The *Real* Story Of How I Built A Successful Company By Age 30

July 11, 2017

Trying to make it as a #girlboss? The struggle is real, but we don’t have to keep it to ourselves.

Lessons From A #Girlboss

Remember the last time you were having a no good, really bad day? Remember how your friend asked you how you were doing, and you lied right through your pearly white teeth and said, “I’m doing great!”

You’re not the only one; we (myself most definitely included) have an intense fear of talking about the difficulties of life. The difficulties that make life thrilling and interesting are somehow shameful to bring up in everyday conversation. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the world of entrepreneurship. Instead, we love to feed ourselves a Kool-Aid of I’m-going-to-quit-my-9-to-5-do-my-own-thing-and-my-life-will-look-like-a-glossy-magazine-cover-IMMEDIATELY. It’s a lie of a fairytale, and it does an incredible disservice towards any creative pursuit, entrepreneurial or otherwise.

In an effort to open up the conversation to not only the joys but also the struggles, I’ll go first, and share the less glamorous and very real path I’ve taken to being a #girlboss:

At first, I failed. A lot.

I graduated college in 2009. The deep dark pits of the Great Recession. Sending a résumé anywhere was like throwing paper into a fire. Then came foreign adventure and my first stab at running a business. It was a disaster. My investor and I didn’t get along, and the business was bleeding money. In the middle of this, my Dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis brought me back Stateside, and then failure struck again–a new business idea, blundered attempts at rounding up investors, heartbreak, disappointment, shame, you know the drill.

Then I had an idea, and I kept it a secret.

I learned a lot of things from the above very abridged list of failures, one of them was the magic of keeping nascent ideas a secret. Up until my current project, allé travel, every time I had an idea, whether it be wanting to run a marathon (never happened) or applying for a dream job, I’d shout about it from the rooftop. I’d tell everyone I knew because I was SO excited.

Turns out, some ideas are too young and green for the light of day, for the scrutinizing eyes and the pressure of the real world. Sometimes, ideas have to be kept secret while you tinker with them, develop them, and eventually start to believe that yes, this actually can be a real thing. I did just that with allé; my husband, my mom, and brother were the only ones that knew about it until I landed my first client. That was my test to myself: if there’s someone out there willing to pay for this idea of mine, then it’s a real thing, and I’ll then be ready for the world’s scrutiny. 

After that, I learned there are no “light bulbs” or overnight successes.

Right around this time, I found myself alone in Bali for a week (it’s a long story that isn’t that interesting, but I assure you, it’s not as glamorous as it sounds). Just lying on the beach never quite appealed to me, so I drilled through the book I had picked up at the airport: Where Good Ideas Come From.

It turned out to be one of the most pivotal books I’ve laid my hands on for countless reasons, one of them being the important lesson of the fact that light bulb, epiphany, eureka moments don’t exist. The true reality of innovation or the creation of anything new is that it most often takes the slow and steady, gradual path, eventually leading to success and discovery. I still remind myself of this daily when I get impatient that I haven’t yet been featured on the Today show for my work. 

Then I realized it’s going to be hard; it’s supposed to be hard.

So I dug in and started to get real comfortable (as comfortable as possible) with the trek ahead, which in reality, knowing my brain, is probably a moving target anyways. I started devouring podcasts and books about entrepreneurs struggling–this may sound malicious, but I really took solace in the fact that I’m not the first person who has walked this path. Others have, too.

When we surround ourselves with only the highlight reels of others’ rightfully earned successes, we do ourselves a disservice, because it’s not a fair comparison–we’re not taking into account the work that it took for them to get there, we’re just seeing the moment of accomplishment. Their triumphs and accomplishments are very well deserved, I’m sure of it, but I’m also sure that it came from a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And sacrifices. But it turns out that blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice don’t make for a very interesting Instagram post. 

So I sacrificed financial comfort.

Framed as a sacrifice, it sounds bad, but actually, it’s just minimalism. When we sacrifice (and let’s be real, for most of us first-world-silver-spoon-kids, anything we’re sacrificing we have no need for to begin with), we shed layers of junk and start to approach what’s most important.

For me and my path, this has meant sacrificing financial comfort. Even though I’m a first-generation American, I’m incredibly spoiled; my immigrant parents somehow managed to put me through college with $0 debt, and having worked since I was 16, I was used to always having a comfortable amount of money in my bank account. If I liked a shirt, I would get it–it didn’t matter that I had five other (nearly) identical navy blue striped shirts in my closet already. When I started my business, I poured every penny to my name into the business. Overnight, my splurges on stupid stuff almost instantly disappeared. All of a sudden, I started noticing the price of bananas and the ridiculousness of having five (nearly) identical navy blue striped shirts. I cut my monthly spending in half. And I’m not missing anything. Truly! I still have everything I need to lead a comfortable life, and for this lesson, I’m eternally thankful.

Now, I’m learning to enjoy the struggle.

I had a great yoga teacher a few years ago who told me that “It’s ok to struggle in life. In fact, it’s essential. But you have to be able to enjoy the struggle. Otherwise, it’s not worth it”. So today, and every day, that’s exactly what I do. Some days are harder than others, but I like to imagine an old school balance in my head, of struggles on one side and joys on the other–and as long as joys are outweighing the struggles, even if by a little bit, I choose to face the world and continue to fight the good fight.

So how about this: next time someone asks you how you’re doing–be honest. Good or bad. Just got laid off? Wow, that sucks. But guess what, sharing will be easier on you than forcing a smile onto your face, and it will make your friend understand they’re not alone in their own struggle either, whatever shape it might be taking on that particular day. 


Disclaimer: Writing about this somehow implies that I’ve “made it,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, I’m told that my fledgling business is doing incredibly well; we’re (finally) turning a (tiny) profit, and most importantly, we have the best clients in the world. That doesn’t stop the weekly freakouts (sorry, husband), the rollercoaster of emotions, and the (sometimes) gripping fear of checking the bank account balance. So please, don’t take the words written above as preaching from the pulpit. Instead, I’m just sharing my story and my lessons learned (that I remind myself of daily) in an effort to open up more dialogue about the struggle being real, and how we need to talk about that more. 

Are you struggling to make it happen as a #girlboss? Share your story in the comments below. 

Also by Irina: The Single Most Important Key to Happiness

Related: It’s Your Career, Not Theirs: 5 Tips for Carving Your Own Path

10 Pieces of Best Career Advice I’ve Heard

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Photo: Kaboompics

Irina is a fledgeling sādhaka (spiritual student), a lover of real, fresh-from-the-earth food and a travel junkie. After spending many years criss-crossing the world helping launch craft breweries, she now makes her home in lovely Minneapolis, where she splits her time running a custom travel planning company allé, teaching yoga, making friends with the vendors at the farmers market, and writing about her adventures and mis-adventures. Follow Irina on Instagram @alletravels.


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