Moms Can Be Driven, Ambitious Workers Too

Working moms will think this title just states the obvious, but unfortunately not everybody agrees that a woman who’s had a baby and taken time off work can come back and be as valuable and committed a worker as she was before. This is why I was delighted to find out that this year’s US Open winner, Kim Clijsters, is a mother -and one who took two years away from the game while she had her baby. If you can regain your place in elite women tennis after two years of semi-retirement, then surely you can go back to your office job and perform at the same level as your male peers? Apparently, the answer is not straighforward.

2009 US Open Winner Kim Clijsters with Daughter Jada

US Open Winner Kim Clijsters with Daughter Jada

The topic of working women becoming mothers has interested me since I took my first job in corporate America. From the very beginning I realized that here the assumption is that a woman will delay having children for as long as possible, so as to maximize the number of years she can spend fully committed to advancing her career.

Most of my female friends in corporate jobs who dared having a kid in their early 30s complain about having become invisible on their return to work -in some cases less than 10 days after giving birth. They’re understood to have revealed a strong preference for their family life over their job -as if the two things had to be mutually exclusive-, and are no longer considered serious contenders for career advancement.

Worst of all, these assumptions are not only held by men, but also by a majority of women. I’ve heard female colleagues scorn another one who’d had a baby -what had she been doing in this line of work, where full commitment is taken for granted, when all she wanted to do was be a mom?

I’m sad to say that they may have a point in their anger. They fear that the behavior of those who became mothers will reflect badly on them: their bosses could worry that any other woman in the team may be thinking of having a baby soon, and put forward a man -the safe bet- whenever the next promotion comes along.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this state of affairs changing any time soon. We can of course hope for a time when corporations will realize that moms can be devoted workers, and that giving them some flexibility to juggle their job and their children’s needs can benefit everybody involved. But, realistically, from the inside I see no indication that we’re even moving in this direction.

For my part, I’ve given some thought to the possibility of leaving my job and starting my own business once I decide to have kids -for me, delaying motherhood for the sake of my job is out of the question. This is perhaps the easy way out, but I know it’s being considered by an increasing number of women. Many of the mother-entrepreneurs profiled in Secrets of Millionaire Moms mention the flexibility to organize your work-time around your family commitments as one of the reasons why they decided to work for themselves.

Besides, what’s the alternative? Being the last to leave the office and working 60-hour weeks so as to dispel any doubt that you’re as dedicated as the men and the non-mothers? Every time I see a co-worker pathetically reminding everyone that she didn’t turn off her Blackberry during labor, or how easy it was for her to get back to work two days afterwards, I make the same promise to myself: I’ll do everything in my power to never be in their position.

In the press these days:

  • 09/15/2009 @ MoneyCNN.com:
    Have a Baby and a Career Too – Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg urges working women not to pass on the next promotion to start a family.

TALKBACK

  • If you’re a working mom, what was your experience going back to work after having your baby?

  • How do you think the challenges facing working moms could be addressed?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINION HERE

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10 Reasons to Start a Business (While You’re Still a Teenager)

bored_and_poorThe postcard in the picture describes in just two words how many of us used to feel all too frequently during our teenage years. In Getting Loaded: 50 Start Now Strategies for Making 1,000,000 While You’re Still Young Enough To Enjoy It, Peter Bielagus spells out his suggestion for young people who’re not happy about being bored and poor: Start a business!

This clashes with common wisdom, which favors waiting until you’re older and more experienced. But by waiting you risk leaving it until you’re surrounded by responsibilities -work, children, mortgage- and with no free time to speak of. While you’re a teenager you’ve got lots of time at your disposal, and those years are likely to be your most creative ones. Why not put them to good use?

Starting a business while young, whether it grows into a full-time occupation or remains a part-time endeavor that you abandon before you finish college or get a job, will provide you with a wealth of experience that’ll serve you well whatever you end up doing in later life. As Bielagus puts it in Getting Loaded, “It will teach you things no classroom can teach you, like how to deal with rejection, fear, failure, success, and, most important, people”. Consider it your very own practical MBA.

While there are good reasons to start a business at any point in life (no age is too young, none is too old), these are the main ones why it pays to start a business while you’re a teenager:

  1. You can afford to take more risks. You don’t have to worry about whether investing in the business puts your children’s financial wellbeing at risk. Plus, in the face of any setback, you’ve got many years in front of you to recover -or try again.

  2. You have drive. You’re in the age of thinking big. Your dreams have no ceiling and you’re passionate beyond reason. Tap into that energy -and apply it to an idea you believe in.

  3. You have energy -certainly more than most people 20 years older than you.

  4. You want to annoy your parents. Don’t they give you a hard time with their never-ending speeches about becoming a lawyer? Show them there’s more to life than Law School!

  5. You want to make your parents proud, too. They’ve told you a hundred times you should grow up. What a better way to show you’re able to take responsibility for your own life?

  6. The experience will serve you later in life, whether you continue with the business, start another one, go to college, or get a job.

