Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Unconventional Role Models

I think every young professional should have some type of role model. I feel like everyone (academically, professionally and personally) has encouraged me to find at least one. One common misstep that young professionals do when establishing a role model is thinking they have to be someone “big and fancy,” so to speak. By “big and fancy” I mean wildly successful and very famous for it. Often, these are people that we young professionals have never met. While I have a few role models that are like that, the ones that have impacted me much more are the ones I have met along the way. While they are still can be big and fancy, actually having the ability to speak with and learn from an individual directly is invaluable. 

Another common misconception regarding role models is that they have to be older than you. Many of my role models are my age or even younger. Age has little to do with competence (even though with age, you have more time to accomplish things). It actually is even more inspiring to see someone my age or younger do things that are amazing. It gives me the perspective that I can do amazing things NOW rather than feeling as if my impact can only start to happen at age 45. 

I’ll give an example of one of my role models that fits the above two points. I know her, and she is my age. I have been friends with this successful woman, Jenna since high school. I actually always sort of looked up to her, as she was well liked, gorgeous and smart. I remember knowing that she was going to be Prom Queen and wishing that I could ever be in that situation (or even nominated). After high school, she went to college like the rest of us and seemed to me to be finding her way. While I was busy getting through school, she was starting a business. I always support small businesses (especially when it’s a friend) so I followed her new store closely (it’s called DressU). 

Jenna saw a need (or a want) that girls in the area had. They needed attire to wear to college game day, whether it was actually attending the game, tailgating or supporting the team in general. If anyone is familiar with college sports, their colors are sometimes difficult to find in typical apparel. For example, there aren’t many dresses that are purple and gold for LSU fans. Building upon that idea, Jenna now has a store that sells those types of items as well as an assortment of other “girly” things. She worked very hard to understand her market and become an expert in that arena so that she can predict future “needs” of her customers. In addition, she understands how to reach her consumer very well by utilizing methods that are outside of traditional marketing. 

In an interesting caveat, she is very passionate about having all US made and manufactured products within her store, and works diligently to understand where her products are coming from. She even mentioned understanding multiple parts of a garment is important because sometimes things such as tags are made elsewhere. 

This successful young woman has absolutely blown me away. Throughout the development of her business, her life was a struggle. It is so wonderful to see someone work hard to accomplish something and make an impact, no matter what it is. In addition, watching someone find out what they need to do to be successful helps you to understand the lengths that you should be covering to understand yourself and how you fit into your business and industry. While that is not always easy or obvious, it’s how you learn and succeed. Too often we fall into a routine and don’t chase after what is necessary to make an impact. Too often we don’t see that we as an individual CAN make an impact NOW, no matter what it is. I hope that Jenna has inspired you like she has me. I also challenge you to find role models that challenge you, like Jenna has challenged me to chase after success.