Entrepreneurship is no easy feat and women entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges. To overcome these obstacles, women entrepreneurs need to take on the mind of a champion. With the Olympic games currently underway, we have no shortage of athletic champions to look towards.

The Olympic stories that captivate us are the ones of difficulty and overcoming. No athlete fully embodies that type of story more than Kathleen Baker. A few nights ago, Baker, a 19 year-old, took the Silver Metal in the 100 meter backstoke. What makes Baker’s journey to the Olympics unique is her ongoing battle with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease is a gastrointestinal disorder that brings with it severe symptoms, such as abdominal cramping, fatigue, diarrhea, and nausea. Not symptoms we expect an Olympic athlete to live with. These challenges are what kept audiences glued to her races, as she swam her best time in the semi-final, and then take the silver in the final, something she was not expected to achieve.

So what does this have to do with entrepreneurship?

The more we read about Baker’s incredible story, the more we were able to see similarities between her struggle and the struggles of women entrepreneurs. Baker’s journey of overcoming contains 8 basic principles that women in business can apply to their own unique situations.

1. Don’t Let your Fear Get in the Way of your Success

When Baker was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 13, she was terrified of what that might mean. She read horror stories of people battling the illness. She read about the symptoms she was going to experience and knew that the diagnosis could mean end her swimming career before it really even started.

At this point, Baker doubted she could ever succeed.

However, she decided she wanted to continue to swim. She wanted a swimming career. And so, despite her uncertain future, she pressed on. She kept training. She sought wise medical counsel and did what the doctors told her to do. She discovered the price she needed to pay and she paid it.

There are two main fears that will hold you back from succeeding in business:

Fear of the Process

Do you worry other professionals will treat you differently because of your gender? How about looking over your shoulder to see how your process looks in comparison to the professionals around you?

Fear of Failure

We’re not going to sugar coat this story. At the start of any venture, there is always real possibility of failure.

However, these fears will waste your time. Time better spent on innovation, brand expansion, lead generation, and closing deals. Don’t let your doubts of the present control the success of the future. There are so many women’s conferences that focus on “empowerment” and “motivation”, but lack skill development. Wouldn’t your time be better spent equipping yourself with the skills you need to grow your business?


J.K. Rowling QuoteWomen entrepreneur and well-known author J.K. Rowling puts it like this:
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all–in which case, you fail by default.”


Instead of giving in to fear, study your business, train up your skills, and keep putting in the work.


2. We ALL have Legitimate Excuses to NOT Be in Business

If anyone had an excuse not to become an Olympian, it was Kathleen Baker. In fact, many times it probably would have been reasonable and a safer choice to not swim competitively, especially during a Crohn’s flare. One of her doctor’s limited her to one training session per day and said that to Baker, that limitation felt like “punishment”. Baker HAD an excuse. She had a really good one. Despite this, she continued to train and pursue her dream, working her way up the competitive ladder, with the help of her doctors and family.

Don’t Make Excuses.

There are family struggles, sick children, financial struggles, pressure from colleagues, emotional battles, and on, and on. It would be easy to put our business ideas aside to do something easier or simpler. And no one would be able to blame us. In fact, some may even call us “noble”.

As a women entrepreneur facing these obstacles, you have to decide if you’re going to fight to work through them to reach your goal.


3. Leave your Problems at the Door

For much of Baker’s career, none of her teammates or friends knew she had health problems. Baker said she didn’t want to be known as “that sick kid”. She wanted to be known as a great swimmer. She didn’t want the pity. She wanted to earn her stripes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been doing business with someone, only to come away with their whole life story as well as a list of their current struggles. Have you ever experienced this? I always come away from those transactions feeling a bit heavier, and while I will finish the business we started, I will think twice before working with them in the future.

Your clients do not need your personal problems.

The purpose of doing business is to solve a problem for your client, not place more on their shoulders. Your ability to relieve the pain of your customers is what will keep them coming back again and again. There will be times when a mutual business transaction may be appropriate, however, personal issues have no place in this type of relationship.


