Is success something that you plan for or does it simply happen? According to a group of young professionals at a National Action Network forum about building careers and giving back to the community, it may boil down to how badly you want it.
“We like to be comfortable, but you really find yourself when you’re in discomfort. It teaches you who you are and what you’re made of,” said Amos Winbush III, founder and CEO of CyberSynchs.
A self-professed “music guy,” he founded his company after his mobile phone crashed and there was no software available to synchronize his content wirelessly. Even though he didn’t have a technology background, he developed software that can store and transfer data across mobile platforms and cellular networks. Today the company offers software for electronic devices, computer systems and medical devices.
When Winbush, who was 24 at the time, announced to his wife that he was going to leave a lucrative position to start CyberSynchs and invest their entire savings in the enterprise, she said, “I believe in you.” The first year was predictably very difficult and there were a lot of ramen noodle meals and spaghetti with wieners every other day.
“I remember having four pairs of shoes and every last pair had holes in them. One day it started to rain and I had to get a plastic bag to put over my shoes and walk down the streets of Manhattan,” he recalled. “But I was okay with being uncomfortable at the time. You have to be willing to be super poor and be okay with that because you’re working toward something that is much larger than you at that particular moment.”
Brian Benjamin, founder of Young Professionals United for Change, also agreed that African-Americans in particular have to put far less emphasis on the “bling” and come to grips with not being materially possessed if they want to succeed on their own. He added that it’s also important to ignore judgments coming from people you think should be offering support who instead think you’re crazy for giving up a good job to pursue dreams.
Networking can be very key and it’s not just about handing out business cards, added Monisha Kapila, founder and executive director of ProInspire, an organization that prepares people for careers in the nonprofit world.
“A lot of people give it a bad rap but it’s really about building relationships,” she counseled. “But everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who can get you to that opportunity you want.”
Kapila suggested that volunteering for nonprofits can be an excellent way to start making the transition to a new industry or entrepreneurship because those organizations are very open to people. One can build new skills and see how they’re used in different environments while also getting to know people who can help with the next step.
Sometimes you have to be willing to step back to move forward, the panelists agreed. Benjamin recounted the story of a friend who left a high position to work in a mailroom at a company in an industry into which she wanted to transition. It was a difficult decision but she did it and three months later was leading a division.
“Sometimes when transitioning you need to step down to get in the door and then rise quickly,” he said. “Put your ego to the corner for a second and make that leap of faith to get it going.”
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(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)