The only thing more impressive than a powerful woman is a group of powerful women.
By virtue of the cyclical nature of life, there are times when a woman finds her life so unraveled, she is reduced to threads. These moments of despair can be incredibly isolating for those trained to hold it together at any cost. But if she can throw one of those threads out as a tenuous lifeline, other women can gather together to weave her a support system.
I spent a day at an equestrian businesswomen’s summit and was struck by the inspirational stories. I wonder if men would be so vulnerable in a competitive business setting. What the speakers shared was how intertwined the personal and professional are in their journeys.
A woman known for her “Shark Tank” cupcake story was hardly an overnight success. Her dreams were derailed early on when she became pregnant in high school and was kicked out of her home. She worked hard as a self-taught commercial photographer and purchased a home, only to discover her husband had not filed the payment for the taxes and the IRS came to take it all away. When she couldn’t even make it to the meeting with the IRS because her car was repossessed, she hit rock bottom.
As she again climbed out of despair, it was a cake decorating class she took to spend time with her daughter that led to her baking business. The ingenious idea to ship the cupcakes in a jar quickly caught on, although Homeland Security did consider it a threat. Just as the business was really taking off, both her estranged parents who had Alzheimer’s and her new husband’s father, who had cancer, and his wife and all moved with her. Quite the breakfast table. Trying to juggle her business and home life almost destroyed her own health. So, the glamorous TV story of “Shark Tank” hardly reflected the threadbare moments she faced.
Her advice to the audience was not about professional strategy but instead, “Look around you at work or in your social circles and see who is the woman struggling. Even if it is just words of support, reach out to her.”
The common thread among the women at the conference was a strong entrepreneurial spirit, but also a difficulty asking for help. Most built their businesses with no outside capital and tried to do it all, fearing they did not have the money to hire employees. Many were also raising families. It often took an outside person to encourage them to look at the cost/benefit analysis of hiring someone to free their time for their strengths.
Many times, it was another successful woman willing to advise as a mentor. For a winning female jockey who went on to a great broadcasting career, it was her own mother, a groundbreaking jockey herself, who taught her not to look at herself as a female jockey but just a jockey.
I was affected most by a young woman in a wheelchair who truly brought down the house with her story to not only survive but thrive. She was in the Brussels airport right next to the man with the black bag that turned out to be the bomber. She woke up in a hospital without her legs. Her strength and courage were beyond measure to come through 10 surgeries and third-degree burns when many might have given up.
In this story, it was a female again who gave her the will to live and, in this case, it was her horse. Her mother wheeled her into the parking lot of the hospital where her horse immediately recognized her as she recollected, with no legs, no hair, and a burned face.
A top dressage rider heard her story and encouraged her to see a future in the saddle. With help and retraining for her and her horse, she went on to compete, and even won against able bodied riders. Not a dry eye in the house. But as the threads of the story continued, a young rider who lost a leg to cancer and the will to live became this young woman’s project to support and encourage. The girl was meant to compete that week, but sadly had passed away.
So, at this conference we learned about best business practices, tips for social media and marketing, and new career paths, but mostly we took away how we can form a fabric of life strong enough to hold both the victories and the losses when we put our heads and our threads together.