Reprinted from "Seizing Success: A Woman's Guide to Transformational Leadership'' with permission from the author, Mary Key.
Many women are busy trying to meet others’ needs or expectations at work and at home. They often don’t invest the time they need in themselves to discover who they are, what brings them joy, and how to create success for themselves in the world.
When I first met Holly, she didn’t yet realize just how badly she needed a career change. Holly held a senior director’s position with a large, publicly traded company. Her work focused on marketing strategy and sales in the technology space. She was good at it, but she wasn't fulfilled. Holly felt worn down by the marketing analysis work she did; the unreasonable deadlines and the culture of bureaucracy that complicated her effectiveness. It wasn’t until Holly’s participation in the Key Women’s Leadership Forum that she began to ask herself questions like: “Why am I so unhappy in my position?” and “What do I really want? What am I passionate about?”
Holly felt trapped in her job. She is a single parent and the main source of support for her teenage daughter. She and her daughter were beginning to look at colleges. The thought of leaving her well-paid position with health benefits to do something else was overwhelming.
Holly participates in a forum for women where the women devote time to getting in touch with what enlivens them. As part of that exploration, Holly brought the issue of feeling stuck and not being fulfilled in her work to the women. During the questioning phase, one woman asked Holly if she ever considered becoming an entrepreneur. Holly once thought about starting her own business many years ago while in college. A longtime elapsed since pondering it last, but that question triggered Holly’s memory. She remembered how much she loved baking cookies and arranging them in creative ways. She saw in her mind’s eye cookies in colorful letters, word puzzles, and even company logos.
Holly’s great grandmother, Bess, was a baker. With the untimely death of her husband, Bess needed to work to support her young daughter. She, her brother, and her sister opened their first bakery in 1916. The family-owned bakery developed a reputation for excellence and eventually grew to 13 locations throughout the Pittsburgh area.
Holly inherited the baking gene from her great-grandmother. She loved to make cookies, especially around the holidays. Her family and friends raved about her delicious, attractively decorated cookies.
Holly also studied communications and marketing and earned her MBA before starting her first corporate job at a Fortune 500 company. It was during the early years of that first job that she had an idea for a cookie business. She had even started to formulate plans for what products she would offer and how she would market herself. Being a young professional quickly moving up the ranks, she nonetheless tucked the idea away and focused on her career. Life moved on. She married, had a child, and continued working. Holly and her husband divorced when her daughter was three. Afterward, Holly shouldered most of the responsibility for parenting while juggling the demands of a career that appeared successful.
“What if I left my demanding job and started my own cookie-baking company?” she asked herself. Then reality set in and she stopped daydreaming. She dutifully returned to her corporate job. Holly continued in her day-to-day routine, feeling torn between her passion and her responsibilities.
After the conversation Holly had with the forum members about starting a business, she initially rejected the idea and decided to continue making the best of her marketing job. She continued to think about her personal passion, communicating caring through baking.
Fear gripped her. Holly stayed in limbo for the next year and continued to explore her idea and the anxiety she felt in our forum. “Why would I, a single parent, want to leave a high-paying job with benefits to try to be the next Mrs. Fields?” she asked the women rhetorically.
Gradually, an answer emerged: The business idea was worth trying because it aligned with her mission and core values in a way her current job would never match. Holly dipped her toe in the water and started baking on the side. Holly got serious about resurrecting her business plan from long ago. She put her marketing skills to use and began bringing in bigger and bigger orders. Now her business focuses on word messages of all kinds, from “Happy Sweet 16” to “Congratulations on your retirement.” She also transforms her cookies into corporate logos for high-profile business events.
The confluence of the encouragement from the group, her passion for baking, and the example of other female entrepreneurs with families helped Holly to make the leap. In 2016, she started her own “confectionary communications company” Eat Your Words Cookies
a century after her great-grandmother Bess started hers.
Mary Key, a business consultant, speaker, author, and executive coach based in Tampa, uses a system of Right Focus, Right People and Right Execution to help clients achieve success. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and her B.S. from the University of Massachusetts. She was selected to be part of the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF), Leadership Florida, the CEO Council of Tampa Bay, and was a finalist for Executive Woman of the Year in Tampa Bay. Learn more about her by visiting Key Associates website.