We recently celebrated International Women’s Day, a multi-cultural celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural and political contributions. Dedicated to creating a more equal and enabled world, it brings women together across the globe to promote female achievement and accelerate gender equality.
In honor of this inspiring celebration, I recently sat down with Nikki P. Woods, the founder of Navesink Wellness Center and a female-focused psychotherapist who has devoted a large part of her private professional practice to helping mothers raise strong, resourceful, resilient daughters. As we talked, I couldn’t help but connect the dots between what Nikki was sharing with me and everything I’ve learned during the course of starting and running my own b2b marketing and PR agency.
In the spirit and service of the mission of International Women’s Day to “support women to earn and learn on their own terms and in their own way,” here are four pillars that are as essential for healthy parenting as they are for successful entrepreneurship.
It should go without saying that independence is intrinsic to entrepreneurship. By definition, starting a business on your own terms and being a “girl boss” isn’t possible without a clear sense of having a strong sense of self that’s separate from others’ expectations. Of course, says Nikki, “Whether your daughter will develop this independence has a lot to do with your willingness to recognize, respect and affirm her thoughts, feelings, preferences, goals and choices, especially when they may differ from your own.”
It may be challenging, for example, to let your five-year-old choose her own outfits, or to be enthusiastic about your ten-year-old’s passion for the piano when you hoped she’d be interested in sports, or to welcome your teenage daughter’s difference of opinion on something you feel strongly about. But by consistently affirming that your daughter is her own person with her own voice who has a right to do things her own way (within developmentally appropriate limits), you can foster the fierce independence required for successfully navigating adulthood and the entrepreneurial world alike.
While independence is about a girl (and the woman she’ll become) gaining insight and clarity about her own wants, needs, preferences, and choices and establishing a vision of her own goals and aspirations, empowerment is about the capacity to act on this insight and vision with the conviction that sooner or later, these efforts will yield real results. In other words, successful entrepreneurs are able to identify not only where they want to go, but how to get there, even when the way is uncertain, littered with obstacles, or otherwise exceptionally challenging.
One of the chief ways parents can empower young girls is to nurture an environment of trust where it’s safe to make mistakes (again, within developmentally appropriate limits). “This means helping your daughter look at failure as simply part of a larger learning process rather than as cause for discouragement or giving up,” explains Nikki. Entrepreneurship, after all, is necessarily fraught with failure. But as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen pointed out, “Each failure contains the seeds of your next success — if you are willing to learn from it.”
A great number of entrepreneurial ventures start out as some form of “passion project.” But as any entrepreneur worth their salt will attest, “passion” doesn’t mean that success comes naturally or effortlessly, or that you’ll love what you’re doing 24/7. In this sense, passion has a lot more to do with finding the thing that’s worth struggling for rather than avoiding struggle.
This is a value that you can begin to reinforce early in your daughter’s development as you begin to notice what interests and activities she naturally gravitates toward and returns to again and again in an attempt to gain mastery — even when it’s difficult. This might manifest as the struggle to become the best soccer player on her team, to flawlessly perform a complicated piece of music, or see intense conflicts with friends through to a peaceful resolution. Whatever it is, “identify and encourage this special kind of struggle,” advocates Nikki. “This is how passion takes root and can eventually be channeled into the passion projects that give birth to the entrepreneurial spirit and quest.”
To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Purpose without passion is lame; passion without purpose is blind.” In an age of rising social consciousness, entrepreneurship must be driven by a principled purpose. This purpose doesn’t necessarily need to be grand or lofty, but it does need to be authentic. In the context of entrepreneurship, purpose is about translating your passion into a business venture that contributes to making the world a better place.
Purpose has everything to do with what a girl and the woman she will become is willing to take a passionate stand for and fight for, even in the face of intense opposition. As a parent, by modeling the ways your own passions naturally lead you to take certain stands — whether that’s personally, professionally, or even politically — your daughter will come to grasp the intimate relationship between passion and purpose and you’ll lay the groundwork for her to literally put this passion to work through entrepreneurship.
The four pillars for raising strong, resourceful, resilient daughters and succeeding as an entrepreneur share extraordinary overlap. For this reason, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the organization behind International Women’s Day affirms that the quest for gender equality in entrepreneurship isn’t just a women’s issue, but also a business issue: Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive. A gender-equal world can be healthier, wealthier and more harmonious – so what’s not great about that?
Here’s to raising strong girls and the next generation of entrepreneurial women.