Before I became the Cookie Diva, I worked in casting and
production as a talent coordinator. But I was also baking cookies for
my husband, Jeff, friends and coworkers. I even once baked a batch
for a college professor as a sort of [successful] bribe. Friends kept
telling me I should start selling my cookies.
When I approached my next career crossroads, Jeff suggested I start my own business baking and selling cookies. I fought the idea for a long time, but at some point it began to sound much better than dealing with agents, managers and even the talent. The final vote of confidence came from my father, who said, 'What have you got to lose? So what if you fail? You go get another job, and you'll have succeeded just for trying.' That was it. We decided to take the money we'd saved for a down payment on a house and put it into a cookie business. Schmerty's Gourmet Cookies baked its first batch on Feb. 13, 2000.
For many of us, the essence of entrepreneurialism can be found in the dichotomous definition of the word "vocation." Quoth the online incarnation of Merriam-Webster:
Main Entry: vo∑ca∑tion
Etymology: Middle English vocacioun, from Anglo-French vocaciun, from Latin vocation-, vocatio summons, from vocare to call, from vox voice — more at VOICE
1 a : a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially : a divine call to the religious life b : an entry into the priesthood or a religious order
2 a : the work in which a person is regularly employed : OCCUPATION b : the persons engaged in a particular occupation
3 : the special function of an individual or group
I say "dichotomous" because there seems to be a world of difference between "a divine call" to "a particular state or course of action" and "the work in which a person is regularly employed." In the case of Schmerty's Gourmet Cookies founder Syrna Glasser, the work in which she was regularly employed was casting and production as a talent coordinator; the divine call was the baking and selling of cookies (and if that isn't a divine call, I don't know what is).
Now, I've had the pleasure of encountering many an inspired wage slave in my life. And, of course, the nonprofit sector is lousy with impassioned, creative employees (see "Editorializing 8: Sweet Charity"). But, for me, those of us who've ventured into entrepreneurial waters have realized, however fitfully, a part of themselves I call "the entrepreneurial spirit." It lives inside all of us, whether we dive into this Wide Sargasso Sea, slip and fall, or just hear its waves lapping distantly at our shores.
Glasser's father, who was clearly a wise man, understood that the soul-nourishing embrace of the entrepreneurial spirit is exemplified more by the trying than the succeeding. Yes, dear readers, it is the journey through the Sargassum more than the destination — the "going for it" more than the "it" — that defines this existential enterprise.
Says Jennifer Yeko, proprietor of True Talent Management, which represents recording artists and licenses songs to film and television: "You could work your whole life for someone else and never make much money and never feel real satisfaction in what you're doing. The risk you take in starting your own business can pay off really big or go horribly wrong. But, in my eyes, being an entrepreneur is always a good choice because of how much you learn about your field and the people in it, and, of course, about yourself."
Many are drawn to entrepreneurship for the lifestyle it affords. "I decided to go into business for myself because I had a vision," notes Asya Shein of Mir Media and Fusicology, a booking agency and urban/alternative-soul online marketing and event-promotion firm. But she also says: "I always knew that having a boss and a 9-to-5 job was not for me; working for other people just didn't fit my personality. I get to work whenever I choose. I can travel whenever I want. I can be as creative as I please and approach my work as collaboration; I don't have to answer to anyone besides my partners in this collaboration — my clients — and myself."
Shein is equally frank about "working more hours than the average employee, paying out of pocket for business travel, and not being able to rely on a regular paycheck."
"You have to have brass balls to succeed with your own business."Yeko, meanwhile, cites the necessity of "working like the devil," perhaps the yang to the yin of heeding a divine call. And, as many entrepreneurs do, Glasser describes the trials and tribulations resulting from her leap of faith as "a roller coaster ride." She recalls a "test of character" based on a curriculum comprising a bad contractor, a crushing permit bureaucracy, financial peril and personal na√Øvet√©. "Most devastating was the death of my father," she confides. "He did not live to see the cookie shop open its doors."
"You have to have brass balls to succeed with your own business," says one of Editorial Emergency's favorite clients. Her fellow entrepreneurs understand what she means in a way that employees simply can't. When asked, "If you knew then what you know now, would you still have taken the plunge?" many an honest entrepreneur will answer the way Glasser does, with a resounding, "Yeah ... probably."
I know I've felt that ambivalence in my own boulder-strewn path to successful entrepreneurship. I expect Yeko and Shein and even The Donald have, too. I've been known to descend from ambivalence to abject terror, feeling the wolf's hot breath through the door on more than one occasion. But every once in a while, when someone asks what I do and I tell them I have my own business, they say, "Gosh you're brave; I wish I could do that." And I think, "I guess I am kinda brave, and I'm glad I did this."
I love my business in a way I've never loved a job, in a way I've loved few people. It is indeed a no-guts-no-glory calling, one that brings to mind the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who wrote in his landmark 1849 poem, "In Memoriam A.H.H." (which, it's interesting to note, was originally titled "The Way of the Soul"):
I hold it true, whate'er befall
I feel it when I sorrow most
Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all