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The Emerging Entrepreneur Gives Secrets to 'How to Eat an Elephant'

by Jill Foster on June 18, 2009

Guest post by Alexis Rodich, regular guest contributor to Women Grow Business and its series The Emerging Entrepreneur. Alexis graduated this year from American University with a Masters in Business Administration, specializing in finance. She served as AU’s chapter president of Net Impact and takes particular interest in venture capital, social technology, and how women entrepreneurs can use both to further business innovation. Taking the Level 1 CFA exam mid-2009, she is a summer associate for LaunchBox Digital and can be reached at www.twitter.com/alexismichelle.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the old adage:

“How do you eat an elephant? … One bite at a time,” and I have decided that this advice is only half baked: The real secret to elephant eating lay not only in the number of bites you take, but also in the table you set.

Earlier in the month I finished my first course of elephant du jour:
I took the Level One Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam, a six hour test with a 35% pass rate that required a recommended 250 hours of preparation. Although the process was downright messy at times—occasionally I seemed to lose sight of who was consuming who — I believe the lessons I learned about “setting the table” for success may help you devour your next elephant, whether launching a new business, earning a higher degree, or even scaling a mountain, with greater confidence and ease. So move over Martha, here are a couple new table tricks:

Hone your vision
Take the time to lay a solid foundation to prevent collapsing under pressure.

A clear articulation of your desired outcome and honest assessment of your motivation in wanting to achieve this desired outcome are essential to creating a sturdy foundation.

Once you hone in on a vision and truly compelling motivation, I recommend putting both into writing.

Make sure copies are accessible to you at all times. In fact, you may want to consider keeping a copy near your nightstand, in your wallet, and even distributed among trusted members of your personal and professional network, so they can better empathize with and support you along the way.

The opportunity cost
I spent several weeks really exploring my motivation for wanting to become a charter holder before finally registering for the exam. The opportunity cost of those 250 hours was enormous: time with friends, family, tending to other obligations at school, and perhaps most dear to me, my career as a professional dancer and instructor. I knew that neither ego (i.e. the benefit of bragging rights), nor the potential financial reward (the average charter holder makes over 6 figures), would be enough to sustain me through the toughest times, and make the effort worth the cost.

So, I took the time to dig very deep and identify what earning the designation really meant to me, and evaluate whether an outcome of that significance was worth the sacrifice.

I cannot tell you how many times I re-read my articulated vision over the course of my exam preparation, but I know with absolute certainty that during those moments when I felt closest to breaking, having a razor sharp vision that I fundamentally believed in gave me the extra dose of strength to keep me in the game.

Never eat alone.
While you may think the elephant is yours and yours alone, even the most solitary of projects are easier to digest with the right team and network in place.

I see this principle in practice all the time among the portfolio companies I work with at LaunchBox Digital. Although there is no doubt that the success of each individual company ultimately rests on the shoulders of its founders, the collaborative work environment, access to an extensive network of mentors and advisors, and hands on participation by the LaunchBox Partners play an invaluable part in helping each company reach heights that would simply not be possible going it alone.

Before the very first bite, take some time to consider who may be helpful to have at the table—and then make some room! If this seems overwhelming, I recommend reading Who’s Got Your Back, by Keith Ferrazzi, which is an excellent resource to help define and build beneficial, collaborative, and supportive relationships.

Finally, as any experienced dinner party host will tell you, spills are inevitable. Success depends on the ability to wipe ‘em up and get on with your ‘elephant’ meal.

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