into the entrepreneurial zone

into the entrepreneurial zone
by Janice Nigro

For all of the education I have, I never thought career happiness would be something I would have to work at. I love science. I love doing science, thinking about it, and reading about it. But I have always had difficulties with professional growth. I tried different labs, I tried different cities, I even tried a different country. Even though I created successful projects wherever I went, I was not advancing in academia. Uh-uh; no way.

If I look at the list of possible explanations for my struggle, lack of confidence comes to the top. And an abundance of literature is complicit with this idea-“lean in” it says. Ironically in the moments when I really stepped up to the plate, when I was the most confident about what I wanted to do, I also experienced the most opposition. It was one of those ironic moments-after being awarded a prestigious grant-when finally I thought, I can breathe-where the beginning was really the end. How could it be I wondered, but it was.

So I dreamed. I dreamed about having my own business. It’s not a big leap from science. Running a business is kind of what my job as a scientist is. The basis for our work is original ideas, we tap “investors” for money, and we have to move into action. We create, we write, we present.

It took me a few more years (my project was successful despite the end in my career path), but when I decided to start out on my own I needed some guidance and just maybe some company in developing my business. So I joined a business group where every two weeks we discuss the challenges in achieving our goals in a conference call. Like a lab meeting, the call ends with a specific focus for the next time that should bring me one step closer to my goal. Twice a month I listen to the challenges of my colleagues who come from as far away as Germany. What I hear through my phone while I sit in my small beach apartment over and over again is that small successes add up to bigger ones. That dream life remains maybe just a dream for many. But in this group they actually make that dream happen.

The businesses my colleagues run are quite diverse: social media; weight loss; graphic design; yoga; law; college counseling; and art. And they are all women…awesome people designing and running their own businesses.

All of them have a clear business premise. They know exactly where they want to go, and the group gives them more tools and encouragement to get there. And it’s fun. Developing a business is like running a good science project. The difficult part is deciding what you want to do. After that it’s a technical issue to make it work. But we can all use professional input and experience from outside.

I feel like the exception in the group; my goals are still in development. I have started out at the point of editing scientific publications mostly for non-native English speaking scientists and making the rest up as I go along. Editing provides a service that helps people achieve a goal, and I am still involved in at least reading about interesting science (an even broader spectrum). Most importantly, I can do this work from anywhere on the planet. And I have, even on a boat in Indonesia (maybe I shouldn’t admit to this).

I see in development before me a different way of doing business. The women in my group are engaging in interesting work (and making money) but redesigning the paradigm of how to get it done. Technology has created a new space for the independent business owner-the Internet has enabled people who had not previously thought about having their own business to have one. Thankfully, because although the industrial revolution was good for bringing us mass production, working within such structure is not always so accommodating for our basic biology as humans.

What I find interesting is that confidence is often cited as the culprit for the lack of advancement of women. Yet, in my business discussion group it’s all women. The message is clear to me. Women want to run businesses and they do, just perhaps outside of the model that currently dominates our culture. It’s not a message just for women-it’s a message for anyone who might struggle with advancement in a standard business organization.

In a recent session one of the participants told us that she was traveling a lot but that it was not an issue because her business is mobile. It was the way she wanted to set up her life; that she was currently living her dream and that she had exactly the life that she wanted. That’s a powerful statement about work that I don’t hear so often (except from my friends in the dive business).

I can only hope (and work hard) in a group where people make statements like that, I will arrive there one day too.

©Janice Marie Nigro/


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