The funny thing is I worked at a business university for nearly 12 years. I toyed with getting a (free) MBA more than once, but at that time, I wasn’t even remotely considering my own business. If you’ve ever worked with college students, you know how ambitious and creative they can be. I spent a LOT of time with budding entrepreneurs and committed business-minded young people, and yet didn’t consciously pick up on any of my own budding interests. I would get there soon enough.
In 2019, I accepted a remote job working for a fundraising consulting firm in HR. My final years in higher education had been working in alumni relations and development, so I had good core experience for my new role. It definitely took some time getting used to working from home, without colleagues or a supervisor nearby. Meetings were remote with colleagues from all over the U.S. and some in Europe. Zoom was my go-to platform even before the world became utterly dependent on it. Structuring my day became a whole new world. I remember calling my sister, who has worked a remote job nearly her entire career, for tips and strategies about productivity.
The three years that I worked for the firm became the breeding ground for what is now MFD Style. What I did (and didn’t do) during that time is what ultimately launched me to this place. Sure, there was plenty of previous experience and ripe interest about wardrobe and personal styling, but as I’ll share, it was just a portion of what it has taken me to start my business and blow up my life. Let’s back up to 2018 for a minute.
I left my higher ed career in the spring of 2018, and it was hard for lots of reasons. I 100% saw myself working in this field until traditional retirement age. I had extensive experience in several departments, so I knew I was versatile enough to find new challenges and stay the course. Looking back, I think the Universe had other plans for me. What ultimately led me to leave isn’t actually important. It’s more that I came to clarity that I felt I couldn’t thrive in that environment anymore. I distinctly remember one morning a colleague-friend came into my office, sat down at my side table, and said,
“Maria, you are unhappy, and you don’t have to stay here.”
I tortured myself for many months over the decision to leave. Maybe you can resonate with the feeling that your career is a big aspect of your identity, especially when you’re not partnered or a parent. I wanted to be someone who celebrated big milestone anniversaries. I made it to 10 years. I wanted to see 15, 20, 25, etc. I liked being known and respected by my colleagues and the students with whom I worked. I worked hard (too hard, actually- but we will get to that). I found a great deal of external validation in my career. But remember what I said about freedom. The call for freedom got painstakingly loud. I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Styling had always been my side hustle. I needed supplemental income for much of my higher ed career (Boston is an expensive city!), and retail gave me the opportunity to work nights and weekends. Not to mention, I fell in love with helping people with their style. Years earlier, I managed a women’s boutique in Wellesley part-time. The shop grew exponentially in the 10 years it was open- and I like to think I added value by way of my organization, personnel management, and styling flare. So when I left my job, I pitched going full-time to the shop owner. I wanted to see if I could launch my own business finally, and here was a perfect training ground for it.
A side note about finances: I sold my home in the summer of 2017 and made a nice profit. I invested in a new home, and I pocketed $40,000 with the intention of starting MFD Style at some point. So when I left higher ed a year later, I had this money to lean on for living expenses and to potentially start the business.
In the 9 months I worked at the shop, I thought I was ready for entrepreneurship. I thought I had picked up enough business acumen by osmosis, and I certainly had the desire to make it happen. There were plenty of details I hadn’t tended to, but I really thought I could just do it. I’m a worker-bee. I can get shit done. I can figure it out. That may all have been true, but the thing I didn’t see then that I do now:
My thoughts were a hot mess.
My inner narrative was a mixture of fear, worry, failure, angst, exhaustion, and egoic pride.
How can I do this? Can I ever make enough money to sustain myself? What will people think of me if I fail? Is the market already too saturated with stylists? I’m not really offering anything that special or unique. Am I good enough to do this on my own? What do I really know about starting a business? I’ll have to settle for a job I don’t want because I can’t make this work. How do other people make it look so easy? Right, I don’t have a husband who is an investment banker. What if I can’t get what I REALLY want? I don’t want to feel disappointed.
And ultimately, that narrative prevented me from launching in 2018. And I needed most of that $40,000 to pay my living expenses. So when the HR role came up, by way of an important player in my story, I took the lifeline the Universe threw me.