When I decided to leave Essence magazine as editor-in-chief, one of my best friends tilted her head to the side, curled up her lips and said: "Girl, are you crazy! Black women would kill to have that job!" I said, "Yes, but I'm not going to die to have it."
For too long I had placed myself at the bottom of my to-do list. I had to "do" my job, "do" my own businesses, "do" the things necessary to be a good mother, wife, and community person. There simply didn't seem to be enough time left for me. It became clear that something had to give if I was going to give more of myself to myself.
I thought, for a minute, about sacrificing my businesses. I had been moonlighting as an innkeeper during my six-year Essence career. Back in 1995, my husband and I had purchased a dilapidated mansion in Brooklyn, New York, and restored it to an elegant bed- and-breakfast we call Akwaaba Mansion. In 1998, the success of the inn led to a 72-seat restaurant down the street called Akwaaba Caf. When I thought about the work that had gone into creating the businesses, I just couldn't walk away from them. More important, they represented a legacy I could leave my daughter.
As much as I loved working at Essence and felt honored to empower our people through its pages, leaving was my only choice. I'm not going to kid you. It was scary making the full transition from employee to employer. Like many African-Americans, I was raised to believe that the goal is to get a good job' (preferably with the government, since I'm from D.C.), move up the ranks, and then one day retire--gold watch and all. Well, as the uncertainty of the economy, mass layoffs, and corporate greed have shown us, there is no guarantee of that happening. What I hope we also realize is that more of us must replace fear with faith, and take off the golden handcuffs of a job to start and build businesses of our own. It's one of the few ways we can truly amass personal wealth and provide employment for our people.
I love this thing called entrepreneurship. I'm working harder than ever before, but it's on my own terms and on my own time. Sometimes I spend the day at my child's school and get my work done after hours, when she's asleep. Sometimes my husband and I take in a midday movie and lunch. Sometimes I simply steal away on my own and just be. I can always get up early on the weekend and make up the work in my pj's if I need to. Aside from time flexibility, the thrill of envisioning a project and seeing it through is indescribable. When I fully committed myself to growing my businesses, the ideas for maximizing the Akwaaba brand seemed endless. The fact that I couldn't turn them off, even when I wanted to sleep, was proof that I had tapped into my passion.
We already offered an inner-city bed-and-breakfast experience, what about a beach one? We opened Akwaaba by the Sea in Cape May, New Jersey. I've always hoped to get back to Washington, D.C., my hometown. Would an inn work there? We'll see. We open Akwaaba D.C. in Dupont Circle this spring. Guests always comment on the dcor of the inn, so why not import the African decorative items and retail them? New is the AkwaabaHome Collection.
For sure, your passions may not mirror mine. But if you believe you have what it takes to run your own business, by all means go for it! As an entrepreneur, just be prepared to demonstrate the following attributes of a bootstrapper:
- Be frugal. Those designer shoes may be calling you, but learn to walk on by. You'll probably need to put off short-term pleasures for long-term gain.
- Be a worker bee. You'll need to do whatever it takes to get the job donegrunt work and all.
- Be resilient. When things don't go quite the way you plan, try again. You must know that success does not make you and failure won't break you. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
- Be wise. This is not the same thing as being smart. Base a situation not only on what is visible, but also upon things unseen and left unspoken.
- Be independent. Make decisions of the head and heart, and define your life's goals and aspirations on your own terms.
- Be competitive with yourself. Constantly try to stretch to your full potential. Can you outdo last year's performance? Be aware of the achievements of those around you, and let them spur you to push ahead.
- Be generous. Know that what you put out, you get back and them some.
- Be good to yourself.
By Monique Greenwood