4. Build a Support System

Every Olympian has a big group of people standing behind their success. These are the parents, family, friends, and the coaches. For Baker, her doctors were also included in this group. These are the people she relied on to support her physically and emotionally during her steep climb to the Olympics.

This principle also applies to the business world.

Find those with whom you can be transparent. A group of trusted ladies (or gentlemen) you can let into your personal life. This may be a business coaches, a personal mentor, a pastor, a counsellor, a friend, or a group of entrepreneurs. By having an outlet to bounce ideas off of or to share the struggles you are facing, this will keep you on track while keeping the relationships with your client’s professional.


5. Find a Work/Life Balance that Works for You

Olympians are not known for their work/life balance. Their high level of competition and skill requires a singleminded, razor sharp focus on their event. However, because of Baker’s illness, she had to learn to balance her personal health with her professional goals. She first had to focusing on getting herself healthy, so that she could perform at optimal levels. She learned to split her focus.

As women, our focus is often split between our home life and our professional ambitions. When it comes to work/life balance, everyone’s balance is going to look a little differently, depending on what they prioritize, their unique life situations, and so on.

We can say that, much like Baker, taking time to ensure the health of your personal life will enable you to spend time growing your professional one as well. And as we saw the night of Baker’s race, this kind of balance can lead to Olympic results.


6. Keep Working Until it Works

When it comes to illness, especially one like Crohn’s disease, the effectiveness of many of the treatments varies from patient to patient. Baker tried many different medications, diets, and treatments before she found the one that began to stabilize her health. She continues to battle to manage her disease, as treatments begin to lose their effectiveness, forcing her to seek new alternatives.

When it comes to business, there is no “cookie-cutter”, one-size-fits-all approach that will ensure a growing, successful business. While there are great principles and skills that will help, everyone’s situation and economic climate will be different.

We have to be willing to try many different processes and methods to find the one that works.

In addition, because the economic climate and the marketplace is always changing, we have to be willing to let go of our old methods and try something new.

Martha Stewart said it best, “My new motto is: When you’re through changing, you’re through.”


7. Don’t Let the World Shame You Into Taking On too Much

When Baker was choosing her events for competition, she was put into both the 200 meter and the 100 meter backstroke. However, this began to throw off her balance and stress her health. Instead of pushing through and trying to do both, she opted to stay with the race she knew best, the 100 meter.

As women, we are often evaluated based on how we manage not only our professional careers, but our personal life. Then throw on top of that the expectation for us to bake like Martha Stewart, keep a house like June Cleaver, and have the model face and figure of Tyra Banks. How on earth can we accomplish all of that every single day?

women entrepreneurs overcoming obstacles

No one person is good at everything. Learn to delegate the things you can’t do and drop some of the unrealistic expectations all together.

women entrepreneurs overcoming obstacles

Drop the unrealistic expectations.


8. Own your accomplishments

Women are less likely to negotiate their salary. Women are less likely to promote their achievements. However, this has nothing to do with their skill level or success rate.

Because of the unrealistic expectations places on women, and especially on women entrepreneurs, we tend to see every success with a “but” and the end of it.

“I started my own business! (but it only has 2 employees)
“My family is happy and healthy! (but my children aren’t in private school)

Baker could have easily have said the same…

“I won a silver metal at the Olympics!” (but it wasn’t a gold)

But that’s not how she responded. After all the years of pain, of training, of sacrifice, she knew what she had done. She had overcome an illness and still achieved something most perfectly health Olympic swimmers never would, not to mention doing so at the age of 19.

We need to begin to recognize our accomplishments for what they are.

We also need to begin broadcasting our accomplishments. This may seem like bragging, but customers will spend 9{db95e0fd77ae6d141d4535e2bf7b464d98e4151322120f553d7786be9a7303be} more if they see you as the expert. If you are the expert, tell them and then don’t charge anything less than what you’re worth.

Facts about Kathleen Baker taken from this New York Times Article

Featured photo credit: www.people.com

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