Back Talk: A Little Lip To My Younger Self
By Angela Petro, Founder & CEO
Twenty years ago, I took my remaining vacation time from the worst job ever and never went back.
It wasn’t really the worst job ever, but to my 27 year old self who was going through a split from my first impetuous marriage and had no idea what was next (in love, my career... pretty much all the big questions), beginning work at 7am and sitting at a desk all day, on the phone, with no true purpose, was soul deadening.
I had graduated from OSU a few years before with degrees in history and political science, so job prospects seemed slim and I was feeling so confused and anxious about the future that graduate school seemed impossible. So on March 16, 1997, when I was supposed to be back at Soul Sucking Inc, my friend Jill and I opened our first little lunch/catering business that would become Together & Company. Jill moved away to California a very long time ago, and as often happens when dealing with money, feelings, and youth: it didn’t end well.
But for a lot of reasons, I decided to keep at it when to any rational outsider, it made no sense. I didn’t have a background in cooking or business, no experience managing people and zero money. So here I am in 2017 looking back on a career that just seems like it’s getting started (seriously, I love my work so much) and I want to share a few things with that young person who thankfully, didn’t know what she didn’t know….
Let’s get real right out of the gate here. You are going to forget so much more than you remember over the next 20 years but the stuff that sticks is BIG. No offense here, but what you are going to experience as you build on this little experiment will mold you into someone who I would actually want to be friends with. Right now, not so much. But that’s the beauty of what you are embarking on. You think that this is a way to be your own boss while you figure out what you want to do with your life. Wrong.
The sooner you realize this is for real, for keeps, and that you will learn more from the people, experiences, failures, and success you face than getting another degree, the better. Because not long from now people will look to you for answers and for inspiration – and I don’t wish to offend, but you took way too long to understand your influence. Too long to learn what it means to set people up for success. And here’s the news flash…
PEOPLE ARE EVERYTHING
It takes a while, but in about nineteen and a half-ish years from now, you will finally be able to articulate what your non-negotiables are in life and the people piece is number one, kiddo.
It’s been said among the team that I can be a bit of a tiger mom. You have such high standards for yourself and you want people to catch up. Ease up just a little bit and understand that if you give people space, accept that you don't always have to be the one with the best idea, the first to get it done or blurt out the answer, those around you will step up. It can be hard for the little trees to grow tall under the shade of the big tree (FYI you LOVE analogies). But it’s OK for you to feel that others should be their best selves if they want to be part of your team.
You don’t call it this now, but you are laying the groundwork for what will become an incredibly powerful culture. This comes directly from you! This is your essence and it will inform the people you hire, fire, and inspire. It's never finished though, so don’t rest on your laurels. Be self-aware. In fact, put this letter down immediately and go get 'BE SELF AWARE' tattooed upside down across your stomach; it will make it easier to read every time you hang your head in shame for acting before you think. Learning to be self aware is a skill that anyone can acquire so all is not lost. You will work on this for the next twenty years and you get at least moderately good enough at this to know that you need to work on it for twenty more.
It may seem like I’m being a little hard on you but here’s where I’m going give you the pep talk. You are going to go through this time where you think you’re stuck. Because you’ve given a lot of what you think are your “best years" to building this island of lost toys and it seems like Santa’s never coming.
Well guess what: you have some mad skills that you just aren’t seeing yet.
Yeah yeah, you learn fast, you don’t give up, all good things. But back to the people piece... You are going to get serious about leadership. And then things really start happening. When you use your superpowers to bring everyone around you along, and you learn to slow down, listen, process the stuff you're learning – not just hear it, things get good – it gets fun again! That sounded a little scary but I don’t want to sugar coat this.
There will be many times when life just sucks.
You will tell a good friend that you are just days away from chaining the door.
You will survive because of the kindness of vendors who give you just a little more time.
You will take cold showers because you can’t pay the gas bill.
You will sell your car and drive an electric blue catering van (super-hot ride for a single 30-year-old).
It’s all good. Sounds weird, but you will be eternally grateful for those experiences someday. You will know with certainty that today (my today, not yours) would never exist if you didn’t build the mental muscle to think smart instead of just working hard. And eventually, in about ten-ish years or so (don’t freak out it goes quickly) it won’t suck. It will be the opposite of sucking. You will feel energized and your confidence will be built on knowledge and experience rather than bravado. Although there’s a lot to be said for that so FAKE IT 'TIL YOU MAKE IT, girl!
I don’t want to drag this out because I love to talk and you are waaaaaay too in the weeds to even be reading this right now. So, I’ll finish up with this:
I wish I could reach back through time and give you a big hug right now. And then a kick in the pants.
I know you need both sister, face it. You’re nervous about the future and it’s OK to feel that way, but you have no idea yet what you are capable of and you need to trust that you can handle whatever comes your way. In a few years, when you are questioning whether you’ve wasted those “best years" of your life on something that could tumble like a house of cards, know this: you are going to sit down, in a coffee shop on March 14, 2017, and choke back a lot of tears as you write yourself a letter because you are so proud of everything you did to get here, every mistake you corrected, every person you inspired and who inspired you and you will NOT WANT TO CHANGE ONE THING you had to do to get here.