grit, imagination and soul: two years of toth shop
when i was a kid, all i ever really wanted to do was play basketball. we shot hoops all the time in the driveway after dinner or on the weekends. i went to basketball camps with plano senior’s legendary lynn meager in the summer. i just really loved basketball. school teams didn’t start until sixth grade. And I was in fifth grade. an i just couldn’t wait.
when i took that question to my parents, my dad said, “if you can find ten girls who want to play on a team, i’ll coach.” i’m pretty convinced he said that the way a lot of parents might say something like that to a nine-year-old who wants yet another after school activity – i’ll put the ball in her court [pun. intended.], and see what she does with it.
ah, well, funny thing about that…
i ended up recruiting ten girls to play basketball. it was a pretty rag-tag bunch of friends, classmates, whomever you know when you’re nine – but it was a team. (i say that lovingly as i’m still friends or virtual friends with almost that entire team.) i showed dad the roster. and he honored his word – he would be our coach. dad and i then proceeded to go to each girl’s house to get her parents to sign the ymca basketball team paperwork. the fifth grade dream became a reality.
in theory –what i did there at age nine isn’t all that different than what i did at age 31 when i launched toth shop.
i had an idea. and i hit the damn pavement to make that happen.
toth shop unofficially started probably, eh, maybe four or five years ago when two friends asked me to help them write the brand story for a company they were launching (#moxieevents). it was fun. it was different. it was creativity and business all rolled into one. it was the first time anyone ever paid me to write anything that wasn’t already part of the job. and i started building more clients just like that.
i took it full-time in february 2015. i’d been mulling over it for months, afraid to pull the trigger, when i then realized – amid the chaos and confusion and of Mom’s breast cancer – that life was too short. i didn’t want to get ten years down the road, wondering what would have been possible. i had enough clients to pay the bills. i had some money saved. i didn’t borrow a penny to fund the venture.
and i did it – because i knew that i could.
if you told me what the first two years of owning, operating, and managing your own business were like, i’m not sure i would have done it. (insert a pause as i think about that.) that’s not true. i would have done it. i just probably would have taken deeper breaths earlier on and, just like a run, i would have started slower and built stamina. but, i didn’t do that. i learned the hard way. i burned out, and i had to rediscover the spark again. it’s all learning. all the time. every, single day.
the last two, entrepreneurial years have been hard. and crazy busy. i’ve knocked some projects out of the park. i’ve f-ed some stuff up. i’ve been in between the two. i’ve been okay and great and then okay again – and then great again. all before 12noon some days. i’ve cried at panera. i’ve eaten cold lunch in the car between meetings. i’ve had months where i invoiced a lot. i’ve had months where i didn’t invoice as much as i wanted, and i was nervous. i was in the emergency room at 2am on a friday with the norovirus, and then i drove myself to wake forest university that sunday afternoon for a monday that included five different presentations about toth shop and bea is for business and getting the mba and everything in between.
i’ve also had some serious wins. i’ve laughed really hard. i found an office family. i’ve written some good copy for some good people i respect – people whom i want to succeed more than anything else in the world. i’ve had work noticed by some well-respected, international newspapers. i met with people i’ve dreamed of meeting. people who wrote books i grew up looking at on my dad’s work-book-bookshelf. i’ve taught over 100 people how to use linkedIn and how to launch their personal brand on that platform. i’ve been really scared – like, butterflies-in-the-stomach-good-challenging-scared. i helped a couple people get their dreams off the ground. holy shit. serious wins.
looking back on it now, i really wish i could remember how i convinced ten pre-middle school girls to sign up to play a sport. the only real memory i have of that actual process is of me calling certain girls back from the corded phone in the game room upstairs and asking them again – “are you sure you don’t want to play?” and they said no – again.
i think about that, and i think about toth shop, and – truth be told – it comes down to three things. three things i look for when i not only partner with clients, but also show up for clients:
this word has grown trendy – and rightfully so after dr. angela duckworth’s research and subsequent book. (i’ve also read and/or watched pete carroll talk grit more times than i’m willing to admit.) for me, grit’s that – i’m going to call them back and ask again; i’m going to keep trying; i screwed that up, and i’ll apologize, and offer an additional service; i will keep moving forward.
there’s a line in – it’s actually the beginning of – elizabeth bishop’s poem crusoe in england that i absolutely love, and it goes like this:
“a new volcano has erupted,
the papers say, and last week i was reading
where some ship saw an island being born:
at first a breath of steam, ten miles away;
and then a black fleck—basalt, probably—
rose in the mate’s binoculars
and caught on the horizon like a fly.”
the english major in me loves the hum of that poetry; the businesswoman in me gets excited thinking about what it’s like to watch an island being born. it’s not all that different than a business being born – it’s an entirely new place, with a climate and atmosphere and culture that will need to support ideas and people and the future – it’s infinite possibility. that’s imagination. that’s how my brain works. i cannot tell you how many times in a single day i think to myself – ‘what’s possible.’ start a business? sure. because you can. because I can. it’s an island being born.
the word soul is just, well, awesome. every time i think we should use it more, i then think that we use it too often – and we use it the wrong way. for me, soul is the liner of your heart. so, my question to clients – and depending on how woo-woo you are, i’ll actually ask it in these words – is how we do get that liner of your heart into your business, your copy, your pitch deck, your sales collateral. it sounds crazy, but that’s what sells. sells isn’t the right word there – that’s what gets people on the bus with you. that nine-year-old me with my oversize, buck teeth and my dorothy hamill haircut had some pretty good soul – soul that just wanted to get out there and play and try something new and form her own team. it’s really not all that different than what i do or who i am today.
i’m not in the business of building basketball teams anymore – i’m not sure i was that great at it in the first place. we won, like, one game that whole first season. but i AM in the business of grit, imagination and soul. for myself. for clients. for the future of business.
in that sense, this adventure that’s been unraveling for years is made new every, single day. it’s its own island being born every single day.
and, yes, i will always go shoot baskets with you. it’s still one of my favorite things to do.