THE BLOG

If the Shoe Fits: Lessons From the Chicago Marathon for Female Startup Entrepreneurs

10/15/2013 02:41 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Penina Rybak Founder/CEO, Socially Speaking LLC, Founder: The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship, Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur

"If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?"
- Gloria Steinem

"Either you run the day, or the day runs you."
- James "Jim" Rohn

I happened to catch the tail end of the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, as I was passing through the Windy City on business. Only I discovered that the Windy City wasn't windy! On a balmy day downtown, men, women, and even children assembled to either participate or support and cheer for those that did. Mindful of what happened at the Boston Marathon a few months ago, it was very gratifying to see such a large turnout. It reaffirmed my belief that human beings are still driven to achieve, to grow, to connect, and to be helpful to others. So many people sported various attire, visibly showing their support for social causes and groups; One Fund - Boston, breast cancer awareness, and autism awareness.

What really caught my attention were the actions and demeanor of many marathon runners themselves, no matter who they were or where they hailed from. I was fascinated by the eclectic cross-section of people who participated. Observing them through both my trained human behaviorist and newly trained female entrepreneur's eyes, I saw emerging patterns of behavior that gave me several "teachable moments." I want to share them with other female startup entrepreneurs. Here are the lessons I learned:

1. Train. Plan. Train some more. I met so many people who told me this was their first marathon, despite years of aspiration before attending. Why? One word: training. Marathon runners need to commit to training. They need to allocate time/resources and hone their ability to actually run. Entrepreneurs also need to set aside time and money to train. To train every day. What are we training for? For the ability to produce and sustain production of an innovative service/product and hopefully some valuable thought leadership along the way. How? By learning, doing, and planning, with an end goal in sight, just like that marathon runner. First specialize in your chosen field and hone skills needed to succeed there. Attend professional development courses, technology classes online or at the Apple Store's 1:1 Program, and networking conferences in your industry to find coaches and mentors. Improve your time management and ability to keep up with current events and social media sites, by being choosy about who you follow online such as Zite and Twitter, as well as careful outsourcing of your digital marketing.

2. Adapt to your surroundings. Many people told me they initially planned to wear layers, in anticipation of the blustery winds Chicago is known for. Instead, many marathon runners did a last-minute wardrobe adjustment since it was much warmer than expected. But I can imagine that for some runners who live in tropical climates, it was still cold, requiring them to adapt to the terrain as well. Entrepreneurship is unpredictable on the best days, and can become a logistical nightmare to navigate on the worst. An entrepreneur's ability to adapt in the face of changed plans and outcomes, is a key component to a fledgling startup's success. Female entrepreneurs have a head start in my opinion. Because of our ability to be in touch with our emotions, and see it as a strength, we can utilize it to adjust and problem solve collaboratively. Also, our nurturing interactions with children hone our own senses of humor and resiliency, giving us greater insights into our environment and other people's perspective.

3. Be persistent. Marathon runners tend to fall into three categories, no matter where they are. There are the "newbies" who try hard but will not yet have the experience or stamina to make it to the finish line. There are the "slow but steady" average runners who will not break any records, except in their minds (and the minds of their cheering squad), simply because they reached the finish line. Then there are the "hard core" competitive folks who dedicate themselves to winning; determined to get finish first. They are physically and mentally psyched to push themselves beyond "The Wall" so many runners refer to, to achieve their dream. What unites these three disciplined, goal-oriented, and productive specimens of the human drive to "push the envelope" personally, professionally, and intellectually, is persistence. A marathon runner is made, (even if he/she didn't actually cross the finish line, and/or not as a winner) when the person diligently and methodically pursues the ways and means to officially join the race and stand out, to the best of his/her ability. Entrepreneurs also need to persistently explore avenues to provide disruptive innovation in their chosen field and stand out amongst the crowd. Persistence doesn't demand perfection. It demands physical diligence, mental perseverance with an "I can do this" attitude, and emotional steadfastness and belief in one's mission. If an entrepreneur's persistence has these three underlying traits, it will help stand the test of time, gain notice from competitors and possible sponsors, and enable one to turn the initial vision into a reality.

When starting a new hobby or exercise regimen, the Nike slogan "Just do it" seems apropos and can be liberally sprinkled into one's mental to-do list. But running a marathon and entrepreneurship for that matter, require a more disciplined, nuanced approach. One where the outcome's success is predicated on how the process was implemented. For female startup founders in particular, it is not enough to know that "the shoe fits," and to "go for it". Why? Unlike the Cinderella story, there are both men and women out there vying to wear that shoe, and taking methodical steps to get it to fit.

So if the shoe didn't fit before, let's find ways to make it fit. Let's be proactive and plan for it, instead of waiting and wishing that fairy tales are true.