and finding out your capabilities and potential. We should not allow fear to control and curtail our progress. According to H.P Lovecraft, "fear is the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown" and at the same time Zack Wamp says, that "we should not be afraid to go into a new era, to leave the old beyond." While Queen Latifa says, "we often get trapped by our fears, but anyone who has success has failed before." Here she is giving us courage to go beyond, to go into the unknown in spite of the fear that you may hold.
Time management is another real challenge that women in business experience. How we manage time is also an issue that women in business often think about as they embark on a business venture. It is indeed challenging to manage a business, while being a mother, wife, student, caregiver, volunteer, and the roles can be even more enlarged. Therefore finding the time to do all of these roles does require a woman to manage her time wisely. The ability to do so, so that she does not experience burn-out requires great management skills. It is therefore important to define a specific time for work, production, child and family time as well as the other roles that you play. Have them included in your to-do-list and give all of them the same priority. Support is needed to accomplish what we want, so it is important to get reliable support. It is advised that as a business woman and you have to accomplish multiple roles and responsibilities, in a day that you should ask for help and support. You can also delegate responsibilities to other people who are part of your team.
Dealing with family issues:
In addition to the complex and diverse roles of a woman in business, is having the responsibility to care for a sick child or an ailing elderly parent. Juggling your time to meet these obligations is difficult. Dealing with family relationships is yet another challenge a woman venturing into entrepreneurship often faces while negotiating life’s goals and objectives. One woman noted that just when she started her business, she had to deal with infidelity in her marriage. Another noted that just when she started her business, her spouse got ill, and she had to deal with it — providing support as well as needing support.
Finding Life-Work Balance:
Many women entrepreneurs still struggle with finding a balance between work and their life. Most women in business hold diverse roles and have multiple responsibilities, in addition to running their businesses — often time, alone. With to much to do, women with businesses often struggle with finding the time to take care of their children, family, work, and caring for their personal well-being; socially, mentally and spiritually.
According to one woman who responded to the question, stated that: "The hardest thing for me to overcome is finding a life-work balance. I run a retail boutique six days a week in addition to managing the company's website. It is hard to balance being a wife (cooking meals, laundry and other household duties) a mom, and running a growing business."
In order to find a balance, it is crucial that women in business set weekly goals that she will like to achieve in every facet of her life. However, if she is not able to achieve all of them at the end of the week, don't dwell upon those that you were not able to accomplish, but celebrate those that you have been able to achieve. Another woman pointed out that, she set a few goals for each week for each facet of her life and she feels great when she gets to cross off any of those things. "It is important to celebrate the small achievements as well as the big ones," she says.
Dealing with illness: Your personal health and the health of family members, is also a challenge that women in business face. Challenges often have a way of teaching us how to better cope with life and showing us what is important to our life and living. Challenges are not always intended to be negative, while it can be a hindrance, it can also be a motivator. Challenges often cause us to reflect, re evaluate what we are doing and redefine the path that we should take. I have personally found that illness is difficult to deal with, plus it is often so far from our minds. We often do not see it as a possible challenge when we engage in a venture, business or otherwise. Many people also shun or feign talking about the issue when it is brought up in a business forum; many women will say, why dwell on the negative, as if to think about sickness will make it happen. I believe that if it is thought about, and preventative measures are put in place, then more than likely it can be circumvented and in the event it occurs you will have a contingency plan in place.
One woman pointed out that, her husband was recently diagnosed with cancer and it really caused both of them to realize how much they took life for granted. She also said that she also realized the importance of having a contingency or emergency plan for her business. She also added that, she is also truly taking a look at what her true passions are in business and going after them, instead of being off-focused and being involved in everything that excites her. "To thine own self be true has taken on a whole new meaning," she said. She has taken her life challenges to serve as a motivator and not as a hindrance. She has chosen to make better choices.
Another woman pointed out that, some women have the ability to take adversities that occur in their lives and turn it into an advantageous, progressive life strategy of survival. She also noted that, 6 years ago she was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and it nearly killed her — with two young children, a loving husband and living close to her family by the sea — what did she have to be suicidal about? But she was. She saw her recovery as a miracle. She noted that, "recovering from that was a miracle and I now enjoy and love every day of my life. I count myself incredibly lucky." She has now taken her experience, as a motivational force in her life to inspire other women. She now works with business providing them with advice and coaching in the growth of their business and their personal and professional life to achieve success.
She stated that "I personally believe every business woman can achieve exactly what she wishes to. Yes we have to deal with comfort zones and things that knock our confidence, but having the confidence to step up to the challenge never ceases to amaze me. I now run The Business Woman’s Network with hands on interactive presentations at our events with some of the U.K's top speakers. We are incredibly passionate about what we do and I know that so much of that comes from my life experiences — quite frankly after self-harming, suicidal thoughts and severe depression — I can achieve anything — I now help others believe and achieve that without having to go through what I did. My biggest obstacle is now my asset. It has helped to shape the woman I am today that can and will achieve everything she wants, but never forgetting that I am not a brain surgeon or someone saving lives, so I can turn the phone off and enjoy my family once in a while" and added that "I have loved your stories and look forward to reading more. You inspire me as so many business women do.
Our perception of the challenge: How we perceive challenges can also impact our attitude and performance. If we see it as an obstacle and not as something to make us better and stronger, then more than likely we will fail."
Another woman noted that, not having the confidence that you have the skills to be a successful business owner — is a common challenge faced by people who decide to go into business. Another noted that, challenges are just experiences whether good or bad! "Through daily challenges I've discovered great entrepreneurial capabilities within myself! I embrace all of my challenges and continuously move forward."
Trying is a part of failing:
Another woman, graciously said, “Trying is a part of failing. If you are afraid to fail then you're afraid to try.” Feeling that you have to do it alone makes you feel like not trying? However a great many of us when we embark on a new venture does not take the time to identify where and from whom we can get support and this can make the change very challenging." Another noted that;
"I've been longing to break out of my comfort zone. What keep me going, is my determination, optimism, and openness to life and having a gut feeling that I'm destined for greatness. It's just trying to hone in on distinguishing my strengths and weaknesses and figuring out how to make a living from my passions in life. It's twice as hard (if not near impossible to succeed) going at it alone, and something I'm learning is that I need to rely more on the support of others.
Opportunities and resources are available. It's just a matter of reaching out and having the proper support system to maintain and follow through. I hope starting to utilize being a member of this group and others like this will help me create my support system to success in my career!"
The overall advice is that even if you are fearful that you may fail, the objective is to try and you just might achieve your goals. Asking for support or advice also helps you to refine what it is that you want to do. Having the self-confidence that you can do it, also goes a long way in helping you to achieve success. It is important that you develop your self-confidence and self-esteem and also have a high self-concept of who you are — and your self-worth will also escalate. To achieve these attributes, you must also have self-love and passion for what you want to do — and sometimes we just have to dive in — according to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr "faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." Have faith in your creator and believe in yourself and get rid of fear and do it anyway. If you fail, you can always learn from it and develop a better approach to it and with each time you fail — you will become better at it.