  7. You hate feeling bored. Once you start working on your idea, you won’t have time for boredom. Actually, you won’t have much free time at all. But as long as you’re working in your passion, you won’t miss it, either.

  8. You have plenty of friends. I bet that many of them are also looking for something to do. They can become a source of cheap labor to tap into, they can help you brainstorm ideas, or even become your business partners.

  9. You want to be popular. How many people your age own their own company? Your friends will admire this, and you may even inspire some of them to start a businesses of their own -and they’ll queue to get your expert opinion.

  10. You want to find your purpose. A business will expose you to activities you’ve never performed before. Do you hate keeping business books? Do you enjoy developing ideas to help others? Do you love the contact with other people? Everything you discover about your likes and dislikes will help you find a direction for your adult life.

So if you’re young and have a passion, give a thought to the possibility of turning it into a business. Don’t let the hurdles -lack of money the most obvious one- deter you from trying: be creative and you’ll come up with ways around them. Ask yourself:

  • How could my passion be turned into a product or service that would benefit other people?

  • Is there a similar product or service in the market people are prepared to pay for? Can I improve on it?

  • Which creative strategies can I use to put my product or service in the market without a big initial investment? Could I start pitching it to neighbors, colleagues, friends, local associations?

Hopefully answering these questions will provide you with a whole new perspective on what until now you considered just a hobby. So now just get moving. Good luck!

Scalability or the Nature of Internet Businesses

In his excellent book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb makes a distinction between two types of occupations or businesses:

the_black_swan2

  • The first type are not scalable, meaning that workers or owners’ earnings are constrained by the amount of time they put on. A doctor, for instance, can only visit a certain number of patients in a day; a teacher can only teach one class at a time; there’s a limit to the number of clients a brick-and-mortar shop owner can serve simultaneously.

  • The second type of occupations are scalable, that is, workers or owners’ earnings are mostly independent of the number of hours they work. The time spent writing a book, for example, is the same whether it has 100 or 100,000 readers. A singer only has to record a single once, whether it becomes a hit or never makes it into a radio station.

Most internet-based businesses are or can become scalable. Writing a blog or advertising products as an affiliate are obvious examples. Even an internet business that involves selling, packaging and mailing physical products can be easily outsourced in order to fit into the scalable category –this is the concept of automation that Tim Ferriss describes in The 4-hour Workweek.

Since the profits derived from a scalable business are not limited by the time your work on it, they can be endlessly replicated. This will allow a small percentage of business owners to make extraordinary amounts of money. The flip side is that they will saturate the market, and the remaining majority will make close to nothing -from this perspective, scalable professions and businesses imply a much higher degree of risk than non-scalable ones.

The earnings distribution across internet businesses reflects their scalable nature: More than 95% of internet entrepreneurs will never make a significant amount of money; 4% of them will be able to derive a comfortable profit from their business; while less than 1% will strike it big and become Google-like millionaires.

Given the slim chances of success, I believe that all of us first-time internet-venturers are overoptimistic –we overestimate the potential profits. Notice that I consider overoptimism a very positive quality –if we didn’t at least try, our chances of a worthy payoff would be exactly equal to zero.

However, a dose of realism is always advisable. How can you hedge against the possibility that your internet venture never produces any real returns? There are several things you can do.

  • The first one is not to quit your (non-scalable) job until you’ve proved you can make money online. If worst comes to worst, having a backup source of income can make all the difference.

  • The second and most important one is to start a business related to something you like. In this way, even if it eventually fails –not that this is going to be the case!-, what you have learnt and the enjoyment you have derived from it will have compensated your effort… and will serve you as valuable starting points to be successful next time.

TALKBACK

  • Did you start an online business attracted by the scalability of profits?

  • Do you agree that optimism is a defining quality of online entrepreneurs?

PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENT HERE

The Hardest Part of JJB

The part of Juggling Job and Business (JJBing) that I’m finding hardest to deal with is the one no book or website tells you about: I’m struggling with finding the motivation and discipline to work on my website everyday.

Every book, article or website I’ve read on the topic of starting your own business was full with optimism and promises of the riches to be made if you’re willing to try. Nobody tells you about the days you’ll come back from work exhausted, when all the motivation and ambitions you started with are nowhere to be found.

Take my day today. I’m back from work at 8pm, with the following to-do list to tackle as soon as I reach home:

  • Update Twitter profile.

  • Write post on how a negative credit score can affect your chances to keep/get a job.

  • Submit new article to Yahoo! submission page.

  • Move on with the two new books I’m reading (The Ultimate Depression Survival Guide, by Martin Weiss, and Twitter Power, by Joel Comm).

And all this before I even start thinking about making dinner…

In the end, I decide that sometimes it’s better to call it a day, and make sure to start the next one with renewed energy and drive to succeed.

TALKBACK

  • Do you ever struggle with JJB?

  • What do you do on days like these?

PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENT HERE